dishmag.com: amy ray: feeling ‘kinder’ for her new solo tour
Perhaps best known as the more intense, darker haired half of internationally known Grammy Award- Winning contemporary folk-rock duo the Indigo Girls, Amy Ray has been blazing trails and taking names for over two decades as the Joan Jett-esque persona to her partner-in-rhyme Emily Sailers’ more Janis Ian-like sensibility. Well-known for penning staggeringly dark and powerful songs like “Jonas & Ezekiel,” “Blood & Fire” and “Land of Caanan,” Ray has increasingly over the past ten years scaled back her punk rock roots from Indigo Girls projects in favor of presenting them on her independent solo efforts.
For this outing, Ray tapped producer Greg Griffith who in the past has produced such acts as the Butchies and Le Tigre. As Ray’s previous solo efforts have been largely self-produced, Griffith’s presence is almost immediately apparent. With him at the helm, Ray’s trademark in-your-face dynamism is harnessed and channeled into a solid, powerful direction that seems a natural progression for the artist.
Where her earlier albums were explosive and at times aggressively raw and edgy, Didn’t It Feel Kinder maintains those elements with Griffith serving as a conduit through which the power of Ray’s songs is distilled and re-directed with intent without sacrificing any of the inherent punk-rock power that she tends to lean towards in her solo work. As different as the sound is this time, there is also a strong sense of familiarity to the tracks on this album as they are—despite all—distinctly Amy Ray. Adding to this feeling of familiarity is the return of Melissa York and Kaia Wilson of the Butchies who recorded with Ray on her first solo venture Stag.
In addition to the August release of the solo record, Ray and Sailers have also just finished their latest as yet untitled Indigo Girls release produced by longtime Indigo Girls producer Mitchell Froom, an endeavor which will also mark the duo’s first ever independently released album in their twenty plus years of working together.
Dish caught up with Amy Ray as the Indigo Girls were wrapping up their latest tour in order to chat about the recent release of Ray’s fourth solo effort Didn’t It Feel Kinder on Ray’s own Daemon Records and the accompanying solo tour to follow.
Dish: As a producer, Greg Griffith is as well known for his intensity as you are in your songwriting. What was it like working alongside Griffith and how did his presence help to shape the sound you were aiming for?
Amy Ray: Musically, Greg’s very challenging and he brings a vast amount of knowledge to the table. It can be a bit intimidating at first but it’s also a great way to work. He molded the record in such a way that it is truly his handprint. Greg is a lot like me in that sometimes he is so inside his own head that I would be craving feedback and he just would not be that person for me so that created my only real struggle which was with my own ego. Sometimes I would want something and I wouldn’t always get it so I kind of had to depend on myself and my trust in my own ability. For me, especially vocally, if I don’t stretch myself a little and do something different it will make me feel like I’m in a rut. So I really tried hard to sing out of my range and push myself to be different and not just loud.
Dish: What was the specific result you were trying to accomplish by pushing yourself in a different direction than usual this time out?
Ray: I had a feeling a while back that I wanted to record a couple of songs with the band Arizona who will also be touring with me. I also knew that I wanted to work with Melissa York and Kaia Wilson (of the Butchies) again because I worked alongside them on the first record but didn’t on the second one because I wanted to do something different. Mel brought Greg into the picture because he’s her best friend and they play together a lot.
Dish: We’ve talked a lot about the people who helped create the record itself. Can you tell me now about the genesis of the songs themselves before anyone else came on board?
Ray: What I hear on the record is a lot of longing in some ways and then a lot of struggle to understand what longing means and what love and compassion are. In some ways they are very universal but in others they are very specific. Melodically as time went on I was forced by being on the road so much to look at the melodies more closely than I would have had I been in my own space.
Dish: In the context of taking your work in a direction you had yet to really achieve for yourself, how do you feel your songwriting has most evolved between your last solo release and now?
Ray: When I wrote Prom I was at home a lot of the time for whatever reason working on these songs and I can feel them now being a little limited melodically and I didn’t know really how to solve that. I love the record. It’s a great piece of work, but I can really feel the limitations that it had because of the way I wrote the record.
Dish: When you are writing songs do you know when you write them if they are going to be Indigo Girls material or not? How do you decide which direction to take each song?
Ray: It’s always about what makes the song the strongest. If I hear Emily in my head when I’m writing then usually that means it will end up being an Indigo Girls song. Many times it has to do with the kind of personal lyricism of the piece that I may use in that if Emily were to sing it with me it would completely change the meaning of the song because something just happens to any song we do together and sometimes I don’t want the lyrics to be colored by that duo thing.