afterellen.com: amy ray takes your questions
There are probably few people in the world who know Amy Ray better than her fans. The out musician has had a dedicated base of them for decades as one half of the Indigo Girls, the iconic folk duo comprised of Ray and Emily Saliers. As the founder and owner of independent label Daemon Records and as a solo star, Ray has connected with a younger queer generation as an edgy, indie rock musician who doesn’t shy away from self-expression.
In 2001, she released her first solo album, Stag, to positive reviews, and followed that with 2005’s Prom and 2006’s Live From Knoxville. On Aug. 5, her fourth solo album, Didn’t It Feel Kinder, will be released. The album highlights a different side of Ray’s vocal talents. Fans will be likely be mesmerized by the sexy song “She’s Got To Be” and Ray’s ability to write pop gems like “Cold Shoulder.” It’s a fun side of Amy Ray that can arguably only be seen when she’s on her own.
Recently Amy Ray agreed to take questions from her fans on AfterEllen.com, and she was pleasantly surprised with the creativity and thoughtfulness of each inquiry. Here are your questions and her answers.
Q: With the change in label for the Girls, what will become of the Live at the Roxy video filmed in Atlanta last year? Is there any chance of that being released for sale independently, or does Hollywood [Records] own the rights? I’d love to be able to buy the DVD. — Mandy
Amy Ray: Now we’re trying to negotiate getting it back, and it’s not going to be a big issue. So we’re just figuring out how, and we plan on releasing it in some way this year.
Q: Is there an issue that you are passionate about that you haven’t had the time to focus your attention on, or anything you may become a part of in the future? — Chelsea
AR: I think, for me, I haven’t had enough time in my own community that I live in. I’m doing so many things regionally and in other areas and with environmentalist issues that I spend so much time outside of my community. I think that’s the one thing I really long for … when I’m home for six months or something, to get involved with kids. I live in kind of a rural area, and I think a lot of the teenagers really don’t have enough do. I want to get involved somehow, some way, with teens and engage them more.
Q: Does anything make you uncomfortable? — Jennifer
AR: A lot of things make me uncomfortable. [laughs] That question makes me uncomfortable! [laughs] I’m sort of uncomfortable in the gym in the locker room, changing. I’m kind of a modest person. Believe it or not! But only in certain circumstances, so sometimes the locker room makes me uncomfortable, when I’m changing.
Q: Do you like Pop-Tarts? If so, what’s your favorite kind? — Jennifer
AR: My favorite kind of Pop-Tart is brown sugar cinnamon with frosting, and I love Pop-Tarts. They’re great.
Q: When buying a new guitar, what song do you play in the guitar store to test it out? — Anne
AR: Oh, what a great question! Wow. I usually start out by playing block chords up and down. That’s funny, I don’t really play a song, I just play a lot of different chords and formations on the guitar, and then typically I give it to a really good guitar player and have them play it for me, and I listen to them. I usually ask someone when I’m buying a guitar. I’m not a good enough player.
Q: Out of all the songs you’ve written, which one has meant the most, or truly hit home for you? — Alyssa
AR: There’s a song I wrote on my first solo record, off Stag, called “Make Room.” And that song is consistently one that I sort of play just for my own enjoyment. Not live — like I mean when I’m playing in a room by myself. The words really mean a lot to me, for some reason.
Q: How do you chose your outfits and style for each show? — Kirsten
AR: [laughs] It depends on how big my suitcase is! You know what, I pick out a pair of pants that I really like, and then I pick from different shirts. I like to wear ones that have a little bit of a rock edge on it, you know? But I definitely wear clothes on stage I do not wear during the day. I like to wear an outfit dedicated to the show so I can feel different when I’m on.
Q: How did you meet Brandi Carlile, and what’s it like getting to work with a younger generation of female singer/songwriters like her? — Denise
AR: I met her through Emily [Saliers], actually. Emily got wind of her first and she heard her music, and when Brandi came into town we met up and talked about writing together. … We played a … night in Atlanta for a benefit together. That was kind of it for me. It sealed the deal for me. So I said, “Come on, let’s work together.” …
I’m always looking at what’s coming up from younger generations. … I like to be in touch with all generations. I like to be informed by that. I think that I listen a lot to older generations as well, like Joan Baez and Jackson Browne, I think that’s important too. But I like to know what’s coming up, what’s coming after you, what’s coming before you.
Brandi’s interesting because she’s … inspired by a lot of the same music Emily and I are inspired by, and she’s also influenced by newer bands like My Morning Jacket. But she also listens to Queen and Elton John. What she has is so new, and that’s what’s so great.
Q: Your solo music is so different from the Indigo Girls’ music — it’s much harder-hitting. If that is your true style and love, are you at all weary of singing IG songs that don’t at all jive with that style like “Galileo” and “Closer to Fine”? — Nina
AR: I don’t get tired of “Galileo” or “Closer to Fine,” because whenever I play “Closer to Fine” I always think to myself, “Wow, this is a great song.” It’s a very well-crafted folk song that means a lot.
There’s something that I don’t have in Indigo Girls — I can’t put my finger on it, but it’s something I can’t do, like with politics or a more radical queer approach, and certain loud kind of rock things that I just don’t do with Indigo Girls. I think Emily and I — we rock and we play some rocking songs at different times, but for me it’s my passion in a different way. With Indigo Girls, it’s a totally different feeling. Creating harmonies with someone is very magical; there’s really nothing like it. It’s a whole other side of performing.
Q: I have always wanted to know what you have tattooed on her chest. You can occasionally see glimpses of it but never the entire tattoo! — Heidi
AR: It’s kind of like a Celtic design with a couple of animals that are sort of a cross between a deer and a dog. And then there’s these kind of sea creatures, and it sort of represents my — sort of like everything on my body goes back to nature. Like I have tattoos on my back, too, and everything is nature-based.
Q: I’ve read you are a fan of comic books. Who are your favorite writers/authors? — Cylinda
AR: I’ve been into graphic novels and stuff. There’s one that came out last year called Fun Home by Alison Bechdel. That’s one of my favorite new ones from the last couple years. I re-read that all the time. … Another one is Persepolis. The Green Lantern and The Sandman were what got me into comics.
Q: I have problems with depression, and during my worst times, your music (solo and Indigo) always makes me feel better. I’ve wanted to ask you, if this is true and you do have similar issues, how do you keep going? How do you push through and keep creating and helping others create? Sometimes I feel as if I can’t move forward, yet you always do. You inspire me and I have often wondered how you do it. — Christy
AR: I have depression problems. I go through those times. I turn to music, because that’s what I do. That’s the thing that helps me get through. I write a lot when I feel that way, and I do a lot of hiking and just mountain climb.
Q: You have a great alto voice, but in some of your new songs, you use a higher range, which also sounds excellent. What has led to your writing some of your new solo material in that higher range? — Lynne
AR: I’ve always wanted to develop that range, and I’ve really been working on it. I wanted to wait until I got better at it to do it. It’s more vulnerable that way. It was a challenge, and I started writing in that way [to challenge myself]. I’ve been listening to a lot of male artists using their voices in that range, like Antony and the Johnsons and the Shins. They use the higher parts of their voice. My voice is a tenor; it’s not even an alto! It is definitely a stretch for me.
Q: What is the inspiration behind the song “Kid Fears”? — Noa
AR: When I wrote that, I had some very close friends who were battling a lot of problems: health problems and drug problems. It inspired that song.
Q: Are you still into motorcycling and bikes? And if so, which one are you riding at the moment? — Waveney
AR: My motorcycle is a Honda EB500 from 1990. And I’m still riding a little [bicycle] from literally 20 years ago. I love it so much!
Q: At a recent show in Veneta, Ore., you were wearing a T-shirt with the words “Love Hurts” and a nailed hand. It contained the full text of a Bible verse, 1 John 4:10. So my question is, have you become a Christian? And if not, is there a story that goes with how you got that shirt and why you wear it? — Doyle
AR: Wow. I was raised a Christian, so I have more of a pagan relationship with Jesus. And so I do have a tie to Christianity from a Southern aspect, and I have a lot of love for the story of Jesus, and he is a revolutionary spirit and for me it means a lot.
I bought that shirt at a thrift store because of what it says … because love does hurt! And I don’t even know how to put it. It’s sort of a proclamation of the way Christianity is viewed in culture. … Part of it is what that shirt means with the crucifixion and “Love Hurts.” It’s like yeah, that’s true!
Q: What was the last movie that made your cry? — Vanessa
AR: A movie called Lars and the Real Girl. The story line made me cry.
Q: In several of your songs, you write poignantly of the loneliness and isolation of life on the road, and deeply missing loved ones and connections back home. I am pondering taking a job that will require lots of travel. Do you have any advice about how to maintain closeness with family, partner and friends when you’re gone from your hometown for 20 weeks at a time? — Susan
AR: I don’t have any advice. If she has any for me, I’ll take it! [laughs] For me, I have to remember to keep my family in mind and my partner and where they’re coming from. That’s what my life’s about. … I’m a homebody but I’m also a traveler. I’m both of those things.