chicagofreepress.com: ray of light: an interview with amy ray
“Didn’t It Feel Kinder” (Daemon), the third solo album by Indigo Girl Amy Ray, takes Ray and her followers in new and wonderful directions.
“Birds of A Feather” gets things started with its queer take on modern blues and its “Hey brother/it’s hard to be close” call. Even more of a radical departure is the magnificent and soulful “She’s Got To Be” and retro revival of “Who Sold The Gun.” Ray also values her punk roots, which run deep on “Bus Bus” and “Blame Is A Killer.” We spoke shortly before the release of her disc.
Gregg Shapiro: Your new solo album “Didn’t It Feel Kinder” feels like a departure, musically, beginning with “She’s Got To Be” which has a wonderful retro soul crossed with the late ’80s Bonnie Raitt feel to it.
AR: That song, “She’s Got To Be,” is definitely a departure. When I wrote it, I was probably inspired by that era in England, which was kind of around the same time that some of the new wave was coming out, where you could tell that the bands were influenced by early soul music—you could hear it.
GS: “Cold Shoulder” mixes humor, beginning with the questionably straight girl in opening section…
AR: It’s supposed to be funny to a certain degree (laughs).
GS: And then it moves into a joyous celebration of being different in the lines about hanging out with the “deviants and the tranny nation,” a subject you have touched on in your other solo albums.
AR: Yeah, that came from a friend of mine from a long time ago who was telling me a story about a club in Seattle where on a certain night a lot of straight people, straight girls specifically, would come and slum it at the gay club. That whole image was something I’d used in another song, but that story stuck with me how I could just picture her thinking that she’d gained all this ground and then the next night seeing the same person brush her off (laughs). And I was poking fun at myself, being that tough, kind of cocky person, not really being able to get what you want. But at the same time it’s supposed to be a party song.
GS: You own and operate an indie record label in the days of both corporate radio domination and iTunes/MP3 revolution. Does that have anything to do with the song “SLC Radio”?
AR: Probably. That informs the trajectory of my label. And everything that I’ve seen kind of informs any time I write about radio or underground community That song came out of, literally, a solo tour that I had done where we did at a small club in Salt Lake City, and a friend of mine works at the station there. I think the community station there is really cool and Utah Phillips’ son Duncan was working there at the time. They do a lot of cool programming and music, and they were also sponsoring all-ages club shows with punk bands. Salt Lake is a really interesting place, because it’s kind of an oasis in a lot of ways—it’s so progressive. But it’s very polarized because there are so many super-progressive people and there is also a fundamentalist sect of Mormons that are very strict. It’s a setting that, for me, sums up America (laughs).
GS: So with all the cultural changes happening almost daily, do you foresee a time when same-sex love songs from “Didn’t If Feel Kinder” such as “Bus Bus” and “She’s Got To Be” can coexist in the public forum alongside the latest by, say, current chart-toppers such as Leona Lewis or Rihanna or Mariah Carey?
AR: I hope so. One of the points of (the song) “She’s Got To Be” was also to try and write something—and lyrically I strayed a little bit, because I put some political stuff in there (laughs)—something that would sound kind of, for lack of a better word, accessible, but classic, a song that you could see standing beside something else. Maybe a completely different subject matter that maybe you wouldn’t know unless you dug in pretty deep, because the sound of it hits you before any lyrical content.
GS: You can be heard playing mandolin on a track on the new Ferron disc. Were you excited to be involved in the project with Bitch?
AR: Oh, yeah! I love Bitch. Ferron’s been a mentor for me since I was in high school. She didn’t know it, of course, when I was in high school. We met her later, Emily (Saliers) and I did, in our travels and we’re very close friends now. She is very influential to me in every way. Just to be part of that, in whatever small role I played, was so exciting.
GS: Finally, I’m glad that you mentioned Emily because the Indigo Girls were on the True Colors Tour this year.
AR: We actually just finished recording a new record that’s not coming out until the winter because we’re independent now and we’re looking for a distribution deal and we’re setting all that up. But we recorded a full-band record and then we went back and did all the songs as a live duo, recorded everything live in a really great studio. Mitchell Froom produced it. It’s actually two records and we don’t know how we’re going to release them or when they’re going to come out, but some time in ’09. But we did some True Colors dates and we’ve got a whole summer tour. We’re going to be playing new songs and Julie Wolf’s going to be on tour with us on keyboards. We’re pretty excited about it because we’ve got a bunch of new music and we’re going to be introducing it to people.