shewired.com: up close with amy ray
I’ve always been an Indigo Girls fan. I remember my first girlfriend, Jessica, playing Closer to Fine over and over during our secret affair the final months of high school. And as I marched out of my own closet my sophomore year at Pepperdine, Indigo Girls rang loud and clear throughout my dorm room. In fact, I attended their concert at the Greek Theatre that year (1992) and recall the awe of seeing so many lesbians in one place. Clearly I hadn’t discovered Dinah Shore yet.
I’ve seen Amy and Emily perform a dozen or so times over the years at various venues. They never let me down. Harmonious and consistent, their music is soulful and satisfying. And while there is change from one album to the next, you know what to expect.
So when my girlfriend bought tickets to see Amy Ray play solo, I was curious. How does someone perform who is half of a harmonizing duo? Will she play the same familiar style all alone, and will I like her only half as much?
Come to find out, Amy has been making music on the side for years. She actually founded the indie label Daemon Records in 1990 to support local musicians, both in putting out their music and teaching them how to sustain their careers. Her debut solo album was 2001’s Stag, which was called a manifesto, more overtly political and punk influenced that her Indigo Girls output. She also issued Prom and a live album; Live in Knoxville in 2005 to accolades. So apparently Amy has done plenty solo – I just hadn’t been on the bus.
When asked about her solo projects, Amy says, “They don’t represent a mere side project, but a way for me to fully realize myself as a musician.” And that she does. Her show was at the Troubadour, an intimate, old school Hollywood club. Amy was 10 feet away and felt like an old friend. While her sound was definitely louder, and more defiant, that familiar deep voice came through with strength and heart. I didn’t know any of the songs, but they played great live.
A few songs into the set, she brought out Brandi Carlile. Not only can that girl sing beautifully, but she is also GORGEOUS. Wearing a fitted James Perse button down, skinny jeans and cowboy boots, she looked casual and cool. They sounded amazing together, belting out several songs from Amy’s new album, Didn’t it Feel Kinder. I managed to get a shot with Brandi when she was on break, which will definitely be framed for my house.
I loved the show. It felt like we were watching them during a jam session, where anything might happen and they were trying new stuff on the fly. The show opened with a set from Arizona. I found their music to be a bit too hard for my liking. I also thought it a strange choice to pair with Amy – until I heard Amy’s music.
In addition to Emily Saliers (Indigo Girls), Amy has collaborations with a host of others. Amy says their defining characteristic is community. “I wanted to play with players that aren’t necessarily studio musicians, people that have a very specific style, that I might not get to play with an Indigo Girl.” So she asked some of her favorite musicians to record or tour with her: Joan Jett, The Butchies, Jody Bleyle and Donna Dresch from Team Dresch, Rock-A-Teens, Josephine Wiggs of the Breeders, Tary Jane O’Neil and Kate Schellenbach of Lucious Jackson. “They are people who I was into, I was a fan of what they were doing musically. “It’s like I was playing with my idols,” she says. I’m guessing the feeling was mutual for many of these artists.
It’s always a pleasure to see the bands I’ve loved for years continue to put out quality music and tour successfully. While I consider Indigo Girls a nostalgic favorite, I applaud Amy’s solo sound as a varied and curious exploration of her other side.