musicohm.com interview: amy ray
original publish date: jan 2001
by pam huwig, musicohm.com
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Let us introduce you to a taste of some of the rawest, edgiest music to hit studios lately and to pass through Indigo Girl Amy Ray’s lips.
The Indigo Girls’ bond is strong enough to accommodate and encourage creative solo endeavours and, since the majority of Indigo Girls fans are deeply devoted to the duo of Emily and Amy, there is no doubt that Amy’s first record on her own will be gobbled up by hungry fans, both established and new. You shouldn’t be surprised that Amy chose Stag for her first solo record, saying that the word’s natural ability to conjure up images of a stag party and gender issues seemed perfectly suitable. Amy, who with her charmingly androgynous looks and always-forthright music, says that going solo was something she had to do to explore her multi-faceted tastes for the tune.She did so successfully. Amy’s new work can’t be pinned down as one type of music, which is a good thing. From Amy’s post-punk roots to some down-home Appalachian inspiration, the songs on Stag deliver through and through – and for good reason.
Let’s face it, Amy’s no fool and she hand-picked a talented bunch of musicians to collaborate on Stag, including The Butchies (who will be on the Stag tour with Amy), Kate Shellenbach (Luscious Jackson), Rock-A-Teens, and the one and only Joan Jett, who sings one of her signature “yeah’s” at the end of Hey Castrator.
“It’s not the kind of music you’re making, I think it’s the approach you take.”
– Amy Ray’s musical philosophy
“Joan sings this part of Hey Castrator that has nothing to do with anything,” Amy says playfully, “except for that [her part] is addressing the punky women’s movement, the revolutionary impact and at the same time asking, you know, if anything ever really changes, or if people just become complacent. So, we’re all over the place in that song.”
“Musically, it was contingent upon what the rhythm and the drums were doing and it was very apropos for Joan to come in and play rhythm guitar on it. She’s a killer guitar player,” she says, “but because she agreed to sing on the song, I wanted to have something showcased, and that’s why I added it in.” She also decided to add a song about suffragist Lucy Stone. I personally, have to love a woman who sings about Lucy (if you don’t know who she is, shame on you.) Appropriately titled, LucyStoners is a fine example of Amy’s influences shining through and including The Butchies. “You know Janny Wenner, Rolling Stone’s most fearless leader/Gave the boys what they deserve/but with the girls he lost his nerve/Lucy Stoners don’t need boners/Come on girl, let’s go right now.” And she’s right – none of the musicians associated with Amy need any assistance from white-boy boners to confirm that Stag is all about exploring song in various forms.
“It doesn’t mean that it’s not a pure and emotional rock experience just because you worked on it.”
– Amy Ray displays modesty
“It’s not hard for me to go back and forth when I’m in my writing phase. I switch off pretty extremely, even in the same room, you know, with a mandolin that’s very traditional sounding or a country song to moving over to my electric guitar and just playing something completely different,” says Amy of her musical versatility. “I think the biggest difficulty is probably something more technical like recording a record like this with a really low budget,” Amy says. The process of recording may have been challenging, but the finished product, while it is clearly indie, shows no signs of lacking artistry and talented approach.
“It was harder for me to go from recording with the Indigo Girls with a discipline that was completely different, where you spend a lot of time on something as opposed to getting it quickly. Your discipline is that you had to stick with it for a while. I’m not sure that’s such a good thing,” Amy says.
Because now that I’ve done this project, which was very hard for me to switch gears to technically, because I had to settle on things and make decisions quickly and get most of the work done before I would get to the studio. And everything was just about my own confidence and stuff. It was hard because I’m used to having more time, more money, I’m used to having a partner. I’m used to being in a studio that has a Coca-Cola machine [laughs] and all those little things you don’t think about. And we’re not extravagant by any means.”
While Stag has been a positive experience for her, Amy says she fully intends on continuing her work as an Indigo Girl. “Emily and I are going to go back in the studio and make an acoustic album that’s more stripped down and quick at the end of the summer,” says Amy. “And I think this experience is going to help me with that approach.
“It’s not the kind of music you’re making, I think it’s the approach you take. Someone who goes back and forth really well to me is someone like Steve Earle. When he makes a country record it sounds like a punk or rock record. He’s got a certain approach; it’s a philosophy, and I love it. I would love for me and Emily to work more that way. I think it’s not as comfortable for her, but, I think it could be.”
Whatever the future holds for her, it’s a no-brainer to expect her to remain on the road of smart, lyrically-sound, signature Amy Ray music. “I think when I was younger, I was more eclectic about writing songs, I thought that if it was emotive, that was enough. And it’s not for me. I think that’s something important about songwriting – it takes work. It doesn’t mean that it’s not a pure and emotional rock experience just because you worked on it. It means that you respect it enough to make it into something that someone else can understand rather than just you.”