riverfronttimes.com: Indigo Girl Amy Ray gets back to her punk roots on a solo tour
As an Indigo Girl, Amy Ray has sold a bazillion records, but that doesn’t mean she isn’t punk. In 2001, she used her first solo album, Stag, to get her political and garage-rock rocks off. Backed up by the Butchies, the songs smoked like burning tires at the barricades of a gender riot. On this year’s Didn’t It Feel Kinder, however, Ray signals a retreat of sorts into soul grooves and pop arrangements, while refusing to back off from her radical take on personal and social conflict. Fresh off an Indigo Girls tour, Ray spoke with B-Sides about her solo work, American violence and nonprofit ironies.
B-Sides: I was surprised by the new record. There’s much more of an R&B presence.
Amy Ray: Part of that is the producer, Greg Griffith, whose bass drove a lot of that. But I was writing in that arena, probably because I was listening to different groups that got under my skin. I was also writing in the Clash tradition, that’s always with me, so it became a more eclectic record. And I wanted to use my voice in different ways.
Are there subjects you can tackle as a solo artist that you can’t as part of the Indigo Girls?
I mean, I could, but it feels different to me. When I sing with Emily [Saliers] there’s a sense of duality all the time, of compromise and harmony, and that’s the magic of it. I’m always aware of the other voice. But when I’m on my own, even if there’s backup harmony voices, it’s so singular to me. I can be graphic and radical in a way that doesn’t take into consideration another voice. The people I play with come from the punk community. Their philosophy and the way they record and distribute music is more aligned with what I understand in my heart of hearts.
Is there a tipping point in a song where a theme gets turned into a musical expression? I was thinking of the new song “Who Sold the Gun?”
With that song, I was watching all the news about the Virginia Tech shootings, and at the same time there was news about Iraq, and I was reading about how we support other governments that literally have children fighting in their armies. I was writing in my lyric book and I just started singing it. That’s my emotional response, but it’s also taking society and myself to task. It was also an attempt to have compassion for this person too, who did something so unbelievable.
Certain subjects, even for the most politically aware, can be taboo. But those are the ones you write about.
I’m tactless. [Laughs] I think it’s a fragile situation, especially in that song. There’s so much loss and grief, to even say we should try to understand this person, it sounds so terrible. But I really feel that way. I feel the same way about the death penalty. People who have lost someone to murder, but still oppose the death penalty and believe in forgiveness and compassion. To be able to stand in that space is the ultimate place of light, and of healing, too.
Like your other solo albums, you released Didn’t It Feel Kinder on Daemon, which is your nonprofit label. But the phrase is almost redundant at this point.
Yeah, I don’t even call it that anymore. It was a way to say, look, the money that’s coming in is going into artists’ pockets and to fund the next record. It was supposed to be a working model of cooperation and stuff. But I’m starting to ask, How much can Daemon do that artists can’t do on their own? A label does give an artist some person power. But I want to encourage people who are starting out that they don’t have to be on a label to get their record out. I think most people know that now, but there are some young people who still think they need a label deal. And I don’t buy that anymore, at all.