southernvoice.com: ‘let love abide’: indigo girls’ amy ray goes kinder and gentler with new solo album
Yes, even Republicans like Indigo Girls.
Amy Ray, a Barack Obama supporter and one-half of the local celesbian folk rock heroes, acknowledged that seemingly unlikely fact last week while in Atlanta promoting her third solo album, “Didn’t It Feel Kinder,” which releases Aug. 5 on Ray’s label, Daemon Records.
“[W]e have kind of cross section of people in the audience now,” Ray says. “And we know, because we talk to people. We meet people who say, ‘We’re Republican, but still like your music.’”
Ray sat down with Southern Voice for a casual interview over the kitchen counter in her publicist’s office on Ralph McGill Boulevard. Unlike many celebrities, she chatted with no media handlers poised to intercept questions, and offered thoughtful answers on a variety of topics while also joking about the make-up she was still wearing from an earlier television interview.
Together, Ray and Emily Saliers have carved out a successful place in rock and roll history with their sometimes haunting, always sincere folk music combined with avid social activism that has spanned the decades to reach not only lesbians and gay men, but apparently, everyone else.
As a solo artist, Ray made her own mark in the rock scene with her first two albums, “Stag” and “Prom.” For those projects, she collaborated with rockers including The Butchies and Joan Jett.
With “Didn’t It Feel Kinder,” Ray tones down the aggression evident in her first albums to reveal her more heartwarming, gentle side.
“I wrote ‘She’s Got to Be’ and ‘Bus Bus’ around the same time and realized I wanted to treat these songs different rather than just go rock out,” she says. “I really wanted to have a vision, work on the rhythm section and musicality. In earlier records, I was just getting my ideas out and finding my way.”
AS PART OF HER NEW VISION, Ray collaborated with a producer for the first time on her solo work. She says working with Greg Griffith (The Butchies, Le Tigre) was both challenging and rewarding.
“He is incredibly talented. He wouldn’t let me be lazy,” Ray says. “I think sometimes … I would settle because I liked the lyrics so much, not stretch it more.”
On “Kinder,” Ray continues to collaborate with former Butchies drummer Melissa York, Kaia Wilson, and pop star Belinda Carlisle, as well as newcomers Arizona, a band Ray admits having a slight obsession with.
The album’s title comes from the song “Rabbit Foot,” Ray explains.
“It’s a song about love and forgiveness and compassion and how to take the high road in any situation,” she says. “I realized I struggled with that on the whole record. What does it mean to have an ally? What does it mean to have anger and to be alienated from someone or to try to have compassion for someone who does things that are really bad or violent?”
“‘Didn’t It Feel Kinder’ is for people to think about and fill in the blank [as to what feels kinder],” she says. “My feeling is, didn’t it feel kinder when you let love abide.”
A PROUD “GRADY BABY,” Ray was born at Grady Memorial Hospital in 1964 and raised in Decatur. Her grandmother is from Atlanta, and her mother grew up in the West End. Ray’s immediate and extended family remain in Atlanta and Georgia, and she says like any traditional Southern family, there are lots of members and they are very close to each other.
“At my brother’s wedding, there were like 120 people, all relatives, at the rehearsal dinner,” she says.
Ray also has two older sisters, both gay. One sister is a physician and a mom, and the other works at Agnes Scott College. Her brother is a physician at Emory. They all are musicians as well, Ray says.
And, interestingly, Ray’s parents are both Republicans, although she says they are very open-minded, especially on gay issues.
“They raised their daughters to be independent women, and they’re probably regretting it, thinking, ‘Oh no, they’re so independent,’” she laughs. “But they raised all of us to be engaged in community. Not just the Republican community.”
RAY SAYS HER IDENTITY growing up in Atlanta was that of a musician rather than anything to do with her sexual orientation. She and Saliers began performing together in high school.
“Later on, I met people who grew up in North Atlanta who were gay and were punk rock, Goth, and it was articulated. But that just wasn’t talked about in my scene,” she says. “It was a wasteland on some level.”
In college at Emory University, Ray says she didn’t frequent many gay bars and never went to Backstreet. She did go to discos where there were quarter-beer nights and occasionally hit The Tower or the Otherside Lounge when a friend was performing.
Mostly, Ray’s friends lived in warehouses on Garnett Street downtown, and a lot of her free time was spent hanging out on their roofs. But when she discovered Little Five Points, Ray says that’s where she found her true identity.
“Little Five Points was my scene. That’s where I met the trans crowd, punks, poets, political people, and at the same time there were families,” she says.
RAY AND SALIERS ARE KNOWN for their political and environmental activism, probably as much as they are for their music. They work especially close with indigenous people to conserve the environment and are holding voter registration drives on the Indigo Girls’ current tour.
On “Didn’t It Feel Kinder,” Ray still doesn’t shy away from politics, exploring the tragic shooting at Virginia Tech in the song “Who Sold the Gun.”
Violence in the U.S. is everywhere, she says, and sometimes it’s just easier to hate people. But when someone hurts you, it’s best to, yes, be kind.
“You have to love people regardless, and hold them in that light,” Ray says. “That’s what turns that energy of violence, or hatred or bigotry into something else. I think you have to be steadfast in that.”