areavoices.com: more from amy ray of the indigo girls
original publish date: 24 june 2009
by christa lawler, duluth news tribune
Here are the outtakes from a conversation with Amy Ray of the Indigo Girls from earlier this week. They will be performing at 7:30 p.m. Sunday at Big Top Chautauqua. For additional Q&A from the folk singer/songwriter, see Thursday’s Wave.
ON BEING AN INDIE BAND AGAIN
“It’s mostly like logistical things, really. I mean, musically … we’ve always done exactly what we want to do. Except for things like, this record … it’s a double record. We put out an acoustic version of the whole record. That’s something we might not have been able to do because of getting permission and getting extra money. In that way, it would have put a dent in our creativity. But you know, creative freedom-wise we’ve always done what we want. It’s business stuff. It’s like how you spend your money on marketing and not wasting so much and making sure things are recycled, you know, that kind of stuff. Writing your own show. Being able to be an activist band in a larger way, I think.”
ON WHAT RAY WRITES TO PERFORM SOLO, AND WHAT SHE WRITES FOR THE BAND
“I usually just know as soon as I start writing it what it feels like to me. My songs … there’s less emphasis on the harmony and my songs feel more singular to me. Kind of like, it feels like it’s really something I don’t want another sort of color in it. Because when me and Emily put our songs into an arrangement with Indigo Girls, we really color each others songs in a pretty heavy way. So if there’s stuff Emily just wants to do alone, she feels like it’s more intimate, I don’t sing with her — and vice versa. My solo stuff tends to be really rock or kind of influenced in that way. I know the players I’m going to use on my solo stuff, and they’re really different from the players we’d use on Indigo Girls stuff. All those things go through my head when I’m doing it.”
ON HOW A SONG, LIKE ‘SUGAR TONGUE’ FROM THE NEW CD, IS BORN
“The first impetus for [‘Sugar Tongue’] was like I was literally getting a shoe shine at an airport, which is something I rarely do, because it makes me feel kind of uncomfortable. But this guy kind of talked me into it because he didn’t have any costumers. We had this long conversation. He was from … South America. We talked a lot about colonialism, his perspective. I don’t know how we got into that. I think he was talking about mining — bauxite mining in his country and what the boom did for him. I was sort of looking at it, of course, from the other perspective because I’m a white liberal. And it was an interesting flip flop of all those things.
I was just thinking about it. I wrote a long sort of story about it and then I just kind of left it in my lyric book. That’s what I do when something happens. I just write a lot of stuff and I don’t really think about what I’m going to use it for. Then I had another conversation with someone late at night on our tour bus, someone who works for us. We were talking about — I don’t know vegetarianism, consumerism and the impacts of western civilization and stuff. Heavy, you know. So I wrote a lot about that too.
And then, what often happens is, I’m sitting down with my guitar and I start playing some sort of chord progression that reminds me of something I’ve written in my lyric journal, and I thumb through it and I mark all the pages that might have something to do with that. Like, if I’ve written anything else that makes me feel the same things, I mark them all with little Post-Its. Then I go through and start recording ideas and piecing it together. That’s how I work. Then a song is eventually born.”
MORE ON WRITING
“For me, a song takes like a good amount of time, off and on. I can work on the same song for a year. And I’ll be working on 5-10 songs at the same time. And then, what happens next, I put it down on tape. I kind of play it during sound check a lot … just to try it out. Then when Emily and I get ready to start on a new record, I give her a tape of it and all the lyrics and write down the chord progression and she sits with it for awhile and kind of comes up with her own ideas. And then we sit down together and she tosses out her ideas, and I toss out mine, and we tape everything as we go and then listen back to what we think sounded the best.
[Emily] usually writes her songs a lot faster. We’re not informed of each other’s creative process while things are going on, except to hear it through the dressing room door or during sound check. I don’t necessarily know where her songs come from and she doesn’t really know where mine come from, except when we hear each other talk about it. Which is kind of cool. It means there’s mystery there and it gives us the chance to put our own point to it.”
ON WHAT RAY IS LISTENING TO
“There’s a band called Common Rotation that just finished a new record where they played with a bluegrass band called Dustbowl Cavaliers. I’m listening to the record … it’s coming out in a couple months. It’s an amazing record. It’s a friend of mine. Typically, what I’m listening to is a demo tape or someone I know just finished a record.
There are a lot of great bands. There’s a band I just discovered awhile back. Detroit 7 is a Japanese kind of garage rock punk band. I was kind of on a bend where I listened to them a lot for while.”
… AND WHILE WORKING OUT?
I often listen to the Shins while I’m working out. I have all of their records on my iPod and I listen to the Shins a lot. Them, and a guy named Josh Ritter, I listen to him when I’m working out. Sometimes I listen to something like rap or Hip-Hop stuff like Outkast or Tupac, something where I’m trying to get going, you know.”
ON WHAT TO EXPECT AT BIG TOP SHOW
“We’re playing with a keyboard player, for one thing. She’s played with us off and on for a long time. She’s touring steadily with us right now. … We’re playing almost everything from the new record. People really seem to want to hear it. And a mixture of old stuff. We try to cover a little bit off every record.”