hardrock.com: a shining ray of indigo – interview with amy ray
original publish date: unknown
by Kelly Ladd, hardrock.com
When you and Emily were 10 and 11 years old, you met for the first time. Do you remember the original meeting?
Amy:I think I just walked to the cafeteria and Emily was playing songs sitting at the lunch table. Everyone was around her and she was playing songs. I don’t even think I said “Hello.” I think that was the first time I experienced her. We didn’t really talk much at all. We were a year apart.
Do you recall the first time you and Emily played music together?
Amy: High school. I think I was in 10th grade; she was in 11th. We were in high school chorus together and we decided to get together and learn a James Taylor song.
Many friendships go up and down, what has kept you and Emily so tight over the years? How have you stayed a solid pair?
Amy: I think we’ve managed to be friends by giving each other a lot of space, and respecting the strengths that the other has. Emily, you know, has writing and her music and her own life. I look at it and I respect it and try to learn from it. And she does the same with me. But when we come together, we look at what we do together and it’s stronger than what we can do separately. We just always remember that. We have faith in the process. You know, it is hard to be friends with one person for so long. It’s very hard. But I also think it’s something that you’re lucky to have and don’t question it too much. That’s how you keep it going.
I noticed on your website that you are really into activism, such as protesting against going to war with Iraq. Could you expand your thoughts about the issue?
Amy: No one disagrees that Hussein is a lunatic and I wouldn’t say a kind man from what he has done in the past. But I don’t see a reason presently for us to preemptively strike against him on the notion that they might or that they are trying to develop nuclear weapons. I think a lot of people in Iraq have already been hurt; for instance sanctions against them. There is no doubt the regime needs to change over time, but I don’t think it’s our place to go in and have a war with a country hoping that the regime is going to change. It will really decimate a lot of the civilians. You know, a lot of the civilians are really suffering. They are not going to suffer just because of us, they’ll suffer because of him. I think we would be irritating a fragile situation that might throw us into something really deep that we can’t get out of. I think at this time our relationship with the international community is very important. Our relationship with the Arab community is very important, especially what’s going on with terrorism. It’s not the time to compromise those relations.
It’s very scary.
Amy: I think it’s very scary. I think there are some political goals around oil that are fueling this. They have nothing to do with whether Saddam Hussein has nuclear weapons or bio-weapons. So I think there are other things going on. It’s like playing around with people’s lives. It doesn’t seem right to me.
Back in 1995, you started the “Honor The Earth Tours,” which has raised more than $300,000 for Native Americans. Which tribe received most of the money and how have their conditions improved?
Amy: The money has been spread out. It’s not directly to one tribe. What it is is we fund organizations that are doing environmental work or cultural work that are run by native people. So it might be an organization that works with three different tribes in the same region against nuclear waste. You know for instance at Yucca Mountain, we’ve been fighting the nuclear waste dump out there. It’s three different groups of people, three different tribes working together. In Alaska, we helped. It was one tribe the Eyak. It was also a couple of others. A group called the Gwichen working to fight the Alaskan pipeline just to preserve their ways and territories. The Eyak’s are working to preserve an area forest near the Prince William Sound. Oh gosh, down in Florida, we worked with the independents, traditional Seminole nation. Not the Seminoles that have the casinos, the ones that are more in the wetlands down south. We’ve worked with them, helping them preserve some cultural land and for fighting for their right to live in the kinds of housing they want to live in. There are probably 75-100 tribes that have been affected by the money that we have raised. We’re getting grants. They apply for a grant. One group will say, “We are trying to fight the clean up of a waterway that has been polluted by a paper mill. We need this much money for this issue.” And we’ll look at the grant, or our board will, we have a board made up of mostly native people, and then we’ll say, “Let’s fund this. Or let’s wait until next year.” So that’s how it works. It’s a lot of issues. We’ve toured a few times. We’ve done a tour to raise money. During the tour, we go to each area that we are giving money to.
So you do visit each area?
Amy: Yeah, our western tour, where we did the northwest and then California. We also did a mid-western tour and then we did an east coast tour. As we’re going down through the east coast, we’re hitting different causes in different regions. We might start out with an issue about a paper mill, then move into a superfund clean up site polluted by General Motors, then we might move into an issue around nuclear dumping in Pennsylvania. We move down the coast and we’re talking to the tribes as we’re going.
That’s good. So you’re able to visit the tribes and get to experience what they have to give and offer and live their way of life.
Amy: Yes, exactly.
Since tours can get really tiresome and draining, how do you reconnect with your spirit while you’re on the road?
Amy: For me, everyday I exercise. I lift weights or I go biking or hiking. I take my mountain bike with me. A lot of times, I’ll just ride 30 miles just around looking at where I am. What I enjoy is when I get into the rhythm of a tour and every time we’re in a city I’m able to check out where we are for a couple of hours. You know, so you’re relating to where you are when you are singing that night. Every audience has their own particular thing and it has to do with where they’re from, where they live and what they relate to. It’s nice to see what that is.
If fans got a chance to go through your CD collection, what would they find?
Amy: Everything. Well, I have a lot of punk records. Independent music I mean. A lot of stuff just released on independent labels. A lot of demo tapes that people have given me that I’ve kept. That’s probably the majority of what I have. You know, I have tons of LPs from the 60’s and 70’s that I’ve collected when I was younger. I used to work in a record store. I have so many CDs and records. You’d find hip-hop. The thing I don’t have is a heavy metal collection and I don’t have a lot of country records. I like metal but I just don’t have much of it. Most of the stuff I have is alternative.
What effect do you think being a woman has had on your career?
Amy: I could write a whole series of books about it. I think it has been both negative and positive. On the negative side, there is a lot of sexism in the music business that has to do with radio play and magazines. The mainstream rock machine is very sexist and it’s a struggle. If you’re a woman singer/songwriter there is a limited amount of places where you will get played on the radio or get exposed in a mainstream way. But if you’re a woman just playing rock ‘n’ roll, it’s just as hard because for some reason women are just not accepted as much. There have been a few people that have been accepted, but there is not room for any more. On the positive side, I think I’ve just been able to experience a lot of things that men don’t get to experience because of the negative stuff. I’ve learned a lot. It made me more empathic to what everyone has been through in the work place or the struggles that they may have. It’s also made me more empathic towards men who are becoming more and more marketed in the same way women are nowadays. It’s all about image and they’re going through the same machinery women have been going through. I think it’s hard. Men are starting to see that and don’t want to be products any more than women do. It’s good and bad. As a woman you can’t separate your gender from what you do and I hope one day you’ll be able to. It doesn’t make a difference, you know. But we hope.
What advice would you give a woman just starting out in the music business?
Amy: I think there has to be an understanding that there is sexism out there. Not having blinders to it, but just putting it in the back of your mind and not letting it effect what you do. Just do your thing. Not let it hinder you from trying to achieve something. It’s a hurdle—get over it. For me, I’ve never let it hold me back. I’ve always thought, if I can’t get through it, I’ll just take a different road or I’ll build my own. I’ll do whatever I have to do to get it done and I’m not going to let it paralyze me. I think that’s what everybody needs to do.
You’ve been around since the mid-80’s, what do you think has contributed to your longevity?
Amy: Our loyal fan-base. We’re just really lucky. I don’t even know. It’s the fan-base that passes our tapes around. They hand them down to their younger siblings and to their kids. We’re lucky. It’s like handed down consistently to different people. People turn each other onto it. By word of mouth, in the basic sense. We’re grateful for that. That’s what kept it alive. It’s the attitude people have towards it.