Catching Up With… Amy Ray

Music Features Amy Ray

Indigo Girl Amy Ray released her third solo studio album, Didn’t It Feel Kinder, on Aug. 5. Paste editor-in-chief Josh Jackson recently spoke with Ray about her songwriting, her experiences as a label head and the Indigo Girls’ first album as independent artists.

Paste: Didn’t It Feel Kinder is coming out on your own record label again. You’ve been doing this for a while now. Does it feel like you’ve figured out the record business side of things?

Amy Ray: (laughs) Uh, no. You know, it keeps changing, so what I’ve figured out is that it keeps changing. You have to do your thing and try not to get too caught up in predicting and being reactionary and kind of forge a path for yourself and for the label. Running the label, I’ve learned where to spend money and where not to spend money and all those logistical things. But also, I just get a lot of fun out of it. It feeds me in that way.

: Does a solo album feel like more work or less work than putting out an Indigo Girls album?

Ray: It’s definitely more work, because I am my own infrastructure, so I have to handle everything. I don’t really use a management office—I mean, I have a manager who manages Indigo Girls. But I just do everything myself, so it’s a ton of work. And putting out an Indigo record, for the last however many years, we’ve always had a label, so it was just a matter of, like, keeping after them and making sure they were doing what they said they were gonna do. But we’ve been dropped, so we’re independent now. So we’ll be doing a lot of own stuff, and that’ll shift a lot. But just in the last five years, the change in the landscape has been that most bands—even when they’re on a label—create a lot of their own content for the web and do a lot of their own promotion for the web. So labels aren’t that necessary. I think it’s probably gonna be a similar amount of work, but just split up, you know, with more people and stuff as we start up again.We’re putting a new record out in winter that we just recorded, so, after Didn’t It Feel Kinder, I’ll see what it’s like to be independent with the Indigo Girls.

Paste: Will that be a Daemon Records release?

Ray: No, we’re just gonna get a distribution deal and not create, like, a whole label or anything.

Paste: Is that exciting for you to think about Indigo Girls being independent and not having the major label behind you?

Ray: Yeah! I love it. I’ve wanted to be indie for a long time, and I think it’s gonna be great for us, and really fun. Of course, putting out my own stuff makes me feel more comfortable about it, because I already kind of feel like I know—not necessarily completely how to do it—but I know the landscape, and I know what it takes. And it doesn’t scare me just to suddenly be independent. It just feels like home.

Paste: You’ve never shied away from difficult material and that’s certainly the case on this one.

Ray: Maybe. It’s hard for me to know what’s difficult because my perspective is obviously pretty different.

Paste: How do you approach a subject like the Virginia Tech killings?

Ray: One thing about something like that that’s so sensitive and disturbing with so many people involved—I just try to be honest. I wrote down a bunch of stuff in a journal after that happened, and it became a song. How I approach a subject like that is that it’s just not that black and white, you know? And I try to have compassion for all sides of the issue, and talk about that more than anything—talk about the nuances and conflicts within the issue, and the irony and maybe the hypocrisy. There’s so much anger and hurt involved, and I like to get inside it and understand how it works in the greater society at large. Why do those things happen? And can we really be commenting so strongly on some kid that does that when we’re such a violent society? So I think for a song like that, I just try to be honest about the things I’m thinking about but not be too pedantic and preachy.

Paste: Do a lot of your lyrics come from journaling? Is that a common thing for you?

Ray: I don’t like journal like you do, like keeping a diary. I have a lyric book, and I just write. They’re not meant to be journals. It’s probably the wrong word that I used, but they’re meant to be reflections. And then I sort of draw my thoughts from that. But I also use my lyric books when I have like a specific song. I’ll write it down in there too. But I just have to carry a bunch of books around with me and try to write as much as I can. And then I take time out, sit down with my guitar, set up my electric guitar, whatever I have with me, and start working on things.

Paste: Does anybody else ever see the inside of those books?

Ray: No. No one does. And no one ever will hopefully. (laughs) There’s some pretty bad stuff in there. I mean, you know, writing is such a process, and I write some pretty bad stuff to begin with. Hopefully it becomes better.

: Your last studio album, Prom, was very inward-looking, dealing with growing up and adolescence and just all the difficulties that come with that. This one seems to reach a little more outward into other issues.Do you have a preference or is there a reason why you shift focus like that? Or is that just where you were at that particular time?

Ray: I think it was just a natural shift because maybe you just get tired of looking inward too much. Prom kind of came out even more inward-looking than I intended in some ways. I think it sort of snowballed in the songs, and it worked together in a way that made them seem even more inward and personal—an adolescent kind of journey. But when it started out, it was really a lot of stories about friends, not even about myself, so it kind of rolled onto itself and became something different than I even intended. So you just never know. And I just had a really different perspective when I was writing this record for some reason. I think I had gotten a lot of stuff out of my system on Prom, and just wrote differently and was playing with different musicians. Everything affects it, you know? I’m happy where it’s at. I definitely didn’t want to make another Prom.

Paste: Does the Indigo Girls record that’ll be coming out in the winter have any sort of direction or theme to it?

Ray: I don’t know what the theme is but we recorded it. Mitchell Frome produced it and we recorded it with a full band, and he played keyboards on it. But I guess the cool thing about this record is we did it very quickly—we did the whole thing in three weeks. But within that time, we also took four days out and recorded the same exact record as an acoustic duo. So we have two versions of it. And I don’t know how we’re gonna put those out, but they’ll come out some way and close to the same time or something.

Paste: That’s very cool. So will this be a December release?

Ray: It’s probably more like a January/February release. Once we get our ducks in a row.

Paste: Are you going to tour behind Didn’t It Feel Kinder as a solo artist?

Ray: Yeah. I’m gonna be touring probably October through January.

Paste: And will you bring a band out with you?

Ray: Oh, yeah. I mean my solo stuff is purely like a rock CD, so I definitely wouldn’t do an acoustic tour with that record. I’ll probably play some acoustic shows, like little promo shows, but the point of the solo work for me is to be in a completely different space than I did in the Indigo Girls. And that space is more electric.

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