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