Arts & Entertainment
Ray of light
Indigo Girl talks new album, band's beginnings and trailblazing
By Andrea Poteet
Originally printed 5/3/2012 (Issue 2018 - Between The Lines News)
On her sixth solo album, "Lung of Love," Amy Ray takes listeners to church with confessional lyrics about faith, life and love in her honest, soulful voice.
But Ray, half of iconic lesbian folk-pop duo The Indigo Girls, would rather be taking them to the dance floor.
"I think I just have this fantasy of making a 10- or 15-song record, like a Ramones record, where every song's two-and-a-half minutes and you can dance to every single one of them," Ray rasps from a van headed through Connecticut on a recent day off touring behind "Lung of Love." "I always wanted to make a record that's just like that, but it never happens because I'm always writing other kinds of stuff and I just end up wanting to put that on there too."
The album, which Ray released on her own Daemon Records and will support with a stop on May 10 at Ann Arbor's Blind Pig, is a departure for Ray, who for the first time worked with a co-writer. Producer Greg Griffith took a break from playing bass and guitar on the record to assist with songwriting duties. Ray and Indigo Girl Emily Saliers usually write separately then arrange and record together.
"I was kind of hitting a wall so I asked him to work on a chorus or a bridge or a melody for this or that and it became really easy for us to work together on that kind of stuff," Ray says. "It just helped me to have someone kind of step in when I hit a wall, especially with melody and where a song goes, how to get a certain narrative in a musical way."
Griffith brought more than just songwriting to the album. His North Carolina warehouse studio, which also houses several churches, served as inspiration during the Sunday morning recording of "The Rock is My Foundation," the album's Appalachian Gospel stomp. For Ray, the song is a nod to her Christian upbringing in suburban Georgia.
"It's whatever your cultural references are that make you feel like you have a center sometimes. For me, it's my upbringing, being raised on Jesus," she says with a laugh. "No matter how pagan I become or how far away I might drift from where I started, I'm still going to have those cultural references. I think it's part of my language and I just let it happen."
Where it started for Ray was with a love of music. As a girl, she idolized glam rockers like David Bowie and Elton John for their powerful voices and male perspectives without ever connecting it to her own sexuality.
"I didn't even know what it meant to be gay until I had fallen in love with a woman at age 17," says Ray, 48. "I had no idea who was gay and who wasn't iconically."
In 1980, she began recording with childhood friend Saliers. The pair, who have never dated, were out to their families, but struggled with the decision to come out publicly for the next 10 years.
"We were scared, that's the bottom line," Ray says. "I wanted to talk about it, and she really didn't and we would wax and wane between the two of us on either side of the equation. It just felt disingenuous not to address it. We didn't lie or run away from it in a really bold way, but I think we definitely sidestepped it sometimes."
Though Ray and Saliers were among the first openly gay bands to have Top-40 success and a loyal cult following, she says she doesn't consider herself a pioneer for out performers.
"I don't think of things in those terms because I feel so wrapped up in a community that has so many different levels of mentoring," Ray says. "I'm being mentored by kids in high school that are doing great activism and opening doors for me about how to articulate gender politics. And at the same time, there may be people who come to me and say, 'How would you handle this situation: coming out or not coming out?' There (are) a lot of people doing things that open those doors."
She said young gay musicians may still face backlash and "ghettoization," but she's glad that didn't deter her from speaking publicly about her sexuality, despite record executives and publicists who disagreed.
"The bottom line is you just gotta be honest about who you are and where it goes, you just don't have any control over. You just have to do your music."
And for Ray, that means going wherever her songwriting takes her, from folk, punk and country influences to the constant attempt at the illusive perfect pop album.
"Maybe I'll collect everything that I think fits on the kind of record and put a record together that's just that at some point," Ray says about her pop leanings.
Anything else just wouldn't be honest.
9 p.m. May 10
208 S. First St., Ann Arbor
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