Amy Ray’s More Than Just Indigo

Many of you may not know the name Amy Ray, but we’re sure you know the name of her band, The Indigo Girls.

It’s under that name that Ray – alongside Emily Saliers – began her nearly twenty-year long music career. Knowing all good musicians need to push their boundaries, Ray broke off in 2001 and began releasing solo projects. Now, a mere seven years later, the 44-year old celebrates the release of her fourth, Didn’t It Feel Kinder?

In addition to all her aural deeds, Ray’s made a name for herself on the activist scene, campaigning for native rights, environmental justice and, yes, gay rights. Taken together, Ray becomes far more than just one-half of a lesbian folk outfit.

After the jump, Ray discusses why she loathes the word “lesbian,” how identity politics come and go, and what it feels like to be the butt of a joke.

Oh, yeah, and she also sent over a new track, “Birds of a Feather,” which comes from her aforementioned fourth solo album. Dive in!

Andrew Belonsky: I want to know what keeps you going from 1989 to now – how do you not want to throw up your hands? What keeps you going?

Amy Ray: Well, I think it’s just what I enjoy doing. There are a lot of parts of it that are hard, but there it’s also a lot of fun. I’m a big music fan, too, so I think what keeps me going is hearing what other people play and seeing what they’re doing. I’m really inspired by that and finding a way to evolve and get better at what I do. You know fellow Indigo Girl Emily Saliers and I constantly play with new people and we try to broaden our horizons and when I do my solo stuff, it’s like a completely different world – working on an independent level. Things like that energize me, because they all work together and they all inform each other and create this ball of energy that keeps me going.

AB: How has your artistic perspective and your technique changed over the years?

AR: I think that one thing that’s changed a lot for me is my song-writing technique. In the early days, it was very haphazard and I sort of had this romanticized view that the muse would come. I think as a writer you have to have very serious discipline and a willingness to be brutal with yourself, edit and be critical of things. For me, I don’t get burdened by that discipline. It sets me free and write with a whole lot in confidence and then craft that material. I think vocally I’ve changed a lot over the years, too. That took a lot of discipline, as well. I started really working with vocal exercises and trying to work on my voice and get more range and learn how to sing in different ways, in different tones. All of that technical stuff has over time changed and improved me. It’s given me more access to my instrument.

AB: Aside from technology, has the music industry changed?

AR: Aside from technology, I don’t think it has. Attitude wise, there are still what I call “the gate keepers” – I mean in the mainstream media and radio, what you would consider to be traditional models of media. Those gatekeepers are still very narrow and homogenized and don’t really understand how to think outside the box and give access to the public to more diversity. I don’t think that’s changed, but I do think the public has changed a lot. They don’t care as much about your sexuality or gender. They just want to hear a good song.

AB: And you have contributed to that – would you agree?

AR: I don’t know if I agree, but I’m glad about it.

AB: The Indigo Girls are often seen as stereotypical lesbians singing, being folky – the 90s image of lesbians that was put forth pre-The L Word, while I think the image of lesbians now is much more glam.

AR: Yes. Or vapid.