Interview with an Indigo Girl
Amy Ray is a member of the folk duo Indigo Girls along with Emily Saliers. Ray also has a solo career, released six albums under her own name and founded a record company called Daemon Records.
The Indigo Girls play an electric show at Pride Fest on Saturday, June 8 at 10:30 p.m. They recently released "Beauty Queen Sister" and is touring with The Shadowboxers, a young Atlanta five-piece.
Ray was born in Decatur, Ga., and today she lives in the foothills of northern Georgia. She and Saliers met in high school and started performing together at that time. They became the Indigo Girls in 1985 when they were attending Emory University.
Ray is also an activist involved in gay rights, low-power broadcasting, women's rights, indigenous struggles, gun control, environmental protection and the anti-death penalty movement, among others. She has traveled to Chiapas, Mexico to support the Zapatista Army of National Liberation.
In 1993, she and Saliers co-founded Honor the Earth with Winona LaDuke. The group's mission is "to create awareness and support for Native [American] environmental issues and to develop needed financial and political resources for the survival of sustainable Native communities. Honor the Earth develops these resources by using music, the arts, the media, and indigenous wisdom to ask people to recognize our joint dependency on the Earth and be a voice for those not heard."
OnMilwaukee.com recently had the chance to chat with Ray about homesickness, new music, songs she refuses to play on stage and Beans and Barley.
OnMilwaukee.com: What is exciting to you about the new album?
Amy Ray: We actually made it quite a while back, but we still feel really excited about it. I think that's a good sign. We made it in Nashville with a gang of country players that we played with on a holiday record. We loved them so much we wanted to make a regular record. It was fun. We did two songs live every day and because of that, it has a certain spontaneity and a rawness, but the playing's really good. They're just great players but not in a vanilla stale way. They're creative. They take risks.
OMC: Do you have a favorite Indigo Girls song?
AR: Oh, wow, we have so many and it always changes for me.
OMC: Are there any Indigo Girls' songs you won't perform anymore?
AR: Oh, sure. I don't do "Blood and Fire." I'm just in such a different place. It had its time. We don't like to play stuff unless we're really into it. But that rotates and maybe in five years we'll feel differently and start doing a song again. You just don't know.
OMC: How would you describe your relationship with Emily?
AR: We're like siblings.We don't hang out away from music because we spend so much time together in music and so we need to spend time away from music, with our people and our communities. We live an hour away. We email every day. We're family: we have a lot of history together. We love each other. We communicate well. We have learned how to have a functional relationship and a business relationship and it's one of those things we don't think about too much but we don't take for granted.
We work on our relationship. If we have any tension we talk right away. We're very devoted to the health of the Indigo Girls.
OMC: What current music inspires you?
AR: I really enjoy the Shovels & Rope album. It's a husband and wife Americana act. Really good songwriting. I've also been going through a lot of demos lately that people sent me the last five years. There's always something great that someone recorded in their bedroom. There is just so much good music out there. It's endless.
Another band I'm into is called Fragile Tomorrow and they're kind of a throw back to REM and Elvis Costello. Kind of alt rock.
OMC: Speaking of REM, do you ever see any of the bands from the '80s Athens scene?
AR: I see some of The B-52s every now and again. I haven't talked to the REM guys for awhile. I saw Peter Buck somewhere last year. We still cross paths.
OMC: Do you like touring?
AR: I get homesick. I always have gotten homesick, but I do like touring. It makes me appreciate being in the moment and make every show really worth it. The music becomes the only reason to be out there. It makes the music more honest, intense.
OMC: Do you miss family? Your home?
AR: I miss my girlfriend. My pets. My house. I live in the woods in Georgia. I miss the South when I'm away. I like the people, the vibe.
OMC: How long have you been with your girlfriend?
AR: 11 years.
OMC: What kind of pets do you have?
AR: Five dogs and five cats. We have a pet sitter that helps us out when I'm gone.
OMC: Do you have any thoughts on Milwaukee?
AR: I love Milwaukee because there's still a lot of old stores and bars. And I get to see my friends Mrs. Fun. That's my fondest memories of Milwaukee: going to Beans and Barley with them.
OMC: Are you a social media person?
AR: I am a Facebook person when I have time. And a Twitter person when I have time. I love it to a certain extent. I don't care what someone had for breakfast but I love the use of it to connect and know what's going on in the world of activism. I don't think we need to share everything about our personal lives all the time. It can numb us to the importance of life when it's all shared on Facebook. I try to be mindful of that. But it can be a good place for dialogue.
OMC: What kinds of activism are you involved in these days?
AR: We're always focused on a multitude of issues all the time. Right now, we're working on three shows in September for Honor The Earth, a group we started in the early '90s. It's a Native-led organization we started with Winona LaDuke.
It's our baby. We always let groups set up tables at our shows. We weed through requests and pick the people we think are doing really good work from domestic abuse shelters to hunger drive organizations to Amnesty International. Not everyone feels the same way we do, and that's OK with us. Our music and activism has its own place.
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