Amy Ray is not an easy person to label. Legendary folk musician? Lesbian icon? Tireless advocate for myriad social and political causes? Record label owner? Ray has done it all.
As a member of the Grammy-winning duo Indigo Girls, Ray sold millions of records and won the hearts of many with a smart blend of folk, rock, and punk. At 36, Ray released her first solo album, called Stag.
“It’s not like I felt shortchanged or blocked by the Indigo Girls,” explains Ray, “but there was something I was trying to express that didn’t fit into that format.” Indeed, the Indigo Girls are still officially together, albeit on hiatus as Ray and fellow Indigo Girl Emily Saliers explore other projects.
Ray released her latest solo effort, Lung of Love, this year. Lung of Love runs the gamut emotionally, from “When You’re Gone You’re Gone,” a heartbreaking tale of love and loss, to “Glow,” which is literally about the best day Ray ever had. There’s also a philosophical exploration of human pain in “Little Revolution” and a call to walk with the poor and needy in “From Haiti.” The album features Ray’s traditional punk-rock-influenced swagger but the spirit of her origins in the Southeast also come through loud and clear; acoustic instruments and slide guitars pepper the record with a beautiful Appalachian feel.
Ray has hit the road in promotion of her latest album, Lung of Love, playing smaller clubs than you might expect to see an Indigo Girl play. She will be swinging through Nashville on May 8 with a stop at Third and Lindsley, providing an incredible opportunity for anyone who wants to see an acclaimed musician, gifted songwriter, and brilliant humanitarian in a more intimate environment.
Out & About Newspaper caught up with Ray on the road to talk about touring and the road gay recording artists have to travel.
Out & About Newspaper: Thanks so much for doing this! I’m really excited.
Amy Ray: Me too. I have a cold though, so, sorry about that.
O&AN: Oh geez. I’m sorry about that; getting a cold on tour is like the worst thing ever. You’ve actually been on tour a really long time, haven’t you?
AR: I do it all the time, so basically for 25 years I’ve been touring.
O&AN: That’s insane.
AR: But the way we do it, we don’t do more than three weeks at a time, although I just did five. But that’s really rare, it’s usually three weeks on, ten days off. And we take time off for holidays. It’s really fun but it’s definitely exhausting.
O&AN: I love talking about touring. If you could put together an All-Star touring band, living or dead, who’d be in it?
AR: The people I have. [laughs]
O&AN: [laughs] Good answer!
AR: God, who knows? Maybe Carol Kaye on bass.
AR: She’s so amazing.
O&AN: Not enough people know about Carol Kaye.
AR: Yeah, I know. Maybe Joan Jett on rhythm guitar. I’d probably grab some background singers from some great folk group. And then drums-wise, it’s hard to say because I love my band so much.
O&AN: That’s a perfectly fair answer.
AR: John Bonham, I don’t know. [laughs]
O&AN: I know we don’t have a whole lot of time so I want to take this in another direction: what do you think has changed about being a female artist since you’ve been doing this and what do you think still needs to change?
AR: Oh, God. [laughs]
O&AN: Okay, loaded question.
AR: I think culturally, the new generation comes up, people are younger, they don’t have the same hang-ups. So kids that are 15 or 16, they might be like, well, of course I’m going to play the electric guitar.
O&AN: How important do you think knowing the history of feminism is for kids?
AR: Really important. I’m a very strong advocate of not forgetting your history and not forgetting whose shoulders you’re standing on. Maybe there’ll be a time when everything can be forgotten, when we’re living in fantasy land, but we still don’t have equal pay for women. There’s still not that many women in rock radio. There’s still not that many women record label owners. Women are still way behind, no doubt about it.
O&AN: Do you think the struggle of gay musicians parallels the struggle of female musicians or do you think it’s a different battle?
AR: I think it’s a similar battle because when you talk about homophobia, you can’t separate that from sexism. “Sexism,” meaning that women are supposed to look a certain way and be submissive. That intersects with a gay female artist that might be butch or really strong or the “wrong kind” of gay artist. It’s okay for [female] gay artists if they’re really pretty and docile and submissive, but it’s not okay for a [female] gay artist if they’re a butch badass. And then with men, if a man’s too effeminate that’s negative, because effeminate is seen as weak, because women are seen as weak. Feminism is the root of everything when you talk about homophobia and sexism.
O&AN: What advice would you give young gay musicians?
AR: I’d give them the same advice I’d give a straight person, which is write songs and play as many gigs as you can. If you’re an amazing vocalist and you just want to be a pop star and you have a certain image and you’re good at performance art, that’s another road. And you better be really good at that. But if you’re a songwriter and you want to establish a career that’s not hinged on pop stuff, you need to write and play as many shows as you can.
O&AN: That’s awesome.
AR: It doesn’t matter if you’re gay or straight, that’s how you’re going to make it. And with gay musicians specifically, everyone’s on their own path with that, as far as how they want to handle that stuff. I think you need to be as honest and true to yourself as you can be. You might as well, because eventually you’re going to have to be.
O&AN: That’s so awesome. This has been totally great. It’s a real pleasure, an honor, actually.
AR: Thanks, Ellen. I hope I get to meet you on down the road.
O&AN: Thanks so much, Amy.
AR: Take care.
Tickets is Amy Ray’s concert at Third and Lindsley are just $12, which if you forgo a couple of lattes this week, will be $12 very, very well spent.