Amy Ray Shares her Lung of Love
“The Rock is My Foundation”
As part of the duo Indigo Girls, Amy Ray has already made an indelible mark in the music world. And while the partnership with Emily Saliers expanded from the original union of two voices and two acoustic guitars, she still has more to say creatively.
Starting with 2001’s Stag, Ray has released six solo albums including her latest, Lung of Love, on her Daemon Records label. The album presents 10 sharply-written tracks that supply one pleasurable surprise after another, from pure pop moments to distorted guitar rave-ups and Appalachian gospel.
On the album she not only reunites with Greg Griffith, producer of her last solo effort, 2008’s Didn’t It Feel Kinder but takes matters a step further by co-writing five tracks with him. Despite nearly 30 years with Saliers, it’s the first time she’s collaborated on songs.
Using her touring band gave the material a crisp sense of urgency while keyboard overdubs and guest vocalists Jim James, Brandi Carlile and Lindsay Fuller produced a fuller sound.
As far as how the album title fits within Ray’s status as an artist, she explained that while on the road the idea of the lung, not the heart, became the inspiration as the focal point of love. “I have a compass — morally, physically — and I am pulled in different directions. I was thinking about how these opposite urges create stress and clumsiness in our lives.
“The lung of love is my singing voice. That is what comes out of me, but always in a struggle with its own clumsiness and frailty.”
JPG: Just about everything I read about you you’re always referred to as the punk side of Indigo Girls. I listen to your music and you’re more rock ‘n’ roll than Emily Saliers and a lot of the bands that you’re into — the Clash and the Replacements were punks and stuff like that — but the music that you’re producing isn’t really punk rock in its typical sense. Do you ever get sick of that description?
AR: Well, for me it’s the part that can be accurate because of what I’m influenced by probably and, obviously, there are a lot of songs that aren’t that. There’s a few songs that are. On this new record there’s a song like “From Haiti,” kind of influenced by Chumbawumba and the Clash and Patti Smith and stuff. But it doesn’t go in that direction as much as something like [the album] “Stag” would have or maybe some of the songs on “Didn’t It Feel Kinder.”
I think people that see the show see it that way too because I’m playing songs from every record. I’m drawn from a lot of the harder edge stuff. It’s a real rock show, you know? It feels that way, and you can feel that’s why that reference is there because of the energy that is in it.
What’s the most important part of that [punk] movement for me is the philosophy of it, the DIY part, what Fugazi did and what Ian [MacKaye ]did and in DC; those different scenes in different cities that really showed a way to play your music and not have boundaries, to get past the gatekeepers by building your own infrastructures.
JPG: You saying that reminds me of this. Have you read Michael Azerrad’s Our Band Could Be Your Life ?
AR: Yes. I love that book.
JPG: So do I. You made me think of it when you mentioned Fugazi. The one song on the album that I would say is closest to punk in sound — you mentioned “From Haiti” – is “Give It A Go.” It reminds me of a Sugar/Bob Mould song with the treated vocals as well.
AR: Who I love. (laughs) Bob Mould definitely influenced me a lot. Songwriting, too. Melodically, he’s so great. I recorded the demo on my phone. The only thing I had with me and I was riding. The song came out. My friend Greg [Griffith] who was working with me on the record said, “I like the way that sounds. We should just record it through a video camera microphone.” That’s what we did to tape. As far as vocals and guitar and the drums were on regular mics to tape, so it gave it that grungier, desperate feel.
JPG: I didn’t know if it used an effect after you did the vocals or you were singing in some beat up microphone.
AR: Yeah, we used the video camera mic and we used a good mic too, together. It’s live that one, kind of a one shot deal.
JPG: I’d like to run through the new album. Lung of Love is infectiously, accessible. Maybe that’s why I kind of bristle a little bit when the punk label comes up because the songs are really quite poppy in places — “Glow A Little” and “Revolution,” stuff like that. Although there’s other influences going on such as Appalachian gospel on “The Rock is My Foundation.” Was it your intention to make something that sounded poppy with really, really tight and melodic songs.
AR: Actually, it was. I didn’t want to lose energy but I wanted to tighten up everything, and I wanted to pitch to a melody, more specifically, and how the chords worked underneath itself. Working with Greg as producer — he co-wrote some things with me, too — I knew it would go in that direction because that’s really his emphasis as a producer and as a musical being, that pop sensibility. And I wanted that for this record. I wanted to focus real hard and make everything really tight. I knew I could always go back and do another record where everything sounds like Indigo Girls. (laughs)
It’s harder for me to do something where I have a “Glow” and a “Little Revolution” on there. When you’re going to go with two existing in the same space, which I thought it would be an interesting challenge. And Greg’s definitely one who can do that path.
JPG: On the other hand, I read about how you needed to get used to working with Greg on the last album because of his ideas of what to do, and at first you thought he wasn’t respecting you.
JPG: How did it come from that to him being your first co-songwriter?
AR: We just have a special relationship and we went through that transition together. I just got over that and we learned how to relate to each other. We have a way to work together, which really works. I dropped any need I had to feel, I guess, not respected but validated. It’s like I had a need to be validated in some way that probably wasn’t relevant to the experience.
Honestly, you know, some of that’s immaturity. Some of that is evolution of a relationship. Some relationships are hard fought. I think ours is. We had to grow through it together, fight like brother and sister in a way. We came out on the other side and we really wanted to create together still. I love what he does. It’s worth it to me to fight for that relationship when I think it is someone that is so musically gifted.