Amy Ray Shares her Lung of Love
JPG: Putting together material for Lung of Love, it always reminds me of this when someone does a solo project. I always think back of one of my heroes, Pete Townshend talking about how he’d write songs and then put an amount to the side because they sounded like Who songs that Roger could sing. Then, write some more and put those to the other side because they sounded like solo material. How do you approach that balance from what is on an Amy Ray album versus what you bring to Emily [Saliers] for an Indigo Girls album?
AR: It’s the same kind of thing. When I’ve started a song, I can hear Emily in my head a little bit. If it’s an Indigo Girl’s song, I can imagine harmonies, what we would do to it as collaborators. If it’s a solo song, I’ll hear Melissa York’s drumming or I’ll hear what Kaia [Wilson] will do on the guitar. What would Greg play? It’s really a collaboration, where I know the different people I play with.
The way I record solo is different. The way Emily and I work is different. So it’s just instinct and it’s still the desire. I really want this to be an Indigo Girls song. I want to do this big harmony duo treatment to it. I do a lot of harmonies with my solos but they’re backing harmonies whereas Indigo Girls we’re doing countermelodies and the voices are equally important to each other. There’s a total different arrangement. I feel and I just know it in my gut.
There’s another pile that’s like the “I-don’t-know-what-I’m-going-to-do-about-this-put-this-in-another-pile.
JPG: You made me just think of this. As far as the harmonies, so many people, especially when it’s a duo singing, there’s always talk of the Everly Brothers. Was that something between you two as well or you didn’t even think about any other artists that were doing harmonies?
AR: When we started out, we were in high school singing together. We were like 16. The Everly Brothers weren’t really on our radar the way they would be now, for me for instance, ‘cause now I listen to them all the time. And I have this massive appreciation for those songs, actually, and the way they built those harmonies or whoever arranged them did. For me and Emily, Simon & Garfunkel were and the Roches. We were both in choir where you sing a lot of countermelodies, sort of waterfalling over each other. Things happen.
So, those we had and some of it was our weaknesses, couldn’t really sing harmony that well. I couldn’t write harmony at all. Now I can; something that I’ve really worked on. I would just have to pretend that it’s a melody. Our style, that we were actually singing two melodies, was a very Simon & Garfunkel thing to do. That would have been more of an influence in our very early days. That’s when we were 16, just starting out.
JPG: Going back to the new album, I wanted to touch on a couple of songs. We mentioned “From Haiti” earlier. When you were writing that did you have to work to make it from, based on the title, a commentary on the sad situation there into what it became — a rebellious, “we’re not to be pitied” number?
AR: It wasn’t hard for me to think of it that way because I had been thinking about the history of Haiti and how it’s a lot that they have been through and that patronizing relationship that we have had with them over the years. Then, I saw this group of photos that this photographer Jeremy Cowart took. He went down there and he took a bunch of photos. He sold them and he gave the money to different organizations there.
I was online looking at his photos and they were very strong; people rising above. I started that song from that perspective, of them talking to us, telling us what we need to hear. It wasn’t very hard for me to sit in that place because I had those photos that I had seen in my head, just listening to what they had to say about their situation over the years and what they had kind of overcome. Corruption aside, all that stuff that we highlighted in America in the news, just the pure spirit of the people.
We’re so young, this government and country in some ways, spoiled in some ways. I think there are other things we can learn. I was just thinking about that.
JPG: Speaking of learning, the song “Little Revolution” and its ah-ha moment of learning from letting in the pain. Is that what it was for you and have you stuck to it and helped you in life?
AR: Yeah. I think one of those ah-ha moments for me was a long time ago in the mid-‘90s. I went down to southern Mexico. We were funding a project for the Zapatistas. I was down there for like five days; hard stuff to see. And I just had to get through the moment of facing the people, the sick animals, the sick people, the war planes, just everything that’s going on. You can’t get anything done unless you can see this first and go past that to the next place, which is to try to do something.
It’s like something as simple as when you are a kid and you see a sick dog or a sick cat by the side of the road you either look the other way and keep driving or you stop and deal with ‘em. How horrible that situation is. That’s like the bottom and the other side would be the human beings. I’ve seen that. So, I’m tempted to turn away. The fact that I’ve learned it and I don’t. Ultimately, I don’t feel better but I feel more engaged, more connected.
JPG: Even if the end result isn’t as you would like, at least you tried and brought it to a conclusion.
AR: Yeah, exactly.
JPG: I was reading one of the reviews of Lung of Love. I think it was on PopMatters.com.
AR: Oh God. It’s probably a bad review.
JPG: Well…the funny thing is, being a Clash fan and having played “Eve of Destruction” hundreds of times and other matters, to me, I have no problems with politics mixed with music. This person liked the album a lot but then he said, “When the songs steps into political territory I can’t help but quiver.” And it goes from there.
AR: He may not like the way I do it.
JPG: I think he doesn’t like politics in music at all.
AR: It’s his thing.
JPG: Yes, but throughout your entire career, you’ve been an activist, you’ve done benefits. Things like that. Why do you think it’s important to keep politics with music while catching criticism for doing that and with the world not changed to a utopian society when the lights came on at the new millennium, how do you remain encouraged to keep doing that?
AR: I think you have to write from a place that’s honest. Some of those songs are going to be political. If you think to yourself, “I’m not going to do this because it’s a political song,” you’re editing in a way that’s, I don’t think, appropriate. I don’t set out to write a certain percentage of political music. I think it’s important. My life is politicized. I see things through that lens. I can’t help it. With the activists that I know and the things that I know that go on and things that I’ve done or have been part of, if those weren’t anywhere in my writing then it would mean that I wasn’t expressing part of myself.
As a writer, you just need to go there and express your honest self and then work on the craft of it. It’s good to get it all out and then craft it. You can take all of those songs out if you want. There’s going to be criticism if you don’t do ‘em and there’s criticism if you do. I think also, sometimes, as a woman artist and a gay artist, it’s seen almost as being too emotive or something. There’s a different barometer that I would be measured by than someone like Rage Against the Machine because it’s the nature of the kind of music that I play and me being female and all that stuff. I learned early on I couldn’t worry about that. I had to do my thing. When Zach [de la Rocha] sings about politics, it’s going to sound one way to somebody and when I do it, it’ll sound another way. (laughs)
It’s okay with me because it’s just the way the world is. We’re changing slowly. You have to write. You have to be honest. I don’ feel like it’s subjective. There’s certainly records that are much praised and I don’t think they’re that great or vice versa.