Amy Ray Shares her Lung of Love
JPG: We both grew up in a time where songs that dealt with politics were hits. CSNY with “Ohio.” That stuff was around in the ‘60s, ‘70s and even the ‘80s, and with rap in the ‘80s and a portion of the ‘90s. Why do you think it’s changed in the 21st century? Is it just an end result of build up to the Iraq War and any dissent was struck down as hating America so artists are afraid now and advised not to do that or do you think that was just happening naturally anyways?
AR: That’s a good question. I don’t really know. You get the sense that it wasn’t like one thing that shut it down but it’s like this tendency for artists and managers and labels to have this sense they need to please everybody and not rock the boat too much. What happens is it distills down to this very vanilla thing because people are afraid to make a stand one way or the other in their music. I think it’s just like the industry and not just the music industry but every industry.
In one sense we’re so polarized from each other, we can’t even have a dialogue about our differences without fighting and having a terrible congress that can’t settle on anything or see beyond everything being so political.
But on the other hand, trying to take the middle all the time where does that get you? It would be better if we could have an honest — everybody could just stand where they stand — but we could respect each other for it, too. Respect our differences.
The musicians, they felt their careers were so on the line all the time. It became about money and also at the same time, trust started to get really jaded because there were celebrities getting political and it started to feel like they were exploiting them. When you put it all together it made us sort of fearful and vanilla in a way. There are people still doing things and making stands. Obviously, we have great underground tools in the Internet, Internet Radio and Indie Media. It’s really alive and kickin’. That’s sort of our subset where we sit. Underground. To get to that other place, if I want to get there, I can’t say this and this and this. Well, what’s the point, right? That’s how I feel but then you have really big artists like Springsteen that he says whatever he wants to say. He has really strong opinions. Once you get to a certain place, you can. Thank God.
JPG: Yes, but I think of how the Dixie Chicks were shut down or Linda Ronstadt was hassled for tiny little comments.
AR: The country industry, you’re brave if you say something in that industry because that’s pretty strict.
JPG: A lot of country is quite vanilla anyways. Have you and you and/or you and Emily, had to face that type of situation? Is that why you’re not recording for Sony and being on Dancing with the Stars and all that?
AR: our contract was up with Sony and we felt like we had outlived our place there. Our relationship had gotten to the place where I think they didn’t want to keep putting our records out and we didn’t want to keep being on the label. At that point I just felt like I don’t want to do this corporate thing anymore ‘cause part of it rubbed me the wrong the way but at the same time we got a lot out of it. They did a lot towards our act, believe it or not. They never told us what to do or anything. We were in our own little world there. We got lucky. It came at a time when Oasis was on that label and Pearl Jam. We had a lot of good labelmates, actually. Joan Jett was even on that label for awhile. We knew our time was up and we wanted to do our own thing and we tried a smaller label for awhile and we’re like, “That’s not working either, so let’s just do our own thing.”
JPG: What label are you on now? I know you were on Vanguard at one time.
AR: It’s Indigo Recordings, but we go through Vanguard.
JPG: Was it ever a consideration to put Indigo Girls records out on your label, Daemon Records?
AR: No. I think it was too much of a conflict probably. It would be hard for Emily if I was the president of our label (laughs) ‘cause then what if she has a beef and she has to come to me and talk to me about it?
JPG: Last thing, again from your many years of being an activist and doing benefits and working towards positive solutions, are you encouraged by the Occupy Wall Street movement, social media making people aware, online petitions…?
AR: I think the Occupy Movements are good. There are certain ones that stick out for me. DC has, along with the Occupy Movement, proposed an economic plan as well, which is interesting. I don’t know if they’ve come out with it publicly. Somebody sent it to me and I thought it was pretty cool. It’s interesting when there’s an Occupy Movement and then there’s a subset of that that comes up with some concrete analysis and plan to put forward to the people and to Congress and say, “Pay attention to this.” Honestly, it would be hard to get them to pay attention to it but it’s a good thing to do because eventually I think it’ll get through.
That movement is important because it is all-empowering and we need to feel empowered. I think Social Media is important even though it’s a very crowded space now. And it’s very crowded with people advertising their shows or whatever, like I do (slight laugh), all the things that are promotional, which I am thinking a lot about. How much of that should you be doing? Should that space be crowded with that? Do we want that space to be for activists? But you can’t control it. That’s the whole point of it. I love it. I love what it’s given us. It’s a challenge, and every new thing that comes up to help your activism is also a challenge because it’s a tool and you have to figure out how to use it the right way and how to not have it co-opted etc. etc.
I can be pretty cynical but I’m also an incredibly positive person. I always feel like it’s worth the trouble to try to do things and to engage and to fight for things ‘cause I feel like if you don’t then you really lose all your footing and everything just goes down the tubes. So, even if you don’t see that you’re winning this huge paradigm shift that you want to win, you’re probably winning little things here and there at local battles that are really important and improving the quality of life for a certain number of people and that’s worth it.
JPG: That’s a very inspiring way to end this. It’s inspiring for me ‘cause I could use a pep talk every so often.
AR: We all do sometimes.