lifeblood: listlogs: 2005v08n096-news

ig-news-digest       wednesday, august 10 2005       volume 08 : number 096

today's subjects:
  [ig-news] magnet magazine amy interview  [sherlyn koo <sherlyn@pixelopolis]


date: tue, 9 aug 2005 20:11:16 +1000
from: sherlyn koo <>
subject: [ig-news] magnet magazine amy interview

hey kids,

here's the magnet magazine article that sarah mentioned earlier, in
full.  you can read it online at:


- ---begin forwarded article---
amy ray
by fred mills

as the dark-haired half of the indigo girls, amy ray also authors much
of the folk-rock duo's darker, edgier material--chrissie hynde to
emily salier's judy collins--and it's that voluble, volatile
personality mix that's helped keep the indigos fresh even after two
decades in the business. on both her 2001 solo release stag and the
new prom, ray's punk roots are further revealed. it's no accident that
among the players on prom are donna dresch and jody bleyle (from team
dresch) and garage terrorists nineteen forty-five. the title is no
accident, either: prom is an autobiographical journey as seen through
the eyes of a girl who came of age in the south during the '70s
(specifically, in decatur, ga.) and had to grapple with her gayness
under the cruelly withering glare of high school. as images of pep
rallies and driver education classes flit by the ghosts of friends and
acquaintances--old crushes, teenage runaways, victims of abuse,
sexually confused gay bashers--also appear, ray weaving their
experiences into hers with nuance and empathy.

the narrative tone of prom is established with opening cut "put it out
for good," a tom petty-meets-clash anthem in which an "overachiever of
the wrong persuasion" hangs out with fellow misfits ("punks, queers,
freaks, smokers") yet senses there has to be a life beyond the limits
imposed by parents, teachers and locale. "i got this spark, i got to
feed it something," howls ray, "or put it out for good." impossible to
resist, it deserves to be the defiant anthem of the summer. as a
matter of fact, while a certain segment of the american electorate
might take umbrage at some of the album's direct language and
in-your-face sentiments and try to slap a "qc: queer content" advisory
sticker on the front of the cd, i'd say a more appropriate label would
be "pd: proudly defiant."

ray spoke from her home in dahlonega, ga., a rural spot near the north
georgia mountains that was once a gold-mining town (roughly an hour
north of atlanta) about prom, politics and her indie label daemon--the
latter, incidentally, currently celebrating its 15th year.

as a straight white male who grew up in a tiny textile town in the
south during the early '70s, i have to say that much of prom brings
back memories of being a teenage misfit. change a few lyrics and "put
it out for good" could almost be my story.

ar: i really started the record when i wrote "put it out for good."
after that song, i went, "all right--i'm gonna start a solo record!"
[laughs] because for me, yeah, it set the tone that i wanted to set. i
didn't know i was gonna write that song; it just came out. and then i
was like, "i'm gonna follow that direction, this feeling."

it captures that weight, i think, that comes with being a teenager.
the fact that it's also contemporary with references to punks as well
as the freaks gives it a real universal quality. is it hard to write a
song from a personal context and find a way to push it into that
larger realm?

ar: i thought those images were universal. at least to me, like when i
think about my friends, or my sister and the way she's talked about
high school. when i really started that song i was making some notes
in my journal after [the indigo girls] had played this show. a cousin
of mine died, she was 15, and we played at this high school as a
benefit to raise money to build a garden in her memory. all these high
school bands, these punk and metal bands, came and played, and it was
great. afterwards, we were all hanging around outside and all the kids
were smoking and being cool and doing what you do, and i just looked
and thought, "oh my god. nothing changes." [laughs] practically the
same haircuts!

that's where your opening lines come from: "i hear the rock show
winding down at the high school/kids out on the sidewalk waiting for a
ride/all the punks and the queers and the freaks and the smokers."

ar: yeah. it started with that. and then i just thought about float
parties and homecoming parades and that thing about where people are
talking about you behind your back--and i just wanted to empower
anybody now who's going through that. "you don't have to be friends
with those people. you can always turn a bad situation into a good
situation and take all that energy, all that stuff you have that's
untapped, and just be, you know, a superpower. because that's how i
felt. you know those scenes in west side story where the gangs are all
itchy and everything? i felt like that the whole time i was there.

do your solo records allow you to express yourself more fully than
doing indigo girls records?

ar: it's a different voice. it's something that's a little more
singular, i think. whereas it's harder to have a duo singing something
like "put it out for good." it's like the difference between when tom
petty does something and when crosby, stills, nash & young do
something. certain songs are just singular, and while it's great to
have harmony and everything, sometimes you want to hear one voice
expressing itself.

tom petty comes to mind when i was listening to this record.

ar: he's very influential to me. i don't know how much i sound like
him, but i love him. i wish i could write like him!

well, in your narratives, for example: i was thinking about petty's
wildflowers, and how on that album he became even more narrative than
he usually is, whether writing in characters or autobiographically. i
know that on prom you are telling stories about yourself as a
teenager, about some of the people you grew up with. it seems like
much more personal album than stag.

ar: stag was autobiographical, but this one's dealing with a lot more
story lines--of people that i know and relating an experience i saw
them go through or had with them or in some way was touched by.
definitely "pennies on the track" is sort of a tribute to a couple of
girls, and one girl in particular that i knew who was being abused. i
was very young when i found out about it. she told me and it was my
first exposure to sexual abuse, what it meant. so [the song] was kind
of like a tribute to her and her ability to survive.

in the south, so much of that stuff was never talked about. i don't
remember ever hearing about something like sexual abuse when i was
growing up.

ar: i didn't hear anything, either! i just remember getting a phone
call in the middle of the night from this kid who was 13 years old. i
was 13 myself. she was telling me what's been happening, and i didn't
know what to do.

what is it about the south that makes the teenage experience this
alien type of terrifying endurance test? i know being a teen anywhere
is tough, but still ...

ar: i know that when i talk to, say, kids from the northwest, they go
through something, too. it's different from place to place. but i
think what we went through in the south in the public schools, in the
era of suburbia, and that sort of denial and violence about so many
things, is that we were going through all of this, these things, and
we didn't know what to call any of it, you know? we had no
articulation. and that's sort of the difference. when i talk to kids
now, they have references to sexuality and gender, and they talk about
it. even kids in rural areas--and in rural areas, it's tougher. the
kids where i live have a language, but they're still really oppressed,
and they're almost oppressed by their own language, in a way, because
it makes it more complicated.

my hometown was all cotton mills, down on the n.c./s.c. border, about
an hour away from charlotte but it might as well have been on another
planet compared to an urban center like charlotte. and i think about
my brother's experience, too. my younger brother was gay, and he
didn't know who he could talk about sexuality with. he didn't have
anyone he could come out to. you come out to the wrong friend and
you'd get your ass kicked. i mean, i would get my ass kicked by
so-called "friends" just because i started growing my hair longer in
junior high. that's the kind of time and place it was.

ar: that's for sure. and when i was in high school, i didn't even know
what the word "gay" meant. even though i was in love with this girl my
senior year--i was so in love and we did everything together, and i
said i loved her to my mom. "i'm in love with her, mom!" but i didn't
know what it meant. i didn't have any concepts when it dawned on me
that [whispers dramatically] it was not supposed to happen! that's
when it was kind of crushing, at that point.

what about prom song "rural faggot"? is that a composite or about
someone specific?

ar: it is sort of a composite. the guy that i'm talking to in some of
the song is a guy who did not end up being gay. he was kind of more of
a gay basher. and i still know him, and we're friends and stuff. but i
saw him go through this terrible teenage time of basically being this
real jerk [laughs] and kind of hateful. i'm like, "why are you telling
me all these things? i'm gay! don't you understand?" he goes, "oh, but
you're different!"

is that where the lines, "i know you want to know the truth/and i'm
the dyke who will give it to you" come from?

ar: yeah. but i was also writing about a friend of his that ended up
being gay, that also would be kind of a gay basher when he was going
through his discovery period. you know what i mean. so i kind of
conflated two people that were, to me, part of each other almost. one
of them ended up moving down to atlanta and one of them stayed here. i
saw quite a few men--boys--go through discovering they were gay. i was
down in atlanta a few months ago and this guy came up to me. "hey amy,
remember me? from the neighborhood?" and i recognized him. he was
another gay guy who'd moved to midtown. so that song's kind of about
all those boys. i saw them go through a lot of shit. and they spent a
lot of time defending themselves to me!

let me turn things around here now. from talking about universal
themes we get to some incredibly personal material on prom. "sober
girl," for example, where you talk about "i felt the loneliness of the
world, in the city, so i got out of there" or "when it comes to love,
i wanted purity." the way you combine that ache of loneliness and

ar: yeah, it's a love song. definitely. but it's also the kind of love
song where it's hard won, after years of sort of trying to define
yourself and convince the person you're with and the people you've
lived with of the things that you need. and then coming to this place
and finally finding this person. you're right, it is a lonely kind of
song. but it's also a love song like, "i found this person! who
believes the same thing and says the same thing!"

is that what you mean by "purity"?

ar: i think when i talked about purity i was thinking about youth and
innocence and nature. that song is also a love song about nature and
about my need to live in the country and my need to not drink and to
be close to myself all the time and to not have all these things that
interfere with my ability to feel life. because i went through such a
long time when i was not necessarily feeling life all the time. it's
everybody's own choice.

after you released stag in 2001, what was the general response in your
opinion? it had some pretty pointed political material. the song
"lucystoners" in particular, with its feminist angle and the way it
called out the white-boy network as epitomized by rolling stone's jann
wenner, got a lot of press attention. were there any repercussions to
that? [among the lyrics: "janny wenner janny wenner/rolling stone's
most fearless leader/gave the boys what they deserve/but with the
girls he lost his nerve."]

ar: somebody at epic had said that the record was reviewed [for
rolling stone] but the review was pulled. but i think stag was treated
pretty well. i didn't feel any backlash. i don't read much of my
press; i'll read something by a writer who i think is a great writer,
but i don't dwell a lot on reviews because it makes me think about it
too much.

so there were no reviews going, "shock, horror--sweet indigo girl uses
the words queer,' faggot' and dyke'"?

ar: no, and i think people sort of expected it. especially from me.
and also because emily and i are so political anyway.

given how personal your solo material is, when doing indigos stuff do
you ever feel any pressure from your label, epic, not to veer into
areas or language they might be uncomfortable with?

ar: no, i think it's a pretty clear slate. but then, i don't feel like
we've necessarily pushed it that much, either. and it's interesting,
because when i played "lucystoners" for emily, she didn't really have
an appreciation for it and didn't really want to do it. so it was
destined to be a solo song. and i think just the natural differences
between how we express ourselves are going to make some things fall
into the solo category, something that might be more graphic or that
she might feel less comfortable with.

you noted in some interviews around the time of stag that you felt
women had made a number of strides but were still finding themselves
in a weird position in the united states. and it's weird how some
things never seem to change. i just came across a recent interview
with rufus wainwright in uncut in which some of what he says almost
echoes what you were saying. he's asked whether homosexuality is
becoming more or less of an issue for him as his career develops and
his response was essentially that homosexuality had become a paramount
issue in the u.s. he said that for the people who voted bush back into
office, the real enemy today isn't terrorism but gays and women.

ar: yeah, on some levels, definitely. it's funny. people love ellen
(degeneres), but they wouldn't love her if she talked about being gay
on every show. they love her on a certain level. and pop culture is
like that, where we have will & grace and we have ellen and these
pop-culture ways of kind of accepting gay people. but why doesn't it
connect with who we vote for? i just don't know. it's like it's
different to watch it on tv, or to say you like ellen, than it is to
say it's ok for two people to marry each other, to vote for someone
that's pro-gay, you know? the disconnect is amazing.

do you think what rufus is saying is that politically and culturally,
nothing will ever be copacetic?

ar: yeah, because it's interesting how we are able to be a little more
visible but--ok, women and queer people, mainstream rock radio? they
don't play gay people, and they don't play women. melissa etheridge is
probably the only exception to that. but i wouldn't say she's a real
political left winger. they're not going to play someone who's not
part of the celebrity system, who's a gay person who's really
political. and mainstream media is not going to cover that many women.
women are not archived. look at a show that's the best of the '60s and
'70s rock bands, maybe janis joplin is on there. all the rest are

throw in a sound byte from grace slick and you're outta there.

ar: and now, too. it's not as if there are not women around making
music. it's that we're not archived and we're not played on the radio.
it's a mainstream media thing. the indie media is trying. but there's
still just a lot of homophobia and sexism. i think we have made some
progress, but it's this under the radar thing where you have all these
women who aspire to be musicians and who look at that as something
that they can obtain. that wasn't necessarily the case a long time
ago. and then you have someone like rufus wainwright who, 20 years
ago, would have been in the closet, and just being willing to be out
there now--that's a difference.

in 2000 you keynoted the rockrgrl music conference in seattle. now, in
2005, with all the ashlees and jessicas and gwens as the most visible
faces of pop and rock, are girls growing up even getting to see the
brody dalles who would otherwise be the role models?

ar: no, because brody doesn't get any airplay. the closest they
probably get is avril lavigne.

and she's just finished a complete glamour makeover. she looks like
nicole kidman now.

ar: when i think about growing up as a very young kid, partridge
family was the one. so maybe you have to get a little older anyway to
get close to that stuff.

do you think that an event like lilith fair would be possible in 2005?

ar: i don't think so. it might be possible, but i think there was so
much backlash that no one wants to do it again! it was really
successful, then everyone started being like, "oh, we're not going to
play them on the radio. they're a lilith artist." lilith became almost
a derogatory term--it became that way in rock magazines, too. not just
rolling stone, either. even the cool rock magazines.

tell me about some of the other activist-oriented things that are
pushing your buttons these days. i know you attended the school of
americas protest earlier this year.

ar: yeah. i go to that whenever i can. and emily and i are constantly
working on honor the earth. it's an environmental group, but it's
indigenous--native american--activism. we're part of this group, but
we're not on the board. we sort of started the group but the board is
all indigenous. they raise money, make decisions and give grants that
are all for native action like frontline environmental groups. and we
work a lot against fossil fuels, uranium and nuclear power, and toward
wind and solar power. a lot of our work has been around nuclear
issues. and then we do a lot of work around toxic issues with water,
pcb, dioxins, also issues around gold mining, logging and
hydroelectric dams. it's a very broad but necessary thing. i'm also
going down to mexico in may to spend some time on zapatista issues. i
did that about 10 years ago so i'm going to revisit that and see
what's going on. we're also involved with the future of music
coalition. that's a really great group.

on the daemon web site, you refer to your label as "not for profit."
does that mean officially non-profit?

ar: no. we don't have non-profit status. if we did, we wouldn't be
able to do all the political lobbying! [laughs]

you've been running daemon since 1990. what's the biggest challenge
for an indie label in 2005?

ar: for me, it's deciding what your services are: how you can really
serve your music community. there's so much infrastructure that can be
taken advantage of by an artist just by doing it themselves. you know,
even indie labels take a percentage of what the artist makes, and it's
hard for an independent artist to make any money off their records. so
i think it's really important for a label to look at how it's serving
the artist, and that becomes harder and harder to figure out as record
stores become less important. that's unfortunate because i love record
stores. but internet distribution is really, really important now. all
these other things are taking over, things that are self-made, a lot
of diy potential. so i think you have to figure out if you are serving
the artist or taking a big chunk of their money.

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