Amy Ray’s first solo disc, Stag, expanded the harder rocking side that she exhibited on occasion as one of the Indigo Girls. Her stunning new album Prom (Daemon), available this week, expands on that concept, with punk rock flair and some of the hardest hitting lyrics she’s ever written.
The blistering “Put It Out For Good,” “Driver Education,” “Blender” and “Sober Girl,” put the current passel of punk rock poseur-boys to shame, while “Rural Faggot” is devastating in its bare bones honesty.
AfterEllen.com: What criteria do you use, when you are writing songs, to determine whether a song is better suited to an Amy Ray solo disc or an Indigo Girls album?
Amy Ray: It’s hard to know anymore (laughs). I used to think it was partly subject matter, in that my solo stuff seems to be a little more intimate. More graphic, I guess. Intimate in an edgy way, and really singular in that it’s hard for two people to sing the songs that are on my solo records. It doesn’t make as much sense. Musically, I found that I enjoy writing very specifically acoustic music for Indigo Girls and sometimes some electric stuff spills over into there. If I’m writing an electric song that’s more bombastic or fast and loud, I automatically put it over in my solo pile these days. Some of them made it onto the last Indigo record because we were going in that direction. I still felt like I missed having a split, really doing a folk, acoustic, rootsy thing with the Indigo Girls, rather than trying to put us into the electric context all the time. I think we can do it; there are a couple of records where I think we’ve done it really well. There’s something about the opportunity to do the rootsy music that I don’t want to miss out on. I try to take advantage of the strong points of what I think the Indigo Girls are.
AE: As with Stag, on which you were joined by The Butchies, Joan Jett, Kelly Hogan and Josephine Wiggs, to name a few, Prom has a stellar line-up of guest musicians, including return appearances by Kate Schellenbach (of Luscious Jackson fame) and Danielle Howle, as well as Jody Bleyle and Donna Dresch (of Team Dresch fame) and the band Nineteen Forty Five. What is involved in your process of choosing musicians with whom to record?
AR: It’s usually people that are really inspiring to me musically. People that I’ve wanted to play with, that I have some sort of shared musical context in common. I played with Nineteen Forty Five on the last (solo) record and I didn’t feel like I used them enough. I love them as a band; they’re definitely one of my favorites. I knew right after I finished Stag, that I wanted to bring them back and have them do a big chunk of the next record. I even thought about them doing the whole thing. I didn’t feel like I used Kate enough on the last record either. They were these two entities that I felt like I didn’t take advantage of the way I should have the last time around and I promised myself I would this time. Kate was playing with Jody out in L.A. and asked me if I wanted to get together with them and jam, way before I started this record. It felt really good. In my mind, I thought half the record would be them and the other half would be Nineteen Forty Five, which was different from Stag because it was a little more spread out among different bands. I just settled on those two. And then Donna and Danielle came into the picture later. I used Michelle Malone to do some guitar stuff. I filled in the pieces that I was missing after I had started tracking with both of those bands.
AE: You make reference to gender in “Put It Out For Good” and “Blender” – which is a term that has been coming into popular use in recent years. What does it mean to you?
AR: I separate gender from sexuality usually. Your gender is different from who you want to sleep with, in other words. When I use the word gender, I mean it as each person has their own gender and it falls somewhere in the spectrum between male and female. I think some people are really far to one end or the other and some people feel that they are in the middle. I look at it as a self-identification issue and as something, in the context of queer rights and the queer movement and queer vernacular as being something that we should have been talking about for the last hundred years (laughs).
It’s a really important part of who we are as a queer community and it’s one of the things that bridge us with the straight community. I think there are many straight people, sexuality wise, who probably feel ambiguous about their gender. It’s one place where we can connect and understand that everything is much more fluid than we think it is. Emotionally and mentally and spiritually, we shift more than our bodies allow us to.