An interview with Amy Ray

AE: Speaking of image and country music, what do you think of Chely Wright’s recent coming out?
I’ve met Chely a couple of times and I really like her. So I’ll just say that I like her as a person and I think she’s genuine. I think she got to a point where she said, “Screw it. I need to live my life.” But it’s pretty amazing.

The country world is a hard one. It’s interesting because so many queer people listen to country music. I live in a rural area and all the gay people I know [here], that’s all they listen to. It’s kind of a drag when they don’t feel comfortable at those shows and I think with Chely it’s going to start changing. It’s going to be slow, but still.

AE: Do you think it’s easier now for a musician to be openly gay then it was when you first began performing?
Yes, definitely. It just is. And I don’t think it’s because radio is friendlier to gay people or something that, but culturally people in the country are becoming more aware. We have more allies and so we get braver about it.

When Emily and I were coming up, we were scared. It took us a while to figure out how to deal with that on our own — not like what should we say to the press, but more like how do we feel about ourselves and what do we want to be and should we just be who we are and that’s OK? Now the generations that are coming up, people in their teens and twenties and even younger, they don’t really care that much. Even the religious kids don’t care that much. They’re thinking about other things — not whether people are gay or not.

AE: Was there ever a time when you and Emily were asked to be closeted?
Not by the label. They didn’t have to ask us. We were scared enough. I mean, we’re so out in our community, but it took us a while to be brave enough to talk about it. I do remember the [label] screening out gay interviews and I found out about it and it bummed me out. It really bummed me out. We talked to them and just said that these are important interviews and we want to do them so don’t screen them out. It changed after that.

I spoke with somebody I trusted at the label and they took it seriously so things started to shift. We started Honor the Earth in the early ’90s and were doing a lot of native activism and interestingly enough our queer activism revved up too. We were learning real grass root models from those activists and it helped us.

AE: I like the advocacy link on the Indigo Girls’ website that states, “This is the place to get you in gear to be a punk ass patriot and a happier human being.” Has advocacy always been a part of your music and life?
It wasn’t something we thought about with our music as much as it was a part of our lives. In high school we were really involved in student government and from the very beginning we did little community benefits — very basic, like Meals on Wheels and [working with] people with HIV, small soup kitchen or homeless shelter projects. We built on that. As our world expanded, we expanded what we do and created an infrastructure for it.

AE: When you look back on the past two decades of writing and playing music, is there a song that you’re particularly proud of? A song that when you listen to it, you sit back and say, “I can’t believe I wrote that”?
[Laughs] "Hum."

AE: I read an interview where you talked about how when you began to write and perform music on your own it changed the way thought about composing and made you a more disciplined songwriter. I thought that was an interesting observation about how an artist continues to grow throughout their career.
AR: Yeah, the song “Sugar Tongue,” which is on the live record, is definitely a song I would say that about because it popped out, it stood out from my style and showed me that I was stretching. But it’s hard to have perspective about that kind of stuff.

AE: Well, this last question might also challenge you on perspective. If they were to make a film about the Indigo Girls, what actors do you think should play you and Emily?
Oh wow. [Laughs] OK, I think Meryl Streep should play Emily. Ashley Judd, maybe.

AE: I like it.
And I’d probably want a guy to play me because I think of myself as a guy so much more than a girl.

AE: OK, that’s allowed. What guy?
I have no idea. [Laughs] I’m a big Johnny Depp fan so of course I’d have to say him. And if it had to be a woman — no, it’d have to be a guy, that much I can say — a guy in drag.

AE: Does he have to be in drag?
Just a little drag.

AE: OK, Johnny Depp in just a little drag. You got it.

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