The Indigo Girls are in concert at the Atlanta Botanical Garden on Friday-Saturday. Saturday is already sold out, but whether you’re going or not, we thought you’d enjoy this conversation. Concert details HERE.
After nearly three decades of making music together, you might think you know everything there is to know about the Indigo Girls. But Amy Ray and her musical partner, Emily Saliers, have both seen huge changes in their personal lives in the three years since their last album, Beauty Queen Sister, was released.
Last September Saliers announced at a Vancouver concert that she had married her girlfriend, former Indigo Girls tour manager Tristan Chipman, with whom she has an 18-month-old daughter, Cleo. Ray lost her father last year, just before her longtime partner, Carrie Schrader (a music teacher at North Georgia College), gave birth to their daughter, Ozilline.
If the mostly mellow, traditional country-influenced music on Ray’s latest solo album, Goodnight Tender, is any indication, these changes could lead the duo down some intriguing pathways when they head back into the studio in October. We recently spoke with Ray from her home in Dahlonega, covering topics ranging from her first several months of parenthood to how to make a musical partnership last longer than most marriages do.
Question: How has parenthood affected your life?
Answer: You reorganize your time and energy in a way that makes you see things from a different perspective artistically. The songwriting process has changed. I’m using different tools and finding ways to accommodate shorter periods of time. I’m also trying to come home more. We still tour a lot, but it’s a lot less than we used to. I think it also makes you appreciate what you’re doing a little more, because you’re not doing it quite as much, so you’re not burned out. We may be tired, but as soon as we get onstage we have fun and cut loose.
Q: Do you find that being a mom has worn away the rough edges you were known for in your younger years?
A: My dad passed away right before Ozilline was born, and that has impacted me in a very big way. But being a parent just makes sociopolitical issues even more important for me. I feel even more compelled to work for change. I think you normally shift to think more about education and helping build kids up. I think a lot about kids who have a privileged life versus kids who don’t have the same resources, and what we need to give those kids so that they can learn and get into a better situation.
Q: Your solo work has typically been more punk-influenced and rocking than the Indigo Girls, but this year’s Goodnight Tender was a much more laid-back country album. What was the inspiration behind it?
I just love traditional country music. I’ve been working on this album a long time, putting songs away into a little pile and thinking, “One day, I’m going to make a country record!” The songs I put together for it were pretty low in my vocal range, with a slower tempo, and the way it was recorded was softer and very vintage. It was a timeless approach to the recording process. Eventually I’d like to do another country album and venture into the country-pop side of my life. But who knows why? You just write what you write.
Q: So it’s coincidence that this kinder, gentler Amy Ray album came out two months after Ozilline’s birth?
A: Yeah, I wrote most of these songs before I even knew the concept of Ozilline. There were a couple of songs I wrote after Carrie got pregnant and I knew we were having a child. But some of the softest stuff on the record was written back in 2006-08. It’s just another side that I felt I could put out there because I was ready to sing in that way.
Q: The Indigo Girls are headed into the studio this fall to record the follow-up to Beauty Queen Sister. What can you tell us about the new album?
We’re going to make it in October, and we’re using a producer that we haven’t worked with before — Jordan Hamlin — who I really love. She produced Lucy Wainwright Roche’s last album, and I love her approach. We need someone like her to challenge us and get us to focus on harmony and playing our guitars. I know that seems like it would be easy. But the more records you make, the more you move away from “your thing.” You need to be reminded that this is something you still need to be working on.
Q: You and Emily will mark your 30th anniversary as the Indigo Girls next year. What keeps you working together after all this time?
A: We really respect each other and understand the concept of humility, which helps us be respectful and forgiving of each other. It’s like a marriage of grand proportions. We always give each other space. We’re both part of a community in which we have a lot of friends, and then every so often we get together and tour or record an album. Plus, we always keep it interesting by playing with new people. The trumpet section we’re playing with now are young guys, and they’re exciting to play with because they have a different musical perspective. But the majority of it is luck, meeting the right person who you can play with really well and have some sort of chemistry with.