As half of the folk duo the Indigo Girls, singer-guitarist Amy Ray has pretty much done and seen everything a pop star can imagine. She was on a major label for a good chunk of her career and had a couple of hits that charted. So perhaps that's what fuels her punk-inspired solo career, which took yet another turn with the release of the new, garage-soul CD, Didn't It Feel Kinder, out on the indie Daemon Records label that she runs. Calling via phone from an Omaha tour stop, Ray talked about her new disc and the writing approach she took this time around.
You really pushed your vocal range on Didn't It Feel Kinder, didn't you?
Yeah, hopefully I can do it live. I started thinking about challenging myself vocally and just stretch it a little bit. I was trying to sing in my in-my-head reflective voice and not just my in my chest voice and do things that reflected lyrically where I was coming from. I wanted to work on phrasing and a rhythmic approach to certain things. It's not just about the vocal range but also presentation and tone and all that. I worked with a producer on this record, and we made that one of our priorities. It was just a fun thing to do.
What made you want to pursue a solo career outside of the Indigo Girls?
I had a lot of friends in bands on my indie label. I wanted to write with them in mind and be part of that community. It kind of came from that. That's kind of a world I remain part of, and I wanted to express it musically.
It gives you the chance to explore your rock and punk sides a little more, no?
Yeah, and at that point we were on a major label and I wanted to be in the indie world more. It's not just the music you play but how you put it out there. It appealed to me on that punk level.
You wrote Didn't It Feel Kinder over the course of year on the road, right?
Yeah, I basically write between shows and sound checks and tours. I had started writing for this record, and I hunkered down and anytime I had free time, I would just set up my computer and work with GarageBand and have a discipline about it. I think what comes out of that is that you're influenced by the different places, even if you don't know it.
"Bus Bus" was one of the first tunes you wrote. Is that a reference to Elliott Smith in the song?
Yeah, I was writing that in England. I started it backstage and finished it on the bus while I was listening to Elliott Smith. I went to see him a few times, and some of my contemporaries were friends with him. I met him once, but I don't remember where it was. He was amazing. It's a total loss.
I like the fact that you wrote a letter (as a press release) about Kinder. Do you do that for every album you make?
Um, yeah. I do some type of letter or intro about the making of it. I don't know why I do that. I think because I have run a record label for so long, I realize it's often good when an artist presents their work from their perspective.
You write about some real events that took place recently, like the shooting at Virginia Tech and a tour stop in Salt Lake City. What's it like working in the realm of non-fiction?
I typically write in the realm of non-fiction, but even when you do that, fiction gets in there. You start combining people, and people morph into other people. I can't remember who said it, but some writer said that even when you write non-fiction, about 80 percent is fiction. It's your perspective, and you elaborate on things and how they turn out. For me, it becomes a conglomerate of a lot of different things, even though I start in one place.
You're playing here on Halloween. Did you pack a costume?
I'm thinking about it. Everyone is deciding what they're going to wear. I have no idea.
Any special spooky songs planned for the show?
No, I don't. I wish I did. We'll try to make one up.