Girls to 'Stag': Amy Ray plays tough

As a raw-throated folk visionary, Amy Ray has helped to impress the Indigo Girls' place in pop's developmental psychology, referencing historical and social observations as a means of dignifying the process of figuring it all out. This month, Ray releases her first solo record, "Stag" -- a more searing collection of epithets against discrimination, oppression and, well, the music industry -- on her own Decatur, Ga., imprint, Daemon Records. It's full-circle time for Ray, who's seen the ins and outs of marketing and expectation with Epic Records as an Indigo Girl, and seen them through to a vital adherence to her own musical vision. These days, she touring with Team Dresch survivors The Butchies (who release there own record this month on Daemon as well) and still searching for something closer to fine.

OW: Easy question first: why Stag?

Amy Ray: I think It's kind of self-explanatory.

It reminds me of a promlike expression, an adolescent independence, which seems to be a recurring theme throughout the record.

I think there's a sense when you hit puberty where you almost freeze a lot of stuff. For a while you're almost imprisoned by all of that. Then, eh, you get older, and you almost revert back to it. That's what I feel like, and I think that the record is a way of getting that out of my system.

Do you think that the 20 years with the Indigo Girls work their way back into this record?

I think my career with the Indigo Girls definitely informs this record. A lot of the stuff is really inspired by my relationship with Emily `Saliers` and the things that we've come up against together. Some of the songs attack the industry in general.

With each record, the lyrics seemed to move away from what was understood as the philosophical Indigo Girls into a deeper, more realized activism.

That's very true. We've always been activists, but our songs came to reflect it more and more. As you get older, you start to be able to articulate what you're doing better. I think that the more political we've gotten, the less exposure we've gotten. It's directly opposite of a band like Rage Against the Machine, where the more political, the more exposure. The way that they're imaged by the press is very macho: a very male-driven anarchism. That's not they're fault. For the most part, we take part in the same things. When women do activism they're perceived as poetic and melodramatic. When men do it, it's like, "Revolution!"

It's tougher when it's got sort of niche market (gay, female, folk) involved, too.

There are so many things. We're women, and we're getting older, we're more political, and they can't figure out any other ways to promote you. We're lucky we've still got an audience and can just make our music.

The press release throws the "punk" word around a lot, so I was surprised at how "punk" it wasn't.

When I talk about "punk," it's about an approach or philosophy. Recording a record yourself, and playing a record yourself. It's more of a process.

On a lighter note, how do you respond to the term "gay idol"?

I laugh. I'm doing my thing, and the activism is really important to me. I'm trying to create a movement of everyone being proactive.

You guys were lumped under the Lilith situation a few years back. There was a backlash against what seemed like a celebration of submissiveness, with poetry and candles on your grand piano. And that's not to slight the people involved, except for maybe Jewel...

`Laughs` Jewel's a good songwriter.

Maybe, but I just saw her on MTV Cribs showing off her giant candles in her spacious Southern California home.

Ohhh. Wow.

There's also the issue of gay media, and its cliquish, if substandard, in-grouping. It's kind of reactive in a cheap way.

There's a lot of different levels to that. If we look that way at gay press, the "ghetto" as one of my friends calls it, then why would a writer want to stay in that world? So you lose a lot of your best talent, because the straight world is considered more successful, and pays more. I think that's our own self-hate in a way. At some point you have to stand up and be proud of where you're at, and contribute to where you're at. Because where you're at is sure to get better.

The CD features a pretty diverse array of people. Joan Jett! What is she like?

Well, she's got a heart of gold.

Not a heart of black?

`Laughs` She's a consummate musician, and full of attitude, but it's all positive with her. She's a rocker! She's been through long periods figuring it out, trying to have a career. But I think she's strong now.

Danielle Howle, Joan Jett, The Rock*A*Teens: A lot of women, and only a few men on the record, huh?

A lot of men behind the boards.

Do you see it in any way as an anti-male record? "Hey Castrator" is a title, and "Lucystoner" offers the lyrics, "Boys, you give yourselves away."

That's a good one. I think when I reference patriarchy, I'm also trying to find a common ground: What part of that do I have in myself? There are many male musicians that suffer under the same totalitarian, patriarchal system that females do. Look at Pearl Jam. They've been really successful, but I wouldn't say they're flourishing in this radio world right now.

There seems to be a separation of music and musicians as of late.

I think how women are treated is a barometer of the diversity in any situation. Look at rock radio right now, and it's all the same, same, same.

When I say, "Boys, you give yourselves away," I'm saying that you give away the fact that there's homoeroticism in rock & roll. On another level, I'm saying that you're selling yourself as much as any woman is. I'm sympathetic to it, you know, because I understand it. For anyone in this world -- it doesn't matter what industry -- with the onslaught of media and advertising and corporate marketing, it's hard for anybody to maintain a very pure sense of their identity.

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