Creative Loafing: Do you know early on in the writing of a song if it's going to be an Indigo Girls song or a solo song?
Amy Ray: I was writing songs for [my solo album] Stag, and at the same time I was kind of writing Indigo Girls songs, too. It was just very easy for me to recognize. It's not even the lyrics I'm talking about as much as the way I'm playing it that makes it an Indigo or solo song. For me, the solo songs were ones I wanted to be a very singular voice. Even if I'm not singing a song with Emily, the fact that I'm playing it with her changes the emphasis of the lyrics ever so slightly. I can just feel a song like "Lucystoners" (from Stag) is not an Indigo Girls song, and I don't want it to be anything else but just a singular voice talking about this. With an Indigo Girls song, I can feel it's going to have countermelody in it. I can feel it's going to need another strong voice, because I want to have something, a different color in there, so that people are forced to think differently. They're forced to think less one-dimensionally about the lyrics, and I think it really helps to have another voice to make people do that even in their subconscious.
Is it kind of fun being out on the road again in a more lo-fi fashion?
Part of the reason I do the solo stuff is not really musical -- it's just for the technical side of things: driving myself, and lugging all my instruments around, and figuring out how my amp works again, and figuring out how to fix my own guitars again. Just the self-sufficiency of it all is really important. And I think you gain a lot of knowledge by having to work that way. Then I go back to the Indigo Girls and get to be so appreciative of being able to sleep on the bus instead of having to drive overnight to the next place. But I understand more how things work and how the business works when I have to book the gig myself and do my own settlement. I understand the accounting better, everything. It's really good for me.
This is pretty much a punk tour. I've heard you say in the past that music people seem to think that the only music a lesbian can play is folk music...
I've always loved punk. The bands that I use on the record are bands that I spent a lot of time going to see: The Rock-a-teens and Danielle Howle when she was playing with Lay Quiet Awhile, and all these different bands from Atlanta and Athens. Southern punk is very different to me than some other regions, because it's not secular -- it's very rooted in something that's spiritual. It's like gospel punk or something, and I really love that. I love the storytelling part of it. When you listen to Danielle Howle play punk, it's got a gospel thread running through it. It's that Southern thing, that Bible Belt thing that we can't get away from, because we grew up in it. It's in your blood, you know?
Do you feel like your music is still overshadowed by your activism?
I think that happens to women a lot, and I think that happens to activists a lot, too. People just stop looking at their music. It used to be a long time ago we couldn't get people to pay attention to what we were saying politically, and now we can't get people to look at our music. I remember when Ani DiFranco was being written about so much; it really frustrated me because I thought she was at a really important place musically, and no one was writing about that -- they were all writing about her business model. Which is important, but I think it was also important to say that she was making some really good music right then. Part of the reason I made this record was because I was frustrated with being locked in a certain "box," and certain genres, and a certain sexuality.
Your record label has been out some time now. What's been the biggest challenge in running Daemon up to now? Does the solo touring help with seeing the whole thing differently?
I think the hardest thing to learn is just how to negotiate financially on my own. When I started Daemon, I had just started really making a lot of money being on a major label and all that. So I had like these huge recording budgets for the bands. Big so far as indie goes -- not big compared to me, as a major label artist -- but big to an indie band. They appreciated it and all that, but their records were always in the hole. I started it as not-for-profit. But it's like there's something wrong with the formula of "spend a lot of money on it and don't worry about what you get back out of it" when you're running an indie label. I should have started smaller with very small budgets, and I should have always made sure that whatever I spent I brought back in. And not because I wanted to make a profit, but because it just keeps the label alive to do it that way. I've had to learn how to talk to my bands and say, "Look, I'm not the Bank of Amy Ray -- the label has to support itself, because my career is not always going to support the label." My career is going to wax and wane, and sometimes I'm going to be poor and if the label is going to survive, it's got to be able to survive on its own.
Amy Ray will perform Friday at Tremont Music Hall.