Although solo projects often spell trouble for an established act, Amy Ray says that recording “Stag” on her own ultimately solidifies her creative union with longtime Indigo Girls partner Emily Saliers.
“Getting these songs — which run pretty left of Indigo Girls — off my chest was such a tremendous relief,” Ray says. “Last year, I found myself writing more than ever. Those songs needed a home. Now that I’ve made that happen, I feel a sense of relief and accomplishment. I also find myself feeling energized about making music again as an Indigo Girl.”
Ray admits that the punk-spiced “Stag” — which hits retail March 20 — has another important purpose: To draw attention to her indie label, Daemon Records, a nonprofit outlet that she’s been operating from her Decatur, Ga., home base for the past decade. During that time, the label has earned critical praise for launching such underground darlings as Danielle Howle, Rock-a-Teens, Rose Polenzani, and Mrs. Fun. Although Indigo Girls remain signed to Epic Records, “Stag” will be released by Daemon.
“I’m extremely fortunate in that there are people out there who are interested in what I do,” Ray says. “If that interest can become a way of introducing people to great music, then I feel like I’m doing something proactive with my success.”
A byproduct of recording “Stag” for Daemon is that Ray was compelled to assemble the set on a relatively tight budget. “And here’s the important lesson that I was reminded of,” she explains. “You don’t have to spend thousands of dollars to make a good record. You have to trust yourself and not overthink things.”
While recording, Ray notes that she would occasionally revisit tracks to tweak them, only to decide that “the emotional context of the track was honest,” so she would just leave it alone. “When you’re in a band and every second in the studio counts, you’re a little more emotionally present from the start. There’s no time to waste.”
Another benefit of working under lean circumstances is that the collection crackles with raw, electric energy. Ray seems to be flying by the seat of her creative pants throughout “Stag,” belting with a previously unrevealed fervor. She has surrounded herself with a host of grass-roots rock divas, including Joan Jett, Kate Schellenback of Luscious Jackson, and Josephine Wiggs of the Breeders.
“It was like assembling my own little dream team,” Ray says with a smile. “I made a wish list of people I’m a fan of. It was the coolest experience.”
Yet Ray’s at her best when she steps in front of two of her favorite bands, Southern goth-punk legends the Rock-a-Teens and Durham, N.C.-based trio the Butchies. “These are two of the hardest-working bands I know of,” she says. “I felt a lot of communal power working with them. And they brought so much to the table — especially the Butchies, who went farther musically than I ever thought they could. It was amazing to watch them work and push themselves so hard.”
Among the cuts on which Ray and the Butchies excel is the set-opening “Laramie,” a complex, often poetic rocker that wraps the listener in a haze of fuzzy guitar lines and quietly intense rhythms.
Elsewhere on “Stag,” Ray darts her sharp lyrical tongue at a variety of people and factions. Perhaps most memorable is the raucous “Lucy Stoners,” a diatribe about sexism in the music industry.
“Lucy Stoners” is “about my journey through this business,” Ray says, recalling that while the Indigo Girls were working their way through clubs across the States, “every wall was covered with images — some subtle and some pretty obvious — of men getting blow jobs from women. It’s insane but true. This song is for every woman in this industry who has to put up with that crap. It’s bad for everyone, but it’s even worse for women who are working their way through the system from street level.”
Ray will bolster the “Stag” campaign by hitting the road in April for a series of club dates. The Butchies will open the shows. “It’s going to be a blast to hear these songs come to life onstage,” Ray enthuses.
From there, Ray says it’ll be time to “return to Indigoland. We’ll start recording in the summer. I think it’s going to be a more acoustic, back-to-basics album for us. I’m excited about that. I’m ready for us to make a simple, beautiful record.”