The Indigo Girls’ Amy Ray has been stepping outside of her 28-year-old folk-rock duo since releasing her first solo album, the punky “Stag,” in 2001.
On her latest – “Lung of Love” (recorded in Greensboro) – she bops from punk to ’50s rock to rootsy gospel. Next up is a country album. She’ll premiere new tracks during an intimate, solo acoustic concert Tuesday at Evening Muse. She recently spoke to the Observer about her musical tastes and growing up in the South.
Q. Your albums are eclectic. What are you into now?
Bob Mould inspires me. I just heard Shirlette Ammons from North Carolina. She sent me her record. It’s hip-hop. I like “Against Me!” One of my favorite songwriters is a woman named Lindsay Fuller. I’ll work in my office and play demos people send me. There are little treasures there.
Q. Where did this country album originate?
They’re songs I started and put aside. I’ve always written material in this manner, but didn’t know what to do with it. The artists that inspired me that way are a lot of field recordings that Alan Lomax did and Loretta Lynn, Dolly, Elvis. Townes Van Zandt, Hank Williams…
Q. Were your tastes as eclectic as a kid?
As I was exposed to it. When I was really young, my exposure was limited. I listened to bands from the late ’60s and early ’70s, psychedelic rock, Allman Brothers and Southern rock. Then I discovered singer-songwriters like James Taylor and Rickie Lee Jones. Then left-of-the-dial stuff like Patti Smith and the Replacements. That moved me the most. It was like a lightbulb went off in my head. Emily (Sailers, the other half of Indigo Girls) started listening to hip-hop. She turned me on to Public Enemy. I was like, “Oh, I love this.”
Q. It seems that’s how most listeners are now. Not committed to a genre.
The beauty of the way music is shared online is our exposure is so vast and can be so diverse. You have very young artists that use more beats like dubstep – something that’s almost like math, where music is stretched to this quantum physics dimension, and then it’s as simple as a mountain song that’s captured on a field recording from the 1920s. Everybody has something they can be attracted to.
Q. On “The Rock is my Foundation” you’re singing about spiritual figures. As a lifelong Southerner, have you struggled with religion, considering how churches in the South often view gay and women’s rights?
That stuff has never shaken my spirituality. From a very early age, I found my own interpretation. I grew up in the Methodist church. I was at church three days a week. It was very much my social life. Fortunately, even though the church was pretty conservative, I also had people at that church like my youth minster and choir director who were radical for their time. They taught me to think outside the box. Luckily, what I gained was not this sense of self-hatred. It was more like a freedom. I don’t believe in cookie-cutter religion or the things that have ruined it. I got lucky. The thing that was harder for me in the South is I’m a Southerner in the deepest way – five generations. It’s wrestling with the legacy of racism and the roots of the South, trying to focus on all the good things and take accountability for the bad things.
As far as being gay – self-hatred around that wasn’t because I was Southern or had a faith. It was society at large, and the way women discover their bodies in high school. Unless you have good role models, your self-esteem plummets. It happens to all girls. My parents were very conservative. I had body issues and I was discovering I was gay. That didn’t come from a specific Southern experience. It came from the society that I grew up with in the ’80s.
Q. Has it gotten better?
As things get better, they also get worse. They get polarized. The more things come out in the open and the more there is a dialogue, the more there’s a target for all that hate. As we make advances and there is a higher visibility of gays, or as race becomes less of an issue, it becomes more of an issue in other ways. That’s the way things work with human nature. We are making ourselves more of a target. If you’re getting attention, you’re making progress – even if it’s negative.