Talking with the Indigo Girls' Amy Ray
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Talking with the Indigo Girls' Amy Ray
by Andrew Hamlin - SGN Contributing Writer

Indigo Girls
May 8-9
Edmonds Center for the Arts, Edmonds, WA

You read it here first: Amy Ray - half of the Indigo Girls, singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, record label owner, and proudly out pretty much her whole life - has no plans to add the cinema to her list of accomplishments. "I'm wooden," she chuckles down the telephone line from West Hartford, Connecticut. "I'm a terrible actress. I'm not one of those singers who thinks they can act." I remind her how she's played Jesus Christ on stage for an Indigo-spearheaded production of Jesus Christ Superstar (which played here at Pier 62/63, in 1995). Yes, she affirms, but she still couldn't act. She just sang her way through as much as possible.

This despite Ray's setting up house with a filmmaker - specifically Carrie Schrader, a onetime (at least) Seattle resident. Ray calls Seattle one of the Indigo Girls' favorite ports of call, and she namechecks enough local "flora and fauna," in her words, to where I believe her. I ask her to name the toughest audience she's ever faced down beside her Indigo partner, Amy Saliers. Shockingly enough, she mentions opening for the Violent Femmes circa about 15 years back. The two bands love each other, she says, but Violent Femmes audiences tend to want the Violent Femmes, period. In the Indigo's early days, she adds, they had to dodge thrown missiles. No beer bottles, but sometimes M&Ms. "People throw weird things," she said.

Expect no projectiles this time around, although Ray and Saliers, sadly enough, skip Seattle proper this time around in favor of two dates at the Edmonds Centers for the Arts in Edmonds - that's 18 miles outside Seattle to you city slickers. Opening for them, a young man named Matt Morris, described by Ray as a "super soulful" singer/songwriter. On earlier legs of the tour their opening act was Lucy Wainwright Roche, whom Ray and Saliers know from a long time back - specifically Ms. Roche's grade-school days. Lucy's mother, Suzzy Roche, was and sometimes still is one-third of the Roches, a huge Indigo influence. Ray and Saliers sometimes covered them in concert (shout out if you remember "Hammond Song").

Of course, the duo mostly writes their own tunes these days. Ray praises producer Mitchell Froom's work on their latest album Poseidon and the Bitter Bug (Vanguard Records) for its bridgework between the two songwriters and their admittedly differing material. Froom, she says, went back and forth between Ray tunes and Saliers tunes to adroitly produce a "cohesive vision." Reworking "Driver Education" from one of Ray's solo releases, Froom supervised the added harmonies and reduced the keyboards to "one simple sound, over and over." Call him when you want the finesse.

Drums came courtesy of Matt Chamberlain, another Seattleite, perhaps more famous for backing Tori Amos. Ray, Saliers, and Froom cut Poseidon in three and-a-half weeks, but Chamberlain needed only four days to cover his parts: "That's how he does it," sums up Ray. "He can play Emily's songs and he can play mine. He's just a joy to work with."

Ray rings off with an awkward but warm goodbye. Between being an Indigo Girl, running her Daemon Records label, gigging with Queercore acts, and standing up for a wide variety of worthy causes, she's probably always on the run. Catch up with her while you can. Even if you have to drive 18 miles.

The Indigo Girls play May 8 and 9 at the Edmonds Center for the Arts, Edmonds. For more information, and to learn about causes supported by the band consult