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An Interview with Amy Ray of the Indigo Girls who will play MPAC in October


By Eesha Williams

originally published: 09/11/2023

An Interview with Amy Ray of the Indigo Girls who will play MPAC in October

The Indigo Girls will play in Morristown on Tuesday, October 24 at 7:30pm at the Mayo Performing Arts Center (MPAC). The Indigo Girls are Amy Ray and Emily Saliers. On September 6, Ray spoke with New Jersey Stage about the Garden State, the history of human life on earth, and other topics.

How do you feel about New Jersey?

New Jersey is beautiful and has a ton of beautiful land. My bass player just looked at me and started laughing but it's true. I've driven around the parts of New Jersey that are not near the coast and thought how beautiful it is. (NJ has protected more farmland than any other state, relative to its size, according to American Farmland Trust.)

I love Bruce Springsteen – I really do, I'm not just saying that. I love the Stone Pony (nightclub in NJ). I played a gig in New Jersey with my solo rock band. I can't remember the name of the place but Josh Ritter had just played there and Bruce Springsteen sat at the bar while Josh Ritter played. I was dreaming that would happen one day to me but it never has. Jersey reminds me of being in the South in the best ways. The exuberance and the sing-alongs and the raucousness. It's all very Southern vibes for me. 

 



 
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Soon you'll be playing a benefit for a group that works to prevent domestic violence. (This is not the NJ concert.)  Can you talk about that? 

There are so many things that play into domestic violence, including poverty. In my world there is a very high percentage of people who have experienced it, and I live in a pretty entitled world. For my peripheral neighbors, who I don't know as well, I have noticed that there's a lack of resources and people get stuck in a situation they can't get out of because they don't have anywhere to go.

I live in a small town in north Georgia. They have a great community center called No One Alone. They do great work around domestic violence and providing hiding places and shelters for women. A lot of people feel inspired to help. It's one of those areas where you can do something to make a difference, even if you just chip in a tiny bit of money if that's all you have. Or volunteering.

It makes me feel inspired that people want to help at their thrift store or as dentists and doctors who volunteer. There is light for people that need it.

Domestic violence is an epidemic. It has to do with power structures and men feeling emboldened and empowered -- because it's often men -- to go that route in a relationship.  They probably need help too. They need help with anger. They've probably been through something themselves. I always try to ask, “Where is this coming from?” It doesn't come from a vacuum. It comes from a cycle. It's all about breaking the cycle. There are services that help break that cycle. Where is that alienation, loneliness, fear, and the inability to be vulnerable, where is that coming from in society? All genders need to be part of solving the problem.

Do you feel that the military teaches people in it that the way to solve conflict is through violence?

I've known people in the military and there is good and bad military. Good military teaches you that violence is the last thing you want to use. But TV and society at large is teaching the opposite. The military changed my dad's life. He was in the navy. He would not have been able to go to medical school without the navy. He was super poor. My cousin's kids went into the military because they needed opportunities. It helped them turn their lives around. I wish we didn't have to have a military. I believe in civil service. ("The Alternative Service Program [is] to manage those granted Conscientious Objector [status] to all military service. All Conscientious Objectors are assigned civilian work for a period of 24 months, the same amount of time prescribed to those who are conscripted." from www.sss.gov)



 
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The 2021 non-fiction book the “Dawn of Everything” was a bestseller. The New Yorker magazine said, "The Dawn of Everything is a lively, and often very funny, anarchist project that aspires to enlarge our political imagination by revitalizing the possibilities of the distant past." It's by two professors. One of them was one of the main organizers of Occupy Wall Street.

I want to read that. We're just little specks in the universe at our tiny point in time on the timeline of human history and how long the universe has existed. There is so much we don't know. There are so many indigenous cultures just in North America. There have been tribal societies around the world for so long. They passed down ways of doing things that worked. White people think they invented everything.

The current governor of Georgia says enslaving people gave them knowledge and taught them things they would not have known how to do, instead of recognizing the fact that a lot of what we know was developed by indigenous or people that were enslaved. Examples were some farming and blacksmith techniques, and inventing the cotton gin. ("Eli Whitney received a patent for his cotton gin in 1794. His idea was based on earlier gins and also on ideas from other people, including... enslaved laborers; some say that these were the rightful inventors of the cotton gin." from www.archives.gov )

It sounds like the Dawn of Everything book will get banned. I want to read it.

The Indigo Girls's most recent album, Look Long, came out at almost exactly the same time that the pandemic started. Please tell our readers about the song “Howl at the Moon” from that album. It's unique compared to all the other Indigo Girls songs I've heard.

The sound of that song is largely thanks to John Reynolds, who produced that record. We met him in 1997. He was Sinead O'Connor's husband.  He produced a record called “Come On Now Social” for us in 1999. We've been friends all these years. He likes to combine different styles. I wrote “Howl at the Moon” on the mandolin and I wanted it to be a groovy, liberating kind of song.

John brought in some cool rhythms, and then he brought in this backup singer, who was George Michael's backup singer. Her name is Lucy Jules. She is super creative. All those crazy sounds – she is doing all that with her voice. It just made the song. John built a loop around it and Emily's banjo. It was super fun to make.

That record was recorded at Peter Gabriel's studio in England. “Come on Now Social” was recorded partly in England at John's apartment/studio in London. All the rest of our music has been recorded in the U.S.

Were you and Emily trying to challenge yourselves on the new album, Look Long?



 
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Yes. If you want to be a musician for your whole life you've got to keep growing to stay interested. We loved spending time with the other musicians on that album. It was fun. We stayed in England for a couple weeks, recording. We lived in the area of the studio.

 

One thing that must be unique about that album is the pandemic hit right as it came out. What has it been like getting back into your old routine of touring after a few years of forced time off?

For a brief moment it was (long pause) an adjustment. For me, it was a brief moment of, “OK, here we are again.” Then it kind of fell back into place. Emotionally and spiritually, we're glad to be back out, doing things. The pandemic took a toll on the music business. Everybody was down and in a bad mood. Everybody was sad all the time and felt shell shocked. People lost relatives. If you lived in New York City you really went through it. There was an air of that around. It was something to take into consideration and try to be patient with yourself and with other people. No one had much patience at first. No one was sure they really wanted to be doing what they were doing.

Then it was the joy of playing and seeing people who had been through a lot. We heard stories of people that had lost their parents or a sibling. It was remarkable to be sharing that human experience and have everybody be open to the joy of music. That made it really cool. There are a lot of good people in our audience. They're willing to be open and be vulnerable, to go to a show and sing. Sometimes they had to be in weird little pods, and wear a mask, and all that rigmarole. It was a lot. I felt like, “Oh my God, I can't believe people are putting up with all these regulations.”

​​​​​​​

When your concerts sell out quickly, like what happened this year at the Drake in Amherst, Massachusetts do you ever consider playing a few nights in a row at the same venue?

Well that was my solo band. That was a surprise. With Emily if we're playing a smaller place and it sells out quickly sometimes we'll schedule a second show. A lot of times the promoter will have a feeling that something like that might happen and they'll put a second night on hold. But for my little solo band, we don't ever think about that. When it happens we're just like, “Great.”



Tickets for the show at Mayo Performing Arts Center (MPAC) on October 24th range from $40-$90.  Lucy Wainwright Roche will open the night.  This event is currently sold out. If you would like to be added to the waiting list, please click here. MPAC is located at 100 South Street in Morristown, New Jersey. Please note: MPAC cannot guarantee tickets will become available for purchase.

 


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