20 Questions: Amy Ray

Photo by Paul Dunlap and Trevor Morris

Amy Ray: Talking the talk and walking the walk, this singer/songwriter brings you the world with each song.

Amy Ray

Didn't It Feel Kinder

Contributors: Melissa York, Kaia Wilson, Brandi Carlile, Arizona
Label: Daemon
US Release Date: 2008-08-05

Amy Ray


Label: Daemon
US Release Date: 2005-04-12

Amy Ray


Label: Daemon
US Release Date: 2001-03-06

Amy Ray talks the talk – her lyrics fearlessly nail issues of violence, environmental issues and other pressing topics; her Indigo Girls concerts often serve as fundraisers for various deserving organizations. And she walks the walk as a human rights activist on many fronts, including co-founder of the human rights / environmental organization, Honor the Earth. While on a flight from New York to her home town in Georgia, she penned these sometimes poignant, sometimes playful responses to PopMatters 20 Questions.

Her third solo album, Didn't It Feel Kinder, with Led Zeppelin, The Shins, and Judy Garland influences, releases August 5th on Daemon Records.

1. The latest book or movie that made

you cry?

Actually, it's a song, "Top of The World" by Patty Griffin.

2. The fictional character most like you?

My friends say I'm a "Pony Boy" from The Outsiders, but I always wanted to be Dallas, 'cause he's so hot.

3. The greatest album, ever?

Who knows. It changes every day and there are thousands of records I've never heard. Any music that inspires, comforts, provokes, creates change, makes you wanna dance, puts you to sleep when you need it, makes you scream when you need to, heals, breaks down, or creates divine harmonics is worthy. Different paths to the same god and all that stuff...

4. Star Trek or Star Wars?

I am a trekkie all the way. Next Generation is my vision for an evolved future. George W. could have used a dose of Star Trek, but it might confuse him even more than he already is.

5. Your ideal brain food?

I eat chocolate whenever I am doing anything challenging. I'm not sure it helps, but it makes me feel smarter. Avocado, sushi and edamame are good, too.

6. You're proud of this accomplishment, but why?

Activism is done in a community context. I am only proud of myself in the context of community.

7. You want to be remembered for...?

My work as an activist -- indigenous, environmental, queer, and race and class issues. I think it's a long road and a hard balance and hopefully when you die, if you're remembered for these kinds of things, then people will be inspired to keep up the work and carry the torch.

8. Of those who've come before, the most inspirational are?

There are three very special women that died between 1998 and 2004. Ingrid Washinawatok, Marsha Gomez, and Nilak Butler were among the founding mother's of an organization called The Indigenous Women's Network (IWN). I met them through my work with Honor the Earth, a group founded in the early '90s when Indigo Girls met Winona LaDuke at an Earth Day rally.

These three women were incredible activists on both a local and global scale. Their work in defending culture and land was revolutionary and precedent setting. Their deaths were poignant reminders to me of the need to gather in community, work hard for sustainability, and laugh a lot while doing it.

Marsha died an untimely death at a young age in 1998 at the hands of her son who had a mental illness and had no idea what he was doing. We lost Ingrid when she was kidnapped and killed in Colombia by rogue members of the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia). She was working on behalf of the Uwa peoples against oil exploration projects in their homelands.

What is written about Nilaks's death on the IWN web site could really apply to all three of these women and many other indigenous peoples.

Nilak Butler died after a two and a half year battle with ovarian cancer, largely a consequence of her circumstances. Nilak fell through the cracks of American society. Nilak did not have access to Indian Health Service facilities as she was not an enrolled member of a federally recognized tribe -- a circumstance of adoption. Nilak viewed her illness much as a mirror of the illness of Mother Earth: toxified, ill cared for, and challenged with constant crises. She challenged all to work harder to defend Mother Earth, and to care for each other in difficult times, now and in the future.

9. The creative masterpiece you wish bore your signature?

The song "Strange Fruit". I was first introduced to this song in the Billie Holiday recording, then I heard Siouxsie sing it.

The Indigo Girl's toured with Budgie on drums for a summer and it was wild because Siouxsie came along on the bus. She ended up doing a few songs in our set. One of them was "Strange Fruit". It made me love the song even more to see her do it live.

That was a fun tour. The Goths caught on early that Siouxsie and Budgie were traveling with us and doing some Creatures songs, so they would hang out in the lobby during our show until Siouxsie went on. My mentor, folkster Ferron, was opening the show and I'll never be able do better than Ferron and Siouxsie singing "Down by the River" together for the encore.

After the shows we played poker until the crack of dawn. I think Ferron was the only one who was sober, so she left with all our money.

10. Your hidden talents...?

I give great pedicures.

Amy Ray on the True Colors Tour at Radio City Music Hall, June 2008 - photo (partial) by ©Jason DeCrow

11. The best piece of advice you actually followed?

I have a bunch of cats that I adopted in one way or another. A few of them have litter box issues. They won't go inside the boxes with the tops and they used to always miss and hit the wall behind the box -- gross. My vet told me to get some of the cheap plastic place mats and velcro them to the back of the litter box to keep the cat from spraying the wall. Okay? Well it worked like a charm.

Other than practical tips like that, I have a really hard time following advice until I screw up and learn myself.

12. The best thing you ever bought, stole, or borrowed?

When I was a youngun' I found some Playboy magazines in someone's fort in the woods.

I took them to my fort. Wow. For a southern suburbanite that was quite a revelation and a little confusing, but it opened up a world of possibilities.

13. You feel best in Armani or Levis or...?

Thrift store stuff.

14. Your dinner guest at the Ritz would be?

My mom. She would never think she deserves it, and never go there on her own, but it might feel good to be doted on for a night.

15. Time travel: where, when and why?

It depends on whether I am allowed to mess with the time-space continuum. If I could, I would go back in time and try to change the approach to all things nuclear, by showing what a mess we've made with uranium mining, nuclear weapons, and radioactive waste. It's doubtful anyone would listen, though, because we don't listen now.

If I can't mess with outcomes, then I want to go back to the 1700s in the southeast and be in some patch of forest where I can see all the wildlife and the lay of the land.

16. Stress management: hit man, spa vacation or Prozac?

The gym or a long hike.

17. Essential to life: coffee, vodka, cigarettes, chocolate, or...?


18. Environ of choice: city or country, and where on the map?

Southern Appalachian Mountains.

19. What do you want to say to the leader of your country?

To George W. Bush, besides "fuck you", I'm not sure he would understand anything I had to say. He really seems absolutely clueless to me.

20. Last but certainly not least, what are you working on, now?

Getting my shit together for the release of my third solo CD, Didn't It Feel Kinder, releasing August 5th. Restructuring and organizing my indie label, Daemon records.

I am also in the studio in Atlanta for another week to finish a new Indigo Girls record that Mitchell Froom is producing. We're making a band record and a separate acoustic album.

I just planted two pear trees and a hibiscus. I'm getting the mats out of my five dogs' fur. The summer Indigo Girls tour season is coming up, so I'll be practicing with Emily for that.

Right now I am on an airplane from New York to Atlanta. I get on another plane tomorrow to San Francisco to play an Honor the Earth benefit. Delta Airlines is really losing it's grip these days, so I'm crossing my fingers.

Indigo Girls Emily Saliers and Amy Ray





'World War 3 Illustrated #51: The World We Are Fighting For'

World War 3 Illustrated #51 displays an eclectic range of artists united in their call to save democracy from rising fascism.


Tiphanie Doucet's "You and I" Is an Exercise in Pastoral Poignancy (premiere)

French singer-songwriter Tiphanie Doucet gives a glimpse of her upcoming EP, Painted Blue, via the sublimely sentimental ode, "You and I".


PM Picks Playlist 3: WEIRDO, Psychobuildings, Lili Pistorius

PopMatters Picks Playlist features the electropop of WEIRDO, Brooklyn chillwavers Psychobuildings, the clever alt-pop of Lili Pistorius, visceral post-punk from Sapphire Blues, Team Solo's ska-pop confection, and dubby beats from Ink Project.

By the Book

The Story of Life in 10 1/2 Species (excerpt)

If an alien visitor were to collect ten souvenir life forms to represent life on earth, which would they be? This excerpt of Marianne Taylor's The Story of Life in 10 and a Half Species explores in text and photos the tiny but powerful earthling, the virus.

Marianne Taylor

Exploitation Shenanigans 'Test Tube Babies' and 'Guilty Parents' Contend with the Aftermath

As with so many of these movies about daughters who go astray, Test Tube Babies blames the uptight mothers who never told them about S-E-X. Meanwhile, Guilty Parents exploits poor impulse control and chorus girls showing their underwear.


Deftones Pull a Late-Career Rabbit Out of a Hat with 'Ohms'

Twenty years removed from Deftones' debut album, the iconic alt-metal outfit gel more than ever and discover their poise on Ohms.


Arcade Fire's Will Butler Personalizes History on 'Generations'

Arcade Fire's Will Butler creates bouncy, infectious rhythms and covers them with socially responsible, cerebral lyrics about American life past and present on Generations.


Thelonious Monk's Recently Unearthed 'Palo Alto' Is a Stellar Posthumous Live Set

With a backstory as exhilarating as the music itself, a Thelonious Monk concert recorded at a California high school in 1968 is a rare treat for jazz fans.


Jonnine's 'Blue Hills' Is an Intimate Collection of Half-Awake Pop Songs

What sets experimental pop's Jonnine apart on Blue Hills is her attention to detail, her poetic lyricism, and the indelibly personal touch her sound bears.


Renegade Connection's Gary Asquith Indulges in Creative Tension

From Renegade Soundwave to Renegade Connection, electronic legend Gary Asquith talks about how he continues to produce infectiously innovative music.


What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .


A Certain Ratio Return with a Message of Hope on 'ACR Loco'

Inspired by 2019's career-spanning box set, legendary Manchester post-punkers A Certain Ratio return with their first new album in 12 years, ACR Loco.


Oscar Hijuelos' 'Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love' Dances On

Oscar Hijuelos' dizzyingly ambitious foot-tapping family epic, Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love, opened the door for Latinx writers to tell their stories in all their richness.


PM Picks Playlist 2: Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES, SOUNDQ

PopMatters Picks Playlist features the electropop of Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES' stunning dream folk, Polish producer SOUNDQ, the indie pop of Pylon Heights, a timely message from Exit Kid, and Natalie McCool's latest alt-pop banger.


'Lost Girls and Love Hotels' and Finding Comfort in Sadness

William Olsson's Lost Girls and Love Hotels finds optimism in its message that life tears us apart and puts us back together again differently.


Bright Eyes' 'Down in the Weeds' Is a Return to Form and a Statement of Hope

Bright Eyes may not technically be emo, but they are transcendently expressive, beatifically melancholic. Down in the Weeds is just the statement of grounding that we need as a respite from the churning chaos around us.


Audrey Hepburn + Rome = Grace, Class, and Beauty

William Wyler's Roman Holiday crosses the postcard genre with a hardy trope: Old World royalty seeks escape from stuffy, ritual-bound, lives for a fling with the modern world, especially with Americans.


Colombia's Simón Mejía Plugs Into the Natural World on 'Mirla'

Bomba Estéreo founder Simón Mejía electrifies nature for a different kind of jungle music on his debut solo album, Mirla.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.