Amy Ray tackles the tough stuff
Indigo Girl Amy Ray’s second solo album Prom is a listening journey back to high school. Yet despite the sophomoric theme, Ray’s second solo venture is a much more mature album than her first release Stag. Ray spoke with Lesbian Life about her album, gender expression and punk rock music.
Lesbian Life: What made you decide at age 41 to do an album with so much content about high school years?
Amy Ray: I just started writing songs and they started coming out. I think I started thinking about it a lot because I was involved with this new relationship. When you’re in a new relationship you think about the first time you fell in love, the first time you learned to question authority. I was thinking about and going through that story telling process and writing things down as they occurred to me as images and stuff. High school to me was a romantic time. It was very dark, but it was also really incredible.
It was the best and the worst. For some reason I started thinking about that formative time and writing about it. I didn’t have plans to make a record out of it. It just happened.
This album is way more gay than any of your Indigo Girls stuff.
I don’t know. (laughs) I think because in the context of punk and rock the lyrics seems to get a little edgier and more graphic and political. When I have the singular focus and I don’t have two equal voices happening, I think it’s easier to talk about something really intimate, like your own sexual identity, your own gender and how you relate to that. It’s harder to do as a duo. When you’re expressing it through two voices, it doesn’t make sense in the way it makes sense to do it this way. Musically when I express the part of me that’s really political and queer and thinking a lot about androgyny, that musical part of me is the punk part of me.
You mentioned talking about gender and there’s a lot of reference to gender on Prom. What are you trying to get across about gender?
When I say gender, like “We’re a new gender nation”,(from the song Put it Out for Good) I’m speaking from a generation of people, including people that are younger than myself, because they have been the ones to articulate it the most. It’s that idea that we’re not contained into one gender any more. We understand gender fluidity. We’re looking at it in a new way and we’re going to challenge you at every turn. We’re not going to be satisfied with just one gender or locking ourselves into this one little box or feeling trapped in our bodies or feeling like if you think of yourself as a woman you can only be a certain kind of a woman. I think gender to me on this record does two things. It takes a very male/female dichotomy and it takes this other position of gender fluidity that is very important thing that I think has been articulated very well by people who are maybe 10 years junior of me and younger than that, teenagers. When I talk about male and female, I’m speaking to sexism and misogyny. Or when I speak about the male part of me in the context of someone who’s very feminine. It’s all over the map. But I think that’s the way gender is. Right now there’s so many ways to articulate ideas about gender that we’re in the most complex time. We’re trying to parcel it all out and analyze it, where it comes from and what it means.
On your album cover you had a lot of fun playing with the football player and the prom queen and the pompom girl. Are you trying to say you’re embodying all those genders?
I didn’t think about it that deeply. I was thinking more in terms of storytelling and these are all people. When I’m singing the songs these are all the characters that I’m thinking about. I tried to be all of them because I’m speaking for them. I like to play with gender because I think it’s important to do. I think it’s important to see yourself as a man or a woman. When I’m as a man, I’m actually more comfortable than living as a woman.
What do you mean by that?
Well, I look better in a tux than in a dress. (laughs) That’s the bottom line.