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Jan. 26—Amy Ray is a musical omnivore, and her path often follows an arc of enjoyment.
The Georgia-born singer-songwriter is best known as half of the Indigo Girls, but she's at home playing folk and punk and everything in between. Now touring behind her solo project, the Amy Ray Band, she comes to Santa Fe to play at Tumbleroot Brewery and Distillery on Monday, January 29, with a crack team of Americana musicians.
"Country and Southern rock and mountain music; all those different kinds of flavors have always been important to me," she says of her solo project. "I started writing songs that felt like that vein, and I just switched my path for the time being. It's all about collaboration for me and playing with different people and having different experiences. I'm sure at some point I'll get back together with my punk rock friends and do a punk rock show. I just enjoy music."
Born and raised near Decatur, Georgia, Ray says she began playing guitar at about nine years old. She met her future partner in the Indigo Girls, Emily Saliers, at age 10 in elementary school, and by age 15 they were already playing together and developing their rich chemistry.
Ray and Saliers briefly went their separate ways to attend college, but they both felt homesick and transferred to Emory University in Atlanta.
The two musicians began releasing independent records; Ray graduated Emory in 1986, and two years later the Indigo Girls signed with a major record label.
* 7:30 p.m. Monday, January 29
* Tumbleroot Brewery and Distillery
* 2791 Agua Fría Street
* 505-303-3808; tumblerootbreweryanddistillery.com
That was just the start of a musical journey that is still flourishing today.
"I guess at the time, we might have felt like it was a long road," she says. "We played a lot from an early age in high school; we were doing clubs and stuff. During college and summers and weekends, we were playing and putting out independent records. We had an independent path — and then we got signed to Epic in 1988. But really, we started putting records out in 1985, and we had a pretty good touring life. We toured up and down the East Coast. We were young, but we were doing it. It really came together for us with Epic and REM playing with us and touring with them. That kind of broke things wide open."
For Ray, success allowed her to reach out and give an opportunity to some friends she admired. She started her own record label, Daemon Records, in 1990, with the intention of helping bands she liked to put out their own records. That allowed her to keep her foot in the indie record world, but more importantly, it gave her a new palette of inspiration.
A decade later, in 2001, she released her first solo album, Stag, and was supported by such artists as Joan Jett, Kate Shellenbach (Luscious Jackson), The Butchies, and The Rockateens. Ray, the Indigo Girl, had found herself a new direction.
"When I started playing solo, it was punk rock," she says. "It was very different from Indigo Girls. It was like me playing with some other friends. I had a record label, and a lot of the bands I did records by were punk rock bands. I started collaborating with some of them, and then I just decided to make a record."
About a decade after that, Ray changed her path again.
She moved into a more Americana feel with her Lung of Love album, and around that time, she started playing with many of the members who today make up the Amy Ray Band. Guitarists Jeff Fielder and Matt Smith, fiddle player Adrian Carter, and drummer Jim Brock, all of whom are still touring with Ray, made their mark on her 2014 album, Goodnight Tender.
A decade later, this group of musicians can still keep things interesting.
"All my guitar players also play dobro and banjo and mandolin," she says. "My fiddle player plays guitar as well. My keyboard player plays accordion. My bass player also knows how to play mandolin. We trade instruments a lot, and it's just a really musical band. I can brag about them because I'm not talking about myself. They're definitely something to see."
Ray writes all the songs for her self-titled band, but the musicians work out arrangements together, and their albums are all recorded live in the studio. The band's most recent work, If It All Goes South, came out in 2022, and Ray will soon find herself touring behind both of her bands.
The Indigo Girls will hit the road this spring playing intimate shows with just a violinist, and later this summer they'll have a full band tour during which they share the bill with acts like Amos Lee and Melissa Etheridge.
It's a busy schedule, says Ray, but it's also what she loves to do.
"The travel definitely gets exhausting," she says. "But the playing, we keep it fresh. We always have a different set list. We have different people open. We collaborate with different people."
And while her heart is divided between two completely different styles of bands, she says it's easy to distinguish the work she's writing between the Indigo Girls or for her solo albums. She can hear Saliers' voice in her head, but she also can hear pieces that she'd love her bandmates to play.
Ray plays mandolin in addition to guitar, and she'll also occasionally noodle on the piano. But when it comes to songwriting, it's a matter of discipline. She says she doesn't wait for inspiration to come but rather forces herself to write — she thanks author Stephen King for that.
"I have a child who's 10, and I have a lot going on in my life," she says. "I have to really be conscientious about making time, and it is a discipline. Even before I started my solo stuff, I read this book by Stephen King called On Writing, and it changed my life. It was like, 'If you want to be a writer, you have to write.'
"It's really simple but really true. I read that book and just started focusing on trying to make a discipline of it and spend time in the room. Being there and working on things even when I felt like I wasn't coming up with anything. You have to be sitting in the chair for the Muse to hit you."