Amy Ray of Indigo Girls does own thing in solo tour
With the Indigo Girls, Amy Ray is used to performing in front of thousands at mid-size venues.
But on her current solo tour, the dynamics are vastly different.
“At some shows, there’s only a 100 people,” she says in advance of her show Saturday at Mr. Smalls Funhouse Theatre in Millvale, adding that she does draw as many as 500 at some locales. “A lot of the clubs are the same ones we played when we were first starting out. It’s like, ‘I’m in this dressing room again.'”
But the size of the audience doesn’t matter; getting to perform songs from her new album, “Don’t It Feel Kinder,” does. And for those who only know Ray via her collaboration with Emily Saliers, there are surprises. The solo release finds Ray plumbing a sound that first came to prominence in the early 1980s via the Clash, the Pretenders and Elvis Costello.
Ray acknowledges that some Indigo Girls followers already have weighed in on the angular, guitar-driven album.
“Some of them like it, and some of them don’t, and that’s fine with me,” she says.
Ray credits producer Greg Griffith for helping shape the tenor of the record, which is the polar opposite of the harmony-laden folk of her regular gig.
“The Indigo Girls has a certain magical quality,” Ray says. “It’s otherworldly, is what it is. It’s all about duality, and with Emily you always hear the other voice.”
Which is almost the opposite of Ray’s almost militant individualism on “Don’t It Feel Kinder.” She admits that making the record was a release from some of the conventions that inform the Indigo Girls’ work. Take “Blame Is a Killer,” which sounds as if the band X invited Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones to a session at the Whiskey A-Go Go in Los Angeles. Or the trippy opener, “Birds of a Feather,” a song that Ray admits was “musically, a big question mark” until guitarist Tomi Martin found the right tone.
“He is a really masterful player,” says Ray, noting she “didn’t even know what he was thinking about when we gave him the song. But what he came up with was all about the song, very Pink Floyd, Jimi Hendrix.”
Another song, the wiry, mesmerizing “SLC Radio,” is a nod to Elvis Costello’s “Radio Radio” and KCRL-FM, an independent station in Salt Lake City.
“It’s a really cool community station that has a different sort of playlist in a very fundamentalist community,” Ray says. “When I’ve played there as a solo artist, they’ve been very supportive.”
And support is something that Ray finds everywhere she goes, whether in the Indigo Girls or as a solo performer. She’s especially heartened that her new material is so appreciated, even if the numbers are diminished.
“It’s a great live experience, and it’s very merge with the audience and the band,” she says. “It’s sort of a community speaking in tongues.”
When : 8 p.m. Saturday
Admission : $15
Where : Mr. Smalls Funhouse Theatre, Millvale
Details : 412-821-4447