“I don’t want people to always see my music through the lens of ‘she’s a female singer/songwriter gay person,’ ” said Indigo Girls’ Amy Ray in an interview with The Michigan Daily. “I want them to see ‘She’s a song writer.’ Period.”

Amy Ray

Tonight at 9 p.m.
The Blind Pig
From $15

As an artist and a social activist, Ray — one half of the folk-duo Indigo Girls — is a clear example of the unclear oscillation between art and identity, art and politics and politics and identity. Tonight Ray will be returning to Ann Arbor for a performance at the Blind Pig where she will be sharing her music, and perhaps inextricably her identity and her politics.

Ray started in the Indigo Girls in High School with Emily Saliers. While initially undisclosed about their sexual identities, the Indigo Girls would become some of the first celebrities to be open about their queerness. They would go on to win a Grammy in 1990 among other accolades despite the social climate. The Indigo Girls were also active in social issues like gay rights and even the environment. In some cases, they helped found organizations like Honor the Earth with Winona LaDuke, a group dedicated to environmental awareness.

In 2001, Ray began her solo career with the release of her album, Stag, after some ten years of playing with the Indigo Girls. While Saliers and Ray still tour together, Ray found the solo project format as an opportunity for certain artistic ambitions.

“Initially, my impetus for starting to do some new music was because I was writing things that didn’t fit in,” Ray said. “I mean, Indigo Girls don’t really have a style, we do many styles, but there was something about wanting to collaborate with other musicians, that I was writing for something else, and I needed to get it out which was not totally fitting in with the Indigo Girls.”

Currently, Ray is on tour with her fourth solo album which reveals the diversity of her taste and her experience with music ranging from Appalachian folk to songs with a more pop energy. In part, this diversity is inspired or directly influenced by the collaboration she was seeking. In the album, Ray works with such established artists as Brandi Carlile, Jim James, and Lindsay Fuller as well as those members of the solo band proper who all lend to the creation of the music. This leads to the relaxation and frenzy of the album where poppy songs like “Little Revolution” are followed by the folk-twang of “The Rock is My Foundation.”

Despite the diversity, it’s the commonality of experience that Ray strives for in her art. In this day and age, the media can be quick to politicize art and make a poster-child of someone like Ray.

“Whether or not your identity is able to be separated from your music is not always in your own hands,” Ray said. “It’s in the hands of the people who describe the music. You just can’t worry about it.”

And while Ray has written many songs touching on social issues like gay identity as in the song “Laramie” – a reference to the homophobic murder of Matthew Shepherd in a small Wyoming town – these aren’t intended to isolate the audience and their background.

“It’s not that this experience is specific to me or unique to Matthew Shephard. This thing happened and we should all, whoever we are, relate to this situation,” Ray said. “There should be some way that we can make an inroad to relate to this situation. That’s the only thing that can connect us.”

The album’s title, Lung of Love, is rather appropriate in showing how Ray’s diversity, be it artistic or social, can connect people through some simple yet all-inclusive questions everyone deals with.

“How do we hang together and feel good and feel like we’re adding love and spirit to connect with people?” Ray said. “Where does that come from? For me that’s my lungs, breathing, something simple as that.”

Especially in an age where technology has made music so accessible (almost to the point of isolation) that one doesn’t need to go to the concert to hear the music, a concert venue still provides its own unique experiences.

“The live concert is still a community space where there’s a certain amount of physical interaction with each other and dancing and just being next to someone you don’t know and then getting to know them and just being a sweaty crowd together,” Ray said. “You can’t really replace that.”

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