Less than three months after performing a sold-out show at the State Theatre with Indigo Girls, Amy Ray will return to Ithaca Saturday, June 1, to perform at the Haunt with her solo band.
Ray has been putting out solo records for 18 years, but her latest, “Holler,” is an especially impressive effort. With 14 songs that range from quiet to raucous – plus guest vocals from Vince Gill, Brandi Carlile, the Wood Brothers, Lucy Wainwright-Roche, Phil Cook, and Justin Vernon, and a epic slide guitar solo from Derek Trucks on “Bondsman (Evening in Missouri)” – it ranks up there with Carlile’s “By The Way, I Forgive You” and Jason Isbell’s “The Nashville Sound” in its ambition and musical sweep.
Ray, who previewed one song, “Didn’t Know a Damn Thing,” from “Holler” at the State Theatre show, said the new album is an organic successor to 2014’s “Goodnight Tender.”
“I wanted to do something to progress past ‘Goodnight Tender,’ which is also an Americana-country-southern roots record,” she said in a recent phone interview. “I wanted to move in another direction in the way of feel, and do something that had a little more movement in it, and kind of a groovy-ness and boogie and swagger. The thing I thought would give it that was the horns and strings.”
She also noted that her band has been playing together for about five years now. “We’re just more familiar with each other, so that we could play in a way that was not necessarily looser, but where we could take more risks,” she noted. “A lot of it was the comfortableness with everybody, but I just wanted it to be a little louder in every way, and quieter when it was quieter – just more extreme in every way.”
Ray has enjoyed taking “Holler” on the road since its release last fall, with the help of the Amy Band Band includes Kerry Brooks (bass), Jeff Fielder (guitar), Jim Brock (drums), Matt Smith (pedal steel) and Adrian Carter (fiddle).
“It’s been great,” she said. “I love my band – they’re interesting players and great to play with. For me, it’s almost like watching a show at the same time I’m playing –I get to hear what they’re gonna do musically and where they’re gonna go and where they’re gonna take things. It’s always interesting and musical, and they’re good people to hang out with. So its not hard trip, you know?”
Even though Indigo Girls continue to draw big crowds to their shows, Ray has noticed their fans haven’t necessarily haven’t followed her solo work.
“It’s funny because it doesn’t always translate – where Indigo Girls have a good following doesn’t always translate to having people come to these shows, honestly,” she said. “It’s one of those things where I need to get the word out, because it doesn’t always get out there.”
Still, she’s determined to keep pursuing her solo project, which include five studio albums and three live records (beginning with 2001’s “Stag”).
“It’s just cumulative – I guess if you do something long enough, it just adds up to something, doesn’t it?” she said. “I just keep doing it.
“The solo thing never get past a certain level, probably because I’m always doing the Indigo Girls too. But I like the DIY of the solo thing, and driving myself around, and having this band with a van and a trailer. We try to do everything ourselves, and there’s a certain beauty to that. It keeps you grounded.
“But there’s also sometimes when I think, ‘my god I’ve made seven solo records and cant’ get past a certain point – what does it take?’ That kind of feeling. Then I say to myself, ‘be careful what you wish for,’ because the truth is, it’s not like you want to get on a tour bus and play big theaters with this project – I don’t.
“Part of the beauty is playing to 200 to 300 people and having the immediacy of that, like it’s punk rock – it’s like going to play a show in somebody’s garage. If that changed too much, I don’t think I’d be as interested in doing it. But the thing is, I want to pay my band well, and I want to break even. So that’s economics of it – I don’t break even half the time, because I want my band make what they should make, because they’re really good players. And they’ve all been doing it for a long time, and they’re all career musicians.
“So how do you find the sweet spot in that? And I’ve almost found it – if I can get consistently 300 people to a show, that’s enough money to pay everybody well, pay for the hotels and break even,” she concluded with a laugh.
She’s excited to return to Ithaca, where she has performed with Indigo Girls many times over the past 20 years.
“The people there are awesome,” she said. “It’s a funky town, and a funky crowd. We’ve had a lot of good times there with Indigo Girls. So I wanted to come up there with the solo thing and try it out.”
To learn more about Ray, visit www.amy-ray.com.
Amanda Anne Platt and the Honeycutters will open the 8 p.m. show. Hailing from Asheville, N.C., the roots-rock band released an excellent self-titled album in 2017. Visit honeycutters.com to learn more.
Tickets are $25 in advance, $30 at the door. To learn more, visit dspshows.com.