Hearing a few measures of Amy Ray’s gravelly vocals can feel like reuniting with an old friend, whether she’s harmonizing as one half of the still-going-strong Indigo Girls or alone at the mic. Next month, the Georgia singer-songwriter will release her sixth solo studio album, Holler, a fourteen-song collection of harmonies, horns, and poetry. Some of the songs came quickly; others, like “Dadgum Down” were a longer time coming.
“This song has definitely morphed over a period of years—I’ve just been adding on and subtracting,” Ray says. It touches lyrically on addiction, despair, and the need for a clean slate, and, like much of Holler, offers fuller instrumentation than Ray’s previous solo work. “I was actually trying to learn how to play the banjo when I was writing it,” Ray says. “I started playing this riff, and these were the words that were coming out.”
Stream the song exclusively at G&G, and keep reading to catch up with Ray on Holler, her home in North Georgia, and the allure of the Carolinas.
Holler was recorded at Echo Mountain in Asheville, North Carolina. Why did you choose to record there?
I recorded this live to two-inch tape, and that’s something that they do really well at Echo Mountain. But the room itself, the big room that we use to record there, is an old church, so it’s got beautiful windows and a certain vibe. The light streams in, and everybody has that feeling you get when you’re around a bunch of antiques. [Laughs] There’s vintage gear everywhere, and the microphones are old—from the ‘60s and ‘70s, some of them from the ‘50s—and everything has an organic quality. The environment really lends itself to country music and Americana, because all that oldness seeps into in some of the songs. So the space itself is really inspiring.
But Asheville, and the Carolinas—that’s God’s country. It’s so beautiful it’s ridiculous. And it’s a hop, skip, and a jump from me. It’s just a couple of hours from my house, through the woods and through the hills, which I love. I love the drive there. I don’t ever really have to hit a highway.
You started your career in Atlanta, but you live outside of the city now, in Dahlonega, Georgia.
I live in the woods, on eighty acres, on a river. I love nature, and I love being outside and feeling like I’m in my own little world. My daughter and my partner live here with me, I have five dogs and six cats and kind of a menagerie. It’s a haven. And I have a community here that’s a lot of really good people—artists, teachers at the local college, people that fix cars, people that build things, people that wait tables. It runs the gamut. And I really like that.
What do you like about it?
I like a small town and a small community. Politically, it’s really different from where I am. But I like the challenge, I think, of rubbing up against things that make me uncomfortable and learning to open my mind and not judge a book by its cover. I’ve lived up here for 25 years, and when I was a kid I went to camp up here. I always wanted to live this way. But because it’s such an antagonistic time right now, and everything’s so polarized, some of my friends from Atlanta are like, How can you deal with that, politically? What I find up here, for me, is that I just push it a little bit, then I step back; push it a little, then step back. I just try to work with it. My neighbors, even those who don’t agree with me, often step in to help when there are things that need to get done—when there’s an ice storm and we all have to pitch in to clear the road, or whatever’s going on. I have to think that there’s goodness inside people, and that people can change in fundamental ways around love and acceptance.
What made you choose Holler as the title of the album?
“Holler” was the last song on the record that I wrote. I actually wrote it as we were recording. The line was, “I’m treading water with no sign, keeping my head just high enough to holler,” which is to say I’m just kind of getting by, but I still have the strength and the presence to be able to holler. Goodnight Tender was kind of a soft, and this album does have a little more holler in it. So it felt right. It felt like a natural progression, like waking up and saying ‘Here I am. I don’t know all the answers, but I’m gonna sing anyway.’
Holler is set for release on Sept. 28, and is available for pre-order now.