by Tim McMahan, Lazy-i.com
Column 294: Starting Over
The return of Azure Ray.
What better way to open an interview with Azure Ray’s Maria Taylor than with a scoop?
Regarding band mate Orenda Fink, and her husband, The Faint’s Todd Fink, Taylor made the following statement: “I wouldn’t be surprised if in the next few years they pop out a little Fink.”
Boom goes the dynamite. OK, maybe it wasn’t that big of a scoop, but it was the closest I got to one while talking to these two indie rock divas (and I use the term “divas” in only the most loving way).
Taylor did most of the talking, as Fink was behind the wheel of the van that carried Team Azure Ray to San Diego after a show the night before in Phoenix. Talking to Taylor is like talking to your best friend’s goofy little sister; she’s sweet and funny and gets your jokes even when they’re not very good.
It was obvious that, so far, the tour has been hit-and-miss. “It’s going pretty good, getting better and better,” Taylor said. “We have more of a fan base on the West Coast. So the crowds are getting better, but it’s still a challenge to make people aware of us.”
The crowd’s amnesia couldn’t have been a complete surprise. Azure Ray was at its career apex with 2003′s Hold On Love. A year later, Taylor and Fink went their separate ways due to creative differences, or for some other reason I’m sure we’ll never know. In addition to her solo work, Fink went on to form Art in Manila and collaborate with Cedric Lemoyne as O+S. Taylor worked with Bright Eyes, Moby, Crooked Fingers and Joshua Radin when she wasn’t recording and touring in support of her own solo projects.
Then, rather organically a couple years ago, the duo found themselves living in Los Angeles and hanging out together. “We thought, ‘Why not just put out another record together?’” So they teamed up with long-time producer/collaborator Eric Bachmann of Crooked Fingers (and Archers of Loaf before that) and recorded Drawing Down the Moon, released in September by Saddle Creek Records. The album is earmarked by those same soothing, whispering harmonies and heart-breaking lyrics that defined Azure Ray from the beginning, which is appropriate considering that in many ways, Azure Ray is starting over.
“I think people have small attention spans,” Taylor said. “I don’t think they’ve forgotten us, it just needs to be brought to their attention that we have a new record out.” Judging by the crowds there, apparently the word didn’t make it to Florida. Taylor was unwilling to share the attendance numbers. “The scary thing is you have to pay your players and make money. We didn’t have any expectations, and we like to keep it that way.”
Still, one expects to make money playing music, especially if you’re one of the more influential indie music duos of the early part of the last decade. They both point to the Internet for the current state of affairs.
“As far as the music industry goes, I’ve lost a lot of faith that I’ll be able to make a living doing this much longer,” Taylor said. “In 2002, people were still buying records and a career in music seemed like an option. Our friends were doing so well. But that was a different time. We were just talking about this in the van, how amazing the Internet is and how it’s just screwed us.”
Taylor handed the phone to Fink. “Maria is right. The biggest change is the culture of the music industry and the economy,” Fink said. “In a strange way, being on the road now is like when we first started — we really didn’t know what was happening. It was before cell phones and the Internet. Now with technology, it’s creating still more uncertainty. The bubble has burst. The industry was cruising along for a number of years with a formula for how records were sold and how tours were sold and promoted. That formula doesn’t exist anymore, and everyone is trying to figure out how to make it work in this new climate.”
That uncertainty played a small role in both Taylor’s and Fink’s exodus from Los Angeles. Orenda and Todd recently moved to Athens, Georgia, while Taylor bought a house in Birmingham, Alabama. “We’re going to be touring so much and it’s so expensive to live in Los Angeles,” Taylor said, “And being closer to our families kind of seems nice.”
They haven’t forgotten Omaha. “We miss our friends a whole lot, especially when tragedy happens or hard times, it’s hard to be so far away from the people that you’re close to,” Taylor said. “I definitely miss it. I even miss the snow.”
Something tells me that the Nov. 3 Azure Ray show at Slowdown will be like a family reunion, or a time machine that takes everyone back to 2003. The difference is that this time Taylor and Fink are in it for the long haul. They’re already talking about their next record. “With this new record, we were specifically not trying to draw from what we learned in our solo work. We wanted to recreate the same feeling from the first album,” Taylor said. “We’ll experiment a little more with the things we learned on the next album.
“It definitely feels great to be together and work together again,” Taylor said. “We’ve been friends for 20 years — two people who, since they met, enjoy spending time together. We definitely don’t take each other for granted any more.”
Azure Ray plays with Tim Fite and James Husband Wednesday, Nov. 3, at The Slowdown, 729 No. 14th St. Show starts at 9 p.m. Tickets are $12 adv./$14 DOS. For more info, go to theslowdown.com.
* * *
There are two shows going on tonight competing for essentially the same audience. Over at O’Leaver’s it’s So-So Sailors with Portland trio System and Station and Conduits. $5, 9:30 p.m. Meanwhile, over at The Barley St. Tavern, it’s The Stay Awake and Techlepathy. $5, 9 p.m.
* * *
Read Tim McMahan’s blog daily at Lazy-i.com — an online music magazine that includes feature interviews, reviews and news. The focus is on the national indie music scene with a special emphasis on the best original bands in the Omaha area. Copyright © 2010 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.