While they were still living in their hometown of Birmingham, Alabama, Orenda Fink and Maria Taylor first played in a band together called Little Red Rocket before moving on to Athens, Georgia, where they formed another outfit called Azure Ray, and then eventually settling for a time in Omaha, Nebraska.
A year after releasing their third album -- Hold On Love on the storied Saddle Creek Records imprint -- Azure Ray was put on hold while Fink and Taylor worked on their various other projects. In 2008, the ladies reunited for a single show that led to the band getting back together for the recently released Drawing Down the Moon. In advance of Azure Ray's show tonight at the hi-dive, we spoke with Fink about Azure Ray's new album, her various projects and Art Bell.
Westword (Tom Murphy): Azure Ray is often referred to as a "dream pop" band. What sorts of music, sounds and experiences helped to shape the kind of music you've written for that project?
Orenda Fink: I guess I feel like where we were when we first started writing the material was in a dream-like state. We were in Athens, Georgia, and we had gone through some powerful emotional changes in our lives, and that was reflected in the music we were creating.
It was a cathartic time for us to write, and it helped us to romanticize the things we were feeling, or maybe it was just our way to try to understand it in the only context we knew how. I think there was some element of comfort in there, as well -- trying to make music to comfort us. So I think that's what translated into "dream pop," or whatever people want to call it.
How did you come to work with Moby on "Great Escape," and what was it like working with him?
We were touring, and we met these guys from Dialects -- kind of a rock/rap group. We ended up playing a double show. We weren't on the bill together, where we played our show and the club switched over and then Dialects played. But we shared a dressing room and became really good friends.
Their manager was also Moby's manager and they gave him our CD. He gave that to Moby, and he asked if we wanted to collaborate with him. It was really low key. He sent us some tracks, and we wrote over them, and he liked them. So we went to New York and recorded them in his studio apartment. It was laid back and fun, and we recorded it one day. Then he took us on tour for two weeks, and that was nice of him.
Why did you originally name Art in Manilla, "Art Bell"?
When I started that project, I was thinking of names, and I wanted to call it Art Bell because I was remembering how much Coast to Coast touring bands listen to, especially us. It reminded me of how we first started out and you'd do a lot of late night drives. So it's kind of like the 11 p.m. to 2 a.m. drives through the desert listening to Coast to Coast.
Because that reminded me of being in a van so much for that reason, I thought that would be a good name. But I talked to a few people and they said it would be hard to call the band Art Bell because he might not want to share his name. So I called it Art in Manilla because he lives in the Philippines.
A while back I got to see Now It's Overhead and thought that band was great. What about that project interested you enough to become involved with it?
Andy LeMaster is a really great friend of mine's and Maria's. He's worked on every record that we've made except for the first one. He's a great talent, a wonderful songwriter, a wonderful person and it just made sense to do it with him. We were all living in Athens when it started. We toured them for quite a while, but then we got too busy with Azure Ray.
How would you describe your experience of being an actively creative person living in Birmingham, Athens, and Omaha, respectively?
You know, I don't think it really matters what city that you live in. Some of the social things and the weather and the cultural opportunities to see things change, but I think I had the same amount of inspiration and time to work in all of the cities I've lived in. It's mainly just finding a great core group of people and surrounding yourself with them. And having good influences, good peers, positive people, talented people and people that are trying to do something rather than just be mad at the world. You can find both types in any city.
How did getting to see Haitian folk music affect the kind of music you make?
I think I went to Haiti for the first time in 2003. It was a really life-changing trip for me. I went with my husband. Spiritually, politically, musically -- it was just so many amazing eye-opening moments. I went back twice after that. You can hear some Haitian influence on my solo record Invisible Ones. I went back a third time to collect field recordings for my side project, O+S. We used the field recordings as loops to go under pop songs. A little different way to use that inspiration and an excuse to go back to that country.
After six years apart, what brought you and Maria Taylor back together to reform Azure Ray?
We've always had the philosophy of letting the universe lead us down the proper path. At the time we stopped working together, we had felt like we didn't need to be working together and that if we did need to be working together again, we would know it. And that really did happen. About a year and a half ago, Maria was living in Los Angeles, and I was playing in Rilo Kiley. I was going to L.A. a lot to rehearse, and I would stay with her. Something really magical happened while we were there. We were having so much fun together and felt like we needed to spend a lot more time together and reconnect. So we finally said, "We should play music again." I moved to L.A., and we wrote a record and recorded it.
Drawing Down the Moon is the title of your latest record? What is the significance of that evocative title?
I was reading, and I stumbled upon it, and I thought it was a beautiful phrase. It has a beautiful meaning to of drawing down personal power from a universal entity -- kind of attesting to the power of the individual. At first it was just going to be the title of a song but towards the end, we thought it would be better as an album title.
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You've played in numerous projects over the last several years. What haven't you tried yet that you'd like to attempt in music ?
I'd like to do a project with my husband -- that's something I haven't done yet. He's in The Faint. We've been together for eight years, and we haven't collaborated on a project yet. We'll probably do it in a couple of years.