Interview with Maria Taylor and Orenda Fink
by Alexander Laurence
The Southern duo of Azure Ray formed in 2001 when former Bright Eyes members Orenda Fink and Maria Taylor joined Eric Bachmann to create something musically enchanting. More stripped down than Bright Eyes and their previous outfit, Little Red Rocket, Fink and Taylor shaped a delicate, folky soundscape for their 2001 critically acclaimed self-titled debut.
The next winter, Azure Ray issued an EP on Saddle Creek, which featured collaborative work with Now It's Overhead. In the meantime they moved to Omaha, Nebraska. Since then they have created another great album, Burn & Shiver. They also worked recently with Moby on the song "Great Escape." I caught them on their recent tour with Her Space Holiday.
Maria Taylor will be releasing a solo album this month. She is also playing with Har Mar Superstar at The Troubadour on May 6th.
AL: How was the tour with Moby?
Orenda: We didn't play the Area 2 shows. He did a number of shows in early summer by himself and we opened up for him. It was smaller venues than Area 2 but they were pretty big places. Too big for us I think. It is better for us to play in a more intimate setting.
AL: What bands are you in now?
Maria: Little Red Rocket has been defunct for about two years. Now It's Overhead is a band that we are in and we are playing tonight as well as Azure Ray. In Azure Ray we write all the songs and sing them. Now It's Overhead another guy writes the songs and sings them. We play keyboards and bass.
AL: What was Little Red Rocket like?
Orenda: It was a sugary pop band. It was fun and upbeat. Azure Ray is sad and depressing, so it wouldn't make any sense to play any old songs from the previous band. As Azure Ray we have done two CDs and one EP. Burn and Shiver is the latest one.
AL: Why did you shift from lighter material to this deeper material?
Maria: We just saw the light one day. We found meaning in our lives and we decided to put it in our music.
AL: How do you write songs in this band?
Maria: We each write songs and present them to the other. We have the songs mixed up on the album. Our voices are so similar and our songwriting is similar that people have a hard time telling the difference. We like the same music. If Orenda likes a certain song, even though I may not like it at first, I know that I am going to like it because we have similar tastes.
Orenda: We write stuff individually but we try to keep it cohesive. Some people can't tell that there are different people writing and that's the way we want to keep it. We don't want to separate anything that we are doing. We write together sometimes.
AL: Do you write lyrics first?
Maria: It depends on the song. It could start with a melody or some lyrics and we just build off it.
Orenda: I like to sing in the shower or sing a car.
AL: Do you tape stuff on a four-track?
Orenda: Until a year ago we both had a four-track. Now we both use Pro Tools.
AL: How did you do the tracks with Moby?
Orenda: He sent us music with no lyrics or melodies on top of it. It was just music. We wrote lyrics and sang on top of it and sent it back to him. He liked it and he used it on his new album. We both sang on two tracks. "The Great Escape" was on the album and "Landing" was a B-side.
AL: Why did you move to Nebraska?
Maria: Our boyfriends live there. The label Saddle Creek is there. We put out an EP with them. There are a lot of great people. It's a great music community.
AL: For much of us, like myself, who have only lived in LA and New York City, would we like it in Omaha, Nebraska?
Maria: You would probably hate it. You make your own fun. There is nothing going on. You are nowhere near water and it feels claustrophobic sometimes. I love it though.
AL: What bands do you like?
Maria: I like Leonard Cohen. I like some new stuff like Lucinda Williams and Ryan Adams. I like the new Wilco album. We both like Nina Simone and The Zombies. We like to dance and we like some techno music. But we are not stoners.
Orenda: We listen to Brian Eno. But we don't listen to that much music honestly. We are not huge music collectors. We both just have things that we like and that's it. That's what we listen to all the time.
AL: Besides music what other hobbies do you have?
Orenda: Our hobbies are playing in other bands. We like to write, read, party, dance, hang out. Watch movies. Travel. We like to travel.
Maria: I just like to analyze people and watch people. I like people. I have enough strange friends that I can just sit around and watch them and analyze them and wonder what their childhood must have been like. I am a wine connoisseur. That is one of my hobbies: finding new kinds of wines. That is favorite thing to do.
Orenda: She is just a drunk.
Maria: No, I just like wine.
AL: It's a noble profession. Are there any good books that you have read that you care to mention?
Orenda: I just read Michael Moore's new book, Stupid White Men. We both read it and it's really awesome. Right now I am reading The Serpent and The Rainbow by Wade Davis. It's an interesting book because it's nothing like the film. It's about Haiti and Voodoo and religion. It is a long history lesson.
AL: What about you Maria? Are there any Blockbusters in Omaha?
Maria: Yeah. What did I watch last? I hadn't seen The Royal Tannebaums. I just watched that and loved it. I read the Michael Moore book. I love the short stories of Raymond Carver. Now I am just reading a cheesy love story because I don't have television right now. So I need something. We want a television so we can watch Six Feet Under when it comes on. It's the best show ever.
AL: What is it about music that makes you want to play it, be involved in it, and listen to it?
Orenda: When something that I write musically affects someone else in a positive way, that makes me the happiest. It could be something sad that they relate to. Or it could be something that makes them happy. These are the main reasons why I do music. Sometimes I have to ask myself that question. It's cheaper for us to do rather than going to a psychiatrist.
Maria: It's one of the only universal things. Everyone loves music and everyone gets something out of music different. I find confront in that. It's fun. I feel so lucky. As much as we like to bitch and complain, we get paid to see the world and play our music. It's our passion.
AL: You have played with Bright Eyes, Crooked Fingers, and Moby. What bands would you like to play with?
Maria: Elliot Smith would be good. Aimee Mann. Pedro The Lion. We would love to tour with our friend, Mark Eitzel. He's so great and funny. He's very self-deprecating. He wanted to open up for us. We said "We can open up for you, but you are not going to open up for us."
AL: The CMJ festival is coming up. Have you played it before?
Orenda: A few times. This time we are going to have the most fun we ever had. It's going to be a Saddle Creek showcase. All of our friends and all these bands are going to be there. We love playing in New York. We always have fun. CMJ is the festival that always treats artists the best. We support it.
AL: What do you think of Williamsburg?
Maria: We love it there. It's cool and trendy. We lived in Athens, Georgia for four years. So when you go to Williamsburg, it feels like Athens. It is like a bunch of hip young people.
AL: What is an Azure Ray show like?
Orenda: It's pretty raw dog.
Maria: It depends on whether our equipment works right. It also depends on how much we have partied the previous night.
AL: What is the song "Displaced" about?
Orenda: When we wrote these first three records, we were going through some rough times. Some of the major themes were isolation and loss and trying to find your way in the world. Try to figure out what you are doing and why you are here. It's not about physical movement or traveling, but being displaced mentally and in your heart.
Maria: It's just self-realizations. Understanding yourself, other people, relationships, life, and everything.
AL: If people judge you by your music, they might think that you are depressed and lonely people all the time.
Orenda: I don't know. It might be surprising to meet us because we are just basically manic. We party hard and we have so much fun for a while and then we hit a rock bottom point.
Maria: We know each other better than anyone. We can just look at each other and not say anything.
AL: So you want to tap into those low points in life, while there's a whole other life going on that's not reflected in the music?
Maria: It's a direct reflection of our lives and who we are.
Orenda: What we write about is true and it lives in the hearts of everyone. We don't want to walk around living that way. We don't want to be depressed and sad and have fears and harbor dark feelings, and yet they are there. Music is a good way to release these feelings and show people that someone else feels this way.
AL: Do you have any advice for young girls who may want to start a band?
Orenda: It's hard for me to give advice about this because we have devoted ten years of our lives.
Maria: When we first started we were fearless. Maybe we were naive?
AL: You have to have some confidence in yourself just to present anything.
Orenda: You do. What I am saying is that I don't know if I would wish this upon anyone. We are stuck in it right now. At this point this is all Maria and I do and we have no choice. I don't want to deny anyone.
Maria: If we stopped this for whatever reason we would be fucked. It's true. We have friends who wonder why we can do music for a living and they can't get anywhere. We literally gave up everything. We forfeited relationships and school. We gave up everything to concentrate on doing music.
AL: How do you see Azure Ray ten years down the road?
Orenda: We have no idea. I could be in the gutter. We could be talking about the downfall of Azure Ray.
AL: Are you working on new songs?
Orenda: We have been thinking about things. We have been so busy touring. Since March we have been touring or getting ready for a tour. After the European tour we are going to take some time off and try to write and think about where we want to go with the next record.