Reviews

Folk Duo Azure Ray Hold On to Their Once-Dormant Partnership

Author: Doug Wallin
07/16/2009 | OC Weekly | www.ocweekly.com | Feature
Azure Ray are back on the road, a revelation that may surprise fans who had long since resigned themselves to the band's demise. It's been nearly six years since Hold On Love, and since then core members Maria Taylor and Orenda Fink have been occupied with solo records and collaborations. It was never certain that Azure Ray's three-album legacy of atmospheric folk would ever be expanded upon, and yet there's a West Coast tour underway and a fourth album on the horizon.

"We're writing right now," says Fink. "We're still in the demo process."

As Taylor and Fink are both currently based in LA, the band are as well, although they began in Athens, Georgia, and later moved to Omaha, Nebraska, where strong ties were established with the extended Saddle Creek Records family. After releasing a 2001 self-titled debut and 2002's Burn And Shiver on the Athens label WARM Electronic Recordings, Azure Ray moved to Saddle Creek for Hold On Love. Taylor's first two solo albums and Fink's first also found a home on the famed Omaha label.

Fink speaks fondly of both the time away from the band and the prospect of working again with Taylor.

"I think both of us have found our own voice, musically and personally too," she says. "Now we can come back together as more 'whole' individuals. We're going to be able to give more to the project that way."

She adds that the band never actually broke up.

"We always discussed it as a hiatus," she says. Noting her and Taylor's pre-Azure Ray time in the '90s band Little Red Rocket, she continues, "We worked together for so long before we took a break that we both just wanted to find our own individual voices. And that's how we spent those years. We just felt like it was time to get back together and do another record. It happened very organically."

Taylor has recorded three solo albums: 2005's 11:11, 2007's Lynn Teeter Flower and last March's LadyLuck, released on Nettwerk and featuring R.E.M.'s Michael Stipe on the single "Cartoons And Forever Plans". There was also an acoustic mini-album, Savannah Drive, with Andy LeMaster, with whom Taylor and Fink have worked in his Saddle Creek band Now It's Overhead. LeMaster also produced Fink's 2005 solo debut, Invisible Ones, with an ear more toward full-bodied rock than Taylor's quiet outings. Fink's second solo album is due out in October on Saddle Creek, and like much of her work in and outside of Azure Ray, it includes close collaborations with friends.

"It's a pretty great situation," says Fink of so many different working arrangements (including Azure Ray's team-up with Moby for a song on his 2002 album 18). "We get to be creative and work with our peers, our best friends and people that we all respect."

Fink also founded the band Art In Manila with the Anniversary's Adrianne Verhoeven and several other acquaintances. The band debuted on, you guessed it, Saddle Creek, with 2007's Set The Woods On Fire. More recently, Fink and Remy Zero's Cedric LeMoyne made a self-titled electronic album (released last March, again on Saddle Creek) under the name O+S.

Clearly, neither Taylor nor Fink is at a loss for creative outlets´┐Żor collaborators. For Azure Ray's current tour, the band includes LeMaster, Nick White from Tilly and the Wall and Tod Wisenbaker from Whispertown 2000.

"It'll be songs from those [first three] records," says Fink, "and we're playing a couple of new ones that we're working on. I think the touring is going to help us get back in the groove of writing with each other."

Asked whether the new material will continue to fuse radiant ambiance with traditional folk earmarks, Fink says it depends on whether Azure Ray again enlist the production talents of Crooked Fingers frontman Eric Bachmann. It's Bachmann, she says, who is responsible for many of the band's most textured moments on record.

"That signature sound has a lot to do with him," she explains. "So we're hoping that we can work with him again. We're really thinking, initially, to go more toward the very first record, but who knows? If we do work with Eric, it depends on what ideas he has."

However it pans out, there's definitely a new chapter in store for Azure Ray.