Drawing Down the Moon
Author: Shauna Keddy
After a six year hiatus, Saddle-Creek Records' beloved alternative rock duo, Azure Ray, return to the music scene. With their fourth album Drawing Down the Moon, Maria Taylor and Orenda Fink have just as much heartache and raw emotion to share, set to lovely harmonies and soothing melodies.Azure Ray were one of the first bands to record on Saddle Creek Records, along with Bright Eyes and Cursive. Azure Ray's lyrics pull at the heart-strings and put to words universal heartache, giving a sweet tune to troubled thoughts."Whatever it is we are going through ? everyone is always going through something shitty ? it is our way to be alone and write about it," explains Fink. "Our songs are cathartic for us?"After attending a performing arts high school in Birmingham, the girls both went on to Athens, Georgia, where they met Eric Bachmann and Saddle Creek Records musician Andy LeMaster. Although the two met in high school in Alabama, the first time they ever wrote a song together was on the most recent album for the track "Dancing Ghosts." After three releases as a band, Fink and Taylor branched off into solo projects, which were a bit different than their work together."Surrendering to the nature of our collaboration creates its own unique sound and vibe. We had always worked together, so when we went solo we defined our individuality," Fink says."So this has been about finding our common ground again as a band," Taylor smiles."Riding that wave," Fink adds. "It's not easy to quantify how [our musical styles' are] different; we can just feel that it's different.""Yours is more storytelling, mine is more poppy. When we come together, it comes from all over the body, mind, and soul," Taylor muses."Reconnecting with Maria was a big inspiration for our current album, and [upon] moving to L.A. I asked all my friends their favorite songs of all time, and so even though they weren't my favorite necessarily, I was inspired by that," Fink says."I lived in L.A. for two and a half years, so I wrote about everything that was going on in my life at that time. It was not necessarily about writing about stuff from our past, but I did revisit the same emotions as I wrote about in songs before, if they still apply to what we are going through in the present," Taylor adds.Azure Ray are most recognized for the tracks "Sleep" and "Rise," both off of their 2001 self-titled debut album. These songs are often used in television shows such as Grey's Anatomy. "Sleep" was used to help score the film The Devil Wears Prada.These inclusions have not helped the band as much as this high caliber of exposure might suggest."It hasn't really changed things at all," Taylor laughs, "I mean people buy single songs without looking into the artist a lot of the time. I'm guilty of it too sometimes, but it's just frustrating because people often won't know it's even your song."Azure Ray is the kind of band you can feel personally connected to; their music is emotionally raw, and incredibly intimate. It's break-up music at its best."Almost one hundred per cent of our songs are personal experiences, or the personal experiences of others," Fink says."When our lives get really boring ? that's when we'll start writing fictional songs," laughs Taylor.In the song "Larraine" from their new album, Fink sings a horrifying story of family abuse, inspired by Fink's grandfather's abusive relationship towards Fink's mother.When asked if writing about these stories helps Fink to process emotionally, she explains: "I'm not sure how it does, but it just does? If I didn't, I would definitely be seeing a psychiatrist ? and I probably still should. Romanticizing dark things is a way of working through it and feeling better about it. When you are writing it, it's really intense, but once it's done you've given birth to it, and it is diffused out into the world.""We recorded the new album in Asheville, North Carolina," Fink recalls, "Eric Bachmann, our producer, set it up because he was friends with people in the area. He played a lot of the instruments with us during recording, and otherwise we just hired local people that played classical music."Fink first met Bachmann when he was recording for his band Crooked Fingers' debut album in Athens: "He needed a female back up singer," Fink adds. "Right after that, he came to one of our shows."Taylor continues: "Our friend had the idea for him to produce our songs, and we had been working on a side-project of songs we had no intention of recording? Our friend told us he was starting this label and that we should let his friend Bachmann produce it. We were so na•ve, we didn't question or research it, and we were just like okay! [?] So then it turned out great, of course," they both laugh. Warm Records went on to release their first two albums, Azure Ray and Burn and Shiver."Other people have said you can hear the difference, but I'm unaware of it. Our friend said 'this album sounds so Los Angeles' and I never ever thought that. I'm too in the middle of it to see it," Taylor said."It's mostly weather. In any town, the weather probably dictates the overall mood. But it definitely affects the songwriting to a certain degree," Fink said.Fink has had an even larger change that has affected her songwriting, and that is her marriage to fellow Saddle Creek musician Todd Baechle of the band The Faint: "It affects it, it's not easy. It's funny to say that, because being happily married makes it too easy, because it makes it harder to be creative. Todd and I talk about this because we both suffer from it. It makes it more difficult because you definitely need to make a separation from your life. It's a lot easier when you are alone to tap into a really unique and introspective microcosmic core, which is harder when you are used to completely sharing your life with someone, and be in certain moods, and be with them all the time and not have time alone? it makes it difficult but I wouldn't give it up."Although Azure Ray clearly fits into the niche of Saddle Creek independent rockers, they have a varied and classic list of influences: "We always go back to the same old ones ? Nina Simone, Leonard Cohen, the Beatles, Fleetwood Mac, and Elliot Smith," Taylor says. "We've been listening to a lot of our friends ? Nik Freitas, Taylor Hollingsworth, Morgan Nagler," she added. Freitas and Hollingsworth joined Bright Eyes' Conor Oberst for his two releases with the Mystic Valley Band, which also included Jason Boesel of Rilo Kiley, and Bright Eyes mainstay Nate Walcott. Taylor and Fink became close with Morgan Nagler upon moving to L.A., as she is the lead singer of an independent rock band from the area called the Whispertown 2000."I'd be making music no matter what I would be doing," Taylor explains. "It's what I do best and what I do most naturally. I love that I get to travel and meet people, and I love drinking red wine [laughs]. My job is: drinking red wine, meeting people, going to new cities and doing my hobby. Even collaborating with people, coming together in another way besides just talking ? it's this whole other way to communicate."Although Taylor moved to a Vancouver-based record label called Nettwerrk, she still maintains ties with the Nebraska base. "The cool thing about Saddle Creek is that they are friends of mine, and they were friends before I started putting out records with them. There will always be a connection no matter if I keep putting out records with them. I will always feel a connection with the all Saddle Creek guys. I love the Nettwerrk people too. Generally I make sure I really like people before I work with them. They are so different ? Nettwerrk is a bunch of awesome girls and Saddle Creek is a bunch of good ol' boys.""We are going to do separate things for a year before we do another Azure Ray record," Taylor says. "Andy LeMaster and I will be putting our project on hold for a bit." The two toured this summer to practice playing together again for their new project.