ATLANTA, Georgia (CNN) -- There's the Amy Ray of the Indigo Girls: blending her voice with singing partner Emily Saliers on songs such as "Closer to Fine" and "Galileo" and writing songs that tap into the duo's shared folk-oriented touchstones.
Amy Ray says playing with some musician friends brought out songs that "felt very different from the Indigo Girls."
Then there's Amy Ray the solo artist, letting out her inner Joe Strummer and Paul Westerberg.
The two aren't mutually exclusive, of course.
"Emily and I are frustrated sometimes with any kind of box," Ray says during an interview at her manager's office near downtown Atlanta, "because we want to experiment musically, and we do a lot of electric stuff. ... But the reality is that we are a folk band."
However, Ray adds, her influences include artists who have come out of a punk mindset such as the Clash, the Replacements, the Pretenders and Patti Smith. "At some point I was hanging around with the Butchies -- a band I ended up playing with a lot -- and it just brought out this thing in me ... and it felt very different from the Indigo Girls," she says.
Which explains the appearance of "Didn't It Feel Kinder" (Daemon), Ray's third solo album. Watch Ray perform the song "She's Got to Be" »
(Disclosure: Ray and I were contemporaries at Atlanta's Emory University, but we didn't know one another.)
The songs on "Kinder" include "Bus Bus," a scorching rocker about the longings felt while on tour; "Who Sold the Gun," which alludes to a mass shooting, counterpointed by rousing major chords; and "SLC Radio," which praises the support of a Salt Lake City radio station in the midst of "LDS nation."
Ray gives a great deal of credit to producer Greg Griffith for the album's raw sound and melodic ideas, and she adds that the musicians on the solo album helped guide the way the songs were presented.
"Something like 'Bus Bus,' I wanted this lead thing going on with a kind of raucous band, and the harmonies are very important but they are more of a bed that you're singing over rather than the duo," she says. "I think the musicians I play with solo do a certain thing that the musicians we play with with the Indigo Girls don't do. It's just a different thing. ... And it sort of steers my writing in some ways."
A number of the solo songs do share the same activist outlook as Ray's songs with the Indigo Girls. "SLC Radio," for example, is about KRCL-FM, which Ray describes as "a really progressive community station." In the song, Ray, an out lesbian, sings "Radio radio SLC fighting the good fight for me/ Boys and girls lend a hand, bend an ear in God's land."
"I was thinking about community radio in general, and I was thinking about Mormonism and the fabric of the country and how much you see when you're traveling ... and the idea that change comes, but it comes slow, and it comes one person at a time," she explains.
But, she notes, "The song is not totally taking Mormonism to task. I even say, 'I'm sending love to all the Mormons,' 'Keep the good things throw out the bad.' " Respect flows both ways, she says.
Ray's activism extends to the artist-centered Daemon Records, the label she founded in 1990. Though Daemon is the furthest thing from corporate -- Ray and the label's staff still stuff envelopes themselves -- she acknowledges that changes in the record business have forced her to adjust as much as any major label. Watch Ray on keeping the business going »
"For indie labels it was a big adjustment because we ended up with a lot of CDs on hand when downloading [happened]. We knew it was coming, it came, but it happened a little bit faster [than we thought]," she says. "There were business decisions that were hard. ... But I love the freedom that downloading has brought, and I love the way it saves resources."
Besides, she adds, "The Internet has revolutionized the DIY movement, and it's great to me. I don't even know if record labels need to exist. I don't even know if I need to exist," she laughs.
But some things about being a musician don't change, such as promotion and performance, which means it's time to hit the road again. Ray will perform with the Indigo Girls in September and then do some solo dates for the rest of the year. A new Indigo Girls album is due out in early 2009.
Isn't it exhausting, after more than 20 years in the business, to have to get on the bus again? Ray agrees that touring can be draining.
"It's like you're doing all this stuff, the traveling and the unpacking and the packing, just to play the show. And in that one ... moment during the show, that's the fun. That's where all the fun is," she says. "It's the blessing and the curse of it.
"But it's not like digging a ditch," she adds. "You get to see different places, get to go running in a different town every day. It's very stimulating, and that can be a very good thing."
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