Almost a year ago, I showed up, amp and guitar in hand, at the doorstep of Durham, N.C. punk band, The Butchies. The Butchies' rehearsal space was the first stop on my odyssey to complete my first solo record - Stag. Our practices were held in a freezing cold brick basement, setting up between space heaters and metal support posts. After two days of rehearsing, we took the three songs we learned into a Chapel Hill recording studio run out of Chris Stamey's (formerly of the dBs) house. In between getting drum sounds and figuring out which bathroom to put the amps in, we got the news of an impending blizzard. We got as much done as we could and then fought our way home in what turned out to be 18 inches of snow and three days of closed interstates. It was a portentous beginning to a year spent carrying tapes around the south and recording songs with a few of my favorite punk bands in between Indigo Girls' tours.
My independent career began in the early 80's but in 1988, after being an indie band for seven years, the Indigo Girls were signed to Epic Records. Two years, seeking balance, I started my own independent label, Daemon Records, to provide a non-corporate infrastructure for musicians to produce and release their own music. After nearly a decade of recording others, I noticed a growing pile of my own songs that were set aside because they didn't necessarily fit in with the Indigo Girls. Rather than forcing them into the wrong mold, I decided I would write and record a solo record. The songs on this album are mostly inspired by the bands that play on it. They are artists that have been on Daemon or have been my friends - in either case, I am their fan. I chose the songs to record with each band according to their own style and the mark they have made on me. The first band on my wish list, The Butchies, was formed with two of the original members of the riot grrl superhero band, Team Dresch. I went from hoping to record three songs with them to finishing five based solely on their abilities of interpretation. Their performance on the songs "Laramie" and "Lucystoners" become a standard by which the whole record was made.
I corralled the original members of Atlanta's own Rockateens to record the song "Black Heart Today" in Athens, GA at David Barbe's studio. David, formerly of Mercyland and the bass player for Bob Mould's Sugar impressed me with his golden ear for guitar tones and ended up mixing my whole record. I left the southern punk scene for a few days to cut a song with Josephine Wiggs (The Breeders), Kate Schellenbach (Luscious Jackson) and Joan Jett in New York. I met Kate and Jo when the Indigo Girls organized the Suffragette Sessions tour, which took 12 women out of their own bands (ranging from punk to soul) to create a traveling road show that toured for two weeks in rock clubs on the east coast. This musical alliance proved fruitful when the basic tracks of "Hey Castrator" were put to tape live in Brooklyn, NY, by Adam Lasus (Juliana Hatfield, Yo La Tengo at Fireproof Studio. Joan Jett tumbled in after an all night rehearsal for The Rocky Horror Picture Show on Broadway to sing the rather Broadwayish coda to the song and of course provide her unmatchable rhythm guitar backbone.
The most tedious yet rewarding moments of this record were spent in a small room in Atlanta, Orphan Studio, weeding through tracks and finishing vocals and guitars, learning how to trust my instincts. It was night and day compared to the communal experience of an Indigo record. Danielle Howle came in during my weeding days to bring some relief with her uncommonly rich voice. She turned around the songs "Measure of Me" and "On Your Honor."
The newest cut on the record, "Late Bloom," was written and recorded at the final hour because I just couldn't do without the band 1945 (formerly Three Finger Cowboy) that taught me about the 3 minute pop song. I hauled ass to Birmingham, AL, loaded out into another basement practice space, recorded and mixed in a 15-hour marathon session and then drove through the night to Nashville to master the album.
The songs on Stag deal frankly with my confrontations with the oppressive elements of the music industry, my frustrations with imposed standards of gender all around us, and the shortcomings I see in myself. The bands did their own thing without too much guidance from me. Sometimes I fell back on an obsessive need to overthink a mix or I mistakenly rerecorded songs, but the music that I kept coming back to was the music that came out unlabored and spontaneous and organically rebellious. The heart of the record is in that rebellion and in a certain spirit of recovery I have found in the south, and in that southern punk ethic - subversiveness with a smile.
An extraordinarily potent recording, one that will likely be among 2001's best.Billboard - 2001
Angry, bold, pointed and eclectic as hell, Stag suggests that Nirvana and Sleater-Kinney are just as important to Ray as Simon and Garfunkel.Rolling Stone - 2001