Azure Ray talks debut album reissue, revisiting the past and the song they completely forgot about

Azure Ray will re-release its debut album on vinyl in 2021.

Azure Ray is going back to the beginning.

The indie folk duo is ready to re-release its debut, self-titled 2001 album. Orenda Fink and Maria Taylor, who now have control of the masters for all of their records, will release the album on vinyl for the first time.

Fully remastered for vinyl and for digital, the album will also be released with Taylor’s label Flower Moon Records alongside a 100-page photo book documenting the history of the band and the pair’s friendship, which goes back to when they were teenagers and in their pop-rock band, Little Red Rocket, which was signed to major label Geffen.

Oh, and the album’s rerelease includes a bonus track, a song that Taylor and Fink recorded back in the day and then completely forgot about until now.

Of course, this all means it’s a perfect time to revisit the band’s history, so I got on the phone with Taylor and Fink to talk about it all including how the songs from first album wasn’t even supposed to be heard by anyone else. Of course, those songs altered their career trajectory forever.

Going back to that record, and creating the accompanying book, brought back a lot of memories, and I got to chat with the pair about all of it.

Let’s start by going back to making this album. Before you were Azure Ray, you were in Little Red Rocket and had known each other since high school. So can you tell me about that time?

Maria Taylor: Well, we were in Athens, Georgia. And Little Red Rocket was just a really, you know, fun party band where we would just play loud and scream and get drunk. And it was just super fun.

And then one show, we were in Atlanta. And on our way back, my boyfriend at the time, his name was Peter, he died of drug overdose in the van with us. And it was just, I don’t know, a pivotal time in our lives, where everything from that moment on changed and our perspective on life and music and friendship. I mean, it just changed everything.

We couldn’t go back to playing those songs and being that band, right? I moved in with Orenda, and these were just the songs that we wrote. That first record, that it was our therapy, and it was getting us through that. We were so young. We were 23. And so we really had no intention of even releasing those songs.

We played them at our memorial show, and a friend who owned a label came up to us and just said, “You know, these songs are beautiful. Could we put them out? Can we record them and I’ll put them out on my label?” And we thought about it, and then eventually we were like, “Yeah, maybe these could help other people that are going through the same kind of loss or any kind of loss.” And so that is how Azure Ray was born.

That album was really well received. So was that a surprise? These are these songs that you made for yourselves.

Orenda Fink: I mean, that’s an understatement. The surprise, I mean,

Little Red Rocket, we had gotten signed by Geffen Records early on. And we never put out a proper major label debut, but we put out a kind of like a developmental record with them. Then we did our record on our own, and we kind of always figured we’d go back to a major label, you know, once we kind of got our bearings. Being on Geffen and being in a pop rock band, it was all about getting you famous, making you huge, and we never quite achieved that with Little Red Rocket.

So it was this strange kind of bitter irony that, you know, this record kind of born out of this grief would somehow be the record that was way more popular than the band that everyone was trying to make successful. Wouldn’t you say, Maria, that was kind of a mindfuck?

Taylor: Definitely, and we were saying the other day, There wasn’t internet back then and we didn’t have computers. We had one telephone between the two of us. So we also weren’t even really aware until we would travel and play these shows. And they started to fill up and fill up. We were surprised along the way, you know.

Fink: We’d get to the clubs…

Taylor: … and then they would be sold out. And we’re like, “What?”

Did you think, “Oh no, the songs I wrote for myself, I now have to play in front of other people?”

Taylor: I mean, we would cry. I still get teary eyed and have to hold back from crying a lot of times when I play November to this day, but back then they were very raw. And not only would we get, you know, emotional, but people in the crowd could definitely feel it and they would cry. So it was really a beautiful experience to share with people at the shows. And they were always so respectful and quiet.

What was it like going back and listening to those songs now?

Taylor: Um, so I sound like a chipmunk?

Fink: Yeah, our voices are definitely higher pitched. There’s been a lot of years of living since that record.

I guess I always just kind of marvel at Eric Bachmann’s production on that first record. I mean, I don’t think he really knew what he was getting into at that time and hadn’t done anything quite like it. But he just captured this really beautiful world, and I kind of get lost in that.

Taylor: Yeah, me too.

Did you just know him from being around Athens?

Fink: Yeah. Brian Causey from Warm, who approached us at Peter’s memorial show, with the idea of recording the songs and putting them out, he suggested Eric Bachmann to produce it. And we didn’t know Eric at all. We hadn’t listened to Archers of Loaf and we were just pretty indie rock illiterate at that time. We just said, “Yes.” And he did it. And it was fucking amazing.

And then you worked with him a bunch more. He ended up putting out on his own album on Saddle Creek.

Taylor: Yeah, we kept asking him until he finally just said no. He’s like, “I’m done. I’ve had enough for you girls.”

How have you been spending your time lately?

Taylor: I feel busier than ever, because my kids don’t have school, they don’t have activities. So you know, every day is just like, “Oh, God, how do I entertain them all day?” So yeah, I actually feel just way busier than I normally would, because I get absolute no free time for myself or to just a minute to take a breath. So yeah, you know, juggling that and working on new stuff with Orenda, it’s been challenging, but it’s also keeping my mind off of the apocalypse.

So you’ve been making music?

Fink: We’ve got two projects in the works. One of them is the rerelease of our first record on vinyl for the first time on its 20th anniversary, and so we’ve been working on that. And then we’ve also been working on a new record.

Where are you in the process on the new record?

Taylor: We kind of want to keep it a little bit, you know, mysterious. We don’t talk about too much, but we’ve been working on it for months now. We’re deep in that project. And we’re super duper excited about it.

Had that been planned? Or was that something that came about because you had time?

Taylor: Yeah, and we’re feeling emotional. I feel like right now we’re inspired to write. And Azure Ray is always been a kind of a therapeutic process. So it definitely felt like this was the time.

Fink: Yeah, it’s been a good time for introspection, if nothing else.

Taylor: Introspection and heavy drinking! And relying on our friendship to keep us afloat, like we always do.

Yeah, yeah. I feel the same. A lot of sitting at home and having a drink at the end of the day.

Taylor: Or two or three. Yeah, no one’s judging during the COVID days. You got to do what you need to do. When my kids are asleep. They don’t even know what’s going on!

You have control of your catalog now, and that lets you kind of do whatever you want, which is great. How did you approach this rerelease?

Taylor: My husband, Ryan, pretty much runs the label that he and I started. It was my idea. And then he does all the work!

He has a calendar, and he was telling us girls, “You know, your 20th reunion is coming up in two years, and it deserves to be celebrated. And we need to do something special.” He kept reminding us. And then once we did get the rights back to our whole catalogue, it’s just a whole other level of feeling proud of what we’ve done and wanting to promote it ourselves and celebrate it.

We got together and went through boxes and found old pictures and clippings. And we put together a really cool photo book that’s going to go along with the vinyl. And also throughout the years, people keep asking us when this record will be out on vinyl, and it never had been, which is kind of crazy. So you know, we just decided instead of just doing it some random day, let’s just wait for the 20th anniversary and make a deal out of it.

It’s crazy to think about a time when certain things did just didn’t come out on vinyl.

Taylor: Everything was just all about CDs. And now I don’t even have a way to play a CD anywhere in my house or car or anywhere.

How much did you revisit the album? Obviously, you did the remaster. But did you guys sit in on that? Or was that sent off to someone?

Fink: Actually, there was a wild turn of events. I live in a really small desert town called 29 Palms, and the guy that mastered our November EP, which is really the second release we did right after that first record, he moved in down the street from me. We reconnected and, you know, we just had him do it. And it was wild. His name is Glenn Schick, and he’s really great. We did revisit the record, because we had to listen to it multiple times we had to approve the two masters. It was the first time that we’d really listened through the whole record in a really long time.

Taylor: And another surprise was when we got our masters back from Warm, our first label, we got the actual reel-to-reel tapes. Ryan’s looking and he’s like, “Wait, there’s an extra song? What is this?”

Holy shit, we forgot that one song didn’t make it on the record. So there will be a bonus track that no one’s heard that we forgot about!

Fink: I don’t think we ever played it. We just recorded it and forgot about it. We haven’t even like officially titled it yet.

Taylor: Wait, is it not titled on the record? Or is it only on digital?

Fink: It’s only on digital.

That’s really funny.

Taylor: I know. When you wait 20 years, you know, it’s like your memory really starts to fade. So it’s amazing. All the little gems we found, like pictures and clippings and songs, it’s just like, wow.

So tell me about the photo book. It must have been cool to collect all that. It goes over the last 20 years, right?

Taylor: Actually longer. We actually went all the way back to like Little Red Rocket days. We were 15 or 16. So that was what like, I don’t know, 29 years ago. So it’s photos from the last 28 years.

That’d be that’s almost like looking at your high school yearbook in a way so probably more fun and a lot cooler.

Taylor: I had to just let go of my ego because, dear God, why would anyone even be friends with me? Like I look so awful. I mean, the things I wore my hair was everything.

Fink: We were not fashionistas.

Taylor: My hair also. We didn’t have enough money back then for a hairdresser. So we just chopped on our own hair. So I think that was a big problem. I’m still doing that.

It was fun to put together it really was a trip down memory lane.

It’s all being released on your label. What’s it been like having control over the whole catalog and be really creative? Is that fun?

Taylor: It’s so much fun. We can do anything we want, and we’re just really proud of our albums, and we want to showcase them. You know, there’s so many songs and records that have kind of gotten lost throughout the years, and we’re excited to bring them back into the light and just celebrate all the work we’ve done.

Fink: Yeah, it’s a great feeling. It is great to have everything together. Our records and solo records. Basically everything that Maria and I have ever done, outside of just a few few small things, now has one home.

Taylor: And it’s with us, and it feels great. It feels so right.

And we love Saddle Creek. We love Warm. But they’ve all landed home. Back to us. It’s a great feeling.

I know right now everything’s up in the air, especially in terms of touring and stuff, but do you have any intention to maybe play next year? Maybe play the album for its 20th anniversary?

Taylor: I don’t think so next year. I wish but I feel like it’ll be virtual.

Fink: I don’t foresee much going on next year.

We had discussed about, you know, potentially waiting to put the record out till COVID was “done,” but you can’t predict the end. We just would rather put out music that we’re making now.

Taylor: People need it right now.

Maybe you do a streaming show?

Fink: I’d definitely do that.

Taylor: I want to do one from a Orenda’s front porch. You guys can all get a little taste of paradise.

Editor’s note: This interview was edited for length and clarity.