Analogue Music | Azure Ray

Azure Ray

By Matt Conner

The original investment was a mere $500.

When Orenda Fink and Maria Taylor cut Azure Ray's first record 20 years ago, the investment was minimal because the expectations were minimal. In fact, the idea to record the songs on Azure Ray didn't even originate with the artists involved. Songs that were written as "therapy" shortly after the death of Taylor's boyfriend soon became a beloved indie classic—all for the sum of $500.

On the verge of a reissue celebrating the 20th anniversary of Azure Ray, including a first-ever vinyl release, we spoke to Maria and Orenda about the journey back over the archives, the impact of the album, and how it all came together in the first place.

Analogue: The new anniversary release has a new track, but there's also a book with lots of new photos, etc. How fun was that for you to go back through the artifacts of that season?

Maria Taylor: It was a lot of fun.

Orenda Fink: It was definitely fun. There were some wistful moments, too, going back and reliving an intense time from 20 years ago. It's gonna pull some heartstrings. We looked through hundreds and hundreds of photographs—maybe a thousand. It was an intense trip we would have never done otherwise. But we got together and looked through everything we'd collected over time. We did it all at once.

Analogue: Are you able to identify a favorite forgotten memory?

Maria: There's just so many! Orenda and I met in high school and became inseparable. Through all of these years, and especially back then when this record came out, we were together every second. We always joke about it, and sometimes it's not so funny, but our lives always have drama or these crazy situations that would never happen to anyone but us, especially when we're together. [Laughs] It's amplified. But we just have so many crazy, bizarre stories. We talked about lots of them as we were going through these old photos and listening to the record. I don't know. Does one stands out, Orenda?

"...we were so fearless. Nothing got in our way. Our egos didn't get in our way. Our insecurities didn't get in our way. Nothing." -Maria Taylor

Orenda: It's not a forgotten memory but I hadn't thought about this one in a while. But there's a photograph of Andy LeMaster. We were actually playing with Now It's Overhead and opening for The Faint and we ended up staying at this bizarre Best Western that was half torn down. There were people living in it and it was a big party hotel. We basically threw half of our living room suite out the window and Andy went down there. He couldn't stand to leave it like that, so he went down to retrieve all the furniture and the telephone and the lamp and the chair—everything we'd thrown out.

While he was down there, he did a photo opp and sat in the chair and picked up the phone like he was talking on it with the lampshade on his head. We have a photo of that from 20 years ago that's my favorite photo of all time.

Maria: It's been on the cover of my photo album book, too, for 20 years. It was so good it got the cover. Another thing that's amazing about that memory... she was saying people were living in this Best Western. It was falling apart. It was a dump. But two people who lived there were flight attendants and they had all of these minis, just hundreds and hundreds of alcohol minis from airplanes. Do you remember that?

Orenda: Oh yeah, they were all laid out on this desks, just hundreds of them. They had these black lights strobing and techno playing really loud. They were like, 'Take as much as you want!'

Maria: We were just throwing back minis of whatever. But those are the types of strange situations we'd find ourselves in all the time. They sound too crazy to even be real when we tell the stories sometimes. We were just fearless.

Analogue: I love that last line, that you were fearless. How does that feel compared to how you feel now?

Maria: I think we're much more aware now. It can be detrimental times. We found ourselves in all these strange situations, but we were also granted all of these great opportunities because we were so fearless. Nothing got in our way. Our egos didn't get in our way. Our insecurities didn't get in our way. Nothing. [Laughs] Some of those things are crippling and I think as we get older, we're faced with them more.

'Azure Ray'
'Azure Ray'

Orenda: Maria, I kind of wonder if it's less to do with age or if it's culturally how we've changed, too. Twenty years ago, the internet wasn't like it is now. There wasn't social media, and we weren't bombarded with things to be scared of. There was a sense of existing in your own bubble.

Maria: And you could have confidence in that.

Orenda: Exactly.

Maria: We loved ourselves and each other. [Laughs] Therefore we were the queens of our own world.

Orenda: Yeah, exactly. A small universe. [Laughs]

Analogue: Does revisiting this inform how you want to live today? Does looking back on that fearless approach inspire you at all?

Orenda: It's an interesting time to even think about that during the pandemic because we've never been more oppressed with what we can do as far as being fearless or the freedom to move around. I don't meant that in a Trump-y way. It's important for me to clarify that. [Laughs] But absolutely. Having had a year under lockdown, I'm ready to have a renewed sense of freedom or exploration in the world.

Maria: Lucky for us we'll have a new record right around the time where we're going to start getting some of our freedom back, so we can really start to exercise it.

Analogue: Looking back, your self-titled album has really enjoyed some longevity and influence in certain circles and is certainly well-respected. I guess I wonder how that compares with the sort of hopes you had for the music in the moment you first released it?

Maria: It's funny. We've talked about this recently. When this record came out, my boyfriend at the time passed away. He was with us in the van when he passed away. We were in a band called Little Red Rocket and it was a party band. We just had fun and it was loud rock/pop music. So these songs were a complete departure from that. They were just our therapy. We never really had any intention on releasing them, but we played them for a memorial show for him and a friend asked if we'd think of releasing them on his label. He had a producer in mind, his friend Eric Bachmann, so we said yes.

With this record, we had no intentions. Before that, we did. We wanted to tour and we wanted to have some success. We wanted people to listen. But with this record, we had no expectations. We didn't even know if we wanted to release the songs, so everything that happened was so organic and surprising to us. Orenda, you wanna take it from there?

Orenda: Yeah, even in the sense that when we were in the party band, we were signed to Geffen at one point. There was this whole idea of making us the new Veruca Salt and being these indie rock/pop stars. We got dropped from Geffen and then went the independent route but then all that occurred with Peter dying. We wrote those songs and ended the band because it was too painful to play that anymore. It was such an extreme difference between the Geffen time, which was just a few years before, and when we recorded these songs.

I think we spent $500 on the whole thing—press, the recording, everything. That's it. That's all that was put into it.

Maria: Yeah, it was all analog.

Orenda: It was all thrown onto an 8-track. Nothing digital. So it couldn't have been any different. That's the irony that Azure Ray ended up being way more popular than the band everyone was trying to promote originally.

Analogue: "Witches" is the unreleased track. Was there a reason that was left off the original album? Any good story there?

Orenda: I don't think so. It was probably our least favorite song or that Eric thought we didn't need it for the record. I don't remember any big discussion about it. I think he probably put it together in order and I'm sure that just wasn't on it.

Maria: Yeah. The funny part is that we forgot about it completely over the last 20 years. My husband, when he got the reels, because we just now retained the rights back to our old catalog, he was like, 'What? What is this song?' I said, 'I have no clue.' [Laughs] Then I asked Orenda and she was like, 'Wait, I think it rings a bell. I think it was another song that didn't make the cut.' Then we listened. So it was completely a lost song, just like these lost photographs. We uncovered a lot of stuff that we probably never would have remembered.

Analogue: You've made mention of the new record. What can you tell us there or can you even talk about it yet?

Maria: I think we can do it. I think we can talk about it. [Laughs]

Orenda: We're nearing the finish line. We're all doing this remotely so it's a 2020 record through and through, written and recorded in 2020. It's been a different experience for us to do it this way. It's been working great and we're absolutely in love with it so far. We're just trying to put the finishing touches on it and then I think we can figure out when it will be released. We're hoping for... what do you think, Maria?

Maria: It just takes so long for vinyl to get back, so I think by May 1st is our goal.

VISIT: Azure Ray

Photo: Nick Azocan