Interview with Orenda Fink and Maria Taylor
by Alexander Laurence
Southern duo of Azure Ray formed in 2001 when former Bright
Eyes members Orenda Fink and Maria Taylor joined Eric Bachmann
to create something musically enchanting. More stripped
down than Bright Eyes and their previous outfit, Little
Red Rocket, Fink and Taylor shaped a delicate, folky soundscape
for their 2001 critically acclaimed self-titled debut.
The next winter, Azure Ray issued an EP on Saddle Creek,
which featured collaborative work with Now It's Overhead.
In the meantime they moved to Omaha, Nebraska. Since then
they have created another great album, Burn & Shiver.
They also worked recently with Moby on the song "Great
Escape." I caught them on their recent tour with Her
Space Holiday. We spoke during their soundcheck. They will
playing CMJ at the end of October.
How was the tour with Moby?
Orenda: We didn't play the Area 2 shows. He did a number
of shows in early summer by himself and we opened up for
him. It was smaller venues than Area 2 but they were pretty
big places. Too big for us I think. It is better for us
to play in a more intimate setting.
AL: What bands are you in now?
Maria: Little Red Rocket has been defunct for about two
years. Now It's Overhead is a band that we are in and we
are playing tonight as well as Azure Ray. In Azure Ray we
write all the songs and sing them. Now It's Overhead another
guy writes the songs and sings them. We play keyboards and
AL: What was Little Red Rocket like?
Orenda: It was a sugary pop band. It was fun and upbeat.
Azure Ray is sad and depressing, so it wouldn't make any
sense to play any old songs from the previous band. As Azure
Ray we have done two CDs and one EP. Burn and Shiver is
the latest one.
AL: Why did you shift from lighter material to this deeper
Maria: We just saw the light one day. We found meaning
in our lives and we decided to put it in our music.
AL: How do you write songs in this band?
Maria: We each write songs and present them to the other.
We have the songs mixed up on the album. Our voices are
so similar and our songwriting is similar that people have
a hard time telling the difference. We like the same music.
If Orenda likes a certain song, even though I may not like
it at first, I know that I am going to like it because we
have similar tastes.
Orenda: We write stuff individually but we try to keep
it cohesive. Some people can't tell that there are different
people writing and that's the way we want to keep it. We
don't want to separate anything that we are doing. We write
AL: Do you write lyrics first?
Maria: It depends on the song. It could start with a melody
or some lyrics and we just build off it.
Orenda: I like to sing in the shower or sing a car.
AL: Do you tape stuff on a four-track?
Orenda: Until a year ago we both had a four-track. Now
we both use Pro Tools.
AL: How did you do the tracks with Moby?
Orenda: He sent us music with no lyrics or melodies on
top of it. It was just music. We wrote lyrics and sang on
top of it and sent it back to him. He liked it and he used
it on his new album. We both sang on two tracks. "The
Great Escape" was on the album and "Landing"
was a B-side.
AL: Why did you move to Nebraska?
Maria: Our boyfriends live there. The label Saddle Creek
is there. We put out an EP with them. There are a lot of
great people. It's a great music community.
AL: For much of us, like myself, who have only lived in
LA and New York City, would we like it in Omaha, Nebraska?
Maria: You would probably hate it. You make your own fun.
There is nothing going on. You are nowhere near water and
it feels claustrophobic sometimes. I love it though.
AL: What bands do you like?
Maria: I like Leonard Cohen. I like some new stuff like
Lucinda Williams and Ryan Adams. I like the new Wilco album.
We both like Nina Simone and The Zombies. We like to dance
and we like some techno music. But we are not stoners.
Orenda: We listen to Brian Eno. But we don't listen to
that much music honestly. We are not huge music collectors.
We both just have things that we like and that's it. That's
what we listen to all the time.
AL: Besides music what other hobbies do you have?
Orenda: Our hobbies are playing in other bands. We like
to write, read, party, dance, hang out. Watch movies. Travel.
We like to travel.
Maria: I just like to analyze people and watch people.
I like people. I have enough strange friends that I can
just sit around and watch them and analyze them and wonder
what their childhood must have been like. I am a wine connoisseur.
That is one of my hobbies: finding new kinds of wines. That
is favorite thing to do.
Orenda: She is just a drunk.
Maria: No, I just like wine.
AL: It's a noble profession. Are there any good books that
you have read that you care to mention?
Orenda: I just read Michael Moore's new book, Stupid White
Men. We both read it and it's really awesome. Right now
I am reading The Serpent and The Rainbow by Wade Davis.
It's an interesting book because it's nothing like the film.
It's about Haiti and Voodoo and religion. It is a long history
AL: What about you Maria? Are there any Blockbusters in
Maria: Yeah. What did I watch last? I hadn't seen The Royal
Tannebaums. I just watched that and loved it. I read the
Michael Moore book. I love the short stories of Raymond
Carver. Now I am just reading a cheesy love story because
I don't have television right now. So I need something.
We want a television so we can watch Six Feet Under when
it comes on. It's the best show ever.
AL: What is it about music that makes you want to play
it, be involved in it, and listen to it?
Orenda: When something that I write musically affects someone
else in a positive way, that makes me the happiest. It could
be something sad that they relate to. Or it could be something
that makes them happy. These are the main reasons why I
do music. Sometimes I have to ask myself that question.
It's cheaper for us to do rather than going to a psychiatrist.
Maria: It's one of the only universal things. Everyone
loves music and everyone gets something out of music different.
I find confront in that. It's fun. I feel so lucky. As much
as we like to bitch and complain, we get paid to see the
world and play our music. It's our passion.
AL: You have played with Bright Eyes, Crooked Fingers,
and Moby. What bands would you like to play with?
Maria: Elliot Smith would be good. Aimee Mann. Pedro The
Lion. We would love to tour with our friend, Mark Eitzel.
He's so great and funny. He's very self-deprecating. He
wanted to open up for us. We said "We can open up for
you, but you are not going to open up for us."
AL: The CMJ festival is coming up. Have you played it before?
Orenda: A few times. This time we are going to have the
most fun we ever had. It's going to be a Saddle Creek showcase.
All of our friends and all these bands are going to be there.
We love playing in New York. We always have fun. CMJ is
the festival that always treats artists the best. We support
AL: What do you think of Williamsburg?
Maria: We love it there. It's cool and trendy. We lived
in Athens, Georgia for four years. So when you go to Williamsburg,
it feels like Athens. It is like a bunch of hip young people.
AL: What is an Azure Ray show like?
Orenda: It's pretty raw dog.
Maria: It depends on whether our equipment works right.
It also depends on how much we have partied the previous
AL: What is the song "Displaced" about?
Orenda: When we wrote these first three records, we were
going through some rough times. Some of the major themes
were isolation and loss and trying to find your way in the
world. Try to figure out what you are doing and why you
are here. It's not about physical movement or traveling,
but being displaced mentally and in your heart.
Maria: It's just self-realizations. Understanding yourself,
other people, relationships, life, and everything.
AL: If people judge you by your music, they might think
that you are depressed and lonely people all the time.
Orenda: I don't know. It might be surprising to meet us
because we are just basically manic. We party hard and we
have so much fun for a while and then we hit a rock bottom
Maria: We know each other better than anyone. We can just
look at each other and not say anything.
AL: So you want to tap into those low points in life, while
there's a whole other life going on that's not reflected
in the music?
Maria: It's a direct reflection of our lives and who we
Orenda: What we write about is true and it lives in the
hearts of everyone. We don't want to walk around living
that way. We don't want to be depressed and sad and have
fears and harbor dark feelings, and yet they are there.
Music is a good way to release these feelings and show people
that someone else feels this way.
AL: Do you have any advice for young girls who may want
to start a band?
Orenda: It's hard for me to give advice about this because
we have devoted ten years of our lives.
Maria: When we first started we were fearless. Maybe we
AL: You have to have some confidence in yourself just to
Orenda: You do. What I am saying is that I don't know if
I would wish this upon anyone. We are stuck in it right
now. At this point this is all Maria and I do and we have
no choice. I don't want to deny anyone.
Maria: If we stopped this for whatever reason we would
be fucked. It's true. We have friends who wonder why we
can do music for a living and they can't get anywhere. We
literally gave up everything. We forfeited relationships
and school. We gave up everything to concentrate on doing
AL: How do you see
Azure Ray ten years down the road?
Orenda: We have no idea. I could be in the gutter. We could
be talking about the downfall of Azure Ray.
AL: Are you working on new songs?
Orenda: We have been
thinking about things. We have been so busy touring. Since
March we have been touring or getting ready for a tour.
After the European tour we are going to take some time off
and try to write and think about where we want to go with
the next record.