For the first time in 11 years, Birmingham natives Maria Taylor and Orenda Fink have come together to release a new record as Azure Ray. Well, they didn’t quite “come together,” but Remedy will nonetheless be the band’s first release as one in more than a decade.
When Fink moved to California, the two began spending more time together in a pre-Covid world, and for them, spending time together naturally evolves into music. After everything shut down in March of 2020, they decided to move forward with the new album the safest way that they knew how. Now, after the release of a few singles, the completed project is ready.
I spoke to Taylor about how they made the project work, if they’ll tour, the growth of her Flower Moon record label, the Birmingham scene and her favorite Birmingham food.
Why did you decide that now was the time to get back together after a decade away from Azure Ray?
A couple of reasons–Orenda moved to California. She was in Nebraska before. We were in the same state; she was two hours away, so we were together all the time. Ever since we met, making music was a huge part of our friendship. That was the very first thing we ever did was write a song together. So it makes sense that when we’re spending time together to also make music.
But also, our music has always been cathartic and a source of therapy for us. This last year has been so hard on everyone, and this is what we do. This is our way of dealing with our emotions: we write songs.
We also celebrated our 20th reunion, and we re-released the record on vinyl for the first time. It’s all a celebration of our friendship and our band. It all made sense.
Do you see this as a one-time studio thing? Or when you’re able to get back on the road, is there a tour coming behind it?
We actually didn’t go into a studio at all. We took Covid so seriously. For the past year, we’ve not seen anyone; except for outdoors. I only saw Orenda a few times and we quarantined for a week before and we all got tested. Our producer had us do it all from home. We did everything via email. We never stepped foot into a studio. She lives in the desert and I live in Los Angeles and our producer lives on the other side of Los Angeles. So it was a really unique experience. We had never done a record that way.
I guess folks are starting to get back out and play shows, but not really in California. We’ll take it slow. There’s still a large portion of the country that isn’t vaccinated. If we promote getting out and doing this without people getting vaccinated, we could end up having to do this all over again, and I really don’t want to do that.
I have two children that are in school, so it’s kind of hard for me to go on tour at this point in my life anyway. Orenda is just enjoying her desert life. I don’t even know that if times were different if we’d do a big tour. But I’d love to play some shows. Maybe in Birmingham. Maybe in L.A. Places where I can see the people that I love.
You’ve been doing this since you were 15. What was the scene in Birmingham like for you then?
We had our residency at The Nick every Wednesday night for a month. My family; we’re all musicians. We had a really great community of friends and musicians when we were there. We were young and fearless and we loved playing music.
We ended up moving pretty soon. We had Little Red Rocket. We were adventurous and we wanted to step out and see what other places were like. We really didn’t stay that long. Right after I graduated from high school–I was 19 or 20–I moved to Athens, Georgia. That was kind of a safe move. It wasn’t too far. I could still come back and see my family all the time. But it was a different environment.
From there we went to Omaha, Nebraska for five or six years and then came to L.A. It was a great place to start. I love Birmingham, and there are so many amazing musicians. Even as I started to tour later, I would always get my old friends from Birmingham to be in my band.
How much has your own label grown over the past few years? I know that Flower Moon has begun putting out a lot of stuff–there is a Josh Radnor record this year. What does the future hold for Flower Moon?
It’s funny that it’s even grown. My only intention was to release my own records. It gets harder and harder these days to release music and make money with streaming. I had been doing it so long and I had so many contacts and I knew how record labels worked, and it’s always been a dream for my husband to start a label. So we just thought, “I wonder if we could do this? Let’s just try it. Let’s put out one record of mine and let’s just see.”
My husband is a really good businessman. He’s smart and he’s organized. He pretty much runs the label. I have the connections and the friends, but he runs things. We put out one of my records, and we put out a record for Louis Shefano, who is also from Birmingham. Recently, we got back the rights to all of Orenda’s solo records and Azure Ray and my solo records. So we thought, “Okay, this is cool. Let’s put them out on Flower Moon. Suddenly we have, like, 40 records.
Josh Radnor is a friend and he has a band with Ben Lee called Radnor and Lee. They approached us. We hadn’t really planned on putting out other people’s stuff. I didn’t know if we had the capability to do it. But we gave it a shot because we love them and they’re awesome. Radnor had an EP and he wanted to play it for me and we really liked it, so we decided to put that out.
It’s been a really natural evolution. Folks ask us about releasing things, but my husband has other jobs, and I’m focusing on Azure Ray right now. We’re a really small label and we want to keep it that way. We want to give a lot of love and time and energy to every band. It takes a lot. My husband is really thorough with every aspect of it; it takes up a lot of time. But it’s really fun. Writing little letters with the records and bringing them to the post office; there’s something really gratifying about seeing a project through from a thought in my head to making the record to packaging it up and sending it to the address of someone that wants to hear it. It’s special to me.
When it’s safe to travel for you again and you get back to town, what are the chances that we get a Taylor Family Jam at The Nick like we had back in the day?
[laughs] That would be awesome! But I can’t stay up that late anymore! I’m a 45-year-old mom! We’ll have to talk to Pam [Stallings] about scooching that up a few hours. If we can do that, count me in.
The rare 8 p.m. Nick show…
Yeah! I’m the type of mom that has her first glass of wine at 2 p.m. I’m asleep by 9! [laughs]
What places do you have to eat when you get back to Birmingham?
My husband’s favorite restaurant in the world is Chez Fon Fon. I’m not the biggest fan of French food, but I’m a wine lover, so I’ll eat their hard boiled eggs and drink wine. [laughs] We have a babysitter; mom will watch the kids. So we’ll go to Chez Fon Fon and drink really great wine.
I love Purple Onion; it’s right near mom’s. Gianmarco’s has always been one of our spots. I like Saigon Noodle House. They have these pork roll things that are so good! I’ve never found anything like theirs.
Remedy is out on Friday, June 18.