Azure Ray has passed through several life cycles as a band. In the early 2000s, indie-folk duo Maria Taylor and Orenda Fink were twentysomething rookies who relocated from Athens, Georgia — deep reserves of grief and nostalgia in tow — to join the Saddle Creek scene in Omaha, Nebraska, where they would help to define an era alongside labelmates Conor Oberst (and his many appendages), Rilo Kiley, Polecat, Slow Down Virginia, the Faint, Cursive and others. Azure Ray prolifically released five albums and EPs released between 2001 and 2004, when they disbanded to pursue solo careers. They reunited for a slew of records between 2008 and 2012: their echoey southern gothic indie-folk never undergoing a full transformation, but growing more pop and electronic-inflected over time.
Now, the pair are in their 40s and returning with their first release as Azure Ray in six years, the Waves EP, out in October on Taylor’s label Flower Moon Records. Taylor and Fink call the EP, which includes a cover of R.E.M.’s “Nightswimming” and a new recording of the band’s 2003 “Hold On Love,” “both a yearning and nostalgia for the Azure Ray of the past, and new perspectives on how and why we make music — with 18 years of love, life, and loss in between.”
The first single, “Palindrome,” is a backwards-looking, mournful string-driven ballad which offers the best of the band’s spectral harmonies, woodsy storytelling and aching wisdom. Azure Ray opens their third chapter as a band consumed by the passage of time (“Once in a lifetime chance/ Or a harvest of experience/ Life runs its course I guess”) and the scar tissue of losses, unanswered questions and regrets (“It’s no small price to wait your whole life until you know/ If I could love you better”) we accumulate.
There’s a calm, reflective maturity in their lyricism, as they make a promise to themselves, self-forgiving and without bitterness: “Walking around like strangers/ In our love song palindrome/ Time shines like a searchlight/ I’ll give my entire life/ To get it right.” Azure Ray is chewing on life’s patterns and rhythms that mimic (as the EP’s title alludes to) nature and language.
Fink and Taylor explain how they returned to making music together and the spirit behind Waves:
A few months ago, we received a heavy, nondescript brown box covered in “magnetic media” stickers. Inside were the original reels from the first Azure Ray record (including some songs or versions that never made the final cut). Something about seeing the giant antiquated grey metal boxes made us nostalgic for those early recordings. There we were, barely 20, in our tiny, messy apartment in Athens, GA trying to cope with the tragic loss of Maria’s boyfriend, a fellow musician who was taken way before his time. Grief ended our first band, but we eventually turned to song-writing again; and the cathartic exercise thrust upon us by tragedy ultimately led to the birth of Azure Ray.
We actually had been talking about writing and playing shows again as Azure Ray for a while when that box of reels arrived. Around that same time, we booked our first reunion show since 2013. The sold-out crowd packed the beautiful, ornate building from wall-to-wall and the stage was decorated with hundreds of white lilies bathed blue light. Reuniting as Azure Ray again for the first time in a decade was a turning point for both of us after all that had changed in our lives over the last few years.
Less than a year since our most recent “reunion” show, we are excited to announce our new EP, Waves. The same Azure Ray that wrote “Sleep,” “Rise,” “November” and more isn’t just back again – we’re here as we’ve always been. This EP was about revisiting what Azure Ray has meant to us – and felt like to the listener – over the last 18 years. So for the last few months we’ve been demoing songs back and forth over email and Facetime between Omaha and Los Angeles, until this August when we packed up a car and drove out to a house in Joshua Tree to record. These songs are both a yearning and nostalgia for the Azure Ray of the past, and new perspectives on how and why we make music – with 18 years of love, life, and loss in between. It’s a record we’ve been aching to write – without even knowing it – just like the first one almost 2 decades ago. So today, we’re excited to share with you our favorite Azure Ray songs in years.
02 “Last Summer in Omaha”
03 “Nightswimming” (R.E.M. cover)
04 “Hold On Love (2018)”
05 “Palindrome (Reprise)”
Waves is out 10/25 on Flower Moon Records. Pre-order here.