By Sarah Bennett
By Adam Lovinus
By Jena Ardell
By Nate Jackson
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Maria Taylor and Orenda Fink of Azure Ray are a couple of sweet Athens-Georgia-turned-Midwest girls who write songs that feel like a left hook to the gut. Painfully beautiful overtures that echo in the mind and sting the senses, with wistful acoustic guitars and soft voices that sing of nostalgia and sinking relationships.
Before there was an Azure Ray, Taylor and Fink's power-pop band Little Red Rocket were warming up for what looked like a promising future. In the midst of all the noise, though, indie label Warm Records approached the duo about producing their side project, a personal collection of therapeutic songs written in solitude and heard by few. Thus Azure Ray was born, the sad songs having now bloomed into an actual career.
A bit of a derailment from what had been Little Red Rocket's Beach-Boys-go-garage-rock dream, the Rocket's crunchy, catchy riffs spouting out of cranked-up Fender amps metamorphosed into beautifully fingerpicked guitars fronted by angelic voices. An album and a half later, Azure Ray is no longer a side project imprisoned in the silent spaces of the duo's four-track.
"We definitely did not expect it to take off the way it has," says Taylor. "Azure Ray was always the back-burner side project. It took us by surprise."
Azure Ray is currently touring in support of Burn and Shiver, an album filled with intricate mixes of vocals, guitars, pianos and trumpets blending pop with rip-your-heart-out confessionals ("I never expected you to love me/the way I loved"). Burn is like stumbling upon a diary you shouldn't read but, once in your hands, is impossible to put down.
Before Azure Ray kicked off their current sojourn, they wrapped up a stint with electronic guru Moby. Not long ago, the vegan beat master expressed an interest in working with Taylor and Fink. "Moby sent us some music," says Taylor, "so we composed and sang over what he sent. He liked it and asked us to be on his next record," which is how "The Great Escape," released on 18, came about, along with the road invite. "We were really worried about the tour because of the obvious differences in our music," Taylor says, "But his crowds have been really good to us."
As Little Red Rocket, Taylor and Fink had some harrowing experiences with major labels, and they almost put an album out on Geffen. While Azure Ray continues to tour and is sometimes exposed to crowds of up to 2,500 people, the big corporate monoliths may begin biting again.
"I don't really think we're that kind of band," says Fink. "We've talked about it—what we would do if we were approached—and we're not sure. We kind of go back and forth about the pros and cons of it for our career. On one hand, creatively, we wouldn't want to do that, but we also don't want to be flipping burgers five years from now."Azure Ray, Her Space Holiday, Broken Spindles and Now It's Overhead perform at the Glass House, 200 W. Second St., Pomona, (909) 469-5800. Fri., 9 p.m. $10. All ages.