“All he wants is a hand that’s kind. … I wanna be grateful for what is mine … “
—Muscadine, by Amy Ray
For her new song Muscadine, Amy Ray—one-half of the acclaimed folk duo Indigo Girls—followed the adage: “Write about what you know.” In this case, what she knew was a mixed-breed rescue dog named Sawyer.
“I wrote this song after one of my oldest dogs passed,” Ray says of her new country-flavored ballad. “Regardless of living deaf and blind for his last few years, he was always willing to go on adventures with me in the woods. He might run into a few trees along the way, or fall in a little ditch, but he always got up and carried on.
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“I started the music from a riff on acoustic guitar, with some inspiration from Brent Cobb records, and the idea of simple parts that added up to capture a certain ache I was feeling,” Ray says of the track. “In the end, it’s a country tune about learning to love and receive love in the purest way—and to not be picky about life, but to stay the course with curiosity and gratitude.”
Ray lives in rural Georgia with five rescue dogs; four of them appear in the new song’s video, which is shot in beautiful black-and-white tones. The video, directed by Luke Pilgrim and Brad Kennedy, shows Ray and her pack out for a stroll among the Georgia woods while the song plays. The track is available now for streaming or download.
We recently spoke with Amy Ray about her dogs and the new song …
The Bark: First things first: Tell us about your dogs.
Amy Ray: They’re all rescues; I don’t ever buy. Growing up, my family had a Puli, a Hungarian sheepdog, and we continued with that breed for some time. It wasn’t until my 20s that I got the wake-up call after going to an animal shelter to adopt a cat and realizing how many dogs they were putting to sleep. And I was like, okay, I’m never gonna buy a purebred dog again, or allow my dogs to have puppies—there are just too many fine dogs in shelters to ever do that again. I became a very staunch spay-neuter-adopt person.
There’re just so many animals that need a home. It’s endless where I live; it’s a rural area and they’re just everywhere. So I started to collect dogs. I foster dogs. I find homes for dogs. I’m kind of an activist about it. Currently, I have five.
The Bark: We understand this new song was inspired by one of your dogs—true?
Amy Ray: That would be Sawyer. He was so unconditionally loving. He came from the streets of Atlanta and had a rough start to life. When he came to us, he was sick and weighed about 30 pounds. He wouldn't even look at me, he was so neglected and abused. Yet, he was so sweet and docile. A very loyal dog.
Over time, I got him socialized, and even though he eventually went blind and deaf, he just carried on and followed me everywhere, along with the other dogs. The dogs would sometimes get a little bit rough-and-tumble with him, but he would simply carry on.
When he passed, I thought about how dogs have this unconditional approach to life; they take what they get and make the best of it. That has always been inspiring to me. I’ve learned a lot from every dog in my life—lessons of loyalty and accepting your lot in life. Dogs are able to do that—three-legged dogs, dogs who can’t hear or see, dogs with sicknesses or whatever—taking life as it comes and making the most of it, being gracious for what you have and just having a good attitude. That was my take on it and the inspiration for the song.
The Bark: Have your dogs been a comfort during this these pandemic times?
Amy Ray: Oh yes, of course. I get a lot of comfort and friendship from them. The dogs really help with anxiety and depression and loneliness. I go hiking with them every day, and it’s awesome.
The Bark: Your legacy with the Indigo Girls is not only musical but political. I believe your fans admire your political advocacy nearly as much as the songs and concerts. Voting rights, LGBT equality, environmental justice, animal welfare—the list of causes you support is long. What draws you to animal welfare issues in particular?
Amy Ray: It’s funny. Some people don’t get it; they wonder why I spend so much time on animal rescue. It’s also part of the public health community, a reflection of how healthy your community is … the way you deal with animals, and whether you treat them humanely.
We are such a well-resourced country. Still, there are people who fall on hard times and can’t afford to keep their pets. To be able to assist people in need with pet-food pantries and affordable vet care is important.
I know some people think “Don’t put animals before people,” but it’s not like that—it’s a web, a matter of taking care of each other and all the needs of the community. The animals, the dogs and cats, are all important to our lives and should not be overlooked.