Azure Ray Rejoins, Rejoices 

Music duo back with new album

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Maria Taylor was still in bed when BW called. She was in Los Angeles visiting Orenda Fink, the other half of the recently reunited dream pop damsels Azure Ray, and she was hungover from one of those big city nights that she's grown so fond of over the years.

She misses times like these since moving back to her hometown of Birmingham, Ala.

Eat, drink and be Maria Taylor. It's a living, she says--for as long as it will last.

"It's a very strange state right now in the music world," says Taylor, 34. "I'm very curious to see what's going to happen. Is anyone going to make a career out of this anymore?"

It's a valid question: The rock band business model that earned Taylor and Fink a right-place, right-time contract with Geffen Records in the mid-90s with their Veruca Salt-inspired, high school-born band Little Red Rocket is all but extinct.

For most of the aughts, just before and during their six-year hiatus that started in 2004 and that came about so they could each pursue solo projects, Taylor and Fink have earned most of their living from regular touring, merchandise sales and, increasingly, licensing deals.

The band's songs have been featured in soundtracks for The Devil Wears Prada, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Six Feet Under. "We threw a viewing party for that one," Taylor says.

"Licensing. TV shows. That's probably most of the money," Taylor adds. "It's just crazy how you can basically take your royalties check from selling records and pretty much split it in half now. I would never advise [a career in music] for my children."

She was essentially still a child herself when she made up her mind to pursue a music career at all costs. But things were different then. Costs were different. People bought albums.

"I realized when I was 18 that this was one of those careers that you couldn't dabble in," Taylor says. "If you wanted to make it as a musician you had to give up everything and go for it. I quit school to go on the road. It has definitely taken its toll on things like personal relationships. It's very hard to keep everything stable. But I take every opportunity I can to be on the road, all the time."

But she's still coming to terms with the reality that she has to take every opportunity.

"Now the only way to really make it is just tour all the time," she says. "But with this new economy, people who saw you three months before are probably going to have a hard time coming out to see you again. The biggest thing is that people don't buy records and it's just getting harder and harder to make money doing this. No one buys music. Everyone steals it. I'm guilty of it, too. I try not to, especially if it's a band not on a big, major label. Then I'll definitely buy it. But if there's like a Michael Jackson song I really want to hear, then ... you know."

When asked if she worries about her future, Fink says something in the background, then Taylor laughs and responds, "Yeah. I worry about it. I don't know what the hell I'll be doing when I'm 44. But my dream is still to just be able to make a living doing this 10 years from now."

She probably hoped Drawing Down the Moon (Saddle Creek), Azure Ray's eagerly anticipated, recently released reunion record, would have her off to a better start.

"We started hanging out more again and it just seemed like the right time to make a record and take this party on the road," Taylor says.

Equal parts dream-pop and country, Drawing Down the Moon has received mixed reviews, simultaneously panned and praised by critics for wading around in lyrical and stylistic nostalgia.

"The upside is that it sounds warmly familiar, a reminder of why we missed them in the first place," writes pitchfork.com, "but the downside is that the album gives very few indications of what Fink and Taylor have learned during their hiatus."

Pitchfork is presumably referring to Fink and Taylor's multiple collaborations with various luminaries such as Now It's Overhead, Bright Eyes and, in Taylor's case, even Moby.

Talking with Taylor, it's hard not to think that think that an ignorance-is-bliss approach to what critics might have to say was, at least on some level, intentional.

"I may grow tired of all of this eventually, especially if I ever have kids," she says, "but right now, who wouldn't want to play mellow indie-pop and get paid at least something for it. I get paid to meet people and drink wine and make music."

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