William Faulkner once said—or wrote, rather—“The past is never dead. It’s not even past,” and I think singer/songwriter and former Birminghamian India Ramey would agree: “My music is dark. I think it is honest, though. The world can be a dark place and I tell the stories of my life, my family, and the world as I see it,” she says. “I have a deep love for Southern Gothic literature, and I think I kind of write music like that.”
Ramey’s outlook on the world, and her knowledge of the darkness of it, was shaped early by a broken home. It was that beginning, which included an alcoholic father with bouts of violence, that inspired her first career as an attorney who worked to free those trapped in domestic violence. She chose law in part because of its practicality and security, but dreamt still of doing something very different: making music. “I was singing before I could talk. Singing was my first love. I didn’t choose music as my vocation to start off because I grew up poor and I thought I needed to get a job and make a steady income. I didn’t want to live hand-to-mouth any more. I decided to follow my other passion, helping domestic violence victims. I ended up in private practice years later and realized halfway into my career that my heart just was not in it. I wanted to create. I wanted to make music. I wanted to sing. So, I freaked out my family and friends and quit law to be a full-time musician. I have never regretted it.”
Ramey began by singing in a cover band in Birmingham with another lawyer and accountant. Then she started writing her own songs, and before she knew it she found herself with an entire album. After recording it in Birmingham with Mike Creager, Ramey took it to Texas to mix it with Paul Middleton at Palmyra Studios. “Paul, or ‘Pappy,’ as he is called, sat me down one night and asked, ‘Kiddo, you looking for a new law job right now?’ I was very quick to answer ‘Yes’ because I didn’t want him to think I wasn’t working hard to get a job. I was used to being very quick to assure everyone that I was being a good girl and doing my work. Pappy said, ‘How ’bout don’t.’ My husband and I sat with Pappy for a while talking about my writing and Pappy said he would like to see me really go after it. So I did.”
That first album, Junkyard Angel, was released in 2010. Ramey played for the next four years in Birmingham before working on a second album, Blood Crescent Moon, in Nashville, Tennessee; while there, she realized a move might be in the cards for her. “I was traveling back and forth to Nashville a lot at the time, gigging and recording, and I realized that was where I really needed to be,” she says. “It wasn’t one specific reason. It was just a feeling. I felt like I could grow and learn so much there. I felt like I needed it. So, we moved there three years ago and we love it. I still miss Birmingham and all the people I love there, and it will always be my home. We try to get home to see folks every chance we get. I guess I kind of feel like a dual citizen between Birmingham and Nashville. They have both given me so much love and life.”
Ramey’s third album, the soulful, striking Snake Handler, is coming this month, on vinyl on Aug. 4 and digitally on Sept. 9. She says that with it, she feels that she’s finally found her voice. It’s also a lens straight through her, she says. “Snake Handler is intensely personal. I went through a lot of challenges in the years preceding writing this album. My father, with whom I never had a real relationship, died. I was stunned at how sad I was at his passing. I had spent my whole life hating him only to find how much I loved him when he was gone. I grieved the relationship we never had and would never have.
I moved to Nashville. As much I as I love Nashville, the first year or so here was scary and isolating. It was not easy to make friends here at first and my husband was traveling weekly for work so I was alone. A lot. I was so painfully lonely. All of that forced me to dig into my writing. I clung to it as if it were a rope tossed to me as I sunk in quick sand. It saved me. This album was my salvation.”
Ramey admits that releasing something so personal is harrowing, to put it lightly—“Self-doubt is a bitch of a thing,” she says—but nonetheless exhilarating. “My goal is to give this album every bit of my love and energy to get it out into the world,” she says. “I feel like I’m having a baby. I really do. I don’t have kids, but I feel like I am going through all the excitement and fear that a new mother has when she is anticipating the arrival of her child. I’m excited to be working with the team I have because they believe in me and are championing this record. I’m excited to share it.”
Catch Ramey back in Birmingham on Aug. 5 at Saturn; you won’t be sorry.