Twenty Years of the Indigo Girls
High school friends Amy Ray and Emily Saliers parted ways to attend Vanderbilt University and Tulane University, respectively, but the two eventually found themselves collaborating musically back home in Georgia at Emory University. Performing together under the name Indigo Girls, Ray and Saliers honed their skills in the same college music scene that cultivated R.E.M. and The B-52s. Twenty years later, the duo has sold more than 12 million records and garnered seven Grammy nominations.
“We just keep going,” Saliers says. “We’ve been doing it for so long that we just think about what’s coming next. If I do stop to think about it, I feel really grateful for it. In this business, where it’s hard to stay alive musically, we’ve had such a long friendship and partnership that it’s pretty awesome. We’re really thankful for it. We just do what we do and, fortunately, we have a very loyal fan base that’s stuck with us all these years.”
The Indigo Girls are touring in support of Despite Our Differences, their latest release on Hollywood Records. The album features contributions from roots-rock songstress Brandi Carlile and Pink, the pop singer best known for her hit “Get the Party Started.”
“You could write a song and right away think that it needs another voice,” Saliers explains of the collaborations. “Other times, we have a whole group of songs and we know that we want a certain artist to be on the record, so we’ll find one. It was like that with Pink. We said, ‘Pink would be great on this song; let’s ask her.’ We had sung on her record, so we asked her to sing on ours.”
While the collaboration with singer/songwriter Carlile seems a natural fit, some might be wary of coupling the Indigo Girls with popster Pink. But recent projects that have paired Elvis Costello with Burt Bacharach and Robert Plant with Alison Krauss are reminders that genre lines continue to blur.
“People are just open to that hybrid experience—we’ve always been like that,” Saliers says. “It’s just more exciting to pull someone from a whole different walk of life into your music to see what happens. More often than not, there’s a chemistry there that you couldn’t have anticipated. I think a lot of people think of Pink as a pop star, but she has such a range. She can do anything—blues, acoustic music, rock, hip-hop or whatever she wanted. I think when you bring creative people together, it doesn’t matter what their genre is, it works. Things can come together that can really blow your mind.”
While Ray and Saliers have fiercely loyal fans, Saliers admits that the music industry is more challenging than ever. She sees pluses and minuses in the rising role of technology in the music business.
“It’s so much harder to sell records now,” she says. “There’s so much out there and people have opportunities to buy video games and other forms of entertainment—the market is flooded. We’re in the spirit of sharing and having it out there, but it is more difficult to get your records sold, and record chains are doing so poorly and the Internet sales aren’t what the record industry thought they were going to be. It’s very challenging, but very exciting at the same time, that you can discover things you may not have otherwise. We’ve never had to stand on radio, but selling records is really important.”
But while the music business is continually evolving, Ray and Saliers face another challenge: keeping their songs fresh after they’ve performed them literally thousands of times.
“We do get tired of some of the material, but it seems to just be a temporary thing,” Saliers says. “We’re always bringing back old songs from time to time. For songs like ‘Closer To Fine’ or ‘Galileo,’ those are really big sing-along songs. Hopefully, the audience isn’t tired of them. For ‘Closer To Fine,’ we usually have the opening act or audience sing the third verse. So there’s a lot of participation that keeps the song fresh.”
The Indigo Girls play PrideFest on Sunday, June 8, headlining a 7 p.m. show at the Miller Lite Main Stage.