mlive.com: Activism fuels Indigo Girls: Politics, environment and health issues still the heart of folk duo
With 15 albums, hundreds of performances and more than 20 years of collaboration, how have the Indigo Girls managed to keep their partnership successful?
“It’s like a marriage without sex,” Amy Ray said of her relationship with fellow Indigo Girls member Emily Saliers. “We’ve never been lovers or girlfriends. We’ve always been friends. Our families are friends, so we’re a part of a larger community.”
Although their personal lives might be intertwined, Ray said she and Saliers compose their music separately, live in different towns and don’t see each other regularly when not on tour.
“We give each other a ton of space, so when we go on tour it’s like, ‘Oh, hi, nice to see you,'” Ray said. “Musically, because we write our own songs, it also gives us the artistic space that we need.”
The Indigo Girls’ fall tour will make a stop at 8 p.m. Saturday at the State Theatre, with special guest Kathleen Edwards. The folk-rock duo recently recorded a new album, which they plan to release independently in February. The record marks their first independent release since their first full-length album, 1987’s “Strange Fire.” They released their last album, “Despite Our Differences,” through Hollywood Records in 2006.
“It’s done, and we’re just thinking about how to get it out there,” Ray said of the new record. “When you’re funding it yourself, you think about your budget more.”
Ray said the album offers a slightly “more lush kind of sound” than previous albums. The record will likely include both acoustic and full-band versions of each track, an artistic decision she said might have been discouraged by a major record label.
In addition to performing with the Indigo Girls, Ray has run her own record label, Daemon Records, since 1989 and has released three solo albums, including this year’s “Didn’t It Feel Kinder.” Ray said it’s easy to tell whether a song she’s written belongs to the Indigo Girls or on a solo record.
“I just kind of know when I’m writing something that feels like an Indigo Girls song,” Ray said. “I hear Emily on it. It’s singular, orchestrated, very up front, with two vocals. Also, the lyrics in my solo music are a little more graphic in a way that I wouldn’t feel comfortable singing with someone.”
Ray said she and Saliers play about 150 shows together each year, balancing both new material and “older stuff that we’re excited about.”
“There are songs that are always fun, that change every night because the audience is different, and they sing it differently,” Ray said. “We try to balance having a few from every record.”
In addition to their music, the Indigo Girls have always been known for their social and political activism, focusing especially on gay rights, the environment and American-Indian issues. Ray said that while “political music” might not receive as much mainstream radio play, she still finds that many artists are creating music that is “informed socially.”
“I do think corporate radio is not going to play political music, but I don’t know who listens to corporate radio anymore,” Ray said. “But I know that there was always this sense, even in the media at large, that it wasn’t attractive to be outspoken as an artist — unless you’re Bono. I think women have a harder time than men in that role.”
As for current issues, Ray is particularly interested in energy policy, public-health issues and the upcoming presidential election and said activism continues to inspire and influence the music of the Indigo Girls.
“I think our activism, more than a lyrical informing, has energized us and given us fuel over the years to keep going and keep evolving,” Ray said. “It’s inspiring to be around people who are working for change, and it’s given us inspiration to keep playing all these years. If we can evolve musically and become better at what we do, then we can serve the community better.”