Indigo Girls: "We Like Each Other's Songs Quite a Bit"

Indigo Girls: "We Like Each Other's Songs Quite a Bit"
Photo by Jeremy Cowart

Here's something you might not expect to find out, or Rocks Off certainly didn't anyway: The Indigo Girls have sold more than 12 million records. That's a more than respectable tally in the course of 25 years, when Amy Ray and Emily Saliers -- who met in elementary school -- released 1987 debut Strange Fire after coming up in the Atlanta-area club scene.

The duo's sturdy but melodic folk-rock is known for its exceptionally pointed lyrics within both the political and personal realms, has won a Grammy (among several nominations) and certainly struck a chord with fans. After a long and fruitful career with Epic Records, the Girls inaugurated their own IG Recordings with 2009's Poseidon and the Bitter Bug and released Beauty Queen Sister last fall.

But Ray and Saliers have never toured in front of a full band before now, when they asked the Shadowboxers to join them on the road. Saturday at House of Blues, the young Atlanta rockers will both open for and back up the Indigo Girls' first Houston show since 2009.

Rocks Off spoke with Saliers, who wrote "Closer to Fine," from her Atlanta home earlier this week, just after returning from a visit to the vet with her dog.

The Shadowboxers
The Shadowboxers
The Shadowboxers on Facebook

Rocks Off: Why did you ask the Shadowboxers to be your backing band on the tour?

Emily Saliers: Well, we love them, and we love their music. Because we have a close relationship with them, and we love the way they play, and their energy. For us, sometimes it's hard to get a band together. Our bands in the past, they've been from all over the place, so this just seemed like a fun, convenient, inspiring idea. And it has been.

RO: When you first started, was Atlanta a good place and time to be making music?

ES: It was for us, in Atlanta. I mean, Athens was exploding with the indie music scene, and R.E.M. came out of that, and the B-52's and Love Tractor, and then Atlanta had its own music scene happening. We were playing at a bar about three or four nights a week, developing a very strong following. There was lots of support in the clubs at that time.

Also, the timing was good for women with acoustic guitars, because we'd gotten signed to Epic Records, which was then part of CBS Records, sort of in the wake of Suzanne Vega and Tracy Chapman, so we were definitely in the right place at the right time. But Georgia has a long and storied history of amazing music. It's always fostering music.

RO: Speaking of those people, how do you think the Indigo Girls have fared compared with some of the other folk-rockers who came up around the same time?

ES: Well, I can't speak for their own experiences, but even for us, we've been able to maintain a career for all these years, and we still have a very loyal following. Fortunately, we get to go back to places we go to quite a bit, and we still are trying to keep it fresh and fun. And it is. We're still writing, so I'd say it couldn't be much better than it has been for us.

RO: After writing probably hundreds of songs at this point, how do you know when one is a keeper?

ES: That's a good question. It's just a feeling. For me, when I'm writing a song, if I put it down for a minute and I keep hearing the melody in my head, or if I feel excited about going back to it, or when I look at it and I think it's complete and there's nothing about it that I'd really change even if I could, then you know.

You know sort of objectively as an artist, but you also get just a feeling inside of "this is a song that I feel close to, that warrants being a keeper for Indigo Girls." It's a little bit of judgment, in terms of the craft of it, and the other part is the emotional response you get from it. I don't know if everybody else feels the same way about it, but as the writer, you know.

RO: Both of you have written songs about anything and everything under the sun. Is there any subject that's out of bounds for you?

ES: No. No. There's really not. Absolutely not.


RO: Do you have a favorite guitar you like to write on?

ES: I write on Taylor guitars, because the action's nice an easy, and I can move all over the neckboard when I'm trying out a million different things, but in concert I play two Martin acoustic guitars. I love those guitars. One of them is a D-45, and one is a J-40.

But, you know, one guitar is better for Amy's songs - it's more muscular, and I do more strumming and harder part. Then the other is a little lighter action and "picky" sounding. I do that mostly on my songs. You get favorite guitars based on what you're gonna be playing as well.

RO: I had a couple of questions about your partnership with Amy. I noticed that on most of your records, the songs are credited to one or the other, but on a couple of the more recent ones they're all credited to both of you. Did something change about the way you collaborated?

ES: No. It's still she writes hers and I write mine. It was the same thing for the last album too. We do the arranging together, but we still do the writing separately, and that's the way it's always has been. I can't imagine that ever changing.

RO: And then does the other one have like "veto power" over a song that she wrote that maybe you're not that crazy about?

ES: It's a pretty democratic thing we've got going. It's not like we're writing a bunch of extra songs that we can choose between 20 songs or something. So we're pretty good about bringing songs to the table that we feel sure about.

Like the last time around, Amy had written a song and we actually even arranged it, and then by the time we recorded the record she decided that she didn't want that particular song to go. She had the veto power for her song, even though I liked that song a lot. But she just felt she didn't want that song to go on the record.

It's a pretty free process. We tend to like each other's songs quite a bit.

More with Saliers tomorrow. The Indigo Girls and Shadowboxers play Saturday night at House of Blues.

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