Indigo Girls: "The Hardest Part Is Deciding What Not to Play"

Thursday, Rocks Off talked to Emily Saliers of the Indigo Girls, who play House of Blues Saturday night with Atlanta proteges the Shadowboxers, who will open the show and then back up one of the most successful folk-rock duos of the past quarter century. After discussing songwriting, her favorite guitar and the Atlanta scene where they emerged in the mid-'80s, we left off in the middle of a discussion about her longstanding musical partnership with Amy Ray.

Rocks Off: What do you admire most about Amy as a songwriter?

Emily Saliers: Her music to me... her songs are quite visceral. They have a lot of immediate energy, and she's really a very good melody writer. The songs that she really rocks out on, I really admire that ability to rock. Because I don't have that -- I get to live it through her music. But Amy's a great songwriter.

RO: How do you imagine she'd answer that question about you?

ES: I think she finds it fun for her. My songs tend to have more chords, or different kinds of chords, and she enjoys doing that. It's something different from what she might write automatically.

RO: The Girls are known for your exceptionally loyal fan base. Has the rise of the Internet and social media affected the way you communicate with your fans?

ES: Well... yeah. Definitely. I mean, if we're in the studio and shoot video on the phone or whatever, we can put that stuff up on our site. We have a Twitter [and] Facebook account, so we pretty much make use of all the social-media tools that we can. There's no doubt about it.

RO: Are you just naturally that sort of person that enjoys Twitter and that kind of thing?

ES: No, you know, I'm not. (Laughs) I can't really speak for Amy, but we're not big tweeters by nature. We understand the necessity of social networking, and it's awesome tools, but there's just a whole lot of talk going on out there, and sometimes it just feels noisy to me.

I feel like I'd just be adding to the noise. But I know people like to read it, and our fans like it, so we do it. But I wouldn't call it natural.

RO: After being on three different record labels, how do you look at the music business now that you run your own?

ES: The great thing about running our own is that we can do whatever we want whenever we want it. There's no record company saying "We're not going to put this out." Although that never happened to us, it happened to a lot of bands. There's no one telling us when to put something out or not, or what to do with our artwork. We can choose our own artists and timing.

There's more responsibility. We're completely responsible for the budget, so of course we've had budgets slashed in order to be able to afford to do things, but mostly everybody's in that same boat today.

We had a really great run with Epic records, a long relationship with them. We got signed at a time when record companies really nurtured bands -- when bands had a career-long relationship with a record company. But as you know, it's not that way anymore, so that relationship ran its course.

We signed with Hollywood, and they put out one record and then dropped us. So there was really no other course for us to run with the record labels. As long as we could raise the money and be conscientious about the budgets, then we just make an effort to put stuff out as much as we can and keep our fans engaged and keep us relevant, really. And productive.

So it's been great. There's really no other way for us now except for independent. And we like it. There's a corporate culture, and it's very nice to not have to feed into that quite as much.

RO: Is it at all tough for the two of you to make out a set list every night?

ES: Now that we're playing with the Shadowboxers, the hardest part is deciding what songs not to play, because we can't play them all. Right now that's a good problem to have. We make a set list fresh every night, so we really just play the songs we feel like playing, which is great.

We're not the kind of band who can play the same set list night after night after night. We like a little bit of spontaneity and we base it on what we're feeling that particular day.

With the Shadowboxers, 8 p.m. Saturday at House of Blues, 1204 Caroline.

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