It’s hard to believe that it’s been 20 years since Atlanta-based duo the Indigo Girls, Emily Saliers (the blonde) and Amy Ray (the brunette one with her own label, Daemon Records), recorded their first album, Strange Fire, and then shot to national stardom three years later with the release of the unerringly chipper and inspiring “Closer to Fine,” from their self-titled, Grammy-winning major label debut. After 16 years releasing albums with CBS Records, which later turned into Epic/Sony, the leading ladies of Southern roots rock recently made the switch to Hollywood Records, releasing Despite Our Differences on Sept. 19.
The new album features the familiar, rich acoustic guitar sound the Girls have long favored, along with the melodic raging against the machine that has endeared them to such a diverse audience, plus guest appearances from Pink (yes, that Pink) and up-and-coming singer/songwriter Brandi Carlile.
Saliers took some time out of the group’s busy pre-tour schedule to speak with the City Paper about the longevity of the duo’s working relationship, politics in the South, and fighting the good fight.
CITY PAPER: How do you feel about living in the South and in a red state?
Emily Saliers: Well, some of us have to keep it blue, you know! The South is an interesting place; it gets a bad rap for its conservatism, which is a reality, but there are many states in different parts of the country that are as conservative as parts of the South. But you know, we’re the birthplace of the civil rights movement in this country and there’s a very strong history of working out terrible problems through dialogue and activism. That’s the Georgia that I know and love.
CP: How do you feel about being gay icons?
ES: I don’t really think about that. I just feel like whatever we can do to help the movement and the evolution. I’m grateful to be part of that. There’s really been a backlash against gay people in this country with the conservative political movement; we were making strides and now it seems like it’s two steps back and there’s just a lot of work to be done.
CP: Do you have any causes right now in the forefront of your efforts?
ES: Well, always gay rights – that’s huge – and environmental justice issues with respect to indigenous communities. We have a group we work with called Under the Earth. Right now, we’re focusing on wind power and raising money to get wind turbines up to put on Indian land.
CP: For this tour, is it going to be just you and Amy on stage?
ES: No, we’re gonna be with a full band, the same band that played on the record. A drummer, keyboard player, and bass player. So five of us on stage. The focus will be mostly on the new record, but we’ll have a bunch of old songs as well and we try to balance them between the different records so that it represents the discography as much as possible and try to provide a really high energy show but a good mix of ballads in there, too, and some old crowd favorites and some obscure ones; we’ll make a different set list every night.
CP: What does “Closer to Fine” mean to you today?
ES: It really means to me the same thing it did when I wrote it, which is that most of us are seekers, we seek answers to life’s big questions and my belief is that you don’t get your answers all from one source, they come from different things, and that’s OK. As long as they’re healthy things, obviously. But there’s a plethora of resources and inspiration and things in life that we can draw from and we can draw from different ones, and it’s all good. That’s really the crux of that song, is that it’s all good. Because we probably have played that song more than any of our others, but people still sing to it, and it’s a great song for when our opening acts, if they know it, they can come sing it with us, so it turned out to be the song that everybody can join in on, and that keeps it alive.