Closer to Pride
Indigo Girl Emily Saliers soldiers on in "the last civil rights movement." Oh, and she still writes a mean love song.
By Simon McCormack
Emily Saliers and Amy Ray have been making music together for 20-plus years as the Indigo Girls, but their partnership doesn't end there; the two have known each other since they attended the same elementary school in DeKalb County, Ga. Saliers and Ray's long kinship is especially potent when they harmonize over a bed of steady rhythms and guitar work, which coalesce into the Indigo Girls’ painstakingly crafted Southern folk-rock. Every soaring melody is laid out with precision and care, and the duo’s vocal interweavings invariably lead the way.
Lyrically, the Indigo Girls’ hallmark is taking a fight between lovers and turning it into a worldwide struggle for acceptance. Then, just as easily, the battle to save the planet becomes a crusade to mend a shattered heart.
Just as they continually tinker and toil with their sound, Saliers and Ray have made fighting for social change a constant part of their artistic agenda. From environmental activism to Native American issues to getting fans to vote, politics are in the Indigo Girls’ blood.
As openly gay musicians, Saliers and Ray have been fixtures of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender/Transsexual (LGBT) community for as long as they’ve been in the public eye. Saliers says she’s proud to be a part of the LGBT movement, but she sees an expanse of mountains to scale before planting a victory flag. Saliers spoke to the Alibi about those obstacles and was quick to point out the gay rights movement’s successes as well. She was equally eager to discuss Indigo Girls’ 11th studio album and the band’s new status as an unsigned group.
What is the Indigo Girls’ role in the LGBT community?
I don't know. I know we've had people share with us they’re happy we're out, and we're involved in queer politics. I know we're active, and I know we care and want to be a part of it.
What are some of the biggest accomplishments you've seen the LGBT movement achieve?
I like the term “queer” a lot. And I like that people are allowed to be within their fluid sexuality more than ever before.
“I think we should be celebrating our solidarity and not so much our differences.”
Is there anything you thought you’d never see?
I doubt I could have imagined someone like Ellen DeGeneres or Rosie O'Donnell being out and successful 20 years ago. They’ve both been very influential, and that’s a great sign.
What are some challenges people might not be aware of with regards to LGBT politics?
There's a lot of factionalism and a need to identify and differentiate within the community. It's something I'd like to see less of. I think we should be celebrating our solidarity and not so much our differences. Another thing, and I’m speaking about my own personal experience, is the need to overcome internalized homophobia. It’s a huge problem that blocks you from living a full life. I'm still working on that. It’s hard when people in the world are saying, “You're going to hell.” It’s a matter of finding your validity in the face of all that.
What makes the LGBT movement different from any other social cause you're involved in?
It's the last civil rights movement. We're members of a group of people that are being persecuted for different reasons; mainly because of fundamentalist religion and fear. I can't think of any other movement that's dealing with that in the same way. We’re still fighting for basic civil rights. Sometimes I think about that and I just shake my head.
What made you want to come to Albuquerque for Pride Weekend?
We love playing Prides in general. They're so empowering and festive. Also, I love Albuquerque and the whole Southwestern part of the country.
Let’s talk about your new album. Does it have a name yet?
No. Not yet. That’s always the hardest part, and the last thing to come. We just finished recording and doing the first round of mixes. It’ll be coming out next February.
You’ve been making records for more than two decades. Was there anything that surprised you this time around?
We had a limited amount of time to work with our drummer and bass player, so we made the body of the album in three weeks. We worked every day, and by the end of it, you’re kind of like, “Did I just make a record?” It can be disorienting, but we made sure everything felt right in the moment.
You and Amy usually write songs on your own and then record them together. Are there ever any creative conflicts?
Like you said, we have creative autonomy in that we write the songs separately. What we do really well together is arrange them. We have a natural knack for doing that with each other’s work. But, if there’s a conflict, the person who wrote the song has final jurisdiction over it.
You’ve been signed to Epic and Hollywood Records, which are two major labels. Are there any conflicts of interest that arise when you’re fighting for social change and working with a large corporation?
It's something we've kept in mind. There's conflict when you’re dealing with a record company that’s part of a multinational corporate way of thinking. But, as far as our political work, we’ve made sure to partner with grassroots groups that are making change from a community-supported level, rather than having it be about a big donation.
Are you signed to a label right now?
No, we’re completely independent. Any conflicts that did exist aren’t there now. We’ll sign a distribution deal with someone to get the record out there, but as far as the album itself, it’s our own thing. Still, it’s difficult to completely extricate yourself from all systems. I think you can work somewhat within the system and still get some sleep at night.
Indigo Girls will perform at the Rio Grande Zoo as part of the 2008 Zoo Music concert series, on Friday, June 13, at 7 p.m. Brandi Carlile opens the show. Tickets are $2 children, $4 seniors and $8 adults, and can be purchased at cabq.gov/biopark/zoo.
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