Three New Jersey dates are planned for late March
The Indigo Girls are on tour, and this time they have three dates in the Garden State! They are promoting their latest album, Indigo Girls Live with the University of Colorado Symphony Orchestra, and in addition to playing their many hits, they will also share brand new songs from an upcoming studio album, slated for release in the fall of 2019.
I had the pleasure of chatting with one-half of this dynamic duo, Emily Saliers. We discussed their return visit to New Jersey, who influences her, and what she thinks about our current political state.
Thank you so much for making some time for a quick little interview. The Garden State is very excited about your upcoming shows in New Brunswick and Collingswood.
ES: Yeah, it’s a fun place to play in.
First of all, I’m a huge fan. I was a young “dykling” in the early 1990s in North Texas, and your music and Amy’s music really empowered me and influenced me as a singer/songwriter. So thank you for that on a very personal level.
ES: You’re welcome. Thank you.
So big congratulations on your new album. Do we still call them that?
ES: Yeah, WE do! (laughs)
It’s a pretty epic project. I just love it. The orchestration adds so much depth to the music. I feel like it enhances it beautifully. You guys were working on this for seven years or more?
ES: Well, we’ve been playing symphony concerts for at least five years now, maybe even more at this point. So, we just finally were seasoned enough and it came to the point where we want it to make an album. We’ve been talking about making an album for probably at least three years or so. Then there’s a matter of finding just the right orchestra and working out all the details. So that takes time. But once we chose University of Colorado Symphony Orchestra at Boulder, everything just fell into place. They’re a wonderful orchestra and we went in there and we’re all prepared.
We did two runs. We did a rehearsal run and then we did a live run. Everything was all mic’d up. We had Trina Shoemaker mix it. And she just did a brilliant job. I mean really the work she put into it and her ability to harness all of that. To be able to hear the orchestra as clearly in all the parts as much as the songs and our voices was such an important part of what we wanted listeners to be able to experience. So it was a labor of love. We continue to play symphony shows and it’s just a fantastic experience for us.
Full body experience I imagine.
The latest tour is with violinist Lyris Hung
ES: Full body, yes that’s a good way to put it.
This tour now is it just you and Amy or do you have a band?
ES: A lot of the shows will have Lyris Hung playing with us. Lyris will be in New Brunswick and Collingswood with us. She’s a violinist, but she’s not your typical violinist. She’s got a pedal board of incredible effects. She’s kind of like a soundscape. She plays and brings different parts from the albums and plays them herself on the songs. She’s a remarkable player. We love playing with her and have played with her for years now. So she’ll be there for those shows.
ES: We usually have the opening bands sing “Closer to Fine” with us or collaborate in some way, and that’s always fun. It makes it different. But we’ve just finished tracking for newest album. It’s going to come out either in the Fall, or possibly 2020, but hopefully in the Fall. So we’re going to be playing a handful of brand new songs that we’ve never played live before.
Oh, that’s exciting. That brings up a question I had. You both do solo albums as well as Indigo Girls. What is it about a new song that when you write it, it tells you this is a solo, versus an Indigo Girls song? What’s the process in your head for that?
ES: That’s a good question. Amy may look at it differently from the way I do. But basically knowing that we’ve slating a time to begin a new Indigo Girls record. I started writing songs just for that project in mind, which doesn’t mean that I tailored the songs in any way. But typically I will write songs for the project at hand. I’ve been writing these songs (for the new album) for the last year and a half or so. There may have been a couple that I started… that started feeling sort of like the songs I would do solo rather than with Amy. That’s because either they were like super, super, intimate or personal in a way that, you know, harmony, it’s what we’re known for. But it doesn’t always treat well with every single song. It’s not always the best thing… just add our harmony to this song or make it a duo. So if I experienced in my writing a couple of songs like that, then I’d probably just let them aside, at the wayside for now. Because I need to focus on songs that Amy and I could do together.
So for me its project based. When I’m going to make a solo album, I start writing songs that just naturally fall into a different place than the ones that Amy and I do together.
One song, by Amy, in the new album is called “Favorite Flavor”
Do you ever go back to stuff that you started years and years ago and say this was that I had a really great hook in there, but it just didn’t go anywhere and now feel like you’ve got the rest of it.
ES: I do. Sometimes I try to not try not force it. But sometimes I remember an old song and I think, oh wow. Yeah, that has a good vibe to it. Then I’ll try to see if I can bring it back. A lot of times it’s difficult for me. Because once I’ve written a song in a certain way, it’s very hard for me to pick it apart and edit it, or pull out a chorus or something like that. I don’t know why I just get stuck with the original. But I know that Amy puts songs together at times. Like she’ll have sections that she writes and then she’ll combine sections or she’ll pull up an old idea that she’s had.
One song in the new album I love called “Favorite Flavor,” she wrote that sort of with her daughter Ozie. I was thinking about that experience. You never know where songs are going to take you. I don’t think at the moment she thought that, oh, this song is definitely going to go on the Indigo Girls album. But, but as time went on, she kept thinking about it. And then she sent me a demo and I was like, I love that song. It’s a little bit punky, little bit pop. And so that’s an example of a song that may have sat there and not be considered fully at the moment. And then as time passed, it’s like, yeah, we gotta do this song.
Is that going to be one of the new ones you’re going to play?
ES: I doubt it because it’s very it’s a really big sort of band arrangement of the album. So I think we’ll probably want to present it that way first. And then eventually we’ll end up playing it, you know, acoustically.
What is it like touring with your daughter?
Both of your daughters are about the same age, is that right?
ES: My daughter Cleo is a year older than Ozie.
Congratulations on being mothers. Do you ever tour with them?
ES: Very rarely, only because they have school, preschool, but still school. It’s important that they get a good sleep schedule. But recently we did a Brandi Carlile’s “Girls Just Wanna” down in Mexico and both kids were there with us. They played together all day and it was so real. I love it when they spend time together. It’s really sweet and they get along. They have got this special connection that is really, really cool. Like the next generation. That’s a really neat thing. But they don’t come out a lot with us just because, schedule is hard, we’d have to bring a caretaker. Just hasn’t worked out.
You and Amy met when you guys were in elementary school. That’s quite a long relationship. I’m sure you guys have been through every single life event possible.
ES: Yeah, that’s true. Our families have known each other and been through everything together. So that’s a powerful connection.
“It is important for us to stick together and to remain political and vigilant”
Do you have any words of advice for the LGBT youth of today? Do you have any commentary about the politics of today?
ES: Well, I mean, our whole community is under threat again. And now with Trump as president, people who feel this way, they don’t have to hold back any of their vitriol against queer people, or anybody who’s different for that matter. There’ve been so many trans people who have been killed. And now they can’t serve in the military. It’s terrible, just brutal. I think that we have to just keep standing together. Do whatever work we can do to let our representatives know, either locally or statewide, or nationally, that we stand for the LGBTQ community.
Also I think that those in the communities that find themselves alone or having a difficult time, seek out the resources, whatever they may be. So that they can be in community with those who are like minded, or like being. I think it’s really important. It’s fine to have straight allies and that’s wonderful, but it’s important to be around queer allies and have your queer community. So I think it’s really important for LGBTQ people if they’re struggling with loneliness or feeling really isolated to find groups that they can seek out. You know with the Internet now, there’s all kinds of ways to seek out support. It’s harder if you’re rural and isolated. But it’s important to stick with our communities.
Good point. Yes, having straight allies is great, but having queer families, it’s different.
ES: Well a lot of us have to choose our own family, or choose our family. And there’s family out there to be had. So it’s just important for us to stick together and to remain political and vigilant. We can’t assume that the rights that we’ve got up to this point are going to be protected in perpetuity.
Well that’s certainly apparent now.
ES: Yeah, exactly. It’s apparent. So, I think mindfulness, community, political action, those things are critical for us now.
I don’t know if you’d agree, but I feel like a lot of the youth don’t care if people are gay, and so they don’t understand what the big deal is about being LGBT. I fear what they don’t grasp, like you said, that it could be taken away. It’s not written in stone. It can be rescinded. And what does that mean to them and their friends?
ES: I think that no matter what rights we gain, we’re still going to be “other than.” You know, we’re different from the Hetero normative majority. So I think, I can’t speak for the way an African American feels, but I know there was a lot of joy that a black president got elected. I think that, and I’m not comparing the gay struggle hand in hand with the black struggle. But I think any struggle for groups of people who are oppressed, it’s just important to reinforce our humanity, our value, our place, no matter what mainstream politics. No matter what the haters say. I’ve spent a lot of time working through my own self homophobia because it was so difficult for me to be different, to be outside, you know?
The more I’m around people and we validate each other and hold each other up, the stronger I’ve become through that. I think it’s important to stick with your people when you’re working through difficult issues like that.
Back to the beginning of this conversation when I said I was young and coming out in Texas. I found my people, I found my tribe. They introduced me to you guys and Ferron and, just all this wonderful music of the era. Curious who influenced you as a songwriter?
ES: The first album I ever bought was the Jackson Five. I grew up and was born into a largely African American community in New Haven, Connecticut. So everybody I knew was listening to James Brown and Otis Redding and Marvin Gaye. I was totally into the Jackson Five. So in some ways, although you don’t see it in the acoustic singer songwriting stuff that I do, I was heavily inspired by African American R&B music.
Then as far as like putting more lyrics with guitar, Joni Mitchell was my number one direct influence and inspiration. I mean, I just listened to her over and over and over again. It’s true that music saves your life. It can be like you, it’s not getting lost really, it’s getting found in a world of music. So I listened to her incessantly. Ferron was a very, very strong influence because of her, the power of her lyrics, how she put her words together, how they moved with her music, with the guitar chords. So Joni was the absolute number one, most highly influential, but then there was also Jackson Browne. I mentioned Ferron, Neil Young and most recently the work of Bonnie Vare. I absolutely love Justin Vernon’s work. And I’m sure I can think of a million of their artists. But Joni was the early one.
There so many I’ve been inspired by. Janelle Monae’s album absolutely blew my mind. I saw her in concert. I don’t how to say how experiencing that and being inspired by that directly affects my songwriting. But it has to, in some ways, it’s just easier to say, to point to this lyricist or that lyricist inspiring my lyrics.
They all told stories with their lyrics and you’re a wonderful storyteller. Have you thought about writing a children’s book?
ES: Oh, my gosh, my wife keeps saying I should write a children’s album or children’s book. I love children’s books. My mom was a children’s librarian for 40 years and we have a lot of books in the house and I love them. I went to the bookstore and there’s like a zillion children’s books. I don’t know if I have a talent for that or not. I’ve never tried. But I definitely have an interest in writing children’s songs. I just haven’t gotten to it yet. Trying to balance work and family, it’s a good problem to have, but it does take up the time. And the time goes by super-fast.
If you could go anywhere in time or space and speak to any one person, who would that be and what would you say?
ES: I would want to talk to Jesus. I’d want to know if what he thought, and taught, was what he really believed. And I would just want to talk to him about the way it was then and what’s it like to be so close to God. Stuff like that. I could have about 10 people on my list, but I think he’s probably at the top.
Yeah, that whole, love your neighbor; treat others as you’d want to be treated. The Golden Rule.
ES: Yeah, that’s what I try to live by. He had so many cool women friends. Women were so important in his story. You know, I just like to talk to him about all that. I think a lot of us have just missed the boat on why Christianity became such a powerful message of redemption, and love and acceptance because of what happened along the way.
Which makes it so difficult to listen to all the rhetoric that goes on from the Christian Right.
ES: It’s horrifying. My dad is a theologian and I get to talk to him about why this happened. A lot of it is psychological. If you have a certain mindset, or if the church kind of reigned in the insecurities of life for you and made it simple. I don’t know why people respond to the Bible and Christianity, in general, in the way that they do that oppresses other people. I understand it psychologically. But I don’t understand why those hearts can’t be turned to love and openness. But that’s not for me to know. I’ll never know. But these are the things I think about and write songs about.
It’s absolutely comforting to know that what I believe is what I believe, and it’s loving. And I don’t have any doubt about what I believe in. Maybe I should believe that with regards to religion. So that’s quite comforting to feel good and in that space with my faith.
That’s beautiful. Amen to that. I feel the same way. Thank you so much, Emily. I, really appreciate you taking the time to talk with me.
ES: Thank you Alyx.