Chat With an Indigo Girl
Amy Ray has been one half of the Indigo Girls, the folk-rock duo that has thrilled a wide, deep and loyal fan base for more than a quarter-century. Their close harmony, driving guitar and original songwriting has scored them two platinum (“Closer to Fine,” “Swamp Ophelia”) and one gold (“Nomads Indians Saints”) albums.
The other half is Emily Saliers, Ray’s musical partner (they are not a couple, although both are proudly out and activists for LGBT and other causes). They will be playing in our region this weekend, coinciding with this month’s release of their latest album, “Beauty Queen Sister.”
I recently spoke to Ray about her music and activism.
Q: You’ve been performing together for more than a quarter of a century. Is it still fulfilling for you?
A: Yes. It’s constantly changing. We play with a lot of different people, try different styles musically, work with different producers. These things keep it challenging and fresher. We give each other a lot of space, creatively and personally, and that really helps a lot. The fact that we write separately and then come together to arrange the songs gives us the best of both worlds. It’s a key to why we have stayed together after all these years.
Q: How have your music and performing styles evolved over the years? Have your goals changed?
A: Our goal hasn’t changed. We’ve always said let’s try to become better musicians and songwriters. We make a priority of working together on our craft of arrangement. I’ve evolved to writing regularly every week, more than I did before. It has given me better discipline and improved my output. Over the years you learn to express yourself in a way that’s more specific and graphic, that might be seen as edgy. But our early stuff had edginess to it. We go through cycles.
Q: Tell me about your new album, Beauty Queen Sister.
A: We wanted to work with Peter Collins, the producer we’ve worked with off and on through the years. He’s very good, very strict. We recorded it in two weeks. Trina Schumaker was the engineer and mixer. Sonically the record has a totally different vibe than our others because of her. There’s more low end and broadness to the spectrum.
Q: Considering your record as activists for social, political and environmental causes, how do the challenging current events color your music and your activism?
A: It does feel a little more polarized now than usual. I get tired of everything being Democrat, Republican, Tea, everyone using it for political gain. I just want to work for political change. There’s a constant pulse of things moving around you. Sometimes it shows up in our songs without our realizing it. We see things through a lens of activism. We wrote “War Rugs” on the new album because we were inspired by the events in Egypt and Tunisia. Our environmental work with Honor the Earth is a constant source of energy to us.
Q: What do you do to stay sane on the road?
A: We both exercise. I work out every day. I have a folding bicycle that I carry around and ride a lot. On off days I go out for long rides. And we see our friends wherever we go.
The Indigo Girls will be at the Warner Theatre in Torrington, CT, on Friday, Oct. 21, at 7:30 p.m. (www.warnertheatre.org or 860-489-7180); at the Woodstock Playhouse in Woodstock, NY, on Sunday, Oct. 23 at 8 p.m. (www.woodstockplayhouse.org or 845-679-6900); and at The Egg in Albany, NY, on Tuesday, Oct.25, at 7:30 p.m. (www.theegg.org or 518-473-1845).