Music Notes: Still Soul Sisters

by Steve Houk

One of America’s most successful musical duos ever find their way back home.

indigo girls

Amy Ray (L) and Emily Saliers have a new record out, “One Lost Day” (Photo Courtesy of Indigo Girls)

Good news for Indigo Girls fans: Amy Ray and Emily Saliers are still going strong.

The pair that makes up the now-legendary-pretty-much-the-most-perfect-female-singer-songwriter-duo-of-all-time is still together, still making great music, still crafting those songs that take you elatedly to a familiar place, or maybe one you’ve never been to, with their patented soaring harmonies amidst new and old sounds cascading beautifully around them.

But since they began this amazing ride some 30 years ago, they’ve also found that necessary time apart to grow a family (they each have toddlers), do some solo work (Ray way more than Saliers, who is doing her first solo record now), and cultivate their own interests (Saliers runs a local restaurant), all while managing to find their way back to each other again to make that ol’ magic happen.

Luckily for them, and us, there was the enriching experience of recently reuniting in a Nashville studio after four years, as they made their fourteenth record together, 2015’s One Lost Day, proving that this one-in-a-million pair still has the chops.

So what has Ray more jazzed, more excited than anything these days? Could it be the long-awaited reunion with her longtime partner?

“It’s the thought of Trump being the Republican nominee,” Ray said with a liberally wry laugh when we talked during a brief break in the Indigo’s current tour. “No really, I love it that we have a new record out, it’s great because we haven’t had one in so long. Emily and I are just like in a really good space, and it just felt like a long time coming, you know?”

A lot of water has passed under the bridge since Ray and Saliers took the folk/rock/alt music world by storm with their seminal self-titled true debut record in 1987. Heck, a lot has happened just in the four years since they last recorded. Major life changes that cause you to assess who and what is really important. And from talking to Ray, it’s clear the two remain the soul sisters they became way back when, even after 30 years, but with perhaps even more depth to their relationship than before.

“We hadn’t made a record in like four years, and we’d both been through a lot,” Ray told me. “Each one of us had had a child, and my Dad had passed away, and just a lot a lot of life had happened in that period of time. We’re kinda like siblings, Emily and I, the way siblings are, and you find an even deeper bond, well, hopefully in the best of times, in your lives. More to connect about. And that’s kind of what happened. And I think we got into the studio and there was just even more to communicate, and both of us felt really ready to make a new record. For us the timing was really good just musically, and personally, and emotionally and spiritually and all that.”

After the duo’s last tour, most of which they performed with symphony orchestras, Ray says she needed to take serious stock of the next move. And that move brought the two back together, good news for all.

“I think that just in Indigo Girl world, we needed a spark in some way,” Ray continued. “And you could feel it. I think this was, in a way, a rekindling. In your career, you go through times when you maybe played one too many gigs and need to take a break and make a new record. You never know when that is, but for me this was definitely a moment where I was like, I’m so glad we took the time to write and make a new record and kind of step back a little bit. Because I really needed it. I think it just feels good. And we’re both in like a completely new place, I mean, when you have a kid, everything in your life changes, I know it’s a cliche but it’s really true.”

Amy Ray (L) and Emily Saliers have a new record out, "One Lost Day" (Photo Courtesy of The Indigo Girls)

The Indigo Girls (Amy Ray, left, and Emily Saliers) play a sold-out Birchmere on November 2 (Photo Courtesy of John Slemp)

The depth of Ray and Saliers’ relationship is clearly a bond that has enabled them to rediscover each other after periods of time apart, a trait not every successful duo or group can always find.

“You know how it is, with any friend that you’ve known since you were 10 years old or whatever,” Ray said, “if you really keep in touch with them over time, the context of your life is just so shared that there’s just an unspoken thing that happens. We’ve always really been great at just like, through time, always being able to recontextualize our relationship, and understand that we evolve too as people. We’re always trying to like, do new things, and kind of break off from each other and do different projects. and we’ve been really lucky. But there’s just like this unspoken thing, where we need to take care of this [Indigo Girls] entity that’s like a third entity aside from ourselves. It’s a relationship, and a thing, that we respect and all that. It’s gotten a lot deeper and comfortable, and yet there’s always surprises.”

And those surprises have come alive on One Lost Day, as they traverse some of the same sounds and themes that are known so well for, while also using their bandmates to bring a new vitality to the sessions.

“We have our keyboard player Carol back and she’s kind of magical for us. We just love playing with her. On the opposite spectrum, we have this rhythm section Jaron and Ben that we met a few years ago and they’re in their mid twenties, so that’s cool because it’s a totally different world. And then our violinist Lyris is someone who we just fell into playing with, and then all of a sudden it became this real deal and she’s developed this whole sound with us. For a long time, we’d just play as a trio with Lyris on violin or just as a trio with Carol, and now we have all of them. So it’s special to be able to do that.”

And as for their current tour, which brings them to The Birchmere on November 2nd?

“We can’t always tour with a full band because it’s so expensive. But this time we were kinda like, you know what? Let’s just do it. Like not worry about budget, anything like that, let’s just get out there and invest in our career basically. Let’s just go out with our band because they sound good and play with them as much as we can, and then we’ll go play with the duo or a trio and that’ll be really fun too, because it’ll be a change of pace, you know?”


Indigo Girls’ November 2nd show at the Birchmere is sold out. 

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