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Members include Amy Ray (born April 12, 1964 in Decatur, GA) acoustic guitar, vocals; and Emily Saliers (born July 22, 1963 in New Haven, CT), acoustic guitar, vocals. Addresses: Record company--Epic Records, 550 Madison Avenue, New York, NY, 10022-3211.
For more than a decade, the Indigo Girls--Amy Ray and Emily Saliers--have created passionate folk music which is both intensely personal and overtly political. Despite a lack of Top 40 radio play, the pair has built a devout following, sold more than six million albums, earned five Grammy nominations, and regularly delivered concerts with the fervor of tent revivals and the intimacy of campfire sing-alongs. In addition, they have been staunch political advocates for gay rights, animal rights, and environmental and Native American causes. The Indigos' music has divided critics--some laud their soaring vocal harmonies, emotionally charged lyrics, and musical exploration while others dismiss their songs as pretentious and overwrought. "Despite a career filled with frequent musical experimentation and a growing legion of fans," Larry Flick wrote in Billboard, "Indigo Girls have endured a widespread industry perception as an interminably earnest folk rock duo with a limited, cult-like following."
The musical partners became friends in grade school. Ray grew up in Decatur, Georgia, where her father was a radiologist and her mother was a homemaker. Saliers' family moved to town from New Haven, Connecticut, in 1974. Her father was a Methodist minister and a professor at Emory University; her mother was a librarian. The pair formed the act Saliers and Ray in high school in 1980, attended Emory University together, and emerged from the Athens, Georgia, coffeehouse scene as the Indigo Girls in the late 1980s. They chose the name after coming across "indigo" in the dictionary and deciding they liked the sound of the word. Their music--they've called it "folk music with angst"--was based upon acoustic guitars and beautifully intertwined, occasionally dissonant harmonies. Ray and Saliers released their first album, Strange Fire, on their own label in 1987. Two years later, they made their major-label debut on Epic Records. The album, Indigo Girls, went platinum and earned a Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Folk Album. In the 1990s, they went on to deliver four more solid-selling studio albums and two live records, Back on the Bus, Y'All in 1991 and 1200 Curfews in 1995.
In many ways, Ray and Saliers are opposites who complement each other on record and on stage. Ray has dark hair and an edgy, punkish side. Saliers is a blonde folkie with a crystalline voice. "Ray is tough and outspoken and has a growling, devlish singing voice," music critic Christopher Farley wrote in Time. "Saliers's is quiet and reflective, and her vocals are high and angelic. Ray says she's influenced by punk bands like the Sex Pistols; Saliers prefers Joni Mitchell. The two never write songs together, and for weeks at a time they drift apart to their separate circle of friends." At home in Georgia they belong to separate pickup bands. Ray drums for a group called Flunky; Saliers's side project is called Hash.
Saliers talked with Melissa Regear of the Richmond Times-Dispatch about the pair's chemistry. "Amy and I express ourselves so differently, and through her I'm able to experience a whole other musical life. I can't do what Amy does, but I get to sing these songs, and she brings her gifts to my songs. It's got a lot of balance. Amy brings a lot of rawness and edge, an immediate edge, and I'm a little more cerebral." Off-stage and away from the recording studio, they spend little time together. "We don't have the kind of friendship where we call each other to take in a movie, which is probably why our relationship is so strong," Saliers once said. Ray summed up their partnership this way: "Me solo is too much of me. Emily solo is too much of Emily."
The Indigo Girls have long been dedicated to various liberal causes, and political views have increasingly found voice in their songs. Ray and Saliers have been vocal advocates for gay rights, women and children's causes, Native American concerns, and environmentalism. They have supported Green peace, Artists for a Hate-Free America, and assorted other organizations. In 1995, their Honor the Earth Tour raised more than $300,000 for grassroots Native American environmental groups and generated a CD featuring songs from Bonnie Raitt, Soul Asylum, Victoria Williams, and Bruce Cockburn along with American Indian artists such as Joy Harjo and Ulali, a trio of female musicians. The Indigos also appeared on a 1993 benefit album for Save the Children and two environmental groups and on Sweet Relief II, a 1996 tribute to paraplegic singer- songwriter Vic Chestnutt. In 1997, the pair participated in Sarah McLachlan's Lilith Fair, a concert tour featuring female artists.
Over the years, the Indigos' music has become increasingly electric, eclectic, and political--while continuing to balance the duo's trademark gentleness and intensity. "You can look at our music and see that we've become more assertive," Ray told Robert Perkinson of The Progressive. "It's also confidence and better songwriting. Our images are cleaner and more specific. And when your images become more specific they become more graphic. They're not diluted. So they seem more aggressive."
On 1994's Swamp Ophelia, which sold more than 1.5 million copies, the Indigos "dabbled in grunge aggression and tribal percussion," Flick wrote. On the album they added African drums, accordions, mandolins, trumpet and flugelhorn, electric guitars, violin and cello and more orchestration to their acoustic strumming. "There are more extremes going on," Ray said at the time. "Electric and acoustic. Loud sounds and soft sounds." Times's Farley wrote that the "new, more eleborate songs still have fire, grace and melodies that leap out at the listeners. Once again, they sing beautifully braided harmonies with the occasional hint of dissonance and their lyrics as usual have an eloquent, freewheeling wordiness." Not everyone has been impressed with the Indigo Girls' sound, however. Stereo Review accused them of "pathetic whining" and being "stuck in that college-freshman phase where everything is just, like, really deep."
The 1997 album Shaming of the Sun was equally varied, incorporating hip-hop, hard rock, world beat, Native American styles, and piano balladry. The Indigos continued expanding their musical repertoire with the addition of bouzouki, tympani, hurdy-gurdy, a stand-up bass, and penny whistles. The album also features guest artists Ulali, Steve Earle, Jackson Browne, Mary Chapin Carpenter, and violinist Lisa Germano--as well as Atlanta area musicians and the longtime Indigo rhythm section of drummer Jerry Marotta and bassist Sara Lee. "We learned and wrote on a lot of different instruments," Saliers said. "We weren't afraid to try something more expansive. I feel good about this record in ways I've never felt about anything we've done in the past." Ray described the album as "Rage Against the Machine meets old Library of Congress recordings."
The critics, as usual, were divided. Kyle Munson of the Des Moines Register called Shaming of the Sun the Indigo Girls' best album ever and Flick wrote that it preserved the pair's "signature lyrical explorations of love and inner turmoil" while incorporating "an equal dose of biting and emphatically political commentary." Los Angeles Times' critic Natalie McNichols, on the other hand, said the album was "drowned in a morass of instrumental bombast and overblown sentimentality." And Dan DeLuca of The Philadelphia Inquirer nearly apologized for disliking the Indigos. Listening to their music, DeLuca wrote, is "an arduous task. The fervent vocals. The manic guitar strumming. The good intentions gone awry in songs that devolve into a poetic mishmash. There's only so much earnest you can take.... The Indigos are so open, so down to earth, so 'nice,' that you start to feel like a curmudgeon for not loving their music."
In any event, Shaming of the Sun hit the charts at No. 7, the highest debut for any Indigos' album, and generated the radio hit Shame on You. The record also marked the first time Ray and Saliers produced their own music, a task they shared with their longtime engineer David Leonard. "Our first thought was to use several different producers to broaden the sound," Ray was quoted in Billboard. "After trying a few different scenarios, we realized no one knew better how we heard the songs in our heads than us. It was a completely liberating, but much slower, process than we'd experienced before."
by Dave Wilkins
Indigo Girls's Career
They began playing acoustic guitar-based folk music together at Shamrock High School in suburban Atlanta in 1980. Ray and Saliers attended Emory University and performed in coffeehouses and on street corners before signing with Epic Records and making their major-label debut with the album Indigo Girls in 1989.
Indigo Girls's Awards
Grammy for Best Contemporary Folk Album for Indigo Girls.
- Selective Works
- Strange Fire, Indigo Records, 1987.
- Indigo Girls, Epic, 1989.
- Nomads. Indians. Saints., Epic, 1990.
- Back on the Bus, Y'All, Epic, 1991.
- Rites of Passage, Epic, 1992.
- Swamp Ophelia, Epic, 1994.
- 1200 Curfews, Epic, 1995.
- Shaming of the Sun, Epic, 1997.
- Billboard, March 29, 1997, p. 16.
- Buffalo News, May 28, 1997, p. D1.
- Des Moines Register, May 8, 1997, p. 10.
- Detroit Free Press, June 13, 1997, p. C1.
- E, the environmental magazine, September 1995, p. 25.
- Entertainment Weekly, October 13, 1995, p. 78.
- Guitar Player, September 1994, p. 123.
- Knight-Ridder News Service, May 2, 1997.
- People Weekly, August 19, 1996, p. 23; May 9, 1994, p. 25.
- Richmond Times-Dispatch, May 22, 1997, p. D12.
- Rolling Stone, August 25, 1994, p. 89; February 23, 1995, p. 26.
- The Progressive, December 1996, p. 34.
- Time, May 23, 1994, p. 70.
- U.S. News & World Report, May 5, 1997, p. 79.
- Additional information was provided by Epic Records publicity material.
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