Folk-pop favorites Indigo Girls no legacy act

Amy Ray (left) and Emily Saliers.
Jeremy Cowart
Amy Ray (left) and Emily Saliers.

Last year marked the 25th anniversary of the release of Indigo Girls’ first album, “Strange Fire,” and the Grammy-winning Georgia folk-pop duo of Amy Ray and Emily Saliers — famous for their rich harmonies and insightful lyrics on hits like “Closer to Fine” and “Galileo” — continues to buzz along.

The two are at work on a follow-up to 2011’s “Beauty Queen Sister,” due in 2014, continue to play occasional shows with symphony orchestras, and devote time to many social and political issues. (Saliers was recently on Capitol Hill advocating for immigration reform in general and specifically as it pertains to binational LGBT couples, since her partner is Canadian.)

Ray and Saliers are currently on the road with old friend Joan Baez, opening for her and then returning to perform with her at Tanglewood on Sunday.


We caught up with Saliers by phone from New York.

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Q. What is it like touring with Joan Baez again? I would imagine she was an inspiration for you as a young singer, songwriter, and activist.

A. All those things. [Baez’s song] “Diamonds and Rust” was one of the first songs I ever covered when I was able to play it. (Laughs.) And of course we admire her politics, her strength in social justice issues and her tremendous voice and just her presence. It’s something you can’t even describe until you’re in her presence. She’s quite the powerhouse and funny as hell and a lovely person. I can’t say enough about her. We’re having the time of our lives. And the band playing with us, the Shadowboxers, [the band members are] 23 years old, so now it’s this really cool intergenerational harmony music experience that we get to have and share with people who come to the show.

Q. Indigo Girls have been performing with orchestras recently. So while you’re at Tanglewood will you go over to the office and ask about sitting in with the Pops sometime?

A. You know, we’re going to leave that in the hands of the agency that handles all that, but I will just put the word out there that we would love to do that! Those symphony shows have been a really great experience for us, challenging musically, and we just hired the right people to do the arrangements. Everywhere we go the symphonies are like, “We really love these charts!” I look forward to those shows and really enjoy them, and you just can’t believe that your music can be orchestrated like that. So, yeah, we want to do it with the Pops, tell everybody.


Q. Have you had the random oboe player come up to you and profess their longtime fandom?

A. Yes! And it’s really neat. I love to cross worlds and the classical symphony world is a very different world from ours, so it’s pretty cool when you have the oboe player come up and say he or she likes your music.

Q. So you two passed the 25-year recording milestone last year for your first album and managed to not do a tour playing the full album or otherwise mark the occasion.

A. (Laughs.) We don’t think a lot about dates and anniversaries and numbers like that, to be honest. The truth is we started playing professionally in 1980 as high school students, that’s when we got our first paid gig, so it’s even longer than 25 years. We have talked about it though, because I think some people like that “play your whole record through from start to finish,” so maybe one day, but not yet. But we don’t plan any staid anniversary-type events.

Q. You all have successfully avoided going the sheer nostalgia route that some of your peers have taken. Your audiences always seem receptive to new music.


A. It’s not the same size, but it’s the loyal ones that really love the music and they ride the ride with us and are open to new things. Everybody likes to hear a song that they love. I do, as a fan, the one that can get me out of my seat through familiarity and dance and sing and all that stuff. But our audience is very open to new stuff. And to be honest, we couldn’t do it having to recapitulate and do the same old stuff. It’s very important to us to keep making new studio records, just for our own sake. Before we even think about fans, we think about what feels good to us and are we still creating and growing. The day that that stops happening, neither Amy nor I have it in us to keep going on, so everything’s still going well.

‘Everybody likes to hear a song that they love. . . . But our audience is very open to new stuff.’

Q. What’s been the key to making the partnership work?

A. The main thing is our differences are our strengths. And we have the same set of values and we have very strong lives independent of each other. Because we’re different, we don’t try to do the same things and we appreciate each other’s gift to the group. And we’re old friends. We love each other like sisters. And we spend a lot more time apart then we do together and that keeps us together. (Laughs.)

Interview has been edited and condensed. Sarah Rodman can be reached at