After rising to stardom with their self-titled second album in 1989, Indigo Girls, the folk singer-songwriter duo of Amy Ray and Emily Saliers, have performed and recorded together for nearly three decades.

With 14 studio albums, the latest in 2015, the pair have maintained a firm following, and the news that they are coming to the UK has been met with joy.

I spoke with Amy Ray about the upcoming tour and the duo’s future plans.

It has been a few years since Indigo Girls came to the UK. Are you looking forward to returning?

We haven’t been over there in a while. We really love being there, it’s just we both have kids now and we’ve had to figure out what our pace can be with young children. Then we had a new record come out a couple years ago, and before that we had taken a break. I think now we’re finally ready to just have a regular tour season and this was part of it; like, “Let’s go to the UK this time.” So, we’re excited. We have a lot of really good friends and a lot of great memories and we always have a good time when we play there. We love the audiences, we love the way the press is and we love the radio. It’s just all good for us, so we really enjoy it.

On a previous UK tour you made some behind-the-scenes videos. Is there any chance we’ll see some this time?

Yeah, a friend of mine sent me a link to one. She had tour-managed that tour and she said, “Just reminding you of what you did the last time you went,” because I think she thought it was a good idea to do it again. Those were really easy to do and super fun, so maybe we will.

Do you know yet what the setlists will look like? Will you have a mix of older and newer songs, and will there be any solo tracks?

Every night we play a different setlist. Maybe we’ll have gotten requests. We just figure out what we feel like playing. We’ll definitely play some new songs, because we haven’t played those as much over there, but we typically mix it up, try to do songs from all the records and feature things that people want to hear. Emily will probably play something solo, because she’s got her solo record coming out in August, and I usually do a couple solo songs. It’s going to be hard to choose, but I think we’ll just throw in what we can and play as much as we can and it’ll be different every night.

Will it be just you and Emily onstage or will you have other players?

We have a violinist coming later and she is amazing, but I think for Manchester it’s just going to be Emily and I. Our opener is Lucy Wainwright Roche and she plays a lot of the set with us as well. She’s an old friend and has an incredible harmony voice, so we have her sit in and do third-part harmonies. And that makes it really fun. But it’ll be stripped down. We can play everything that we’d play with a band ourselves, so it’ll be good.

Emily’s solo album is coming out in the summer and I believe you also have an Indigo Girls symphony album in the works?

Yes, we’re going to put it out probably in January, because we wanted Emily’s solo record to have some space around it. So we’re mixing it and it’s a show that we did in Colorado with a university symphony. We loved this symphony in particular, so we asked if we could record a show with them. It’s about 23 songs that go over the whole history of our records.

Do you have a solo album coming up?

I’m working towards an Americana, Southern rock kind of record. I’m writing for it and my band and I are working on new material. Throughout the year, in between Indigo stuff, I go out with them for a week here and there and play just for fun, and then eventually we’ll record, probably this winter.

What are your thoughts on social media? You strike me as someone who knows how to use it well, with regularly updated Twitter and Instagram accounts.

My view is that Emily and I probably don’t do enough of it, because we get carried away with our day and forget to document things, because we’re old, basically! I think social media is like anything else that’s great. You can use it in bad ways or in good ways. I think Twitter especially is a pretty incredible organising tool, to let people know about gatherings and marches and protests. I think it’s been a great thing for the do-it-yourself and underground communities. There’s a need for a communication system that is free and open. I know most platforms still have gatekeepers and a way of organising that keeps the message from being equally distributed, but it’s as close as we’ve got right now.

You and Emily have been working together for over 30 years. What is the secret to such a long-lasting friendship and collaborative relationship?

We respect each other a lot, and we’ve always given each other a lot of space, so it’s kind of like a good marriage, where you really just have to respect the other person and not let your ego get too involved in things, and recognise that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. We love going off and doing our solo stuff, but we also recognise that the gift that we have, to be able to play together and what we can create, is special. Neither one of us takes it for granted.

Then there’s our audience, that’s been really loyal and engaged and creates this community that is nurturing and keeps us honest and inspires us. And we have a manager and a booking agent that we’ve had for 30 years, which gives us a solid groundwork and root system and continuity. And then part of it is just luck. We ended up in high school together, singing together for fun, and it was the right time, the right place and we never had really big expectations or pressure. You have the space when you’re young to have that experience. I think that has enabled us to evolve and to stay together, because we always had the room to grow and to give each other a little space when we needed it.

Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?

A few books really changed my approach and helped me become a better writer: Stephen King’s On Writing, Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott, Writing Down the Bones [by Natalie Goldberg]. What helped me the most were the ideas around writing being a discipline: you have to sit down a certain number of days a week, whatever you decide, you stick with it and you write, no matter what. Even if it’s crap, you know? You write. And if you really can’t write anything, you read. You do something to do with words.

The other advice that helped me was about not censoring yourself. Write in a free space to begin with, completely uncensored, and then go back and figure out what you want to make of it. I don’t really believe in writer’s block. I believe that there’s always something to write about and it may not be good, but you’ve got to exercise the muscle.

I think Steve Earle, the songwriter, said to me, “You know, Amy, if you want to be a writer, you gotta write,” and I was like, “Yeah, you’re right,” because I was just lazy and always waiting for the muse to hit me. But the muse doesn’t just come strike you down. You’ve got to be sitting in a chair for them to find you. But yeah, I think it’s all about discipline and time.

Indigo Girls will be performing at the Leadmill on Saturday 22 July.

indigogirls.com
twitter.com/Indigo_Girls

Photo: Amy Ray (left) and Emily Saliers. Photo by Jeremy Cowart.

Elizabeth Gibson