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Cover Story: The Indigo Girls Keep The Sisterhood Going

Friday, June 07, 2002

By Scott Mervis, Weekend Editor, Post-Gazette

She'll never be mistaken for Joan Jett or Courtney Love, but if the Indigo Girls have a rocker, it's Amy Ray, the dark-haired one with the smoky voice.

Amy Ray and Emily Saliers plan to play the "festival fast set" with full band tonight.

Band Site

Last year, Ray's inclination to crank it up drove her to "Stag," a solo record on her own label that aimed for indie-rock sludge and a tougher cast to the lyrics.

"It let me get the electric ya-ya out," Ray says. "The themes were harder and more about gender identity -- a lot of stuff just about my relationship with my boyfriends and my friends and the boy inside me, and all those things that make the lyrics more singular and kind of harder to do as a duo."

When the dust settled from her "Stag" tour, she was refreshed and ready to get back to her longtime partner, Emily Saliers, and the buoyant harmonies they create as the Indigo Girls. On their ninth record, "Become You," the Atlanta-based duo strips down the production and gets back to folk-pop basics, flipping from Saliers' earthy ballads to Ray's more aggressive romps.

"I'm labeled as the rocker sometimes, but Emily really enjoys playing electric guitar," Ray says. "She really wails on it. I think I'm just the extremist. I do things that are very rock or very mountain acoustic storytelling at this point in my life. The only thing we run into is not being able to play a lot of slow songs, because you can only put so many slow songs into a set without having it drag. So if I'm writing slow songs and Emily is too, what do you do?"

Music samples

Click to download this MP3 sound file: The Indigo Girls perform "Bitterroot" from the disc "Become You."
(File size 468 K)

Click to download this MP3 sound file: The Indigo Girls perform the title track from the disc "Become You."

(File size 464 K)

Visit the following sites to download players for Windows or Mac machines to listen to these files:

Real Player
Microsoft Windows Media Player



You don't do them all when playing to a large festival crowd in a big-city park. Ray realizes that as she makes her way toward opening night of the Three Rivers Arts Festival. "We heard," she says. "OK, we can do the festival fast set."

Indigo Girls fans know that 15 years past their debut, "Strange Fire," Saliers and Ray are seasoned enough to handle any size crowd. Without a whole lot of help from radio or other media, the duo uses the road as the primary vehicle to get the music out into the world.

Ray concedes that the Indigos are not a high priority at their longtime label, but she thinks Epic might be coming back around.

"I'd say they're [supportive] right now," Ray says. "The last record they were losing interest, I can say as a nice way to put it. They got burned out on us. We're older women and we've been with the label forever, so everyone was like, 'What do we do with them? They're a bunch of political lesbians.' But to me, they're supportive and trying hard and they know that we're trying hard."

Ray used her solo record to lash out at what she perceives as the old boys network in the music industry, to the point of calling out Jan Wenner, the editor of Rolling Stone, in the chorus.

"The way we've dealt with it historically," Rays says of the male-dominated industry, "is that we just do our thing, but we comment on it. We have a crew with a very large number of women and we do that on purpose, because the impact that crew has on the place we're playing is better if it's more mixed. It also gives women more technical experience to move up the ladder. As far as our career goes, Rolling Stone bumped our review of the record this time, too. Now it's probably even worse 'cause they hate me, but you know, you gotta build your own infrastructure, do things your own way and work a little bit harder."

It's interesting to note that while the Indigo Girls will be working hard at the Point, across the river at the Amphitheatre at Station Square will be Pink, a young pop diva who is drawing the kind of media attention the Indigo Girls never enjoyed. (Editor's Note: Due to illness, the Pink concert scheduled for tonight has been postponed until July 24.)

"Oh, I like Pink!" Ray says.

"I don't listen to the radio, I don't really pay that much attention, but I know who Pink is, 'cause I saw a video and thought, 'that's cool.'

"There's always going to be pop," Ray adds, "there are always going to be pop divas. I think the Top 40 world is one world where women make up half the playlist. But it's women that aren't threatening, usually. Pink's a different case, I think. What I'm waiting is for the alternative rock stations to start playing women again. Women that are bad-ass rockers. I'd settle for 25 percent women at this point."

They perform on the Symphony Stage at Point State Park at 7:30 tonight.

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