Indigo Girls have been a staple in my music collection since my preteens. There was always something about the lyrics, the harmonizing, and the music that touched my soul. The first album I fell in love with was, Rites of Passage. From the strong addicting beats of "Three hits" and "Chickenman", the lyrics of "Ghost", "Love Will Come to You" and "Romeo and Juliet" that reached into my soul as well as the history lessons of "Galileo" and "Virginia Woolf"...I was hooked for a lifetime. Each album from there seemed to speak to me in just the way I needed given my place in life. Some of my happiest memories are of me and a few of my girlfriends trying to harmonize just like Emily and Amy in my car.
The Indigo Girls have been consistently writing, recording and touring since 1988. After releasing nine albums with major record labels from 1987 through 2007, they have since been self-producing albums with their own IG Recordings company.
Emily and Amy are very active politically. They support such causes as the environment, gay rights, rights of Native Americans, and the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty. They also helped establish Honor the Earth, an organization dedicated to creating support and education for native environmental issues.
In addition to being a part of the Indigo Girls, both Emily and Amy have multiple side projects. In 1990, Amy founded Daemon Records which has signed such artists as Magnapop, New Mongrels, Kristen Hall, Athens Boys Choir, and James Hall among others. Amy Ray has also put out six solo albums. The solo records are the rock side of Amy Ray. Honest, straight forward lyrics with a punk edge. As a solo artist, she has toured with both The Butchies and her band, The Volunteers.
Emily is also planning a solo album, and is co-owner of Watershed Restaurant in Decatur, Georgia. Emily and her father, Dan Sailers, a theology professor, released the book A Song to Sing, a Life to Live: Reflections on Music as Spiritual Practice.
I had the honor recently to speak to one of my idols, Amy Ray...musically, politically...and just really as an intelligent, cool ass chick.
CM: How do you balance The Indigo girls, your solo project, the record company and your nonprofits?
AR: <laughs>, They all kind of work together at this point. The nonprofit in which Emily and I started in the 90’s, Honor the Earth, that’s an ongoing thing, board meetings once a year and a few shows a year. We just need to stay in the know of what the different groups we support are doing. It's really a part of the tapestry for our lives at this point. The solo stuff is in between Indigo Girls girls stuff, keeps my chops up, keeps my mind working, better for me if I keep my mind working. As I get older though, I want to spend more time with my parents and siblings and I try to cut back on some things and spend more time with family.
CM: As you have known Emily since elementary school, are you like family?
AR: We are like sisters now. She was a year older than me so we didn’t talk much till high school in chorus. We started hanging with the same friends and then playing music together. Playing talent shows and for our English class...We don’t see a lot of each other in the off time. She lives about an hour and a half from me. We give each other a lot of creative space.
CM: Who's your biggest musical influences? (past & present)
AR: There is a zillion... I started out mainly with singer songwriters like Joni Mitchell, Jackson Browne, Elton John. We both try to be influenced by things that are way outside what we do. Emily loves hip-hop and groove actually. Over time, lyrically and chord wise we are influenced by different writers. I go play through songbooks of Patti Smith or Jackson Brown...something to break free. Or I go read poetry for an hour. A lot of novel writers inspire me; Wendell Berry, Flannery O’Conner, and William Faulkner. Frank Stanford is a huge influence on me for imagery and storytelling. As you move through life you pick up tools to help you grow.
CM: Tell us about your writing process
AR: We write separately. We write the whole song separate and then the process of arrangement is together. Harmonies, chords. That creates the sound. It’s a lengthy process and very together. Passing mp3s back and forth and working on what’s sounding good to us.
CM: What’s the first concert you attended?
AR: John Denver in Atlanta at Omni (now Phillips Arena) Emily was there too, we talk about it, we weren’t there together. I guess maybe he was an influence on me as well. As I was a kid, hearing him in the house, the music coursing through my veins <laughs>.
CM: What advice do you have for artists just starting out?
AR: Depends on what kind of music you are into. The pop world is a totally different path on how to achieve. You need to get a production deal, good manager, be willing to be an entertainer. But to be a songwriter and have a life long career, my advice is that what will differentiate you is a solid playbook of songs. Whatever your strength, do as much as you can. For writers, read books about writing. To develop your writing process One I love is by Stephen King, "On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft” It was a good tool to learn discipline. Also, Ann Lamontt has a great book about writing, “Bird by Bird”. Both books changed my writing process completely. I started writing 2x as much and they taught me how to work a lot more. Now I write 5 days a week, just like a job. My advice is that you have to have something others can’t just have, you’ve got to have your own style, voice and really play a lot of gigs.
There you have it...after over 25 years of influential music, Amy Ray can still sit down with us little folks and give advice. Take heed.