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Indigo Girls' Amy Ray on tattoos and coming out
NUNN ON ONE: MUSIC
by Jerry Nunn, Windy City Times
2011-11-02

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The Girls are back in town! Indigo Girls, made up of Amy Ray and Emily Saliers, bring their folk rock music back to Chicago for two shows at The Vic. They started performing with the name "Indigo Girls" when they were students at Emory University.

After kicking it old-school, the lesbian duo made a self-produced full-length record in 1987, and then moved into a major record company. After releasing nine albums, they have now self-produced albums with their own IG Recordings. Their latest project is called Beauty Queen Sister and fans now have the opportunity to hear it live. Windy City Times talked to Ray before their big day.

Windy City Times: Hi, Amy. You are coming back to Chicago.

Amy Ray: Yes, we always love playing there.

WCT: With two shows is it all the same set list or do you play different songs?

AR: We will do different stuff. There are some things that will be the same, maybe what we will open with and close with because it gets us in the right frame of mind. We switch it up in the middle. We won't play all new songs but we will play old songs as well but a different group of old songs between the two shows.

WCT: So real fans have to go to both.

AR: [Laughs] Yes. It keeps us on our toes and fresh.

WCT: Let's talk about the new album that just came out, [called] Beauty Queen Sister. Do you have a sister who is a beauty queen?

AR: That's funny because I don't. My sister might have been homecoming queen one year. My mom was definitely a beauty queen. She was always big in school.

It came out of a conversation that I was having with a couple of friends. My girlfriend has siblings more of that ilk. We were saying there is always one in every family. Then it turned into a whole different thing. It gave me an idea then I wrote about something completely different. It was more about trying to hang onto that thing that you have.

WCT: Whether it is age or beauty…

AR: Yes, exactly.

WCT: Is the single "Share the Moon?"

AR: It's not the single. The single is "Making Promises" but stations play what they want…

WCT: Do you have a new video from the album?

AR: We do. We have a new video for "Making Promises" and I hope it is up at this point. It was finished last week. It should be up in the next week or so. It is old Super 8 footage that my brother and I took of building a racecar track and trying to do stop motion photography. It is mixed in with Super 8 footage of me and Emily when we were younger mixed in with some animation. It is a lot of fun in and out of our lives kind of stuff.

WCT: You and Emily have known each other since high school correct?

AR: Since elementary school, we were 10.

WCT: That's wild. In Georgia?

AR: Yes. Emily moved down from Connecticut when she was ten years old and we went to school together. In high school we were both in the same chorus and that is when we started hanging out and stuff.

WCT: After all of this time do you ever get sick of each other?

AR: [Laughs] I'm sure we do! We have a good system. We live in separate cities and have our own kind of thing that we do. When we play together it is the magic of music. It feels good, you know?

WCT: I heard that you both live separate lives when you are not playing together.

AR: Yes, very much so.

WCT: You write the music separately, too?

AR: We write separate but when we do a record we get together a lot. We work on songs and arrangements, practice together a lot. We get the system going for making a record. When it all jells, we have time to work that stuff out.

WCT: Is the new track "Birthday Song" a good one for a live audience?

AR: Yeah, it is actually. All of the new songs work live pretty well, which is great. We are not touring with a drummer right now. We are touring with a keyboard player, who plays the accordion as well and a violinist. It is pretty representative of the record, in a sort of slightly different broken down kind of way. It is pretty fun and all kind of works. At this point we are still getting our sea legs with the new material so it is hard to tell.

WCT: The cover seems tattoo-inspired. Do you have tattoos?

AR: I do. I have a lot, actually. The cover did come out of doing flash art with tattoos. In the package we did a random box, where you get a tattoo in each CD. I think there are six of them and they do it randomly.

WCT: What is your favorite tattoo?

AR: That's a hard one. I just got a tattoo of a dog on my right arm that I lost a few years ago. It is a really great tattoo. I use the same artist over and over again because she does so much and she is in Seattle. My girlfriend is from there so I am out there a lot. The artist is really special so anything she does I like.

WCT: Are you going to do more solo work?

AR: Yes, I have a new record done. I'm going to wait to release it until the beginning of March but it is finished. It is the same group of people that did my last record, which was Didn't It Feel Kinder, same producer, with the addition of a keyboard player name Julie Wolf, who usually tours with the Indigo Girls. She is a really good synth player, plays very old vintage synthesizer. She came in and did a bunch of stuff. It is a little more up than my last one but not techno-ish. It is rock. It has an Appalachian song. It has a throwback to Jackson Browne song on it too. It mixes it up. I'm really happy with it. I will put it out in March and probably tour with it a bit.

WCT: Do you prefer self-producing, as opposed to the big major label?

AR: The Indigo Girls are on their own label now so it is kind of like when I put out my own records too. We are all independent everywhere. Vanguard distributes us so it is like having the best of both worlds. We have a good distribution and a lot of info structure but we really make our own choices and decisions about how the money is spent. Creatively, it feels good. The only difference is that we don't have as much money, which is actually a good thing. I think it makes us a little more creative with what we do.

WCT: Vanguard is out of Nashville?

AR: Yes and they have an L.A. office too.

WCT: I saw your Christmas show at the House of Blues.

AR: That was so fun!

WCT: Chely Wright played with you onstage. What do you recommend for female artists who are in the closet?

AR: Oh, boy; that is a hard question. It doesn't seem that should be hard anymore, does it?

WCT: No, because you have out musicians like Chely and Melissa Etheridge.

AR: I always recommend that people at this point are out as musicians because you feel better. But I know why people struggle with whether or not to do that depending on what kind of music they are playing. It can be the kiss of death in country music or even any kind of music. I don't think that matters as much as honesty and integrity, personally for me. I think your audience is your community and they want you to be real.

I don't think it has to hold you back. I think there is a lot of fear still and I understand where that comes from. I am always patient with someone when they are tryng to figure it out but at the same time inside I hope that people will realize the payoff is bigger, spiritually and emotionally in the long run if you just be yourself. The short run can be scary and you can be pigeonholed or lose radio play or whatever happens, which is absurd in this day and age but it does still affect you. I think in the long run you are better off. If you want longevity and a real audience with a connection between you and your audience, you need to be who you are.

WCT: Indigo Girls' following has stuck with them for so long.

AR: We have the greatest audience.

WCT: I love the new girls coming up, like Girl in a Coma.

AR: I love that band.

WCT: Have you listened to the Belle Brigade?

AR: I downloaded some of their music the other day on a friend's recommendation. I really love it.

WCT: They opened for k.d. lang over the summer. I asked them about an LGBT connection to the band and she told me she is a big gay lesbian.

AR: That's refreshing!

WCT: She was very open and talked about her girlfriend.

AR: That's cool. I like their music and love Girl in a Coma.

WCT: I want to tell you that I saw you open for R.E.M. back in the '80s in Nashville.

AR: That tour was so important for us. It was a big moment where we got to be in front of a lot of people. It was challenging and we learned a lot. It was a turning point in our career. We always appreciated them giving us that. When you think about it at that time period we weren't totally out then but we were obviously lesbians. We were kind of butch and playing in a way. Our audience looked past all of that stuff. They were cutting edge and just listening to music.

WCT: I don't think Michael Stipe was out then, either.

AR: Nope, no way.

WCT: Would you ever change the name to Indigo Women?

AR: [Laughs] People ask us that because we are obviously getting older. I just don't think it sounds the same. You pick your name when you are young. You do it and don't think about it. We didn't think about longevity at that point. We thought this is fun and let's do it. We went day by day and had a short term vision. We never thought in 20 years we would have the same name! We just thought it sounded good from the alliteration of it. Now we have to live with it.

It's twice the shows and twice the fun with the two Indigo Girls on Nov. 8 and 9 at the Vic Theatre, 3145 N. Sheffield Ave. For tickets try www.jamusa.com or visit www.indigogirls.com .


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