Take Five with Emily Saliers of Indigo Girls
The Grammy Award-winning folk duo Indigo Girls has earned plenty of acclaim since its eponymous sophomore album delivered "Closer to Fine" in 1989. But Emily Saliers and Amy Ray are still discovering new paths to musical success decades later. In June, they released a live orchestral record, "Indigo Girls Live with The University of Colorado Symphony Orchestra." And, in August 2017, Saliers dropped her first solo record, "Murmuration Nation," which draws from rhythm-and-blues and hip-hop along with genres traditionally associated with Indigo Girls.
At 6 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 15, Saliers and Ray will take the Joe's Field stage at FreshGrass, the annual bluegrass and roots music festival held at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art. Before the latest Berkshires Indigo Girls show, Saliers answered five questions by phone.
1 You released a solo album for the first time recently, an act of artistic courage after so many songs recorded with Amy. Have you been pleased with the album's reception thus far?
I've been really pleased. I knew that when we finished the album, I was really proud of it. I accomplished a lot of what I wanted to. No matter what was going to happen after, that felt great, and the response has been positive. The only thing I wish is knowing a way to get it out there more. It's just so challenging as an independent artist, even being with Indigo Girls. That's the only thing: I wish [it] could've reached a broader audience, but everything else has just been wonderful about the whole experience and the way it turned out and the reception.
2 On the opposite end of the spectrum, you and Amy also recently released a live orchestral album. What were some of the unexpected benefits and challenges of working with so many musicians on that project?
The great thing about that orchestra, they've got a lot of — there's graduate students and I think maybe even some undergraduate community members — they've got a youthful energy. They're very passionate about playing. I think a lot of times, if you've played in a professional symphony for a long time, it's not that you get bored, but there's a little bit more of a staid approach to performance and playing, and things like that. This is a little bit more of a lively, raw orchestral experience, which is why we really wanted to make the album with this particular orchestra. And Gary Lewis, the conductor, is just fantastic. He's done pop concerts before and collaborations. Some of the challenges have been, there's nothing metronomic to hold it all together, so in terms of performance, it's a bit of a leap of faith. It's a bit like a rocking ship at times, where you just all hold in together. All those players behind you are this huge, beautiful, amorphous force. Some of the challenges have just been letting go and just finding that place together, where it all hangs together. One of the most beautiful things about it is I can't hear our songs anymore without hearing those arrangements. So, after playing all these years, and just when you think you've done everything that you could possibly do in your arena, you get an experience like that, and it brings new life to these songs that [mostly] have been around for a while. I feel tremendous gratitude for getting to experience that and also the honor of being asked to play with symphonies because not everybody gets to do it, and we have found it extremely gratifying, exciting, challenging and inspirational.
3 When it's just you and Amy, what's your favorite song to perform live these days?
Well, I love playing "Chicken Man" with Amy. She wrote that song. It's a bit of a meandering story. It's very rock. She's got her great energy. I get to play some fun guitar, basically free-form guitar in it. So, I really, really always enjoy playing "Chicken Man." And, believe it or not, I still love playing "Closer to Fine" because every night, the audience sings with it. That song goes so far back. It still has a life of its own every night, so we usually close the evenings with it. It's a wonderful way to go out.
4 Many people like to listen to Indigo Girls on road trips. What have you been listening to while touring lately?
Amy's new solo album is coming out Sept. 28, and I've been listening to that because she gave me an advance listen, and it is wonderful. I've been really immersed in that. [Saliers also mentioned Janelle Monae and Ashley McBryde, among others.]
5 What's the strangest thing that's happened to you on the road recently?
The strangest thing ... we had a bus driver that we were afraid of, so that was strange.
Benjamin Cassidy can be reached at email@example.com, at @bybencassidy on Twitter and 413-496-6251.
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