Emily Saliers of the Indigo Girls has written countless songs, but she’s hard pressed to pick a favourite.
“You go through a period of time where one becomes a favourite for one reason or another,” she says, “but there are crowd favourites that are still fun after all these years, like “Closer to Fine” or “Shame on You.” We make a new set list every night, so we never choose a song that we’re not really into.”
In the last three decades, Saliers and her musical partner, Amy Ray, have released 20 albums and played all over the United States as the folk-rock duo the Indigo Girls. Though they’ve played most major Canadian cities, too, they’ll kick off their first comprehensive Canadian tour in Vancouver on Sept 21.
Two North: Indigo Girls Canadian Tour 2013 will carry Saliers and Ray’s lush harmonies and insightful lyrics across the country. It’s a grassroots, acoustic tour with no frippery — just Ray and Saliers on their instruments and a smattering of song selections from their expansive discography.
“We feel that we’re just starting out there [in Canada] in a way,” Saliers says. “For me and Amy, it’s a brand-new learning experience. There aren’t many places we play that we haven’t been to before, and this is going to be a tour where many of the places we haven’t played before, so that’s exciting to us. We want to make sure that people hear as much of the different songs as we can play for them. Vancouver is one of my favourite cities; we’re very excited to start the tour there.”
The Indigo Girls have long been celebrated for their music, but they’re also renowned for their commitment to activism. They’ve championed gay rights, native rights, environmental justice and social equality — themes that are frequently interwoven into their music along with love, relationships, happiness and loss.
“We cannot separate our activism from our music; they’re married to each other,” Saliers says. “It comes from a very simple belief that we’re citizens of our communities. Music bolsters spirits and can speak to pain and joy, and all great social movements have music in them. For us, we choose things that we’re concerned about, and we allow music to be a vehicle for getting some of that across.”
As high-profile lesbians, the Indigo Girls play an integral role in the queer community, from playing gigs at Pride parades to advocacy at the political level.
“We’ve been out forever, and we’re happy to wave the banner. It’s a natural extension of our own lives to be involved in the evolution of rights for queer people,” Saliers says. “I wanted to do everything I could to be part of the movement for our rights. I have been personally wounded by the lack of rights, the hatred and all those forces that are thrust upon people in the queer community.”
After 25 years of playing together and writing music, Saliers believes the Indigo Girls still have much to say about the world. They’re heading into the studio next year and plan for a 2014 album release. While the record’s subject matter isn’t yet decided, Saliers is currently ruminating on a number of issues, including the unrest in the Middle East, chemical warfare, lost lives and power-hungry politicians. And as a new mom to a nine-month-old baby (with her Canadian partner), Saliers is figuring out how motherhood might influence her music.
“It’s important to us to continue to make new music and to be relevant,” she says. “It’s not [about] resting and sitting back, but continuing to observe and, as an artist, continuing to try to create something that’s lovely, powerful or poignant, or speaks of the times.”
In addition to their songwriting, both Saliers and Ray have a multitude of side projects on the go. Saliers’s personal ventures include owning a restaurant, writing books and presenting workshops with her father about the intersection between secular and sacred music, while Ray has released several solo albums and runs her own independent label.
“Indigo Girls comes first, but we have a lot of other things that are important to us,” Saliers says. “They’re important for our own fulfilment and our own growth separate from each other, and they make us really glad to be coming back and being Indigo Girls.”