Lesbian legend Amy Ray shies away from “‘groundbreaking queer’ tag. And when Emily Saliers hits Texas, she usually chows down at a steakhouse
More than 20 years ago, they were newbie folkies, competing for the same audiences that made Tracy Chapman and Suzanne Vega household names. And with gorgeous harmonies, solid songwriting and excellent six-string skills, The Indigo Girls have shown amazing staying power.
Since their 1987 debut, “Strange Fire,” Amy Ray and Emily Saliers’ sound has become iconic. The queer Georgians have released 10 Indigo albums under their collective belts. And with the most-recent “Despite Our Differences,” the pair is stalking the road again.
Texas-bound on the latest of many road trips, Indigo Girl Amy Ray recently took a short time-out to talk via telephone about her impressions of the latest tour and her longtime musical partnership.
Though the Indigo Girls found their major success in relatively short order in the late ’80s and early ’90s, Ray is critical about duo’s early years.
She says that songwriting was harder in her younger years “because we weren’t as good.”
Talking about what she’s learned from her partnership with the softer-toned Saliers, she’s likewise modest.
“I really learned a lot from Emily,” she says. “I had to learn harmony, learn how to sing with someone else.”
As some of the first openly lesbian artists on the pop charts, you might expect The Indigo Girls to take credit for turning closet knobs for today’s successful queer artists: Beth Ditto, Tegan & Sara, The Cliks.
“I don’t know if we helped or not,” Ray says. “You have to look at the whole landscape, the education of people over time.”
She also refuses to let her band be called a groundbreaking queer act.
“When we started, I wouldn’t say that we were radical queers. We didn’t really talk about it until about 1991. Emily didn’t feel comfortable about it yet, because she felt it was private,” Ray remembers. “So we had an agreement. Eventually, though, it just became stupid.”
As products of the South, Ray and Saliers are still very much aware of the homophobia that grips some parts of the country. Nonetheless, Ray takes a gentle approach toward hatred whether it comes from governments or individuals.
“Homophobia is best fought within the community,” she says. “I live in a very rural community, and what helps here is the gay couple that doesn’t assume that their neighbors are going to hate them the gay couple that volunteers in a soup kitchen instead. If you love your neighbor, it helps more. It’s about dialogue.”
As talk winds around to the current tour and the Indigo Girls’ upcoming Dallas gig, Ray’s attitude is one of gratitude for her current life.
“We don’t make a lot of money,” she says. “We still tour for a living. But we sleep in hotels, and we have a nice time. There are some bands that don’t ever sleep in a hotel. At least we don’t sleep on the bus anymore.”
As for what the Lone Star state might provide the Girls for their downtime, Ray shows that she and Saliers are still in many ways yin and yang.
“For me, it’s more about my environment,” she says. “I work out, go hiking and find some nice trails.”
“Emily likes to go out for a steak dinner from time to time,” Ray says. “So she’ll definitely be hitting a steakhouse when we get to Texas.”
The Indigo Girls perform at The Majestic Theater, 1925 Elm St. Sept. 14 at 8 p.m., $33-$47, 214-880-0137
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 14, 2007