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With new works in the mix, Indigo Girls keep it moving

| Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2013, 6:55 p.m.
The Indigo Girls Credit: Jeremy Cowart

Emily Saliers and Amy Ray, otherwise known as the folksy rock duo Indigo Girls, revel in the artistic liberty of becoming indie girls.

The Indigo Girls, who perform Sunday at the Byham Theater, are writing songs with plans for a new studio album, likely within a few years. It would be their fifth album from their own IG Recordings, an indie distributed by Vanguard Records. Ray, meanwhile, is working on another solo album.

The Indigo Girls — who released their last studio album, the 13-track “Beauty Queen Sister,” in October 2011 — spent years with major record labels, with nine albums for Epic Records and one — “Despite our Differences,” released in 2006 — for Hollywood Records. But now, the women can excel doing their own music on their own terms, with an established fan base.

“It gives us freedom; no doubt about it,” Saliers says. “I think we're more prolific and productive now than we ever have been. ... We don't have to wait for permission or go through different channels. At this point in our career, we have all the relationships established to do everything we need to do.”

The big-business culture at major record labels can stifle an artist, Saliers says.

“The industry has changed too much,” she says. “There is a lot of fear and a lot of pressure in the industry ... and people buy much fewer records.

“It's just an atmosphere that's very crushing to me in terms of pressure to be successful,” Saliers says. She divides her time between her hometown of Atlanta and Toronto, where her partner lives. Saliers, a foodie, owns Watershed on Peachtree, an Atlanta restaurant.

The Indigo Girls started performing together when they were in high school, and played for many small clubs.

Their big break came with the 1989 release of their self-titled album, which included the first hit, “Closer to Fine” and won Best Contemporary Folk Recording at the 1990 Grammys. Throughout their long career, the Indigo Girls have released 14 studio albums, three live records and three greatest-hit compilations. Most of their albums, which have sold more than 12 million copies, have reached at least gold status, with four reaching platinum and one (the debut) reaching double platinum.

Saliers and Ray plan to create an album featuring instrumental backings from many city symphonies. They have performed with many symphonies, though the Pittsburgh concert is not symphonic.

“It's a completely different experience,” Saliers says. “You've ... got no drummer ... then you've got a conductor.

“It's really been fantastic. It's really been a growing experience for us,” she says. “It's given me a new love for the symphony music. The fans' response to the concerts has been fantastic. It's great to get the experience ... so far into our career.”

Saliers and Ray, both lesbians, have earned many fans and admirers outside of their music. Both women serve as champions for social and political causes, namely gay rights and environmental issues. The women also work with indigenous Native American communities that are facing nearby mining and environmental damage.

Saliers says she is glad that her fame has inspired people to support worthy causes, but perhaps the famous people get too much credit.

“For better or for worse, we live in a culture that does pay a lot of attention to celebrity,” she says. “The ones who are doing the really, really hard work don't get the attention. They do hours and hours of planning. Everybody has their part. We just try to ... give it a public face.

“Music has been a galvanizing force for positive change,” she says. “We recognize that that's our role. We use our gifts to give voice to struggles of people. It's about ultimately working toward equality.”

Kellie B. Gormly is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at kgormly@tribweb.com or 412-320-7824.

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