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Most musicians found their activities curtailed during the pandemic. For the Indigo Girls, the past two years have been a particularly busy season.
The duo of Emily Saliers and Amy Ray just released a livestream project, “Look Long: Together,” that took a year and a half to complete. They also are the subject of an upcoming documentary film, and had their music reinvented for the movie “Glitter & Doom.” Saliers has been writing music for two stage musicals and Ray will soon release a new solo album.
That’s quite a busy schedule, even for an act like the Indigo Girls, who have been consistently active since releasing their first album, “Strange Fire,” in 1987. Most bands that debuted around that time — if they’re still together — now only sporadically make albums (if at all) and are considered heritage acts. That’s not the Indigo Girls.
“We still feel like we are a working band. We tour and we make albums and we work, and that feels good,” Saliers said in a recent phone interview.
This latest spate of activity has come on the heels of the release of the 16th Indigo Girls’ studio album, “Look Long,” which arrived in May 2020. A stirring effort, “Look Long” not only features the highly melodic folk-pop (on songs like “When We Were Writers,” “Look Long” and “Sorrow And Joy”) that has always been an Indigo Girls signature, but rhythmically creative songs that touch on hip-hop (“S**t Kickin’”), Caribbean music (“Howl At The Moon”) and catchy upbeat rockers (“Change My Heart” and “K.C. Girl”).
By the time “Look Long” was released, the pandemic had scuttled plans for a full-band tour to support the album. Now Saliers and Ray, along with longtime violinist Lyris Hung, are getting to promote “Look Long” on an extensive summer tour. Saliers said the show will feature about five songs from the latest album, along with a generous selection of back catalog material. Next year, the Indigo Girls hope to do a full-band tour.
“Some people like the band and some people like us acoustic or just stripped down,” Saliers said. “We just haven’t had the opportunity to tour with the band because of COVID and we really miss that. So it was good to put out the streaming concert and it will be great to get back with the band next year.”
That streaming concert, “Look Long: Together,” debuted May 8 on the VEEPS platform and is unique concert special that features performances of a career-spanning set of songs (some of which feature appearances from guests Becky Warren Tomi Martin, Trina Meade and Lucy Wainwright Roche) combined with commentary segments about the songs from Saliers and Ray.
Because of the pandemic, Saliers and Ray could not play in person with their band, and instead had to weave together performances from several separate film shoots to create full-band live versions of songs.
After the footage was complete, extensive editing was needed to create the finished product.
“Amy and I spent hours and hours watching it come together, making suggestions, ‘Let’s do a split screen here,’ ‘The lighting needs to be fixed (here),’ ‘This camera angle is no good, let’s use this shot’ — all these meticulous choices you have to make,” Saliers said. “In the end, we worked so hard on it, we were actually a little discouraged at the eleventh hour. And then watched it and were really pleased with it.”
The year and a half of work that went into the livestream took up some of the pandemic-forced downtime. Saliers also spent considerable time working on two musicals that have expanded her range as a songwriter.
One thing Saliers has not done yet is write for another Indigo Girls album. Considering that “Look Long” was completed before the pandemic, there should be plenty of inspiration for lyrics from Saliers and Ray, both of whom have long been involved in a wide variety of social causes, including LBGTQ issues, Native American rights, immigration reform and climate change. But Saliers said she’ll need time to process the pandemic to even know what to say about the experience.
Saliers and Ray might also have to consider how to respond lyrically to what may be a sea change of conservative initiatives, the biggest of which so far is the likely Supreme Court ruling overturning Roe v. Wade, the landmark case that legalized abortion.
Like many pro-choice advocates, Saliers didn’t think Roe v. Wade would be overturned and is appalled at the prospect of its demise. Legal access to abortion had been established law for decades with multiple subsequent Supreme Court rulings that affirmed the Roe decision. Plus, polls have consistently shown a solid majority of Americans don’t want Roe overturned.
“But the truth is there has been a concerted effort (to overturn Roe),” Saliers said, noting that conservative politicians and activists and certain parts of the evangelical community are among those who have mounted a strategic plan to gain the power in various levels of government and the courts needed to target Roe and other progressive issues.
“It’s been going on a long time,” she noted. “So while the thought before was shocking, it’s easy to understand how we’ve come to this place.”