Role Models: Indigo Girls

Videos by American Songwriter

Videos by American Songwriter

It’s a been a long time since their 1987 release, Strange Fire, and the Indigo Girls are at it again. Their latest project, Poseidon and the Bitter Bug, is another fiery collection of songs featuring the familiar stamp of the duo’s harmonies and lyrical imagery. Amy Ray and Emily Saliers recently took time to share some of their songwriting history with us.







It’s a been a long time since their 1987 release, Strange Fire, and the Indigo Girls are at it again. Their latest project, Poseidon and the Bitter Bug, is another fiery collection of songs featuring the familiar stamp of the duo’s harmonies and lyrical imagery. Amy Ray and Emily Saliers recently took time to share some of their songwriting history with us.

After 20 years, you’re indie artists again. Does this mean more freedom for your songwriting?
Amy Ray: We’ve always had creative freedom, but this allows us more control of the business part of the music. We call the shots, and that’s important.

Emily Saliers: We’ve always been free to write what we chose. But, now, the ball’s completely in our court. No more empty promises about promotion, or lack of motivation by a label.

Which artists have influenced you the most?
ES: For songwriting, Joni Mitchell. I’ve also been heavily inspired by Jackson Browne, Stevie Wonder and Public Enemy. And, Beyonce; her talent is stunning.

AR: That’s hard to narrow down, but I’d have to say Danielle Howell, 1945, Joe Strummer, The Crush, to name a few.

Tell us about your upcoming release, Poseidon and the Bitter Bug.
ES: We worked with producer, Mitchell Froom, again. The recording is two discs, one done with the band and one made acoustically with just me and Amy, and Alison Brown, on a couple of tracks. We made the band CD in just 3 ½ weeks, cutting all 10 songs with the rhythm section in four days. A whirlwind, but I think the pace captured freshness and immediacy.

AR: There’s such freedom working with Mitchell. He takes a unique approach to each song, bringing maturity to every piece.

Where’d the title come from?
ES: Mitchell came up with the title as a joke, but we liked it. “Bitter Bug” is from [the song] “Second Time Around” and “Poseidon” is from “Fleet of Hope.” It was cool using lyrics from both songs and then putting them together.

What was the most challenging part of the project?
AR: Vocals; staying in tune. Also, being “present” everyday; remaining in that creative “space,” and keeping up with the pace.

ES: Writing the songs; I had terrible writer’s block this time. Also, mixing and determining levels and eq’s without second-guessing ourselves.

There is a great deal of spiritual overtones in much of your songwriting. How does religion play in to your music?
AR: I majored in Religion. In my younger days, it was used more symbolically; metaphorically. Now, it takes on a more specific role.

ES: I think of the Bible not only as a sacred text, but one full of rich imagery and story. I consider matters of faith a good bit, and that definitely shows up in the songs.

Which one of you is the better songwriter, lyrically speaking?
ES: I think we’re equal as writers, but portray individual strengths. I really like Amy’s songs and feel grateful to explore two musical lives.

AR: We’re very different. I’m very personal in my approach, and enjoy working with melodies. Emily is more advanced lyrically, and that stretches me.

What advice would you give today’s aspiring songwriters and artists?
ES: Make any kind of music you want, and make it for the fun of it. Immerse yourself in musical opportunities. Make a CD and share your music.

AR: Write, write, write! But, take a disciplined approach; don’t just wait for the “moment to hit you.”


The Indigo Girls’ Poseidon and the Bitter Bug is available March 24 on their very own IG Recordings and via Vanguard Distribution.


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