Copyright ©2009 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:

It's been 20 years since their first hit recording. One of the very good reasons why the Indigo Girls' compressed harmonies are always recognizable. Two women who sound like sisters, but are not.

(Soundbite of song, "Love of Our Lives")

INDIGO GIRLS: (Singing) I've been banking on a broken machine, left unattended like most of my dreams. Rusted components of an unmarked song. We've been staring down the brilliant dream, the sun burns our eyes. We've been fighting for the love of our lives.

WERTHEIMER: That is "Love of Our Lives" by the Indigo Girls. And it's from their new CD, "Poseidon and the Bitter Bug." After 10 albums from major labels, the Indigo Girls are releasing this one on their own new independent label, IG Recordings. Indigo Girls Emily Saliers and Amy Ray join us from WHYY in Philadelphia. Thanks for coming in.

Ms. AMY RAY (Musician): It's good to be here.

Ms. EMILY SALIERS (Musician): Yeah.

WERTHEIMER: You say that you have always felt like an indie band, even when you released your music on a major label. So, why did you decide to step outside the embrace of the major label?

Ms. SALIERS: Well, we had spent quite a few years on Epic Records, and then we did our last record on Hollywood, and we just felt like it wasn't working anymore. You know, now when we're working really hard, we're working for ourselves. You know, we're not working for a company that we don't really have a connection with, and we don't really know the team as well. And it just feels better in a positive way. Yeah.

WERTHEIMER: What is "Poseidon and the Bitter Bug?" I mean, I get the Greek god of the oceans, but bitter bug sounds something to do with fishing, is all I can think of.

(Soundbite of laughter)

WERTHEIMER: What is it?

Ms. RAY: This is Amy. Bitter bug came from a song I wrote called "Second Time Around" that's just sort of about my journey through life in the last couple of years. And the bitter bug is like that bug of cynicism that bites you and gets a hold of you. And it's just a character I made up. And so we named the record - one character from Emily's song, "Poseidon," and one from my song, "The Bitter Bug."

WERTHEIMER: I see. The first song that we've asked you to play for us is called "Sugar Tongue." It's the second song on the new album. Can one of you tell us a little bit about that song? Amy?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. RAY: It's a song about, like, sensual pleasure at the expense of other people and of animals and the world.

WERTHEIMER: Can we hear it?

Ms. RAY: Yeah.

(Soundbite of song, "Sugar Tongue")

Ms. RAY: (Singing) All the fur and fins will lose again, 'cause our better is their worst reckonin'. And our fine-feathered friends sing until they bleed. And how will we replace that symphony?

I've got the blackest boots, the whitest skin, satisfy my sugar tongue again. Sing me lullabies of shoe-shine days, gilded verses for your ethylene. And sing it to me free and clean.

All the kids come home with foreign limbs, from hunting trips abroad they lose again. And we'll teach them how to talk, and whistle while they walk, and do the dirty work of battle hymns.

I've got the blackest boots, the whitest skin, satisfy my sugar tongue again. Sing me lullabies of shoe-shine days, gilded verses for your ethylene. And sing them to me free and clean.

Drinking tea with milk and Janjaweed. Pontificate on genocide or greed. With a spoonful of descent, for the orchestra of need. Is just enough to please this colony.

I've got the blackest boots, the whitest skin, satisfy my sugar tongue again. Sing me lullabies and morphine-dreams, Belladonna with her atropine. And sing them to me free and clean.

WERTHEIMER: Amy Ray wrote "Sugar Tongue." We're listening to the Indigo Girls performing at WHYY in Philadelphia. Each of you has five songs on the album. I had this sense that the two of you have a different sound, you know, that it's possible to recognize who wrote what song. I'm not 100 percent sure I could do it, but, I mean, what do you think about the difference between the way you write?

Ms. RAY: I think we're pretty different as writers.

WERTHEIMER: That's Amy.

Ms. RAY: Yeah, this is Amy. Emily tends to write a more linear narrative and often more complex melody. And her range is higher than mine. Typically we sing lead on whatever we write. And her subject matter is often different from mine. I live in a rural area, and I think it's really reflected in my songwriting. But, you know, we also try to break out of our own boxes and write like the other person, too, you know, to kind of gel with ourselves.

Ms. SALIERS: I was going to say, yeah.

WERTHEIMER: I bet you could do that, I mean, without even trying very hard. You could write an imitation Emily Saliers song.

Ms. RAY: I'd have to learn how to play the chords, 'cause she plays such difficult chords.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. RAY: But I would think that's an actually a really fun idea for us to write like each for a record.

Ms. SALIERS: Amy has a way of - I'm sorry, this is Emily - Amy has a way of really, really rocking out that I could never achieve. It's just part of her nature and part of the way she expresses herself. So, I could try to write a rock song like that, but I don't think it would feel very authentic.

WERTHEIMER: I'm interested to hear this final song that we've asked you to play for us, which is something we expect a lot of our listeners will know, "Closer to Fine." This is from the CD that you won a Grammy for 20 years ago. Do you feel like what you play now is a little bit different from what you used to play - this song?

Ms. RAY: Yeah.

Ms. SALIERS: It does, it sounds very different. I think the timbre of our voices in that first record, "Indigo Girls," is a lot darker. It's lightened up - I don't know how that's possible after all these years, but…

Ms. RAY: Well, we were hanging out in bars all the time, too.

Ms. SALIERS: That's true.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. SALIERS: Singing until 3 a.m. in smoky bars.

Ms. RAY: Our lifestyles were pretty wild back then.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. RAY: But the arrangement's the same. I mean, it's just - I mean, you just change after so many years and the audience changes the song, too. 'Cause as they emphasize different parts that they sing along with, you start doing the same thing. And it's funny how that happens, but it kind of morphs, you know?

WERTHEIMER: Well, let's hear "Closer to Fine."

Ms. RAY: Let me make sure I'm in tune real quick.

(Soundbite of guitar)

Ms. RAY: Okay. Let's go.

Ms. SALIERS: Okay. One, two, ready and…

(Soundbite of song, "Closer to Fine")

Ms. SALIERS: (Singing) I'm trying to tell you something about my life, maybe give me insight between black and white. The best thing you ever done for me is to help me take my life less seriously. It's only life after all. Yeah. Well, darkness has a hunger that's insatiable. And lightness has a call that's hard to hear. I wrap my fear around me like a blanket. I sailed my ship of safety till I sank it. I'm crawling on your shore.

I went to the doctor, I went to the mountains, I looked to the children and I drank from the fountain. There was more than one answer to these questions, pointing me in a crooked line. The less I seek my source for some definitive, the closer I am to fine, yeah, the closer I am to fine, yeah.

I went to see the doctor of philosophy, with a poster of Rasputin and a beard down to his knee. And he never did marry or see a B-grade movie, he graded my performance, he said he could see through me. I spent four years prostrate to the higher mind, I got my paper and I was free.

And I went to the doctor, I went to the mountains, and I looked to the children, and I drank from the fountain. There's more than one answer to these questions, pointing me in a crooked line. The less I seek my source for some definitive, the closer I am to fine, yeah, the closer I am to fine, yeah.

I stopped by the bar at 3 a.m., to seek solace in a bottle or possibly a friend. And I woke up with a headache like my head against a board. I was twice as cloudy as I'd been the night before I went in seeking clarity.

I went to the doctor, I went to the mountains, and I looked to the children, and I drank from the fountain, yeah. We're going to the doctor, we're going to the mountains, we look to the children, we drink from the fountains, yeah. We go to the bible, and we go through the workout, and we read up on revival and we stand up for the lookout.

There's more than one answer to these questions, pointing me in a crooked line. The less I seek my source for some definitive, the closer I am to fine, yeah, the closer I am to fine, the closer I am to fine, yeah.

WERTHEIMER: That's fabulous to hear that again. That's great.

(Soundbite of laughter)

WERTHEIMER: The Indigo Girls. Their new CD is called "Poseidon and the Bitter Bug." It's available through their new independent record label, IG Recordings. Special thanks to WHYY engineer Joyce Lieberman. But, of course, most of all, thanks to the Indigo Girls. Amy, Emily, thank you so much.

Ms. RAY: Thank you, Linda.

Ms. SALIERS: Thank you very much.

(Soundbite of song, "Fleet of Hope")

Ms. SALIERS: (Singing) 'Cause the fleet of hope is so pretty, when she's shining in the port, and the harbor clings to the jetty for protection and support. Out in the choppy waters the sharks swim and play…

WERTHEIMER: The Indigo Girls performed another song for us at WHYY studios, "What Are You Like," and you could listen to that at NPRMusic.org.

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Linda Wertheimer.

Copyright © 2009 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and Terms of Use. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.