Two Decades Later, Indigo Girls' Voices Still Strong After 20 years and 10 studio albums, the Indigo Girls say they found new energy with their latest CD, Despite Our Differences. The folk-rock duo talks about their music and political activism, and performs live.
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Two Decades Later, Indigo Girls' Voices Still Strong

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Two Decades Later, Indigo Girls' Voices Still Strong

Two Decades Later, Indigo Girls' Voices Still Strong

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

Some call the Indigo Girls passionate singer-songwriters whose music features intelligent lyrics and intricate harmonies. They call it folk music with angst, and they call themselves political activists before they're performers. I call them co-stars. Amy Ray and Emily Saliers were among the celebrity crossword puzzlers featured in the documentary film "Wordplay" which came out last year. I had a small part in that film too. Today, the Indigo Girls join us to take your calls on their music, their activism, and the answer to 55 across.

Later on in the program, Egypt's great archaeologists on the search for the new seven wonders of the world, and your e-mails.

But first, the Indigo Girls join us. If you have a question for them, our number here in Washington is 800-989-8255. That's 800-989-TALK. The e-mail address is You can also join the conversation on our blog at

Amy Ray and Emily Saliers are in our bureau in New York, undoubtedly deep in preparation for the crossword puzzle championship that comes up this weekend. So are you guys headed up for Stamford?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. EMILY SALIERS (Singer-Songwriter, Indigo Girls): No, we're on tour. We've got some shows we've got to play.

CONAN: Like the listeners, I can't see which one of you is speaking. So Emily Saliers, could you say hi to the people so they can identify your voice.

Ms. SALIERS: This is Emily Saliers saying hi to the people.

CONAN: And pronouncing her name correctly. Saliers, I apologize for that.

Ms. SALIERS: That's okay. It's a weird name.

CONAN: Amy Ray?

Ms. AMY RAY (Singer-Songwriter, Indigo Girls): This is Amy saying hey.

CONAN: Okay, while we get some callers on the line, why don't we begin with a song?

Ms. RAY: Yeah, let's do it.

Ms. SALIERS: Okay, I'm going to take these headphones off and get into it.

CONAN: Okay.

Ms. SALIERS: This is a song called "Pendulum Swinger."

(Soundbite of song, "Pendulum Swinger")

Ms. SALIERS: (Singing) I meet you for coffee. We get together periodically, and I got a bad case I can't shake off of me. Fevered, wandering round wondering how it ought to be. You work in the system. You see possibilities and your glistening eyes show the hell you're going to give 'em when they back off the mic for once and give it to a woman. Yeah.

Ms. SALIERS and Ms. RAY: (Singing) I dream like a mad one. Brutal fantasies as catch as catch can. I'm a psychic and a laywoman. I see love and I like to make it happen. But what we get from your war walk. The ticker of the nation breaking down like a bad clock. I want the pendulum to swing again so that all your mighty mandate was just spitting in the wind. It doesn't come by the bullwhip.

Ms. RAY: (Singing) Not persuaded.

Ms. SALIERS and Ms. RAY: (Singing) Not persuaded with your hands on your hips and it's...

Ms. RAY: (Singing) Not the company.

Ms. SALIERS and Ms. RAY: (Singing) ...not the company of gunslingers. The epicenter love is the pendulum swinger.

Ms. SALIERS: (Singing) She is.

Ms. RAY: (Singing) She is.

Ms. SALIERS: (Singing) She is.

Ms. SALIERS and Ms. RAY: (Singing) She is.

It's fine about the old scroll Sanskrit. Gnostic gospels, "The Da Vinci Code's" a smash hit. Aren't we dying just to read it and relate it. Too hard just to go by a blind faith. Yeah, but they left out the sisters. I been praying to a father God so long I really missed her. She's the goddess of benevolence and you should listen to your mama if you have a lick of sense left.

Ms. SALIERS: (Singing) It doesn't come by the bullwhip.

Ms. RAY: (Singing) Not persuaded.

Ms. SALIERS and Ms. RAY: (Singing) It's not persuaded with your hands on your hips and it's...

Ms. RAY: (Singing) Not the company.

Ms. SALIERS and Ms. RAY: (Singing) ...not the company of gunslingers. The epicenter love is the pendulum swinger.

Ms. SALIERS: (Singing) She is.

Ms. RAY: (Singing) She is.

Ms. SALIERS: (Singing) She is.

Ms. SALIERS and Ms. RAY: (Singing) She is.

Ms. SALIERS: (Singing) She is.

Ms. RAY: (Singing) She is.

Ms. SALIERS: (Singing) She is.

Ms. SALIERS and Ms. RAY: (Singing) She is.

Ms. SALIERS: (Singing) Pushed under by the main press.

Ms. RAY: (Singing) Can't keep her down.

Ms. SALIERS: (Singing) Buried under a code of dress.

Ms. RAY: (Singing) She wants to get back up again.

Ms. SALIERS: (Singing) Relegated by the Vatican.

Ms. RAY: (Singing) Can't keep it down.

Ms. SALIERS: (Singing) But you can't keep a spirit down that wants to get up again. If we're a drop in the bucket with just enough science to keep them saying - until the last drop of sun burns sweet light.

Ms. SALIERS and Ms. RAY: (Singing) Plenty revolutions left until we get this thing right. It doesn't come by the bullwhip.

Ms. RAY: (Singing) Not persuaded.

Ms. SALIERS: (Singing) It's not persuaded with your hands on your hips...

Ms. RAY: (Singing) Not the company.

Ms. SALIERS and Ms. RAY: (Singing) ...and it's not the company of gunslingers. It's the epicenter love is the pendulum swinger.

Ms. RAY: (Singing) Swingers.

Ms. SALIERS: (Singing) She is.

Ms. RAY: (Singing) She is.

Ms. SALIERS: (Singing) She is.

Ms. RAY and Ms. SALIERS: (Singing) She is.

Ms. SALIERS: (Singing) She is.

Ms. RAY: (Singing) She is.

Ms. SALIERS: (Singing) She is.

Ms. SALIERS and Ms. RAY: (Singing) She is.

CONAN: Indigo Girls, "Pendulum Swinger," live in our bureau in New York. If you'd like to join the conversation, give us a phone call: 800-989-8255, 800-989-8255. E-mail is And Amy Ray, let me ask you, that song is the first cut on your CD that came out last fall. And it seems so topical, it seems so set in last year and the year before, yet it also seems to describe timeless things.

Ms. RAY: Yeah, I mean - well, we started with it because we felt like that way about it. We felt that it was really topical for the time but also sort of timeless. But Emily wrote it, so...

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

Ms. RAY: could answer to it, Emily.

CONAN: Emily?

Ms. SALIERS: Well, it's kind of a purging. You know, it takes on patriarchy in the church and the Bush administration under the guise of a pop song, so I had a lot of fun with that. Just get a bunch of stuff off my chest and strumming my guitar at the same time.

CONAN: Now you guys both write, obviously, but you don't share writing credits. A lot of people who have been together a lot shorter time than you two go the other way. How come?

Ms. RAY: Well, we just feel like we really go into our separate spaces to write, and the songs are really specific to ourselves. And so, and it becomes an Indigo Girls song, you know, once we arrange it, but we like to give ourselves that space as individuals to create. And I think it's what keeps us together for so long as well, you know, because we really have our chance to be individuals as well as together.

CONAN: Emily, when you find yourself writing a song, are you writing for Amy's voice as well as yours?

Ms. SALIERS: I'm really not. I just - I write a song about something I've been thinking about. You know, I pick up a guitar, find a chord progression. I sort of have this collective pool of thoughts I've been gathering and draw from that. But I'm not really thinking about the construction of the song based on Amy's voice or even how it's going to be received or anything like that. I'm just thinking about what it is I want to write about.

CONAN: All right, let's get some listeners in on the conversation. We'll begin with Tay(ph), Tay's calling us from Charlotte, North Carolina.

TAY (Caller): Hi, good afternoon.

CONAN: Afternoon.

TAY: Hi, I wanted to first off thank both of you for your music and to especially thank both of you for being out. My question is do you all - you both seem to be so encouragingly attached to your activism. I was wondering how on Earth you find time for all of that.

CONAN: Okay, we had a little difficulty with the audio on Tay's phone, but basically you're both deeply involved in activism, and given everything else you do, how do you find time for all of that?

Ms. SALIERS: Well, I think it's just something that - we've been activists for a very, very long time, even when we were a bar band in Atlanta. Early on found out how, you know, relatively easy it was to organize the community around a common cause and how music really fueled the love behind that and how it was galvanizing for people. And we just over the years, through networking, have learned a paradigm for grassroots activism. And, you know, the activism informs our music, and our music informs the activism and deepens our lives and augments us. And so we find time for it just because it's where our hearts lie. And fortunately for us, we've been able to marry our music and our activism without any issues at all, and it's been a great ride.

CONAN: Tay, thanks very much for the call and we apologize for the quality of the phone line. Let's see if we can get another caller in. This is Douglas, Douglas with us from San Antonio, Texas.

DOUGLAS (Caller): Howdy.

CONAN: Howdy.

DOUGLAS: "Oziline," how do you pronounce that? And where did you get that song? Was that a real person?

Ms. RAY: Yeah, it's "Oziline."

DOUGLAS: "Oziline," okay.

Ms. RAY: Or sometimes you would she would say Oziline.

DOUGLAS: Oziline.

Ms. RAY: Yeah, depending on - it's my grandma's name.


Ms. RAY: I wrote it for her, actually, when she was...

DOUGLAS: That's a fine song.

Ms. RAY: Yeah, cool.

DOUGLAS: Okay, your album cover, the little girl with the knife. I gave my kid a little miniature buck knife. I ground all the edge and the point off, but I sure got in a lot of trouble for that. What is she doing?

Ms. RAY: She's...

DOUGLAS: Planting trees or what?

Ms. RAY: I think she's carving.

Ms. SALIERS: I think she's whittling a stick.

Ms. RAY: Yeah, she's whittling a stick.

DOUGLAS: Okay, where did you get the name Indigo Girls?

Ms. RAY: We just - we needed a name, and so we went through the dictionary and looked for words that struck us, and that was one. It was a long time ago. You know, we were like 20 years old, I guess.

CONAN: Douglas, thanks very much.

DOUGLAS: Thank you.

Ms. RAY: Thank you, Doug.

CONAN: You mentioned you were a bar band back in the Atlanta area. You both grew up in Decatur, Georgia. You went to the same grammar school, the same high school, and later on, eventually to the same college. You've known each other, I guess, pretty much all your lives.

Ms. SALIERS: It's true.

Ms. RAY: Yeah, since we were about 10.

CONAN: How do you stand each other?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. SALIERS: We spend part, you know, time apart. As Amy was saying with regards to the writing, we have very strong individual lives. Amy has her own independent record label. I own a restaurant. She's made her own solo records. I've written a book with my dad. You know, we have projects, creative projects outside of Indigo Girls. And she lives out in the country and I live in the city. And so we have a lot of differences and individuality, and then so when it's time to come and be Indigo Girls again, we always look forward to it and we always enjoy it.

CONAN: Did you start out, Amy - as I read, you started out as a cover band playing in bars.

Ms. RAY: Yeah, we - I mean we were in high school so, you know, the songs that we accessed first were cover songs. And we played sort of the - we call it the fern bar circuit.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. RAY: It's like where every guitar player has to play for a while. And we played cover songs for tips and open mic nights, and then slowly started working originals in, then playing at original music clubs.

CONAN: So this was, what, the James Taylor songbook, that sort of thing.

Ms. RAY: Yeah, James Taylor and, you know, and Neil Young. We tried to work in some obscure songs that we would do, you know, like a obscure Dire Straits song or something like that.

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

Ms. RAY: But it was - it's, I mean it's a standard set of songs that every bar guitar player knows.

CONAN: And you still do, from time to time - it's not all that long ago you did, for example, "All Along the Watchtower," Bob Dylan's great tune.

Ms. RAY: Yeah, well, those are the - we threw some good ones in there like that.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: And now you must find your stuff being covered by bands in bars from time to time.

Ms. SALIERS: We hear that it is.

Ms. RAY: We hear that it's covered.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. RAY: We haven't actually - we haven't come across it yet in person, but it's probably for the best.

CONAN: And sooner or later, I'm sure they're going to pay royalties on it. I'm sure they will.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. RAY: We don't care.

Ms. SALIERS: We don't care.

CONAN: We're talking today with the Indigo Girls. They're with us from our bureau in New York. If you'd like to join the conversation: 800-989-8255, 800-989-TALK. E-mail: More music and more phone calls after we get back from a break.

I'm Neal Conan. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

Today the Indigo Girls, Amy Ray and Emily Saliers, with us from our bureau in New York. If you'd like to sample a couple of cuts from their most recent CD, you can go to our Web site at But don't do that now because they're going to be performing live for us here in just a minute or two.

If you have questions for them about their music, their politics, give us a call: 800-989-8255, 800-989-TALK. E-mail is Let's get a caller in and then we'll get another song. And this is Jessica. Jessica's with us from Flint, Michigan.

JESSICA (Caller): Hey guys.

Ms. SALIERS: Hey, Jessica.

Ms. RAY: Hey, Jessica.

JESSICA: I just - I don't have a question for you, but I just wanted to tell you two things. One, you know, I'm 33 years old. I've listened to you guys ever since, you know, I started college. And my taste in music has changed drastically over the years, but the one thing that has stayed constant is I can always pop in an Indigo Girls CD and just rock out and feel great. And I just have so much admiration for you guys. And I've never lost my taste for your music because you guys - you're just phenomenal. Everything, you know, everything from your music to your lyrics to your voices. I love your voices in your songs. And I just wanted to tell you a quick story.

(Soundbite of laughter)

JESSICA: A while ago, like years and years ago, I broke up with my boyfriend one day and I was just crushed and happened to have tickets to your concert that night at Pine Knob in, you know, near Detroit, and third row tickets. And it was the best concert I ever went to, and I just got so much empowerment just being there that night and listening to you guys. And I left the concert a totally different, you know, in a completely different mindset, a different person. And I - it was seriously, I've been to a lot of concerts, and yours was the best I've ever been to. You guys do such a great job.

Ms. SALIERS: Thanks, Jessica.

Ms. RAY: Thanks, that's really cool.

Ms. SALIERS: Thanks for sharing that. That's cool.

CONAN: And see if you can get a job as a critic for Rolling Stone.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. RAY: Yeah, really.

Ms. SALIERS: We could use you.

JESSICA: I'm not passionate about a whole lot, but I'm really - I love your music, and just keep on doing it because there are people out there like me who really appreciate it.

Ms. SALIERS and Ms. RAY: Thank you.

CONAN: Thanks for the call, Jessica.

JESSICA: Thanks a lot.

CONAN: Say, how about another tune?

Ms. RAY: All right.

Ms. SALIERS: Sure.

Ms. RAY: This is a song called "Yield." One, two. One, two, ready, go.

(Soundbite of song, "Yield")

Ms. RAY and Ms. SALIERS: (Singing) I was downstairs in the green room, waiting for you to appear. I said hello to your family. I said hello to your friends. I said hello to the situation. It never yields.

Now it's easy for me to tell you that my love for you is sincere. But I once stumbled on these feelings.

Ms. SALIERS: (Singing) On these feelings.

Ms. RAY and Ms. SALIERS: (Singing) And I once stumbled on these words.

Ms. SALIERS: (Singing) On these words.

Ms. RAY and Ms. SALIERS: (Singing) It's something you don't ever stumble on, dear. Yeah, you were so baroque. All of those words just to tell me no. And you were so soft-spoken with all of the others who said you weren't broken. They just let you go.

(Soundbite of music)

Ms. RAY and Ms. SALIERS: (Singing) Yeah, you were so baroque. All of those words just to tell me no. And you were so soft spoken with all of the others who said you weren't broken. They just let you go.

When you're three days down the highway, and you're looking like I feel, and it takes a lot...

Ms. SALIERS: (Singing) It takes a lot.

Ms. RAY and Ms. SALIERS: (Singing) keep it going. And it takes a lot..

Ms. SALIERS: (Singing) It takes a lot.

Ms. RAY and Ms. SALIERS: (Singing) keep it real, take some time...

Ms. SALIERS: (Singing) Take some time.

Ms. RAY and Ms. SALIERS: (Singing) ...for yourself and learn to yield.

CONAN: "Yield," the Indigo Girls live in our bureau in New York. Amy Saliers and - excuse me - I got it wrong again.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Amy Ray and Emily Saliers with us. Who was playing the mandolin there?


Ms. RAY: That was me.

CONAN: And that's great stuff. How many instruments do you play?

Ms. RAY: I just play mandolin and guitar and...

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

Ms. RAY: ...but Emily plays banjo and mando and dulcimer and ukulele and guitar and piano and...

CONAN: When you're touring, you're - you know, we're all familiar with your CD, which is a whole band. It's got drums and some electrical instruments too. Do you prefer that? Or do you tour with that? Or do you just tour with you two playing acoustic instruments?

Ms. SALIERS: Well, we do both. When the record came out, we took the band out. I mean it's a completely different experience. I love playing with the band because the energy and the rhythm section and all of that. And plus for fans to get to see - because we cut the album like really live, so they get to hear what it was like to put the music down. But then when Amy and I play alone together, it's, you know, it's a little more intimate, a little more spontaneous maybe. It's just all good.

CONAN: Let's get another caller on the line. This is Dave, Dave with us from Fort Myers in Florida.

DAVE (Caller): How you doing?

CONAN: All right.

DAVE: I just want to bring back a little nostalgia and hope they remember what they were doing Labor Day weekend in 1988.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. SALIERS: Oh, gosh.

Ms. RAY: Oh, God.

Ms. SALIERS: Do you remember?

DAVE: Yeah, a Little Five Points community pub, you guys announced while you were playing there - not playing there but the Paper Dolls.

Ms. SALIERS: Oh, yeah, the Paper Dolls.

DAVE: (unintelligible) I'm down here in Florida. I used to do their shirts.


Ms. RAY: Oh, wow.

DAVE: And you guys made your announcement on stage with them that day.

Ms. RAY: That's cool.

DAVE: ...and about your Epic...

Ms. RAY: About our Epic deal. That's cool.

DAVE: Yeah.

Ms. SALIERS: Yeah, they were a very influential band for us, this local...

DAVE: And I see Dee Dee's still got a company going there.

Ms. RAY: Yeah, Dee Dee has a music store, too.

DAVE: Yeah.

Ms. RAY: Up in Clarksville.

DAVE: (unintelligible) Cindy and Missy doing? I haven't been able to find anything about them.

Ms. SALIERS: Well, Missy's got a guitar shop, a boutique guitar shop, and the other two are working.

Ms. RAY: Old home week.


DAVE: I got to get back up there.

Ms. SALIERS: All right.

DAVE: Good work.

Ms. RAY: Thanks, Dave.

DAVE: I miss the good old days.

Ms. SALIERS: Thanks, they were good.

Ms. RAY: Thank you.

DAVE: Bye-bye.

CONAN: Dave with us from Fort Myers. It sounds like he's describing the day you announced your deal with a big record label. And have you had - I understand you have mixed feelings about that.

Ms. RAY: Well, I think we always have a little bit of mixed feelings because we like the infrastructure of community sort of - of community stuff and more of a DIY thing, but we also like the access that having a major label gives you. And Epic was - we did - we had a long deal with them, and then we signed with Hollywood after that. But we were doing our own thing and we were independent. And, you know, I think we were worried - scared a little bit, you know. But that era was really cool. We played religiously at a place called Little Five Points Pub that was sort of like in the middle of this very bohemian area in Atlanta. And, you know, the hippies and the punks and the queers and the drag queens and drag kings and old married couples and families. It was like a British pub or something like family hour, you know. And everybody would come in, and it was just really diverse and just fun. And that's where we sort of cut our teeth, and that's where we made the announcement that we had gotten signed, you know, because we were so excited about it.

CONAN: Are you now such big stars that you couldn't go back to a place like that if you wanted to?

Ms. SALIERS: No, not at all.

Ms. RAY: Oh no, we can.

Ms. SALIERS: We play locally a lot.

Ms. RAY: Yeah.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. SALIERS: We do like Songwriters in the Round and - we like playing, you know, places at home and small places, so we like to mix it up. No, we're not -we're really not that big of stars actually. We've just been around a long time.

Ms. RAY: Yeah, perseverance.


CONAN: Let's get Maggie on the line, Maggie with us from Portland, Oregon.

MAGGIE (Caller): Hi, welcome or hello from Portland, Oregon. You know we love you here.

Ms. RAY: We love Portland.

Ms. SALIERS: Yes, we do.

MAGGIE: Yeah, I've seen you several times here at small venues like you talk about, the Crystal and places like that.

Ms. RAY: Mm-hmm.

MAGGIE: I have a simple question for you guys, but first I wanted to fawn all over you a little bit...

(Soundbite of laughter)

MAGGIE: ...and tell you how much I appreciate you embodying the thinking woman. It's just so wonderful to hear you guys up there singing and your lyrics and your thoughtfulness. It's kind of the perfect antidote to the - what I think of as the objectification of women or the whole material girl mentality that you hear so much on the airwaves. And then you hear your music and your lyrics, and it's just - it's wonderful. Thank you so much for that.

Ms. SALIERS: Thank you.

Ms. RAY: Thanks for listening.

MAGGIE: Yeah. And my question is this: In those concerts where I've seen you play - at the Zoo and elsewhere - everybody in the audience knows your lyrics so well, and it's so wonderful when you stop singing for a while and let everyone in the audience sing. And my question for you is what is going through your minds - because you look so, both of you look so wistful and pleased to be listening.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MAGGIE: I'm curious. I'm sure it varies, but what's going on in your mind when you hear us all singing back at you?

Ms. SALIERS: Well, for me it's just pure, unadulterated joy. I mean, there's not too many opportunities for people to get together in public and just sing, you know. And it's really a reciprocal relationship I feel like between me and Amy and between the crowd that's there. There's lots of energy, lots of exchange.

And that's just a beautiful thing to look out there and see people looking happy and singing, and they sound beautiful. And it doesn't matter whether you can carry a tune or not. It's just good to open up your heart and let the music out.

CONAN: The first...

MAGGIE (Caller): I think we sound pretty darn good.

Ms. SALIERS: I think you do, too.

Ms. RAY: Yeah, ya'll sound great.

Ms. SALIERS: I think you do.

CONAN: The first time you tried that, though, was there a little terror that maybe they don't know the words?

Ms. SALIERS: I don't think we would have tried it unless we felt pretty sure they were going to sing.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. RAY: We started doing it because the voices were sort of overwhelming our voices, and we thought, well, just give it over to them because they're doing it the right way.

CONAN: Maggie, thank...

MAGGIE: (Unintelligible) joyous occasion. That's a good word for it, because that's the way the audience feels too.

Ms. RAY: Yeah.

Ms. SALIERS: Well, we're glad. Thank you.

CONAN: Thanks, Maggie.

MAGGIE: You bet.

CONAN: Let's see if we can get Marshall on the line. Excuse me - this is Cici(ph) on the line from Marshall, Wisconsin.

CICI (Caller): Hey ladies, how are you?

Ms. RAY: Hi.

Ms. SALIERS: Fine.

CICI: I have a comment and a question. Comment: I love you.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CICI: I guess you already know that or we wouldn't be listening. Question for Amy today is can you tell me a little bit about the cover of the "Prom" CD? Are those actual photos from high school or a reenactment?

Ms. RAY: Oh, those are reenactments. She's talking about a solo CD I put out called "Prom." And I dressed as a bunch of different high school characters, like a football player and cheerleader and a little nerd and punker and all the different things that I felt in high school.

CICI: What about the picture of the little girl on the front?

Ms. RAY: That's actually a friend of mine in her mother's prom dress back in the '70s.

CICI: Oh cool. Okay.

Ms. RAY: Yeah. Yeah.

CICI: And on that CD, "Rural Faggot," great song and you are totally the dyke who will give it to me. Love you guys. Bye.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. RAY: The truth. I'll give the truth to you. That's what the line was. Yeah.

CONAN: Thanks for the call, Cici.

And we have to apologize to our e-mailers. We're having printing problems here the computer system is suffering through. So we've been unable to print any of your emails. And we apologize for that. But if you'd like to get a question in for the Indigo Girls, give us a call: 800-989-8255, 800-989-TALK. The e-mail address is And Amy Ray and Emily Saliers, am I getting that right finally?

Ms. SALIERS: That's right.

Ms. RAY: That's right.

CONAN: Are with us from our bureau in New York. We'd also like to thank the engineer up there that's making all this sound so good. Josh Rogosin has been mixing for us and we appreciate it. We know how difficult it is in those little studios. But hey, we got a new New York bureau and they must have all kinds of zippy new equipment.

You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION coming to you from NPR News.

And how about another song?

Ms. RAY: Yeah. Okay. This one's called "Money Made You Mean."

(Soundbite of song, "Money Made You Mean")

Ms. RAY and Ms. SALIERS: (Singing) The money made you mean and that's not how it's supposed to be. You're ready to challenge or defend, yeah, but for all the wrong reasons. How much do we really need? A question if you have to ask just means what it means. The question that says everything.

Yeah, right or left, it's all the same conspiracy. Just 'cause you ask, it doesn't make it different to me. Yeah, you could keep it all or give it away, but where did it come from in the first place? Robbing Peter to pay me, and I'll just be giving it back to Peter to feel free.

Now you have to fix everything that's broke. It'll never leave you alone. Reinvent the wheel, be the butt of a joke, take the long road to charity.

Yeah, right or left it's all the same conspiracy. Robbing Peter to pay Paul, robbing Peter to pay me. Yeah, robbing Peter to pay Paul, robbing Peter to pay me.

Yeah it's just too hard, oh well, jump in. Forget about the sharks and swim, cause now you're one. Yeah it's just too hard, oh well, jump in. Forget about the sharks and swim, cause now you're one. You can't deny it anymore.

Ms. RAY and Ms. SALIERS: Where'd it come from? Giving it back. Can't deny it anymore. It'll never leave you alone. Take the long road to charity.

Ms. RAY: Yeah, because right or left it's all the same conspiracy. Robbing Peter to pay Paul or robbing Peter to pay me. Yeah, robbing Peter to pay Paul or robbing Peter to pay me. You can't deny it anymore.

CONAN: Indigo Girls with us from our bureau in New York.

No sooner do I say we can't print then they figure it out. So here's an e-mail we have from Erin(ph) in Iowa City, Iowa.

Where do you draw the line between being an artist and being an activist? Do you justify your art by message it conveys or vice versa? I struggle with this as a visual artist. At what point does art cease to be art and become solely social activism?


Ms. RAY: Well, one thing we do on a practical level is we run our business in a way where we try to be activists with our business too. So that we feel like it's merged in the way of living your activism in that way. And then as far as like art goes, we focus on the song writing in and of itself without - we don't think about the activism while we're writing the song necessarily.

I mean, our music has its own space. And when we do shows, unless it's like a specific benefit or activist event, we really focus on the music more than anything else. And the activism part of that is just the fact that you're bringing a community of people together to sing, really. Emily probably has...

Ms. SALIERS: And I just - you know, there's plenty of art that brings people to action. So I don't think you can - I don't think you need to label it. I think if it stirs your heart and your soul and it makes you want to take action in life, then that's art and that's activism. One in the same piece.

CONAN: We're going to take another short break and see if we can get one last song from the Indigo Girls when we come back from the other side. Plus, a new online ballot for the seven wonders of the world rankles one famous archaeologist. Should the pyramids really need to be voted on? And of course your letters. It's Tuesday.

I'm Neal Conan. Join us: 800-989-8255, 800-989-TALK. You can join us our blog, too: We'll be back after the break. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

Today, the Indigo Girls are with us from our bureau in New York. They are Amy Ray and Emily Saliers. Their latest CD is called "Despite Our Differences." And you can listen to a couple of clips at the TALK OF THE NATION page at

Here's an e-mail we have from Cheryl(ph) in Columbus, who's been trying to call in but unable to get through.

I was wondering how difficult it is to maintain an interest in performing songs that have been around for 20 years. Do they begin to take on different meanings as time passes or is it difficult to keep an interest? I'm getting married next month and I lobbied the priest to allow me to walk down the aisle to a secular song - yours - "The Wood Song." "The Wood Song" has meant different, very precious things to me over the years, especially in my relationship. Do the meanings change for you as well? Thanks.

Ms. SALIERS: That's a good question. They do change sometimes. Sometimes I write a song and I think I'm writing it about somebody else or other people, and then I realize that I'm writing it about me. Or depending on what I'm going through in life, you know.

Like for "Closer to Fine," I wrote that song in 1988 and it means different things for me now at this age in, you know, 2007. So it's a beautiful thing that the songs can morph into things that still mean something to the writer even after having written them so long ago and having played them for 20 years.

But Amy and I, we make a fresh set list every night before a show and we don't play songs we don't feel like playing. And there are just some of them that have stuck around and the audience likes to sing. And so it still lifts them up for us and keeps them fresh and interesting.

CONAN: So it's strange that since you wrote this song that you discover, oh, that's what I meant.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. SALIERS: It is strange. And I don't know. That's just a mysterious thing that happens. I can't explain it.

CONAN: Well, how about one of those songs whose meaning will change over time?

Ms. SALIERS: Well, this is one. It's called "Closer to Fine."

(Soundbite of song, "Closer to Fine)

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

(Singing) I'm trying to tell you something about my life. Maybe give me insight between black and white. And the best thing you've ever done for me is to help me take my life less seriously, cause it's only life after all. Yeah.

Ms. RAY and Ms. SALIERS: (Singing) Well darkness has a hunger that's insatiable. And lightness has a call that's hard to hear. And I wrap my fear around me like a blanket. I sailed my ship of safety till I sank it. Now, I'm crawling on your shore. Here we go.

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

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

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

Ms. SALIERS: (Singing) Well I stopped by the bar at 3 AM to seek solace in a bottle or possibly a friend. And then I woke up with a headache like my head against a board. I was twice as cloudy as I'd been the night before, and I went in seeking clarity.

Ms. RAY and Ms. SALIERS: (Singing) But I went to the doctor, I went to the mountains, and I looked to the children, and I drank from the fountains. Here we go to the doctor, we go to the mountains, we look to the children, we drink from the fountain.

Here we go to the Bible, and we go through the workout. We read up on revival and we stand up for the lookout. There's more than one answer to all these questions and they just keep pointing us in a crooked line.

But the less I seek my source for some definitive, the closer I am to fine, closer I am to fine, closer I am to fine, yeah.

CONAN: Indigo Girls Amy Ray and Emily Saliers at NPR's bureau in New York. Four years prostrate to the higher mind. Boy, that must go over big in college towns.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. RAY: Yeah, they can relate for sure.

CONAN: I figured. Did you despise college?

Ms. RAY: No, I actually loved college. I just felt it was a little insular at times and academic, and I was ready to burst out in other ways.

CONAN: We were hoping earlier today to talk with Zahi Hawass, the Egyptologist, and we're having trouble getting through to Cairo. Technology is not our friend today. Can you guys stick around and take a couple more calls?

Ms. RAY: Absolutely.

Ms. SALIERS: Sure.

CONAN: All right. Let's see if we can get Nancy on the line, and Nancy is calling us from Howell in Michigan.

NANCY (Caller): Hi, you guys. I can remember watching you for $3 on a night when you couldn't fill the Uptown Lounge in Athens, and now I hear you in the grocery store.

(Soundbite of laughter)

NANCY: So I'm wondering, has the change in your circumstance changed your activism in any way?

Ms. SALIERS: I think just the ability over the years, and we've met incredible mentors and people, and we have more resources than we did, which has allowed for a great network of activists, and we've learned a lot from that. We're able to disseminate that information to people more easily now.

So thankfully just over the years and over time we've been able to become, I think, better activism through our connections and through the way we've been educated.

CONAN: Amy, for those who don't know the lyrics to all of your songs, can you describe what your activism - I know, for example, you go on specific tours and bring people together and also offer people, you know, I guess almost links to various causes.

Ms. RAY: Yeah, I mean we have a great resource on our Web site of all these different activist groups by category. It's amazing, and it's great to go to, whatever you're interested in. And they're groups that we really believe in, and there's a special site for Hurricane Katrina.

But the nugget of what we've been working on a lot earnestly, really, in the last - since the early '90s is a group that we helped start with an activist named Winona LaDuke, a native leader. And it's a group called Honor the Earth, and we raise money and awareness for native environmental groups doing front-line work to fight nuclear-waste issues, coal-mining issues on their land, toxic-waste issues, water-quality issues, cultural sustainability and trying to reach a new energy paradigm through positive change, where we can count more on renewables and try to help tribes themselves use those as an economic base for their communities.

And so it's something we really - when we started doing native activism as non-Indians, we were hoping to build a bridge to the non-Indian communities and sort of inform each other about what goes on. And it's been a real - the real core of what we do along with gay-rights activism and feminist issues and, you know, community issues and human-rights issues.

But that activism itself really informed everything else we do because it's so grass roots, and we learned so much from the native communities that we work with.

CONAN: Let's see if we can get another caller in. This is Caroline, Caroline with us from San Francisco.

CAROLINE (Caller): Hello.


Ms. RAY: Hello.

Ms. SALIERS: Hello.

CAROLINE: I just wanted to comment on the last song. That almost brought tears to my eyes. It just brings back so many memories. But Emily, my comment is to you. I had recently gone to eat at your restaurant, Watershed, and I found it fantastic. And it's funny because I did not know that it was actually your restaurant.

So when I jokingly told the server oh, just like the song, he goes well, actually yeah. It is just like the song.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. SALIERS: That's funny.

CAROLINE: I was so shocked I dropped my fork. What I wanted to know is how much input do you actually put into the restaurant, and do you - are you actually involved in the restaurant or do you just let your chefs take care of it? And I'll take my comment off the air, and God bless you ladies.

Ms. SALIERS: Thank you. We have an incredible executive chef named Scott Peacock. He was actually just - he's up for the James Beard Award for the third year in a row. So we're really proud of him. They don't let me in the kitchen, not with a 10-foot pole.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. SALIERS: I do eat there a lot. But early on, when we started the restaurant, it was me and three other of my women-friend partners and it was all hands-on. We did all the work and made all the decisions. And now, eight years later, it's pretty much a well-oiled machine, and one of the partners is an owner and manager and does the day-to-day operations.

So we all get together for the big decisions, but mostly Ross takes care of that other stuff. And we have a great staff. There's a lot of love and care that goes into the food, so. You know, it's my favorite restaurant, and that's not just because I'm partly an owner.

CONAN: Here's an e-mail, this from Liz in Frederick, Maryland. I'm a huge fan. Can you talk about your current tour of smaller venues? What did it allow you to do that you don't normally have the chance to do in some of the larger venues. And thanks, I'll see you Saturday night in Wilmington.

Ms. RAY: Well we're on an acoustic tour right now because we just finished touring with a full band, and so we're playing, you know, some small theaters. And it's great, actually.

What it allows us to do is change up the set list a little more, even during the show, maybe take requests and maybe play some more obscure stuff that we don't play as often. Yeah, you know, it's so funny because we're not that big, so the venues are like just the right size, actually, for us.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: When you're talking about these smaller theaters, what, 600, 800-seat theaters?

Ms. RAY: Probably 1,000 to 2,000. We just did five nights in a row at a casino in Connecticut.

Ms. SALIERS: It was 350.

Ms. RAY: The room was 350. So that was really cool.

Ms. SALIERS: It was awesome, yeah.

CONAN: Well thank you so much for taking the time to be with us today. We missed you last October. We were hoping to have you on the show, and we were in Columbus, Ohio, that day and it just didn't work. It's so great that you could make it.

Ms. SALIERS: Well, we love TALK OF THE NATION and we love NPR.

Ms. RAY: Yes, we do. Thanks for having us.

CONAN: Thanks very much. Indigo Girls Amy Ray and Emily Saliers, and they joined us from our bureau in New York. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

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