Indigo Girls' Amy Ray And Emily Saliers On New Album 'Look Long' And Kae Tempest A new season Ari Shapiro's musical chain of gratitude, Play It Forward, begins with Indigo Girls' Amy Ray and Emily Saliers talking about their lifelong bond and the poetic flair of Kae Tempest.
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Play It Forward: Indigo Girls' Amy Ray And Emily Saliers On Their 45-Year Kinship

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Play It Forward: Indigo Girls' Amy Ray And Emily Saliers On Their 45-Year Kinship

Play It Forward: Indigo Girls' Amy Ray And Emily Saliers On Their 45-Year Kinship

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We're back with Season 2 of Play it Forward, where we talk with artists about their music and the music they're thankful for. The Indigo Girls have shaped a generation of singer-songwriters. Emily Saliers and Amy Ray released their first album in 1989. Their latest album, "Look Long," came out in May, while the country was in lockdown. And they debuted some of their new music in livestreamed concerts on social media, where tens of thousands of people tuned in to virtually bond over music they'd grown up on.


INDIGO GIRLS: (Singing) We want to believe in something. We're unsettled.

SHAPIRO: Amy Ray and Emily Saliers, the Indigo Girls, welcome to Play It Forward.



RAY: It's nice to talk to you.

SALIERS: Yay. We love NPR.

SHAPIRO: Oh, thanks. This whole project is about musical gratitude. And in a few minutes, I'm going to ask you to tell us about a musician you're grateful for, but you two have known each other since elementary school. You've been making music together for more than 30 years. To start off, could you just tell us about what you're grateful for about each other?

SALIERS: A lot of things.

SHAPIRO: Is that Emily?

SALIERS: Yeah, this is Emily. I'm thankful for Amy's integrity as a person, a human being. And I'm thankful for Amy's songwriting and for her musical sensibilities. So those are just a couple things. There's a million more I could list, but those come to mind.

SHAPIRO: (Laughter) Amy, what are you grateful for about Emily?

RAY: Can I say the same things? No (laughter)...


RAY: I'm grateful for Emily's - I want to say, like, strength and perseverance in this career because I think we've needed that in order to survive for as long and know each other since we were 10, which is 45 years. So I'm thankful for that and her artistry.


INDIGO GIRLS: (Singing) Look long. Look long. Look long.

RAY: She tends to write a lot of songs that folks can sing along with, which is not the same skill set I have. And I'm lucky that she has that and that it enables us to resonate more, I think.


INDIGO GIRLS: (Singing) I work at the mall food court. When I get home I fix something to eat, settle into my seat and turn on the country radio.

SHAPIRO: You know, when I was listening to your music in the '90s, I felt like queer identity was just below the surface of a lot of your songs. And on this album, in a song like "Country Radio," it is right there in the lyrics.


INDIGO GIRLS: (Singing) I'm just a gay kid in a small town who loves country radio.

SHAPIRO: Tell us about the difference between the world of music that you were releasing this album into and the one that you were working in earlier in your career.

RAY: Wow.

SALIERS: Amy, do you want to start?

RAY: This is Amy. Yeah. I mean, and you should talk about "Country Radio," I guess but - yeah. We were very lucky because we came along at a time when all these icons like, you know, k.d. lang, Melissa Etheridge - like, gay icons were coming out, and other people before us had paved the way and all the feminists that came before us. And we were kind of learning from all these different mentors in our community of Atlanta as well. And so we were given that ability to be strong and kind of comfortably come out. And, you know, both of us, I think, have a lot of self-hate and internalized homophobia along the way, of course, but our community of listeners kind of grew up with us.


INDIGO GIRLS: (Singing) And I'm under the stars, regular at the bar. Got a perfect girl, I got a worn-in truck. We go down to the river, and the moonlight is silver. But most of all I get to be in love.

SHAPIRO: Emily, you want to weigh in here?

SALIERS: Well, "Country Radio" is really - it's a song about feeling other than because I love country music. I love the songs, and I love the voices. I love the stories. But I could not fit my life - I knew that these songs were written by men and women about men and women. It's like our stories don't get told when we're not included. And for me, it turned into an emotional feeling of wistfulness and loneliness. And so the song describes that.


SHAPIRO: OK, now it is your turn to tell us about an artist that you are thankful for, somebody whose music you appreciate. Who do you want to introduce us to?

RAY: There is a poet, spoken-word artist, writer, performer who I just, like, got turned on to her, and this happened when we were in the studio making "Look Long." And John Reynolds said, our producer, have you heard this woman Kate Tempest (ph)? And I was like, no. And then he played something, and I was just shocked. It was so amazingly good and riveting.


KAE TEMPEST: (Rapping) ...Sleeping. Grew up in a city where it's hard to be heard and nothing really has much meaning.

RAY: She is a poet, a true poet like the greats, like the most literary class you can take, you know? And you don't even need to hear it. You can just read it and feel that way.


TEMPEST: (Rapping) But will it be this way forever? These are lonely days. What if she could be the one that makes it better? He looks away, can't hold her gaze.

RAY: One track that I think has a resonance that can just rip through you is a song called "I Trap You."


TEMPEST: (Rapping) Love is a self-made thing. I am free. I stare at the air, and I see patterns.

RAY: I typically don't pick songs about love, but I think it's because of the way she talks about love. I mean, she says, you make me a microscope. You make me a map. I called it love. I should have called it trap.


TEMPEST: (Rapping) I trap you, I should have said tenderly at the end of a long day while we kept each other desperately stagnant.

RAY: It's a beautiful love song, but it's also, like, a realization of all the things that she wants a relationship to be.


TEMPEST: (Rapping) It's coming to pass. My country is coming apart. The whole thing's becoming such a bumbling farce.

SALIERS: She brings these big ideas down to something so human that each one of us experiences.


TEMPEST: (Rapping) And I can feel things changing. Even when I'm weak and I'm breaking I'll stand weeping at the train station because I can see your faces.

SHAPIRO: Well, we are going to go to Kate Tempest next, so what would you like to say to her?

RAY: (Laughter).

SALIERS: Thank you.

RAY: Yeah. Thank you, Kate Tempest. And, gosh, carry on. Please carry on.

SHAPIRO: Emily Saliers and Amy Ray, the Indigo Girls, thank you so much for talking with us about your music and someone who you're grateful for.

SALIERS: It was great talking to you - really appreciate it.

SHAPIRO: Their new album is called "Look Long."


SHAPIRO: We recorded that conversation with the Indigo Girls a while ago. And since then, Kate Tempest put out a statement saying they are going by the name Kae rather than Kate and using them/they pronouns. Their publicist said we were fine to air this interview as recorded, and we will talk with Kae Tempest in the next episode of Play It Forward.


TEMPEST: (Rapping) ...That the old ways need to end. But it's hard to accept that we're one and the same flesh given the rampant divisions between oppressor and oppressed. But...

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