Last June, folk duo Indigo Girls released their 14th studio album, “One Lost Day.” The album was produced by Jordan Brooke Hamlin (Lucy Wainwright Roche) and was mixed by Brian Joseph (Bon Iver, Phox, Kathleen Edwards).
Their latest round of touring brings Emily Saliers and Amy Ray to Maine for three sold-out shows in May and June.
The 13 songs of “One Lost Day” are laced with storytelling and passionate observations of topics ranging from the refusal of humans to accept impermanence and suffering in Ray’s “Happy in the Sorrow Key” to addiction in Saliers’ “If I Don’t Leave Here Now” to racism and mass incarceration in America in Ray’s “The Rise of the Black Messiah.”
Saliers and Ray are longtime activists for causes including peace, justice and human rights, voter education, women’s health, native environmental issues and LGBTQ causes.
A conversation with Saliers from her Georgia home covered the latest news on Saliers’ forthcoming solo album, the election, the addiction epidemic, the “bathroom law” and how it’s still a thrill to perform in Central Park.
What’s the latest news on your solo album?
Before I picked up the phone to call you I was actually working on tracks for this and in touch with Lyris Hung who is producing it. She plays violin with me and Amy. We’re just finishing up the writing to get the skeleton together so that we don’t go into the studio and waste time. The idea is to launch a crowd funding campaign and then we’ll record the record in New York. The plan is to get it recorded by the end of the year and then it will come out in 2017. It’s been a long time in the making, but I’m enjoying the process.
What’s your current favorite track on “One Lost Day?”
I have to say I really love this record; all the songs are holding up very well. We’ve played (all the songs) live and can continue to pick any number of them off the record and that doesn’t always happen. Typically songs fall by the wayside for whatever reason. But of Amy’s songs, we’ve been playing “Spread the Pain Around” a lot. I love that song. It just feels classic to me, and I love singing it live. It feels so fresh and good. A couple songs of mine I’ve enjoyed playing are “Elizabeth” just because it’s a totally true story and I can really dig in and it’s sort of like a pop-rock song. The vibe is good. I also like playing “Come a Long Way” because it’s just my story of liberation and faith, so personally it feels really good.
You’ve said that “If I Don’t Leave Here Now” is about addiction. Addiction is out of control in pretty much the entire country. What are your thoughts on this?
Meth and opiate addiction is now a completely national problem. Addiction has been with humankind since the beginning of humankind. Some folks get it and some folks don’t. We have a serious crisis in the country, and I think everybody should be focused on reaching out to people who are addicted and providing them services. What we need to be focused on is mental health and addiction recovery programs. It’s horrifying to me and it’s sad. Hopefully the stigma about addiction will lessen.
Addiction is an illness, it needs compassion and people who are addicted need resources, they don’t need judgment. I believe in second chances and third chances and whatever it takes.
Same-sex marriage became legal on a federal level, yet now we have this situation in North Carolina with transgender rights with the so-called “bathroom law.” How does this make you feel?
Sometimes in the fervor of a civil rights campaign and in real social and cultural transition it’s like two steps forward and one step back or one step forward and two steps back. North Carolina is a very interesting state because you have the Chapel Hill and Triangle area that is about as progressive as a community as you could possibly get, and then you have outlying areas that are completely uneducated about issues of civil rights and humanity and basic dignity.
This whole bathroom thing is insane, but it’s just because people are ignorant. They haven’t been educated and haven’t met trans people and right-wing Christians have made them fearful, and so it’s very frustrating and I also understand why that happens. But there’s no excuse for it. If it takes financial pressures to get the governor and the legislators to rescind the legislation, then than that’s what it takes. Change is slow. All of these many years after the Civil War ended, racism is rampant in our country, so these are just things we have to keep working on. But we’re not out of the woods with queer rights by any means.
How afraid are you of a possible Trump presidency?
I’m not afraid. The only thing I know how to do is to vote and for us to use our shows as platforms for encouraging people to get out and vote. That’s the only thing I know how to do. I’m not afraid, I’m discouraged by people who disconnect themselves from the way that political decisions affect peoples’ lives.
So what I really want is for people to get much more serious and much more educated about the issues. I think there are a lot of Republicans out there who are voting for candidates who make their lives worse through the policies they support.
This is not a popularity contest, and it’s definitely not a reality show. These are serious times and these are complicated issues and we need somebody who can handle the scope of the job and people to realize that they need to learn about economics and they need to learn about the histories of the parties and they need to learn about trade agreements and they need to learn about nationalism and what it all means.
You can’t just say “we’re gonna make America great again” because I don’t know when he thought it was great – around the turn of the century, I guess. But if you ask black people if the country was great back then I think they’d say no.
These slogans are detrimental, and it’s important that we get educated to make a vote that helps people rather than hurts them.
You’re scheduled to play a free concert in Central Park on June 27. You’ve played there a few times but I imagine it’s still is an exciting experience?
It’s really indescribably fantastic. We love New York City in the summertime. We were there before when there was this huge blackout and all of New York City was dark. We have memories of interesting times there. It’s fabulous to be in Central Park. Everybody is in a great mood and the vibe is awesome and you’re out in the open air, so we’re really looking forward to that.
Indigo Girls, May 25 and 26, Jonathan’s, Ogunquit. June 24. Savage Oakes Winery, Union. All shows sold out.