Editors’ Notes “There's that pure, unadulterated force of nature in a younger generation that hasn't been jaded,” Emily Saliers tells Apple Music. That is the spirit that animates Look Long, which arrives over three decades into the Indigo Girls’ career, a time when less communally minded performers might feel threatened by new cultural voices emerging. “Youth are a driving force in on-the-ground work in their communities and for a stronger, cleaner future, and we learn from them.” Adds Amy Ray, the earthy ballast to Saliers’ aerial idealism, “I think the common thread of being queer sometimes does that, and I think also in the Native American community, which we spend a lot of time in and out of, that's just the way it is. It's always cross-generational, as far as mentoring. Each younger generation pushes the older ones forward. It's a beautiful thing.” At the same time, Ray and Saliers also circled back to important studio partners from their 1999 album Come On Now Social, including producer John Reynolds. “I really loved John's rhythmic sensibility,” says Saliers. “He seems to be able to encompass all the things that Amy and I like to have our songs evolve into in the studio. So the time was right.” Here Saliers and Ray talk through each song on the duo's 15th studio album.
S**t Kickin’ Amy Ray: “That song is completely autobiographical. As I was growing up, my family had a house on a lake north of us in Georgia. My experience there was we had a farmer down the street from the lake house and we befriended him, and he let us just ride his horses. We also had these dirt bikes we would ride all over the place and just go wherever we wanted. It was this very free time in my life. I knew about racism, obviously, but I wasn't clocking it and I wasn't thinking about the Southern legacy of intolerance. I think as I got older, I was like, okay, there's a tension between the agricultural community and suburbia, and there's also a tension between some issues around racism and people, a very white rural area and the things that have gone on there before us and while we were there. I was thinking about all these old guys in my life, and my granddad. There are some things about him that I found out later. You've got to come to terms with all that stuff. You've got to love your family through it, and they've got to love you, too, even if you're different from them.”
Look Long Emily Saliers: “I was doing a songwriting workshop in Nashville. My sister-in-law was at the workshop, and we drove back home to Atlanta from Nashville. We had this long discussion about her religious beliefs and mine. So the song actually started when we were talking about all that, God and the devil and thinking about Armageddon, which related to the sense of general malaise and unease. It's about perspective. It doesn't say, ‘You shouldn't believe this or you shouldn't believe this.’ It's just a story about the difference between having long-term vision and short-term vision, and I just used some things from my childhood as metaphors for that, like the telescope and the magnifying glass. There's a lot about space, the universe, as compared to the smallness of who we are. Then it also talks about the shortest distance between two points, which are points of view, and how we can, in the end, bridge the massive distances between our ways of thinking and expressing ourselves and what we believe in.”
Howl at the Moon Ray: “I'm not responsible for the groove. I wish I could be responsible for it. John Reynolds, the producer, had already come up with kind of a beat and groove for it, and presented it when we got there. The way it made the song feel was right. In that song, I refer to Michigan Womyn's Fest in this way of talking to my friends who are grieving the loss of that festival, and I'm just sympathizing with them and talking about the experiences I've had, the elders there that had taught me so much about just being brave and standing up for yourself. Musically, starting with that groove works for me, because that festival had so much in it that was of world music. I start in this space where I would have heard those kinds of grooves, and then I'm moving through my life and into this other space that's more of an Athens, Georgia, punk-rock college town, and the kids there and where they're at. Don't put your own framework on them, because you cannot understand their world the way they do and the needs that they have to do activism and the way that they do it.”
When We Were Writers Saliers: “The harmonies and the way we moved in and out of each other's voices is just something that has always come naturally to us. It just depends what's going to best suit the song, and that song had that particular space for that. I can't get my time in New Orleans at Tulane University out of my mind or spirit or whatever. I keep going back to that time, the two years I spent there. It was so informative. The world was kind of exploding. I spent all this time playing guitar and writing songs and listening to music, and still have that same burning fire to write and to listen to music and to play.”
Change My Heart Saliers: “I was walking out of a meeting, and I heard this guy say to someone, ‘Gravity isn't really that strong a force.’ I turned around to him. I was like, ‘What?’ He was this savant physicist kind of guy. So I went home and did my cheap Google research about the forces in the universe, and then I just started using it as a metaphor. Initially it was all about Trump, honestly, and I was thinking in this song he is the weak interaction, and what can appear to be strong is actually not a strong force. My life is really, really informed by the metaphysical and by mystery, and I believe that there's so much more than what's in front of us. I'm blown away by the mysteries of the universe and stuff, so that song is a lot about that.”
K.C. Girl Ray: “I was thinking about this person driving me, and I was thankful for it, because there are times when having a Lyft driver changes the whole game. You can get to the swimming pool that you need to go swim laps at. You don't have to worry about finding a cab. It just simplifies things, and it's so anonymous in some ways. I've got my life and she's got hers; there's probably a little bit of curiosity. There's another layer, which is you misread each other too. She probably thinks I'm just this old lady going to swim laps. Then I've got my own idea about who she is because of the music she's playing and what she looks like. We make these judgment calls; some of them are probably not even accurate. But I have this need to let her know, ‘I'm not what you think. I understand that we're in Kansas City, and you're probably not what I think either.’”
Country Radio Saliers: “It's something I've experienced in my own life as a queer person, which is that feeling of otherness, that feeling of not being able to fit into all the films and literature and poems and homages to love that are just written for men and women by men and women, all heteronormative stuff. It's like having access to these songs and loving these songs and loving the music, and being this lonely kid in a small town without really any access to the life that might be led. Just dreaming and living through these songs, but not being able to find the place inside them, except through some stretch of imagination. But even that's not enough. Then you have that coupled with the reality of those signs in front of churches and the reminder that you're a sinner and you're not good enough. So it's just all the complexity and loneliness of being other. It's a really autobiographical song, except for the small town part. I felt like that character in the song holds the feelings that I held listening to those songs, and feeling a wistfulness about being outside.”
Muster Ray: “I started writing it after the Parkland, Florida, shootings. I remember Marco Rubio was there, and different political figures, and the parents of kids that were in that shooting, and activist kids and activist parents. It was one of those moments when you're like, ‘Is this going to be the moment when everybody decides that they're going to try to have a dialogue that lasts and has lasting results, and really impacts our laws and is not partisan?’ Of course, it ends up in the end doing nothing, because we can't seem to get out of our places and agree that we might have more in common than we think. We all have different perspectives on this, but look at how we've isolated people and how we can't bring ourselves to really fix it, and what has made people turn to this that are so young.”
Feel This Way Again Saliers: “It's very easy for me to access the feelings of those years, as if they were yesterday. The feeling of prom, the feeling of social anxiety, the dances at the high school when you got to use the car, the social cruelty, all that stuff. Still, when the good times were there, they were the best times ever. I just wanted to write a song on banjo. It brought me to that feeling of looking back to those days fondly, even with their own struggles. I didn't want it to come across as this old lady saying to the kids, ‘Enjoy yourselves now, these are the times of your life.’ It's literally just appreciation. Ultimately, it's like, ‘Stick with the people who let you be who you are.’”
Favorite Flavor Ray: “I was messing around with my kid in the studio. We often just go in there and bash on instruments. I would play a chord progression, and I would say, ‘Okay, sing the next thing that you think of. What's the next line?’ And try to write a little song. She's not like a prodigy or anything, but it's just fun. I started just singing part of that song, the part about ‘There's people everywhere playing banjos.’ We were just singing nonsensical stuff, and she started singing about the lollipops that she likes. She gets free candy when she comes into my studio, because I give her lollipops to stay in there with me. So basically, she was like, ‘My favorite flavor is dark pink cherry.’ Then I turned that into this song dealing with my neighbors. I had these neighbors that had five kids, and they would play at my house all the time. There's one day when they just didn't show up anymore, and I know their parents and I know what happened. They're really conservative. They're sweet; they walk the talk, they're good people, but they have a problem with homosexuality. So I know they told their kids not to play down here anymore, because whenever I see their kids on the street now, they're always really uncomfortable to talk to me, but they want to. I'm not going to put up my barriers because of them. I want to make friends with them no matter what. It's just about that.”
Sorrow and Joy Saliers: “I feel like a lot of my life, really until I got sober, I just chased pleasure and wanted to feel good. I was afraid of conflict and did not know how to sit with uncomfortable feelings. I lost my little sister—I can't believe it's been 20 years now—and she's the one in the picture that I talk about. It's about having learned that, to put it simply, sorrow and joy, we have to hold them both. They inform each other. They're not opposed in ways that there's that one and there's that one, and never the two shall meet. They're in a relationship. We have to have both of them to live as fully as we possibly can.”
Howl at The Moon
When We Were Writers
Change My Heart
Feel this Way Again
Sorrow and Joy
11 Songs, 42 Minutes
April 24, 2020
℗ 2020 Indigo Girls, Inc., Under exclusive license to Rounder Records. Distributed by Concord.
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