October 5, 2017 at 6:45 pm EST | by Joey DiGuglielmo
Emily Saliers talks solo work in advance of Birchmere show
Emily Strong, gay news, Washington Blade

Emily Saliers is touring her debut solo album with a surprisingly elaborate band and stage show. (Photo by Jeremy Cowart)

Emily Saliers

‘Murmuration Nation Tour’

With Lucy Wainwright Roche

Wednesday, Oct. 11

The Birchmere

3701 Mount Vernon Ave.

Alexandria, Va.

$29.50

birchmere.com

Thirty years and 14 studio albums into the Indigo Girls, Emily Saliers has released her first solo album, and even she acknowledges the artistic paradox.

“What’s a 53-year-old woman doing making her first solo record,” she says with a laugh. Although the Indigo Girls are alive and well — bandmate Amy Ray has released five solo albums and is working on a sixth — Saliers says it was a chance to pursue some of the more soul- and groove-oriented music she grew up with. “Murmuration Nation” came out in August. She’s touring it now and plays the Birchmere on Wednesday, Oct. 11. Her comments have been slightly edited for length.

WASHINGTON BLADE: How does it feel to finally have a solo album out?

EMILY SALIERS: Well, it’s great. I’ve been talking about it for a long time and even when I found (producer) Lyris Hung … it still took three years so it was like a real labor of love. … Sometimes you look at a CD and you think, “This is holding all that time and all that work and all that stuff,” and it’s a weird feeling but the response to the album so far has been overwhelmingly positive so I feel great about that.

BLADE: The Indigo Girls’ fan base is known to be highly loyal so is that a built-in audience for this or do you feel like you have to prove yourself somewhat?

SALIERS: I don’t have to prove myself. I just think the album is fairly different from anything Amy and I have done together in the same way that some of her records are very different from what we’ve done together. … I can’t just assume poeple will find out about it and get tickets to the show and stuff like that. … Without the Indigo Girls I wouldn’t have any solo record out … but still a lot of groundwork needs to get done to reach out and get people to listen to it.

BLADE: You talk about this being a more  groove-oriented album. How hard is it to come up with a compelling groove or loop and which comes first — the music or the lyrics?

SALIERS: It’s not hard. … I could just pick up an Apple loop off my Logic program and just run that loop for five minutes and just start writing guitar parts to it and then a song gets born. A lot of the songs were written that way. They started with a loop or a beat and then that rhythmic pulse helped write the song. A few things that were written on guitar, Lyris said, “OK, we’re gonna take the guitar out of this and do this instead.” … I don’t sit down and go, “OK, I’m gonna write about guns in America right now.” I sit down and get a beat and find the chords and then the subject matter comes.

BLADE: Will you do some Indigo Girls songs on this tour too? You can’t really fill a whole show with just one album.

SALIERS: We’re gonna do mostly songs from the album. It’s a full band and a friend who’s a filmmaker has created some video images so it’s sort of a full sensory experience. A section of the show will probably be Indigo Girls songs that I’ve written, maybe acoustic, but we haven’t fully hammered that out yet. But the real purpose of the tour is to play the solo music.

BLADE: It feels like such a weird time in this country. You’ve been on the road some with Amy this year. Does it feel different at the shows or do people kinda wanna leave that at the door and just enjoy the concert?

SALIERS: It’s perceptibly different. From the first show we played after the election, it was palpable and there’s a real sense of anxiety among our fans but also a sense that we need music to galvanize us and to make us feel good. It’s a crazy fucking time in this country and not just a little — it’s a lot. It almost feels cosmic with the terrible storms, the earthquakes. We’ve been getting huge reactions to songs like “Pendulum Swinger” and “Rise of the Black Messiah.” … This country — it’s a bit of a tinderbox right now

BLADE: How much of your album was written by November?

SALIERS: All but one song. “Fly” was written in response to the election.

BLADE: When people yell out songs during the slightest lull in a concert, do you ever feel like saying, “Just chill — we have a set list?”

SALIERS: No. We try to honor as many of those as we can. We’ll look at the set list immediately and ascertain if there’s a spot where that song makes sense. Some we won’t do if they’re too rusty and we haven’t practiced them and sometimes we won’t do it if it’s something we’re tired of. Sometimes if we’re introducing something from our new album and somebody yells out, “Chickenman!,” we’ll say, “We’re gonna go ahead and do the one we were talking about.”

BLADE: The Indigo Girls were in our market in May for three shows with the NSO Pops. How did your symphonic shows come about and how were those dates?

SALIERS: D.C. was fantastic but after the third show, we were wiped because the symphony shows are the most intensive of all our performances. They’re one-offs, not typically tied to a tour, so we show up, meet the conductor, have a two-hour rehearsal and then we perform. You have to constantly be on your toes and it’s a different orchestra every time. The D.C. orchestra was phenomenal as you would expect. It got started because there’s an agency that puts artists together to arrange your songs and then you send the scores around and we got invited to do that and it’s been fantastic. … We’re doing a symphony album in 2018 that we recorded with the Colorado University Symphony so it’s become a very important part of what we do.

BLADE: Sometimes those arrangements for pop or rock acts are so lame and the orchestra is bored out of their minds. How do you feel yours turned out and was that a concern?

SALIERS: We worked with two different arrangers and then ended up sticking with this guy named Sean O’Laughlin and he’s just so creative and passionate. Amy and I both had long conversations with him about how he felt about the songs. … He put so much into them. … Often the conductor will say, “These are good arrangements, they’re interesting.” … We hired the right person.

BLADE: How many Indigo Girls songs do you have charts for now?

SALIERS: I think maybe 23. We usually do about 18 at one of those shows.

BLADE: The Indigo Girls have stayed fairly active in the studio while many other veteran acts just tour with nothing new out. Why is that important to you?

SALIERS: Yeah, I mean it’s true they’re expensive to make and nobody sells records anymore, even the type of top echelon of record-selling bands don’t really sell. We have to make a living touring, that’s just a reality, so it’s a good thing we love it and we never go out for too long. … We’re always excited to get back together and there’s always an internal push to create more new music. The only thing that keeps us from doing it more is busyness. … It just makes sense in the scope of a career to keep putting out new music.

BLADE: Do you think it’s lame with bands like the Dixie Chicks who just tour and tour and haven’t had anything new out in like 10 years?

SALIERS: Whatever anybody wants to do is fine. If people like it and they’re coming to your shows, I don’t really care. It’s just that for us, we know what keeps our fires burning and that is to create new music, to not be on the road all the time and to support each other’s independent projects. But whatever other bands want to do, I don’t have any judgement.

BLADE: How is your daughter?

SALIERS: She’s gonna be 5 at the end of November and she’s the light of my life. I never wanted to be a parent ’til I found the right person and it’s been a very happy marriage. We allow each other a lot of space and (wife) Tristin takes care of things when I go away and I take care of things when she’s involved in school or work. We love our kid and we have a really, really great life and I’m so grateful for it.

BLADE: You and Amy were so pioneering and were out when so few were in popular music. Have you ever had younger bands like maybe Tegan and Sara or whomever, tell you it was cool or inspiring that y’all were out so early?

SALIERS: I don’t recall that so much from other artists but we’ve had a lot of those conversations with fans. They’ll tell us personal stories about how the music carried them through a hard time when they were coming out or whatever and that’s really the most gratifying thing.

Emily Sailers, gay news, washington blade

Joey DiGuglielmo is the Features Editor for the Washington Blade.

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