Historically, Indigo Girls fans seem to be split about whether they like the duo better with a full band or in an acoustic setting.
So for their next record, the Girls will give them both.
Amy Ray and Emily Saliers are recording tracks for their February 2009 release with a full band, and then re-recording those same songs with just the two of them on acoustic guitar.
“The double release will be something different,” Saliers said. “We thought it’d be an interesting way to present the songs both ways.”
And they can explore those sort of avenues these days, as that new album will be the first they’ve released independently since their 1987 debut, “Strange Fire,” released back in the days when they were fresh out of Emory University and playing clubs in Atlanta. The band spent about 20 years with Epic Records but jumped to Hollywood Records for their 10th studio album, 2006’s “Despite Our Differences.” The label dropped them shortly after, but the newfound independence doesn’t faze them.
“We don’t need a record label. We’re done with that,” Saliers said. “They don’t do anything for most bands anymore. We’re fortunate in that we have a loyal fan base, so we don’t have to rely on radio. And it’s not like we’ve made a penny on royalties. We want to get the music out there and the way we do that is touring.”
Ray has some experience on that side of the business already: She launched her own independent label, Daemon Records, which has put out Ray’s solo albums, including the new “Didn’t It Feel Kinder,” as well as release by Rose Polenzani, Danielle Howle and the Athens Boys Choir. (Following the Girls’ fall dates, Ray will hit the road solo for a fall tour.)
That expertise came in handy once the band started recording on its own, Saliers said
Aside from the full band vs. acoustic experiment, their yet-to-be-titled release won’t be too far a departure from their previous records.
After 25 years together, the writing process remains the same: Ray and Saliers write separately then bring their songs together to find the places where each one fits into the other’s work. The style has led to a noted difference in song styles, especially lately: Ray’s tracks tend to be darker and edgier, while Saliers can be relied on for the wholesome, breezier ballads. But it’s a method that’s kept them together.
“That’s a huge part of us staying together for all these years,” Saliers said. “More than not, our differences hold us together.”
They’re also held together by the common causes they’re known for supporting, particularly those involving gay rights and environmental awareness.
But they’ve also managed to find divergent passions that Saliers credits to helping keep the band together. Ray manages her record label and maintains a solo music career, while Saliers has ventured into the restaurant business: Her Watershed restaurant in Atlanta is celebrating its 10th anniversary.
“When we come back to the Indigo Girls, it’s like coming home,” Saliers said. “But we know we can retreat from that. It’s not like we’re putting all our eggs in that basket.”
The Girls’ recent work reveals some unusual but rewarding detours:
“Rock and Roll Heaven’s Gate” - Ray, along with guest star Pink, laments the dismantling of her favorite bands over the Girls’ fiercest guitar attack ever.
“Pendulum Swinger” - Saliers knocks out these kinds of jangly, sweetly melodic tracks like it’s no trouble at all; this one particularly soars.
“Dairy Queen” - Ray breaks out the mandolin for a wistful tale of faded youth, set at the venerable home of the Mr. Misty.
“Shed Your Skin (Tom Morello Mix)” - Activist remixes activists on this serrated version of of the 1997 track, from the Girls’ “Rarities” compilation.
“Cold Shoulder” - A great, fuzzy rocker from Ray’s most recent solo CD, “Didn’t It Feel Kinder.”
“Clampdown”/“Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters” - Two choice covers from “Rarities”; the ladies slow the Clash track to a simmering indictment, and soar on the Elton John chestnut.