Emily Saliers doesn’t really want to talk about the Indigo Girls’ anniversary.
Twenty years ago, the Georgia-based folk-rock duo released its first album “Strange Fire” on their own label. Almost immediately, Epic Records came courting with a 10-album deal.
Ten studio albums and 12 million records sold later, it’s not that they don’t have an abundance to celebrate. A core base of rabid fans has given the Girls enough commercial success over the years to outlast most of the female singer-songwriters they came up with, including Suzanne Vega and Tracy Chapman.
But marking milestones and looking back aren’t what Saliers and Amy Ray are jazzed about in 2007.
“What really feels good to us is that we’re looking ahead at this stage,” Saliers says over the phone from her home in the Atlanta area. “We have a new record deal on a new label and we plan to keep making new music. We’re still vibrant.”
Their latest CD, “Despite our Differences” - the duo’s first for Hollywood Records - has been lauded as the freshest sounding and strongest collection of songs from the Girls in a decade. They’re touring behind “Differences.
“This is my favorite record we’ve ever made,” says Saliers. “Making a record like this after all this time really bodes well for our future.”
The future looked less certain at the end of 2005 when their deal with Epic ran out. They weren’t sure how much interest there would be in signing them or where they might land. Despite critical acclaim and their devoted fan base, the Indigo Girls have dwelt mainly on the fringes of the music business without much radio play or face time on MTV or VH-1, especially during the past 10 years.
“We weren’t worried that we wouldn’t get a deal,” Saliers says. “We would have just made a record on our own if we didn’t get signed. But to have a label like Hollywood come after us and be excited about us really stimulated us and infused new life into the music.”
The 13-track project came together in just six weeks, under the guidance of producer Mitchell Froom, who has worked with Elvis Costello, Sheryl Crow, Los Lobos, the Corrs and others.
The Indigo Girls’ hallmark harmonies are in sweet form on this especially infectious set of pop songs that range from Ray’s power-chord driven rocker, “Rock and Roll Heaven’s” “Gate,” which flips the bird to the music industry and features a guest appearance by Pink, to Saliers’ country-inflected heartbreaker “Last Tears.”
Lyrically, the new music marks a new chapter, too. There is less of the pro-environment, pro-gay rights, pro-social justice in-your-face politics than on their last few releases. Although “Pendulum Swinger,” an uncharacteristic rant from the usually subtle Saliers, takes on “the church, the patriarchy and the Bush administration - but it’s a pop song. We like doing that. Writing about dark topics in a pop song.”
Mostly though, the songwriting reaches back to earlier records that focused on the politics of relationships - with a new twist. These are mature narratives by two 40-something woman instead of the angsty ballads they wrote 20 years ago.
“Both Amy and I really want to keep writing fresh songs,” says Saliers. “As we keep observing life, we want to keep evolving as writers. We’ve always been just a bar band - we still have that bar band spirit and we’ve never wanted to stagnate. We have a lot of new energy working for us right now and we plan to keep going.”