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Heavenly Harmony : Indigo Girls head to town with acoustic folk sound and ever-adoring fan base.

January 29, 1998|BILL LOCEY | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

After marching through Georgia and beyond, the Indigo Girls, inspirational heroines to a generation of young women, bring their brand of introspective folk rock to the Universal Amphitheatre for a gig Friday on their "Shaming of the Sun" tour. Opening will be Danielle Howle & the Tantrums, another Atlanta-based act.

Emily Saliers and Amy Ray met in elementary school in Atlanta, and began performing in high school in 1980 as Saliers & Ray. Three years later, while attending Emory University, they reinvented themselves as the Indigo Girls.

Now 15 years later, following six albums, five nominations and a Grammy for best contemporary folk recording in 1989, the Girls are going as strong as ever.

Despite scant chance of overexposure on radio or MTV, the Indigo Girls continue to be a strong touring act and have generated a substantial fan base, not as numerous or as colorful as those Deadheads, but fully as dedicated.

Over the years the Indigo Girls have toured with the likes of R.E.M., the Neville Brothers and the Grateful Dead, and just about everybody else.

Cool Indigo Girls fact: A few years back they did a "Ten-Dollar Tour" wherein tickets and T-shirts were 10 bucks each.

While Saliers and Ray can harmonize in a most heavenly way on stage, and have sold close to 5 million albums since 1989, they have never written a song together. Essentially then, each Indigo album is two albums in one, with each collaborating on the arrangement of the other's songs. So far, it works.

Not just a couple of rich girls content to do idle rich girl stuff, the activist duo has raised a considerable amount of dough for a number of political and environmental groups dealing with children's health, domestic violence, gay rights, reproductive rights of women and the Zapatista supporters in Chiapas.

In 1995 alone, the Indigo Girls raised $300,000 for Native American environmental groups opposing the Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1997.

Since it was her turn, Emily Saliers answered the inevitable questions during a recent phoner.

*

Question: How has the music scene in Atlanta changed since you two started way back when?

Answer: Oh boy. I think it started when record companies began to show an interest in the local bands. First the Georgia Satellites got signed, then R.E.M. and then the Neighbors. We're not home as much as we used to be, but I don't think things have changed too much. There's a lot of great local bands playing in clubs, helping each other out. It's still a very eclectic scene just like when we were coming up through the ranks.

Q: What's the strangest gig you've ever played?

A: Once we were opening for R.E.M. and everyone kept talking and throwing M&Ms, so we had to discipline the audience. It's very different being the headliners, but we still do like to open for our friends sometimes.

Q: How did winning a Grammy change things for you?

A: Not at all, except maybe the attention we get from the press. So now it's the 'Grammy award-winning Indigo Girls,' but as far as the way we feel about our music, it didn't have any effect at all.

Q: How do you survive on the road?

A: Get lots of sleep. Read good books. Exercise every day, and bring our friends on the road to open for us.

Q: Tell me about your opening act, Danielle Howle.

A: She has a voice like Patsy Cline but a bizarre sense of humor, and she writes these hilarious folk-rock songs. And all the guys in her band are great, plus she's on Daemon Records, Amy's record label.

Q: The Indigo Girls have all these dedicated fans.

A: They're dedicated all right. They wait out in the rain even when we're not able to come out and sing. I see a lot of familiar faces. Last summer when we did our solo tour, we were still learning the songs, and we were screwing up right and left. But they've always stood by us during our long musical journey as well as our political journey, which is our raison d'etre.

Q: What kind of mail do you get from your fans?

A: We get a lot of letters that are very personal, so I don't want to really discuss any of that. We get letters from people who say how our songs have helped them through a particular crisis. We get letters from people in drug rehab who have connected with certain songs. It's all very gratifying.

Q: What's the worst advice you've ever been given?

A: You're gonna have to kiss a lot of butt in this business.

Q: What advice would you give to aspiring songwriters?

A: Try not to censor yourself. Don't worry about where it's going to end, and just write from your truth.

Q: This one's out of the Rock Critic's Handbook, and thus, I have to ask it: Describe Indigo Girls music.

A: It's acoustic folk music basically. Both Amy and I have a lot of different influences from Elton John and Neil Young to Joni Mitchell.

Q: Is there such a thing anymore as Southern rock?

A: Oh absolutely, but these days I can't put my finger on it. Back in the days of Lynyrd Skynyrd, it was more identifiable.

Q: What's the most misunderstood thing about being a musician? For example, do people think that you sleep all day? And do you sleep all day?

A: Not hardly. Actually, the older I get, the earlier I get up. It's nice and quiet in the morning. I guess some people see this as a glamorous, fast-paced and exciting life, but oftentimes it can be very demanding. But it beats digging ditches. I'm not complaining.

BE THERE

Indigo Girls and Danielle Howle and the Tantrums, Universal Amphitheatre, 100 Universal City Plaza, Universal City, Friday, 8:15 p.m. Tickets, $35.90 and $31.40. Call (818) 622-4440.

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