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Closest To Fine

Indigo Girls have long been a force to be reckoned with. Originally from Atlanta, Georgia, Emily Saliers and Amy Ray began performing together as high school students. Active as a group since 1985, they have now amassed an amazing 16 albums as a duo, winning a Grammy for their self-titled album.

Apart from their undeniably inspiring musical output, they have also been no slouches in using their voices for things other than singing amazing songs. The team are unstoppable activists, having, amongst other things, supported Native American and environmental issues by founding the non-profit group, Honor The Earth.

What can also not be understated is the fact that the duo have long openly identified as lesbians, even during times when it would not have been considered ‘fashionable’ to do so. Dedicating tours, benefit concerts and festival performances toward the LGBT+ community over the years, they can doubtlessly be regarded as icons of the equality movement.

A remaining hurdle in the move for LGBT+ equality is acceptance into religious faith communities. This is something that Emily Saliers discussed in a book she co-wrote with her father, the Reverend Don Saliers.

What was it like growing up in such a spiritual household?

“Well, my father is a theologian. He’s an ordained Methodist minister, but he taught theology in a university setting, so it was organised religion, but also academic and really economical. My parents were progressive, so I grew up going to church and thinking about spiritual issues, but it wasn’t conservative thinking, there wasn’t any dogma or doctrine that was forced upon us. We were free to explore our own spiritual paths.”

What does spirituality look like for you?

“I believe in God, for lack of a better word. I believe in a benevolent force in the universe that’s smarter than all of us. Humans are always going to struggle as a species, we’re fallible, and we tend to mess things up, but we do have the ability to make things right. I believe in a force that supports making things good and right, alleviating suffering for people, respecting the earth, respecting the physical nature of the universe.

“I don’t even know if I call myself a Christian, or if Amy would either. We just believe in the power of love. And we don’t believe that one faith is better than another.”

What drew you to activism?

“We were both raised by our parents to believe we’re members of a community. And so the activism sprung out of that - we’re all in this together. When members of our community suffer, we all suffer. And there are ways that we can all teach each other things and grow from each other. That starts at a very small local level... I mean, America has a terrible problem with racism. And I can’t go into a community of colour as a white privileged person and tell them what to do in their community. I can go into their community and listen to how I can be of service to them in any way. That’s tied to my spiritual beliefs, and Amy’s as well.”

Do you think that foundation of activism is tied to being part of the LGBT+ community?

“I do believe that any group of people that’s been oppressed in any way can relate to oppression or suffering, or invalidation or any of those things that minorities experience. I do know a lot of queer people who aren’t activists, but all my girlfriends are. And it’s just sort of in our spirits, knowing what it’s like to be ‘other’.”

Having stood the test of time with Indigo Girls, what keeps you connected and keeps your content fresh?

“One of the basic reasons is, we have a love and respect for each other and what each other brings to the group that we couldn’t do on our own. So we feel like we make each other better as artists... When we were younger, we had to struggle more with ego, but now we just want to serve the song. We really never allowed ourselves to be influenced by outside forces, like following the trends of music or trying to write a hit song or compromising our personal standards in any way.”

You were open about your sexuality a long time before it was considered trendy, what was that experience like?

“I can remember when we first came out nationally, I had a lot of fear about it. Nowadays, I’m sure that a lot of people who come out publicly or in the press may have fear about it, but it’s not the same as it was then. But even before that - everything that we were given; the freedom to come out and express yourself - comes from the sacrifices that queer people made before us. It was like this continuum of experience.

“When I was growing up, I experienced what it was like to be adjacent to the AIDS crisis. And I’ll never forget what that was like, what the gay male community was going through. I think that we have to remember, as queer people, that there’s a lot of work to do. Especially with the trans community, they’re being beaten and killed and ostracised. I’d still like to see the queer community really band together to support each other.

“I think one of the things that really scares me is this kind of segregation within the community. I think there’s a bit of it in the US, but I’ve mostly heard of it from the UK, of trans exclusionary radical feminism, and who’s allowed in which spaces and who’s allowed in the community. I’m really at a loss of how that is resolved.

“We just have to find a way to tell our stories...as a group of queers, who are still oppressed largely by society. It’s most important that we keep our eyes on the prize.”

Do you have any favourite memories from gigs you’ve played in Ireland?

“Many, many years ago, we played in Belfast... there was still terrible conflict going on. Like, the military [with] machine guns walking around the hotels and stuff like that. And so there weren’t a lot of bands, I don’t think, that were traveling through Belfast. And I remember the way everybody there just lived for music, and what it was like to be in that environment with all the conflict, and yet to be playing music and the way that when you play music, everything outside just sort of disappears and you’re able to have some joy and some cathartic release...

“There’s a great spirit and music to Ireland. We don’t get to come that often, and so I’m thrilled, I cannot wait to get back.”

Indigo Girls play Sligo Live on Saturday October 26.

The festival runs from October 18 – 28.

Check out www.sligolive.ie for more information.

This article appears in the 358 Issue of GCN

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This article appears in the 358 Issue of GCN