Out on Their Own

After decades of rocking out together, Indigo Girls shirk the big labels for a DIY venture.

BY Karen Iris Tucker

March 25 2009 12:00 AM ET

Indigo Girls x100 (indigo girls) | advocate.com

Later that night, she
takes the stage for a well-attended show, in a men's
button-down shirt and tie. Coursing through Clash-inspired
guitar lines, sweat darkens a long strip of
shirt fabric down her back. Ray and Saliers have
always been impervious to the trappings of image -- to the
pressure to conform to the music industry's take on how to
sell female artists. Their fans have adored them for this
realness, periodically complaining on the fan site IndigoVortex
about them wearing too much makeup in their glossy press
photos.

"I think they kind
of struggled with what to do with us," says Ray of
longtime label Epic, which released most of the duo's CDs.
"They knew that we weren't going to be any different
than we were. They kinda didn't know what to do with what
we were."

By way of explanation,
Ray cites fellow musician Pink, who collaborated on the Indigo
Girls cut "Rock and Roll Heaven's Gate," from the
2007 Hollywood release
Despite Our Differences.

Saliers and Ray also lent backing vocals to Pink's song
"Dear Mr. President," from her album
I'm Not Dead

. "When she sort of refers to bisexuality -- her own
penchant for knowing that part of her sexuality -- she's tough,
but she's femme. She's got an image and it's a little more
acceptable. If a woman is really hot and gay, it's better than
the butch lesbian Indigo Girls."

There was a time,
however, when Indigo Girls were not synonymous with the
negative connotation of "butch" or
"lesbian," when they enjoyed mainstream popularity
and even won a Grammy for Best Contemporary Folk Recording in
1990. This is simply because their music had the potential for
universal appeal. That largely changed when the pair -- true to
their socially conscious bent -- officially came out in the
media. The tenets of the music stayed the same, but the press
relentlessly branded them anew the "Lesbian Folk
Duo."

"We were
naive," says Ray. "We thought we could hang on to the
universal thing we had going. You get tired of every critic and
every review and every show where you are kind of made a parody
of." Still, she is ultimately happy for what she has.
"Now, I'm just proud, you know? I'm proud of our
community and I'm proud of our audience. And I'm proud
of me and Emily, like, being gay and not shrinking from it all
the time. That would be easy," she says, followed by a deep,
satisfied laugh.

Saliers, in a Skype
Internet interview from Vietnam, where she was traveling, says,
"I have no regrets about the way things have gone down.
If, by being out, we're helping in the evolution of civil
rights, I'm all for it."

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