The Indigo Girls are an American folk rock duo, consisting of Amy Ray and Emily Saliers. They got their start in Atlanta as a regular act at The Little 5 Points Pub and were tangentially part of the Athens, Georgia, college rock scene that included The B-52s, Pylon, R.E.M., The Georgia Satellites, and Love Tractor.
The two women got to know each other as students at Laurel Ridge Elementary School in DeKalb County, Georgia, just outside of Decatur, Georgia. While attending Shamrock High School, they started performing together as The B-Band and Saliers and Ray. Saliers graduated and began attending Tulane University. A year later, Ray graduated and began at Vanderbilt University. Homesick, both returned to Georgia and transferred to Emory University. By 1985, they began performing together again, this time as The Indigo Girls.
Their first release in 1985 was a seven-inch single called “Crazy Game”; the b-side was “Everybody’s Waiting (for Someone to Come Home)”. That same year, The Indigo Girls put out a six-track self-titled EP and in 1987, released their first full-length album, Strange Fire, recorded at John Keane Studio in Athens, Georgia, and including “Crazy Game”. With this release, they secured the services of Russell Carter, who remains their manager to the present day; they had first approached him when the EP was released, but he told them their songs were “immature” and they weren’t likely to get a record deal. Strange Fire apparently changed his mind.
The success of 10,000 Maniacs, Tracy Chapman, and Suzanne Vega encouraged Epic Records to look for other women singer-songwriters; Epic signed the duo in 1988.
Their first major-label release, also titled Indigo Girls, which charted at Number 22 on the album chart, included a new version of “Land of Canaan”, which was also on their 1985 EP and on Strange Fire. Also on the self-titled release was “Closer to Fine”, their first hit, which charted at Number 52 on the pop chart and Number 26 on the modern rock chart. They even managed one week on the mainstream rock AOR chart at Number 48. In 1990, they won the Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Folk Recording. They were also nominated for Best New Artist.
The second album, Nomads Indians Saints, went gold in December 1991 and contained the hit song, “Hammer and a Nail”, a Number 12 modern rock track; it was not as successful as their first, which was certified platinum at about the same time. The Indigo Girls followed it with the live Back on the Bus, Y’all. Rites of Passage (1992) was an enormous success, featuring “Galileo”, the duo’s first top ten modern rock track. This was followed by Swamp Ophelia in 1994, going platinum in September 1996, and charting at number nine on the Billboard 200 album chart.
In 1995, The Indigo Girls released a live, double-CD, 1200 Curfews. They performed a duet with their culture-hero, Ferron, on the track “Stand Up” on her CD Phantom Center and Saliers appeared on Ferron’s album, Still Riot. Shaming of the Sun appeared in 1997 followed by Come on Now Social in 1999. Shaming of the Sun debuted at Number Seven on the Billboard charts, driven by the duo’s high profile contribution to the Lilith Fair music festival tour. “Shame on You” received more airplay at adult alternative, top 40 and adult top 40 radio stations than any of their previous singles, although this seemed to be a peak in their crossover success.
Indigo Girls released Retrospective in 2000, a compilation album with two new tracks, and in 2002 The Indigo Girls released Become You, a full album of new songs which gained much critical acclaim and became a fan favorite. Their last Epic studio album, All That We Let In, was released in 2004 with an accompanying tour. On June 14, 2005 they released Rarities, a collection of b-sides and rare tracks partially decided by fans’ input, which fulfilled the album count obligation for their contract with Epic.
After departing Epic, The Indigo Girls signed a five-record deal with Hollywood Records, a label under The Walt Disney Company. Their first Hollywood album, Despite Our Differences, produced by Mitchell Froom, was released in September 2006. John Metzger from MusicBox Online described Despite Our Differences as “the most infectious, pop-infused set that the duo ever has managed to concoct. In fact, its melodies, harmonies, and arrangements are so ingratiating that the album carries the weight of an instant classic.” Thom Jurekof from All Music Guide wrote: “part of an emotional journey as complete as can be . . . more relevant than anyone dared expect. It’s accessible and moving and true. It’s their brand of rock and roll, hewn from over the years, that bears a signature that is now indelible - a moving, and utterly poetic offering.”
Ray and Saliers do not ordinarily collaborate in writing songs. They write separately. There are a few exceptions, mostly unreleased songs from their early, pre-Epic days: “I Don’t Know Your Name” and “If You Live Like That.” “Blood Quantum,” which appears on Honor: A Benefit for the Honor the Earth Campaign featured Ray’s verses and chorus and Saliers’s bridge. Finally, “I’ll Give You My Skin,” which appears both on Tame Yourself (Benefit People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) and on the Indigo Girls’ release, Rarities, is a collaborative work by Ray, Saliers and Michael Stipe of R.E.M.
In 1990, Ray founded Daemon Records, which has signed Ellen James Society, Kristen Hall, Rose Polenzani, Girlyman, Nineteen Forty-Five, and James Hall among others.
Ray has put out two solo albums, entitled Stag and Prom, through Daemon. She has toured with both The Butchies and her band, The Volunteers.
Saliers is also planning a solo album, and is co-owner of Watershed Restaurant in Decatur, Georgia, along with her life partner and two of their friends. Saliers also co-founded the Flying Biscuit Cafe in Atlanta, Georgia. In 2005, Emily Saliers and her father, Don Saliers, a theology professor at Candler School of Theology at Emory University, released the book, A Song to Sing, A Life to Live: Reflections on Music as Spiritual Practice.
The Indigo Girls have started their own label to release their next album. Poseidon and The Bitter Bug (2009) is from IG Recordings, with distribution through Vanguard.
The double-disc set includes the album as well as a second all-acoustic version, the latter featuring the bonus track “Salty South”.
“It’s basically like two perspectives of the same song,” group member Amy Ray told Billboard of the Mitchell Froom-produced project. “It gives everybody both sides of the equation.”
Beauty Queen Sister (2011), their fourteenth studio album, is a stunning thirteen-song collection featuring the signature storytelling that fans have grown to love, touching on modern-world worries and romanticizing the simplicity of days gone by. Recorded in Nashville, the duo reunited with producer Peter Collins, with whom the Indigo Girls worked on 1992’s Rites of Passage and 1994’s Swamp Ophelia. Beauty Queen Sister will be the fourth album released on their own IG Recordings/ Vanguard Records.