Q&A: Indigo Girls

Grammy Award-winning duo Indigo Girls will headline Ryman Auditorium Nov. 17 in support of their upcoming album, Beauty Queen Sister. Folk singer- songwriter Brandi Carlile serves as the opening act. In an interview with Out & About Newspaper, Amy Ray of the Indigo Girls offers her thoughts on the current state of gay rights and the duo's secrets of success.

After being on the road together for 26 years, how do you keep things fresh?

A lot of it is changing the set list every night, and it helps when we have new records. Also, the people we play with, the musicians or the opening band, they're a constant source of inspiration for us. I think also that we tour in short segments---three weeks on, five days off---that keeps it interesting. I think if you tour so much there are some nights where you're inevitably going through the motions and it does a disservice to the audience.

Since June 2010, you've had a live album, a holiday album and now the new studio album, Beauty Queen Sister. Why has it been such a prolific period for you?

I don't know. A lot of it is people that keep us inspired, people that we collaborate with. Like with our holiday record, we had a good group of musicians and we had such a good time that we wanted to use them for our regular songs, too. We write separately, so that gives us a different perspective. Any great writer has to do the work.  I've had talks with songwriters and read books, and it's so much about the process. I used to think it was all about when the muse hit you, but that's wrong. (laughs) So now I make sure and sit down five days a week. It's like a job. This is our art, but it's also a job and you have to keep working at it. After being on the road, it's kind of hard for me to write and start back to my discipline, but I do it.

To what do you owe your career longevity?

I think it's a combination of the audience being really great, and passing the music along for us. There's word of mouth and we've developed a loyal, core following. And new people have come on board, too. We've really done it in a grassroots way. Radio is important to us when it happens, and we love it when we're on the radio, but we don't have to have it. On a business level, we've had the same management, same booking agent, kind of the same team since we started. They keep things going for us.

What are your thoughts on the current state of gay rights in the United States?

So much has happened since we started in the Eighties. And then there are people that came before us that paved the way. The conversation has definitely evolved. Talking about gender has kind of been separated from sexuality. The transgender (movement) has given us even more dialogue. There've been the openings of so many doors, but also the closing of doors.

We're changing communities little by little. "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" was such a big thing because the military has such an impact on what happens in our community. There's so much access to resources now where people didn't have resources and it helps them to understand more of who they are. People are more confident about their sexuality, with the internet, gay media, gay-straight alliances in schools, PFLAG. There are more opportunities for younger people, and even people who are coming out at a later age. But still there are a lot of people who have the pain of not knowing who they are. There's a lot of work to do, but we're making progress.

Your last Nashville appearance was at Cheekwood in August 2010. What will it be like to perform here again?

Well, it's at the Ryman, so it's such a historical, gorgeous venue. It's so intimate. Our last album was actually made in Nashville, so we spent some time there, and it's great to go back to the city where you created the music. We have lots of great memories. The city, I feel, is really coming alive in the last five years.

Tickets range from $28.50 - $49.50 and are available for purchase through Ticketmaster and the Ryman box office.

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