After more than 30 years as one half of the iconic acoustic duo Indigo Girls, out singer-songwriter Emily Saliers is releasing her first solo album.
Out last month, the adventurous “Murmuration Nation” finds Saliers and producer Lyris Hung, who plays violin live with the Indigo Girls, blurring a lot of stylistic lines and bringing into the fold elements of R&B, rock electronica and world music.
Amy Ray, the other member of the Indigo Girls, has been recording and performing solo albums outside of the group since 2001. Saliers said she’s been meaning to do a solo album for a long time but didn’t get around to making the kind of music she wanted until now.
“It was timing,” she said. “I really just became more and more drawn toward making a groove-centered album, which the Indigo Girls doesn’t do that much. But that’s the music that I’m really, really drawn to. So Lyris and I just started for fun working on ideas. It just blew me away.”
To realize her sonic vision, Saliers called about the talents of a wide range of accomplished musicians, including bassist Tim LeFebvre (David Bowie, Tedeschi Trucks Band), keyboardist Rachel Eckroth (KT Tunstall) and drummers Robert “Sput” Searight (Snarky Puppy) and Will Calhoun (Living Colour), along with guest appearances from Lucy Wainwright Roche and Jennifer Nettles.
“Some of them were people that Lyris knew,” Saliers said about her collaborators. “Some of the people we just pulled in. I wanted a drummer that was rooted in R&B, soul and hip-hop; Will Calhoun is an amazing drummer. Then there were certain instrument sounds that I wanted on the record. We just put it together based on our wish list of how we wanted the music to be created and the scope of the music. We picked really good players.”
Saliers said her approach to writing lyrics underwent a slight change for her solo album compared to how she would write for an Indigo Girls album.
“I wrestled some with whether or not to say things more directly as opposed to more poetically or more literarily, which is typically my bent in the Indigo Girls with some exceptions,” she said. “I love words. I love double meanings. I love innuendo. I love metaphors. On this particular album, there are a lot of instances where I made a conscious choice to say things more forcefully rather than try to paint them with some sort of literary brush. It was a struggle for me personally deciding which way to go and the way to say certain things. But I think it serves those songs better. ‘Spiders’ is full of metaphors; it’s all metaphors. The spider’s body represents the military industrial complex and geopolitics. But a song like ‘OK Corral’ talks about specific things in history and guns in America and the NRA. It’s much less poetic and straightforward.”
While “Murmuration Nation” does have some folk-influenced moments, for the most part it ventures into a lot of sounds far outside what the Indigo Girls would do.
Saliers said she hopes Indigo fans will enjoy what she does on her solo album — but understands if it isn’t exactly their cup of tea.
“I realize that not everyone will like it but in the end I love this album. So that’s the most important thing,” she said. “Honestly, the response to the album, at least through the Pledge Music campaign and through my social media, has been incredibly positive. I think there will be enough people who understand and feel what we were going after in this album and, in the end, that’s what matters. We created something that we love and that was true to our vision and there are people out there that hook into it. It doesn’t have to be everybody.”
Saliers said the complex and layered songs on “Murmuration Nation” aren’t going to be as easy to recreate live as Indigo Girls’ songs but she’s up for the challenge of putting on an arresting musical experience.
“For the solo tour, we’re going to be a full band with full video production,” she said. “There’s going to be a lot going on texturally and sonically. Sometimes, less is more. It doesn’t have to sound exactly like the record but the musical sound on stage will be dense and it will replicate the vibe of the songs on the album.”
Saliers is also reassuring fans that the Indigo Girls are still active and have plans for the future.
“We’re totally together,” she said. “We’re going to be releasing a symphony album that we record with the University of Colorado Symphony in 2018. Then we’ll do another album of original material. Amy is working on her seventh solo record. We’re still going strong. This just happens to be my first solo album so I’m putting everything into it.”
She admitted that juggling a solo career along with the commitments of being an Indigo Girl does present some challenges.
“I’m finding out that it’s a lot after all these years of singing and touring,” she said. “The voice, it’s a muscle and it can wear down the longer you’ve done it, and we’ve done it for over 30 years. I’m finding that doing Indigo Girls and solo stuff at the same time is quite hard on the voice. So we have to be careful of how we use that instrument and we’re more protective of it than we used to be. It’s just the reality of getting old.”
Still, she’s looking forward to touring for this album as well as doing another solo venture in the future.
“This has been so much fun,” Saliers said. “When you enjoy the process, why wouldn’t you do it again? There’s always something to write about. There’s so much going on in this country and the world. Life is interesting to me so I just write songs about it. It’s very simple.”
“Murmuration Nation” is available now. Emily Saliers performs 8 p.m. Oct. 12 at World Café Live, 3025 Walnut St. For more information or tickets, call 215-222-1400 or visit http://emilysaliers.com.
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