Interview with Emily Saliers of ‘The Indigo Girls’ About Their Upcoming Pittsburgh Show

Photo via the Indigo Girls

All of our differences  are a beautiful part of what makes us all the same.

When I first moved to Pittsburgh in 1991, I was “out,” but just becoming aware of lesbian culture. I worked at a now defunct women’s bookstore on the South Side of Pittsburgh called Gertrude Stein. This is where I first encountered the Indigo Girls and the fact that they made “women’s music” which was code word for lesbian centered music. It was important to me to find music that spoke to me and it helped me to feel not so isolated. The Indigo Girls have been to Pittsburgh on multiple occasions and I have seen them — if my memory serves me right — three or four times. So, it was an honor and a privilege to interview Emily Saliers for this article and for this blog. She was exceptionally nice and gracious ~ Laura

This phone interview has been lightly edited.

Describe your impression of Pittsburgh. What about our city resonates with you?Oh, massive, awesome sports town , very vibrant urban life, it seems to have just grown over the years. We have a couple of friends who are from Pittsburgh from college, so we spent some time earlier there and our following there has always been very loyal and we always have great shows in Pittsburgh. So I would say a very vibrant urban community, great sports town and great fans,   

Are there any Pittsburgh performers and/or artists that influence you? How so? I don’t know, I don’t always know where everybody’s from so I can’t say specifically.

In previous interviews, you’ve spoken about learning from young leaders around intersectionality and queer identity. What advice would you give to white lesbians your own age about embracing those types of lessons and relationships with young leaders?

Well the world is evolving and hopefully our species is evolving, and so it’s really important to be in touch with younger people who are at the forefront of things as they are changing and their going through them. I see much more acceptance for all kinds of sexual identity or queer issues generally speaking to the youths across this country than in older sections of , you know, general society so I think that’s a very important thing to be in touch with. I also think in this political climate, social climate especially with groups like the Black  Lives Matter movement coming to the forefront  and our trans community members needing all the support that they can get and the recognition  and rights, basic rights – it’s important to stay in touch with young people who are also spearheading a lot of these movements  for equality and that we have to recognize that those of us who have come from a place of privilege in terms of race or even identity so even specifically it’s much more acceptable even to say ‘I’m a lesbian’ than to say ‘I’m transgender’ in many circles. So we have to recognize our privilege when it exists and pay attention to the groups of people who are educating us about that and I think there are a lot of youth movements  that are inspiring in the work that they do in keeping  us keeping these things in our minds and our actions as we try to evolve and continue to fight for our rights

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Openly LGBTQ artists are breaking through in all genres. Do you think the current Administration and cultural climate could cause a backlash? How we do we support younger artists so they can come out and pursue a career?

 I think that Trump being elected president was a backlash against racial equality improvements that the Obama administration set forth  and also lgbtq improvements that happened. I know that when federal protection came for same sex marriage, I was able to marry my Canadian wife and we could then live together  in the US. Even if specific rights hadn’t been legislated, the acceptance of the Obama administration caused a backlash and caused people who were frightened of all that change or who were hateful or whatever the case may be whether it was their religious beliefs or whatever caused them to organize and elect a guy like Trump. So I think that backlashes are a reality in our culture.

But specifically with regard to rap, it’s especially encouraging that you know an artist like Frank Ocean can come out and I know that generally speaking  in the black community there are lots of cultural and social issues for why it’s difficult for black gay men or queer men in particular to come out or be accepted. The more that we continue to foster that acceptance  and to continue to fight for rights the more  rights and acceptance we get, but there  will always be a backlash against it as long as there are people who are afraid of that kind of positive change.

I think just talk about these issues like we’re talking right now issues of openness, sexuality, acceptance, what’s the new forefront of issues for queer rights and just the general, like, talk about the artistry of those musicians or artists or even politicians whoever they may be and not focusing on their sexuality I mean celebrating the fact they we’ve come far enough so that were getting more and more accepting but also just focus on our art or our  politics or whatever it is that we are involved with as human beings and then it just normalizes the fact that all of our differences  are a beautiful part of what makes us all the same.

Who are some of the younger openly LGBTQ artists that our readers should be listening to, but might not know about? 

I’m sure everyone knows about Brandi Carlisle by now, whose an incredible artist, she’s a little younger than we are and we’re big fans and we’ve worked with her before. Dominick Kelly from a group called A Fragile Tomorrow has just released a solo record that’s really, really good and those guys are queer friendly so he comes to mind and we are touring with Lucy Wainwright Roche who’s younger than we are and is great.

An article I read recently talked about LGBTQ artists being afraid to use same sex pronouns in their songs with reference to sexual activity/lust. What do you think about that? 

Its interesting, I can see okay so one the one hand when I write a song and its specifically about a woman and I cannot deliver that song fully emotionally without writing the pronoun in it then I will. If I’m wring a song about a relationship that could be interpreted either way, I usually leave it I don’t I’m not necessarily pronoun specific because I want people to be able to feel the song any way that they would feel it or interpret it. I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about this, I just know that in some songs I won’t use a gender specific pronoun and in other songs I definitely do.  And I also think it’s really cool when an artist of the opposite sex or sexual orientation or claims  to queer or not identity  will sing a song from the opposite gender’s perspective, like I always think that’s cool.  So no hard fast rues about it, I think that the more specific you get about what and to whom a song is written it just kind of closes the door on other interpretations of it from your own experience but that does not preclude it from being as valid or important to the song. If I’m making myself clear, it depends on the song,

Who was the very first LGBTQ person that you met and how did that impact you?

Well, Amy, Amy Ray came out when she was just in college, that was back in 1982 and I think that she may be the first openly out person that I knew, and obviously the rest is history.  But I can also tell you that the music of Ferron and Cris Williamson were vital to my burgeoning sexuality awareness.  Because they were women that were performing with other women, talking about women, talking about loving women and in the days that the word gay was barely mentioned and none of us in high school really had a vocabulary for what we were feeling even, the work of those women artists was absolutely crucial to my heart and to my growth, but Amy was really I think the first out person I knew personally.   

Is there anything else you’d like to share with our readers?

Well the only thing that’s on my mind these days is that we cannot normalize what’s happening in politics right now.  We can’t normalize the presidency, we can’t get used to what’s going on, and most people who are active in queer rights activism know that we are being threatened at every corner. I just wrote to my state senator or called my state senator because there was a poison pill introduced into an adoption bill in Georgia and so all over the country lawmakers with this new presidency regime are finding ways to try to insert these things into legislation that are breaking down our rights, you know, moving us backward increasing hate toward lgbtq people. What’s really on my mind and on Amy’s mind is that we have to remain active in the political process, keep our eyes and ears open  seek out any sources of information or education we can get to stay on top of what’s happening. If they had it their way behind closed doors they would just push through all this legislation and hate and roll us back and its intolerable and it can’t be done, so that’s my that’s what’s on our minds as far as our activism and staying vigilant these days in particularly with regards to the queer movement,.

When? May 7, 2017

Where? Carnegie Music Hall in Oakland

What Time? 8 PM

More info.

Latest Album – One Lost Day (2015)


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