Genre: Folk Folk Rock
They began 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-52’s, Pylon, R.E.M., The Georgia Satellites, Widespread Panic 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, but were not friends because Saliers was a grade ahead of Ray. While attending Shamrock High School, they grew closer, and started performing together, first as The B-Band and then as Saliers and Ray.
By 1985 they had begun performing together again, this time as the Indigo Girls. In a March 2007 NPR Talk of the Nation interview, Saliers stated “we needed a name and we went through the dictionary looking for words that struck us and indigo was one.”
Their first release in 1985 was a seven-inch single called “Crazy Game”, with the B-side “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 were not likely to get a record deal. Strange Fire apparently changed his mind.
Epic Records (1988-2005)
The success of 10,000 Maniacs, Tracy Chapman, and Suzanne Vega encouraged Epic Records to look for other folk-based female singer-songwriters; Epic signed the duo in 1988. Their first major-label release, also titled Indigo Girls, which charted at #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 their first hit “Closer to Fine” (an unlikely collaboration with Irish band Hothouse Flowers), which charted at #52 on the pop chart and #26 on the modern rock chart. They even managed one week on the mainstream rock album-oriented rock chart at #48. In 1990, they won the Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Folk Album. They were also nominated for Best New Artist, but lost to Milli Vanilli, who eventually had the award revoked.
Their second album, Nomads Indians Saints, went gold in December 1991 and contained the hit song “Hammer and a Nail”, a #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 and 1992’s album Rites of Passage, featuring “Galileo“, the duo’s first top 10 modern rock track (#10). This was followed by Swamp Ophelia in 1994, going platinum in September 1996, and charting at #9 on the Billboard 200 album chart.
In 1995, the Indigo Girls released a live, double CD, 1200 Curfews. 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. The track “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.
Retrospective, a compilation album with two new tracks, was released in 2000 and Become You followed two years later. Their last Epic studio album was All That We Let In, 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 fan’s input, which fulfilled the album count obligation for their contract.
After departing Epic, the Indigo Girls signed a five-record deal with Hollywood Records, a label under The Walt Disney Company. Their first (and only) Hollywood album, Despite Our Differences, produced by Mitchell Froom, was released on September 19, 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 Allmusic 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 own brand of rock & roll, hewn from over the years, that bears a signature that is now indelible. A moving, and utterly poetic offering.”
Independent work (2007- present)
Following their break with Hollywood Records, the Indigo Girls announced their next record would be released independently. In a correspondence from Saliers on their website, she wrote that they had finished “all ten tracks for our new cd which will be released in February 2009”. Poseidon and the Bitter Bug was released independently on March 24, 2009, from IG Recordings, the Indigo Girls’ label, and distributed through Vanguard Records. This album will be their first fully independent release since 1987’s Strange Fire. This record will also be their first two-CD set since 1995’s live album 1200 Curfews; the first disc has the 10 tracks accompanied by a backing band, and the second includes the same 10 songs with only Ray and Saliers on vocals and acoustic guitars and an additional track.
While the Indigo Girls have been uniquely successful, other up-and-coming all-female bands that have been compared to them include the Canadian duo Tegan and Sara, the American jazz duo Mrs. Fun, and the American trio The Shells.