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An epic journey

Indigo Girls look back on their double-barreled canon of work

"I don't think major labels really know how to deal with 40-year-old, political dykes," says Amy Ray. The outspoken musician and activist, along with her Indigo Girls partner, Emily Saliers, recently ended the duo's contract with Epic Records, a label owned and operated by industry giant Sony Music.

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"We are just who we are. And they let us be that for a long time. But at some point, they were like, 'Well, you can be who you are, but if you are who you are, we're not going to be able to do anything with you,'" she says. "That's basically what their perspective was."

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But she quickly adds that the deal, originally signed in '88, wasn't all bad. "There were a lot of resources, financial and distribution-wise, available," says Ray. Every Indigo Girls album the company released has remained in print, an amazing feat in itself. "And I think they would have re-signed us," continues Saliers, "but it was time for a change."

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"I'm just thinking about songwriting right now and the fact that we are gonna record a new album in March, no matter what," says Ray. "Even if we don't have a record deal, we'll just go get a loan and do it."

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Now, as they leave Epic and look ahead to a new chapter of their recording career, CL asked Saliers and Ray to comment on each of their previous releases.

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"Crazy Game" 7-inch single, 1985

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Ray: "Oh God, we were so young. That's a good song; Emily wrote it. I think the song holds up, but man, I can't sing that kind of music, that bluesy, torch stuff. That's Kelly Hogan's territory."

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INDIGO GIRLS, Self-titled EP on Indigo Records, 1986

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Ray: "I was just starting to write. And I don't feel like I hit my stride till, I don't know, four years ago, maybe."

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Indigo Girls, self-titled Epic debut, 1989

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Saliers: "Everything was starting was roll then; we were just wide-eyed and taking it all in. When I listen to it now, we sound very young and the songs feel very, very young."

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Strange Fire, Epic reissue of '86 indie LP, 1989

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Ray: "Emily's songwriting was always really way ahead of mine. Now I feel like we are more even with each other, but back then I felt like to some degree she was really carrying me. That happens. I was carrying her in a business way. That's why it's a good partnership."

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Nomads, Indians, Saints, 1990

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Saliers: "It's our weakest record. It's not bad; it just doesn't have the same character a lot of the others do."

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Back On the Bus, Y'all, 1991

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Saliers: "I hardly ever think about that little record. It was just to capture the feeling of traveling and touring."

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Rites of Passage, 1992

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Ray: "We were very ascendant, we had a huge audience, 'Galileo' was a really successful song, but most importantly this is where we started working with producer Peter Collins.

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Swamp Ophelia, 1994

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Ray: "The prototype for what we wanted to do later. We were transitioning out of some things, and I was experimenting with some ideas."

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1200 Curfews, 1995

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Saliers: "We chose the title to represent how many shows we thought we'd played up to that time."

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Shaming of the Sun, 1997

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Saliers: "That has 'Shame On You' on it, which was a pretty big radio song for us."

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Come On Now Social, 1999

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Ray: "The musicians on that record became our family for a long time. A lot of people haven't heard it, but if it's not our best record, it's one of our top three."

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Retrospective, 2000

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Saliers: "It was an interim record. It's like 1200 Curfews in that it's meant to span our career. We spent a lot of time picking the songs for that. The fans can really sense when you are actually involved in the process. We're extremely hands-on."

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Become You, 2002

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Ray: "That's our goin' back to our roots record. I begged Emily to do it; we said, 'This is going to be an acoustic record,' and worked from there. That's the point where my songwriting was really coming together."

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All That We Let In, 2004

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Saliers: "It's a combination of Become You with a more fleshed-out sound, but still very organic."

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Rarities, 2005

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Saliers: "We wanted to pick a collection of obscure stuff that even the hardcore fans didn't have. It's totally for them and we spent a lot of time on it. We wanted to do something special for this one."