GPB's Kristi York Wooten speaks with Indigo Girls Emily Saliers and Amy Ray about their career boost in 2023 and how women songwriters from different generations led popular music this summer.



Fifty-seven seconds into the trailer for the Barbie movie, acoustic guitars strum a familiar rhythm as Margot Robbie — who portrays the blonde Mattel doll — drives off in a plastic convertible with Ken (Ryan Gosling) stowed away in the back. Both are singing along with Indigo Girls' "Closer to Fine," the 1989 folk-rock banger which serves as an anchor for the film's themes of independence and women's empowerment. It is a moment of pure joy on the big screen that hits home today as Barbie makes its streaming debut on Max.

For Indigo Girls' Amy Ray and Emily Saliers and their fans, the song's placement in the film (moviegoers hear it three times in the 1 hour, 54-minute flick) was a welcome surprise that boosted the careers of the Grammy-winning Atlanta duo in 2023.

But the song was more than just a blast from the past. It sat alongside music from Dua Lipa, Billie Eilish and Haim, exposing Indigo Girls' music to new generations.

Combined with other film projects, high-profile media coverage and a stint on NPR's Tiny Desk, Amy and Emily have had a banner year.

GPB spoke with Indigo Girls about the importance of music and causes during a time of global unrest, their kinship with the Georgia music scene, all things Barbie — and what's next.



This interview has been edited for length and clarity.


On the surprises of 2023: Three films 

Kristi York Wooten: Before you got to 2023, did you have any idea what was ahead for this year? How much of it was already planned and how much of it just happened?

Emily Saliers: Well, we knew that the documentary It's Only Life after All, was in the works because they've been working on it for three, almost four years, I guess, by the time it premiered at Sundance [in January]. I forget when we learned exactly, but we didn't know until the certain point that it would be at Sundance. We had no idea that that was going to happen. And then we knew that [the musical film] Glitter and Doom was in the works, but we didn't find out about Barbie until later in the year, and that was a total shocker. So to answer your question, no. I mean, we knew we had some things in the works, like the two films, but no idea about Barbie.

Amy Ray: We had put a record out [Look Long, released in May 2020] during the pandemic. It was sort of a great time and an odd time to put a record out. So our expectations [for 2023] were that we would get out there and rediscover playing live in front of people and not just over Zoom and, you know, play these songs and do our thing. And we have a really cool audience that's been super loyal over the years and like a gift, because not everybody has that longevity and an audience. We just feel lucky. I guess things started to feel — the shows when we came back out — felt really magical and just super-loaded with emotion and spirit and joy. And in the face of all the stuff that had happened as well during pandemic, you know, the Black Lives Matter marches and all the people that had suffered and lost a lot. And in the music industry, a lot of people lost a lot. And in the world, you know, the poverty level went high, and certain places didn't have access to resources. And it was a hard time to see the disparity, I think, between who had resources and who didn't. Even in the U.S., in small towns and where I live, I could see it. But then the joy of the music was just palpable and healing.

But the Barbie thing: It really kicked off kind of a, you know, snowball effect in some ways. It's bizarre. I mean, we were like, "Wow," you know? Because all of the sudden, there were interviews from the New York Times or NPR or whatever, that we hadn't done in a long time, and there hadn't been interest in a long time. And like Harper's Bazaar, surprising things that the people at our age and our level just don't get, you know, like — that's not an opportunity that pops up for us. So it was it was really fortunate and kind of took us aback in a good way, I guess.

Kristi York Wooten: With the scripted film Glitter and Doom, I know, Amy, you're doing stuff with your band, too. Yet all these things are happening for Indigo Girls. How do you keep all these things straight in terms of putting everything together?

Emily Saliers: With Glitter and Doom, we were approached, we were sent the script, and we get a lot of offers or a good amount of offers. People who are artists, creators who want to include our music and sometimes it's like, "This isn't quite right," whatever. But we both read it. We're both like, "This is a really cool story." And the fact that they wanted Indigo Girls music to be the music for the film, of course, was an honor. And then, Michelle Chamuel is the producer, and we heard her treatments of the songs, her productions, and were, like, "This is really different. No one has ever produced our music like this." We're really drawn to that. And then Amy had a cameo. She flew down to Mexico City, I guess it was. And then I did mine in Atlanta and there were cameos of other queer artists. And so it was, first of all, it was a surprise. It was great material.

The music was produced really well. We like [director Tom Gustafson and writer Cory Krueckeberg]. Glitter and Doom is getting ready to have a deal where you can see it in the theater, and you can stream it and so on. And we're just on the cusp of a deal with for It's Only Life After All, the documentary. ... And you never know exactly how that timing is going to work out because both films have been in the works for so long. But it sort of is like a synergy also where we just stop and go, "Wow, these are two wonderful projects that we are very fortunate to be included in" and written about and so on. So there is that intersection. We do keep it straight somehow.


On the confluence of 'Closer to Fine' and 'Fast Car' being the songs of the summer

Kristi York Wooten: Your 1989 song “Closer to Fine” in the Barbie movie and “Fast Car,” Luke Combs’ remake of the 1988 Tracy Chapman song, really were the songs of the summer. And they were released, what, 11 months apart or something back in the day? I think so many people heard these two songs, women artists, not the current crop of women artists, but women artists making this music. And I don't know if you guys noticed that, too, as Barbie was coming up and the remake of "Fast Car" was everywhere, Tracy Chapman, of course, became the first Black woman to write a No. 1 country song. For women writers and for women songwriters, I think that was the story this summer.

Amy Ray: Well, I mean, I adore Tracy Chapman, so that was a moment for me of amazingness, you know — just that someone had the brilliance to record that song and remake it at this time. And I think for me, it's an interesting kind of coming together of that era when we [women songwriters] were all sort of right before [the Lilith Fair years] and we were all coming out with songs and a lot of women were. There were so many people that we were influenced by back in the day, and Tracy was one of them for me. And now, there's all these great new women artists as well … Boygenius, Billie Eilish, Taylor Swift and all these great bands.

And so to me, our song “Closer to Fine” [with the original version in the film and a new version by Brandi and Catherine Carlile on the soundtrack] kind of marries together generations, you know? Because it's not going to work if it's just a bunch of older folks reminiscing about something and feeling sentimental. It's got to cross into the other things that are happening. And I think that's why Tracy’s song — for one thing, it’s one of the best songs ever written — but I think people were ready [for it again] because of what they're seeing with the younger generations and the chances women are being given now. So for me, it kind of made sense and was a really cool thing.


Emily Saliers: With everything that Amy referred to earlier about all the troubles in this nation, in the world and, you know, the disparities, there's sort of a collective sense or need for songs of substance to some extent. And I think like, you know, a Billie Eilish song, “What Was I Made For?", that's a very sensitive sort of philosophical song that really struck a nerve with people. And “Fast Car.” You know, I have no idea how Luke Combs came to choose that song to record, but it had to strike something in his heart as well. And I know that for [Barbie movie director] Greta Gerwig, “Closer to Fine” had a place in her nostalgia, but like Amy was saying, it's not just nostalgia. I was overwhelmed by the fact that that song had a place in the themes of the movie, that it actually was connected to the story. It wasn't just like a soundtrack song. And so, she intentionally picked that song because the substance of it struck or aligned with some of the vision for her film. So I really do feel like there's more of a need and a want and a tolerance for songs with substance, particularly from women, because, you know, historically, we've always been sort of like shut down or stigmatized for either the content of our songs or the fact that we were queer women with guitars, or whatever.

But I think that there's a broader audience, you know, and Boygenius, as Amy said, typifies that. But there's just a whole slew of great women songwriters now, young women. And I think that there's something … it's not just happening by accident. It's of this time and for a reason. So it was a thrill, you know, on a very simple level, absolute thrill to be included in Barbie. You know, first it was like we heard about it. I was like, "Oh, Barbie? Oh, we better look into this. It's about Barbie." And then, in the hands of Greta Gerwig, it's like a no-brainer: "Yeah, we're moving forward with this!" And so it just dropped out of the sky like a gift. And then I really do believe that it gave us a shot in the arm, so to speak, and a resurgence. And we're noticing younger people in the audience and a more diverse audience. But I look out and I see young women or kids and I'm like, "Cool, how do you know about our music?" So there's a lot of momentum. And I just think it's a great thing because when you've been around for 40 years and then you feel a new energy … like Amy and I are always drawn to what young people are interested in and what causes they've attached themselves to and sort of like the way that young people move the world forward. So to have our music connecting with a younger audience to some extent is really thrilling.


On Georgia music scene connections and 50 years of hip-hop

Kristi York Wooten: Another big story for Georgia music has been a celebration of 50 years of hip-hop. I feel like the whole music industry here, as you know, has been geared to celebrate that, which has been amazing. But that being said, [with all your travels and projects], do you still identify as part of the music industry here? And as women, do you feel a sense of kind of inclusion in that locally, because most of the hip-hop scene here is men? 

Emily Saliers: Well, I think Atlanta, oh, my gosh, the hip-hop and R&B community here is a powerful international force. So, it's like a sense of pride for us to be even connected to Atlanta. And we've been like massive Outkast fans forever. And, you know, I just saw Janelle Monae at the Fox, and she just blew my mind. And I mean, I'm going to have to admit, I'm a huge Young Thug fan. I don't know how that trial is going to pan out, but I love his music and Atlanta's just rich. But the thing about Atlanta is that we always found a warm audience and inclusion. And when we were coming up, you know, we were closely tied to Athens and the whole music scene coming out of the Athens. And so there was always a sense of like, we're all in this very rich, fertile music community.

And I know we did this thing with a bunch of artists and 2 Chainz was on that bill. And I remember I was meeting him backstage and like freaking out you know, it's 2 Chainz, and he knew who we were, which is always a miracle to me, too. Even though our paths don't always cross in the studio, but when they do cross, it's always a recognition like, "Oh yeah, we're hometown people." So it's really an honor to just be part of that. And, you know, like the whole acoustic folk sort of Eddie's Attic listening room scene…you know, we saw Jennifer Nettles and Christian Bush and the whole bunch of people come up through that scene a little younger than us, but mostly peers. So I think that when you celebrate 50 years of Atlanta hip-hop, you're celebrating also the whole music community, because we are very tightly knit. We have a lot of appreciation for each other, and we have a familiarity with each other's work.

Amy Ray:  Yeah, I totally agree, because I feel that same way as in it's exciting to us. Atlanta is this incredible place that hip-hop is talked about in conjunction with. Emily knows more about hip-hop. I love hip-hop, you know, and Emily gives me clues of what to listen to if I'm losing touch with it. But you know, like Rose Scott on WABE did that incredible group of interviews and it was just so informative, and then NPR did a lot of great stuff. And I never felt for once was like, "Why aren't they talking about Indigo Girls associated with it?" or something like that.

Emily Saliers: Me neither.

Amy Ray: I would never feel that way at all, because for us, it's more like the reverse. We're proud of being from the place and the state and hip-hop, you know, really has some serious clout. And [it’s the place where] Jimmy Carter and Rosalynn Carter are from. John Lewis is from. And you know, for us, yeah, we have a serious pride in Georgia. You know, like it's just really a thing. So just to be even associated ... and with Athens, I mean, honestly, we did this really amazing Celebration of R.E.M. at the 40 Watt for the 30th anniversary of Chronic Town. And all these people came and covered R.E.M. songs and some Athens bands came, and Michael [Stipe] was there and Peter [Buck] played and Mike Mills and Bill Berry’s son and I were talking backstage and he looks just like his daddy. That was another moment when I was like, "Oh, this is really cool!" You know, like instead of thinking like, "Oh my God, we're so old," it was more like, "Oh, this is a really fun reunion," you know? And what an incredible legacy Athens has and R.E.M., and how lucky are we that they wanted us to play with them. I mean, we would never have this career if they hadn't taken us under their wing and toured with us and our producer was theirs. And our guy that signed us was actually out to hear R.E.M. You know, we've gotten lucky by virtue of association through being in Atlanta or Athens or in Georgia.

Emily Saliers: And remember, Amy, when we were recording “Get Out the Map,” a song of ours and Dallas Austin was in the studio next door. And we were just like, "Hey, do y'all want to come over and sing backgrounds on this song?" And they did. And it was like, "Yeah, okay. Georgia okay, Georgia, come on." And that's what they did. And that was a cool moment as well. Just another memory of the connections we have.

Amy Ray: And one time when I was recording some vocals for us ... and there was a studio that Andre 3000 was working on something, and I was a stalker. I went over there to see if I could meet him, you know? And I went in, and I heard this beautiful classical grand piano in the background. And it was him. I didn't get to meet him, but he was just playing this incredible music. And I just kind of peeked in for a second and left because I didn't want to bother him. But it's those moments where you're like a kid in the candy store, you know?

Kristi York Wooten : Did you hear his flute album, New Blue Sun?

Amy Ray: No, I've got to hear that.

On playing NPR's Tiny Desk concert

Kristi York Wooten: Tell me about your experience playing NPR's Tiny Desk in February.

Amy Ray: The Tiny Desk concert was so fun. And it's a bucket list for sure, for musicians who get to do that, it’s amazing. The thing that really struck me was just walking out into the little area after we had sound-checked. We'd gone back to a little room to sit there and wait, and we come out ,and it's just like you're seeing all the people. Like I think Rachel Martin, you know, screamed Emily's name. And it's just like all the people that you listen to all day long are sitting there watching, and being open and joyful and clapping. And it was just really a moment for me, for sure. Just to be at NPR is always a moment for me.

Emily Saliers: Me, too. Same thing. Absolute honor, thrill and very naked. Like they're just right in your face, everybody. And it's just you with your instruments. I was nervous, and I was thrilled. And I remember they let us do four songs instead of three, and I was like, ‘Whoa, that's a big deal.’ And then you see all the little things on the desk and behind you all the little trinkets. And as Amy was saying, you know, [we're] just big fans. So that was a great experience.


On the importance of speaking out

Kristi York Wooten: Activism is in your DNA. But on top of everything else this year, also lending your voice to several charity events and just keeping the pedal down, which is what you guys always do, tell me about making the video you posted after the Oct. 7 attacks in Israel.

Emily Saliers: We knew we wanted to say something. It's almost an impossible thing to talk about the situation in the Middle East. So we had two very wise mentors help guide us through the scope of the statement, which was very simple. And basically, we just got to the heart of what we believe, which is that we believe in a peace process and we believe in communication and we believe in humanization. So it was just a statement that we weren't trying to pick apart histories or anything specific to the conflicts. We just wanted to say that we acknowledged the horrific suffering in the area, in the region and because of the war and the Oct. 7 attack. But mainly ... we made a statement based on our belief in humanity and the peace process, and acknowledging the horrific human suffering that was going on. 

Amy Ray: We definitely had to go back and forth. We wrote things out from our perspective and then had a couple of people read them that we trust. Like, "If you're going to say this, you know, you should say this, too." Or "What do you mean by this?’"And it's funny, because it was just a very simple statement. But to arrive to a place where you ask for a cease fire in this day and age is … you know, it's heavy to a lot of people, because they don't agree with it. And we … feel really strongly that people should have their opinions and be able to talk about it in a peaceful way and dialog on it. Because the only way we can come to any solutions ever about anything is people coming from different sides in a civil way. In a not civil way…that's the wrong way, it isn’t the human way, you know? The suffering is just so immense, and we're all the way over here and you feel blessed about your life and then you feel like, "Why do I get to have this life?", basically.


On the future and home life in Georgia

Emily Saliers: Amy's super busy with her band, and we're always touring and then we've had this remarkable year, as you've pointed out, and I'm writing music for musicals now. That's a new foray for me. But we have — you know, we're from Georgia — our home life. Amy has a daughter. I have a daughter. Our relationships are tied to this place. You know, we are grounded in our lives in Georgia. So, it's a first priority to make sure we get the rest and the home time that we need. So when we put all the pieces together, we've been with our same management since 1987... we have the same, you know, team for the most part, so we just have a way of working together. But the nugget at the center of it all is our home life and grounded-ness in Georgia and our communities, our families. So it works out.

Indigo Girls' latest album, Look Long, was released on Rounder records in 2020. The duo will appear at a benefit concert for Project Say Something at Atlanta's Terminal West on Jan. 10, 2024, with special guest David Ryan Harris, is touring with Amos Lee in 2024 and has other plans to be announced in January.