For the Indigo Girls, nothing in life is black and white.
The folk rock duo’s legacy is captured in director Alexandria Bombach’s documentary “It’s Only Life After All,” which premiered at 2023 Sundance. Amy Ray and Emily Saliers, who comprise the Indigo Girls, dropped by the IndieWire Studio at Sundance, presented by Dropbox, along with Bombach, to reflect on their enduring 35-plus-year careers.
“I’ve been a fan since I was 12 years old. I was like, ‘Why hasn’t there been a doc made?'” Bombach asked.
The Indigo Girls, while branded as queer musicians, were on the forefront of social justice issues. The longtime activists spoke out on climate change decades before it became a hot-button topic in the press.
“I could tell you that climate change and Indigenous issues and a lot of social justice issues were not at the forefront and not covered by media so much. So we really struggled to get a lot of the Indigenous issues we were working on covered, and it never happened,” Ray said. “The press would show up to some press things when Bonnie Raitt would be with us or Jackson Browne, because we would bring them in to get the press there and then let the Indians take over the mic, which is what you do. I think Standing Rock was a real turning point.”
Yet Ray noted there was some resistance to publicly and professionally identifying as a lesbian duo.
“We talk about that. In the past, it was just a fear, you know, internalized homophobia, misogyny, white privilege, all that,” Ray said. “I think now we can be more comfortable with labels. I think that was more of a growing that we needed to do. And I also think we hope for a time where the music is forward and the artist is forward and the literature is forward, and it’s not all having to be separated into the sections.”
She added, “Although that is important in and of itself, because when you are looking to read or listen to something that’s centered around a certain identity, it’s nice to know who is that and who is writing about that. So to have the markers is also nice. I guess we don’t want them to be derogatory as markers but more like celebratory markers.”
Saliers said, “There is this fearlessness of the younger population that is really inspiring. Younger people have galvanized their power and they are so critically important in all kinds of social movements and justice movements. They make a difference in elections…In a world where a lot of horrible things happen, to me, the film reminded me of the peace and gratitude of being in a community.”
“It’s Only Life After All” gave both Saliers and Ray a sense of “renewal” over their musical partnership, and the duo looked towards the next generation of musicians like Bon Iver, Lizzo, Allison Russell, Mac Miller, Janelle Monaé, Madison Cunningham, Joy, and Amythyst Kiah.
“I like a lot of hip hop and rap as long as it’s not misogynist in its lyrics,” Saliers said.
Ray added, “We listen to music all the time and we go back to the old stuff and listen to the new stuff and try to get people to come out on the road with us.”
And there is one oldie but goodie Ray can’t stop thinking about. In fact, she even called him “sexy” in the documentary: “Star Trek” character Jean-Luc Picard, played by Patrick Stewart.
“I’m still a Trekkie too. Once a Trekkie, always a Trekkie, I guess,” Ray joked. “I got to sit behind him one time at the Grammys and it was really fun. I didn’t talk to him but just to watch him the whole night…I love that show and I love his acting and I love his character.”
As Saliers summed up, the documentary will hopefully inspire audiences to look back on their own loves, passions, and life’s work.
“You can reflect on how your life is just little steps at a time, and before you know it, you’ve lived a life. I hope they feel inspired that you can just be who you are in your personhood and you can follow your art,” Saliers said. “I don’t often feel the duration of that that I did when I watched the film. I hope people will be reminded that to live a life of duration is a great gift.”
Read IndieWire’s review here.
Reporting by Christian Blauvelt.