In their younger days, neither Amy Ray nor Emily Saliers looked like a sure bet for pop stardom. True, they both took up music early. “When I was 13, I performed at my grandmother’s boss’s cocktail party,” says Ray, 25. “But then Grandma wrote to Hee Haw to ask if I could be on the show, and they never wrote back. She was bummed.”
“I started writing songs when I was 9,” says Saliers, 26. “I wanted to be a big star—but my songs made no sense.”
Luckily, Ray and Saliers got together. Today they’re the Indigo Girls, and their major-label debut album, Indigo Girls, seems bound for the Top 40. Their distinctive, updated folk sound—”Peter, Paul and Mary, the New Seekers and an acoustic Jefferson Airplane all rolled into one,” as one critic put it—has won them high-profile fans like R.E.M. and Hothouse Flowers, both of whom helped out on the LP. A video of the first single, “Closer to Fine,” an earnest song about the search for personal fulfillment, plays regularly on MTV, and the Girls are currently on their first solo U.S. tour.
It’s all a far cry from Shamrock High School in Decatur, Ga., where Amy, daughter of a radiologist and a housewife, and Emily, daughter of a theology professor and a librarian, became friends. They had met years earlier, “but we didn’t hang out,” says Emily. “We had this unspoken competition because we both played guitar.” In high school they strummed and sang as a duo, but it wasn’t until they moved on to Emory University in Atlanta, where Amy was a religion major and Emily studied English, that they hit the local club circuit and decided to go pro. Their name was a whim of Amy’s. “I found it in the dictionary,” she says. “It’s a deep blue, a root—real earthy.” In 1987, after putting out an album called Strange Fire on their own label, they landed a contract with Epic Records.
These days Amy lives in an Atlanta apartment, Emily in a house she owns nearby. “Amy listens to rock and roll and alternative bands,” says Emily. “I like Joni Mitchell, Joni Mitchell and Joni Mitchell. She’s a genius.”
Someday aspiring folkies may be saying the same about the Indigo Girls, though not everyone is convinced—yet. “My parents have been very supportive,” says Emily. “But my dad still says, ‘When this short-lived career is over and you go back to grad school…”