Indigo Girls' Emily Saliers Breaks Down the Lyrics of Nostalgic New Single 'When We Were Writers'

Indigo Girls
Jeremy Cowart

Indigo Girls

Sitting in her vacation home, singer-songwriter Emily Saliers is still adjusting to life in the age of coronavirus. "My wife is working right now, we’re home-schooling our daughter, our niece is here who had to stop university, and we’re in a small place where there are a lot of distractions," she tells Billboard. "I brought recording equipment and my guitar, and I really feel like writing, but I haven’t in reality had the time to sit down and do that."

As with many artists, Saliers, who comprises one half of the iconic folk duo Indigo Girls alongside longtime collaborator Amy Ray, can't help but feel a sense of uncertainty when it comes to the future. But it hasn't stopped her or Ray from prepping their long-awaited new album, Look Long, due out on May 22.

The singer says that the album deals with "long-term perspective," which she finds to be eerily prescient in the current times. "I can think through every song on the album and point to something that will become larger in its experience from when I wrote them or when Amy wrote them because of the virus," Saliers says.

The latest song to come off of the project is "When We Were Writers," a nostalgic track Saliers wrote that deals with linking the past to the present, as the songstress relives the two years she spent at Tulane University in New Orleans. "That was such a fertile time for me," she says. "Those memories are visceral. I keep going back to that time and I keep writing songs and I never run out of material about that time.”

The bright track sees Saliers and Ray channeling the spirit and energetic passion of their younger years into a wistful melody, singing, "When we were writers when we were fighters/ Before we found purpose and made deals with God/ Let's pull an all-nighter push wood in the fire/ It might just look like smoke in my eyes, but I'm still burning inside."

Saliers says that, ultimately, the titular "writers" could be replaced with any occupation or activity that makes the listener feel passionate. "The word 'writers' becomes a metaphor for whatever fire you keep in your belly throughout life," she says. "I chose the word 'writers' as a noun because I was a writer and a student, and when I was 18, I was blazing. But even now at 56 years old, it's quieter, but it’s still a blaze.”

While some of the song's lyrics directly reference some of Saliers' fondest memories ("Neville's singing on a makeshift stage/ you sittin' on a towel in the shade" recalls an actual concert from her college years), some of them capitalize on that "blazing" spirit of writing. "When I say things like 'The sentence gets tighter, the impact grows wider,' that comes straight from good writing, or what I learned in English class," she explains. "There’s a lot of metaphor in it."

When she sings the words "some sailed the calmer seas serial monogamy/ Best trip I ever took was on the ship that I wrecked and how I got set free," Saliers says she's speaking directly to her queer fans who understand exactly what she means. “I wanted to leave a safe and easy life, but as a queer person, it definitely was not going to be easy," she reveals. "I had a loving family and supportive parents and siblings, but in my personal life, I had to wreck some things on that ship in order to sail free. So that is all autobiographical.”

Ultimately, Saliers says she hopes fans find something they can relate to when listening to "When We Were Writers," if only because she worked hard to make sure the song rang true to her own life. "I put a lot into that song," she says. "Every sentence is speaking to something that I have thought about or experienced.”


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