lifeblood: songs: backgrounds: burn all the letters


1997-04-03: girls night out: the indigo girls interview, music central:

question. are there any songs on this album that have a personal, an especially personal meaning for either of you?

amy. you always say this after you make a record, but it's probably my most personal record, my most direct, my most literal, my most unhinged. i don't care what anybody thinks. this is how i felt; this is how i feel. i need to get it out: a "this one's for me" kind of feeling.

emily. yeah. these songs are very personal. but some are more experimental for me, like "caramia" is more electric guitar. first time that's happened for me. and i stuck two ideas of songs together. never really done that before. and then "burn all the letters" is a song that i started writing in the studio. never done that before either a just kind of jamming.

question. what inspired that?

emily. well a lot was our honor the earth tour, and some of the native americans that we've met. and also that whole issue of privacy, which i think about a lot.

question. that must be a big issue for you.

emily. well, it's not so bad really, but i think about the way human beings are really interested to know every detail of everyone else's life. and then i coupled that with the injustice of having government agencies infiltrating your life, and watching you, and sometimes killing you. i just sort of tied those things together loosely in my mind, and in that song.

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1997-05-31: hey kind friend, creative loafing:

shaming of the sun is about letting things come out uncensored - unfinished in some cases, like the lyrics yet to be written for "shed your skin," about discovering that "stuff inside." like "burn all the letters," which has a '60s soul music feel to it augmented by andy stochansky (of ani difranco fame) on talking drum and dumbek, and a more roll than rock chorus provided by ulali. emily, whose favorite music is funk, soul, rap, hip-hop and etta james, didn't think she had it in her either.

"i can't project that same kind of soul, but i feel it inside," says emily. "if it came out on that song, it's because we were in the studio jamming when i wrote it. so it wasn't like i just sat down with my guitar and came up with a funky groove. i found a few chords and sara started playing and jerry started playing, and that's how that got released, in that kind of a groove." she waits a beat. "and then, of course, i pored over the lyrics. i worked on those lyrics a long time."

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1997-06: indigo girls, lilith fair website:

regardless of their methods, both writers freight their songs with meanings as roundly shaded as those of reality itself. in "scooter boys," amy ray nails oppression in images both present and past (the ghost of zapata, the rumble of scooters); in "burn all the letters," emily saliers joins the personal and political. "the song's about the public's insatiable desire for consumption of things intended to be private, she explains. "it's also about protecting the sacredness of a love by destroying the physical evidence." this fusion of intelligence and fervor flashes, too, from music that's equally trenchant: it moves us body, mind, soul.

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1997-09: no boundaries - indigos girls cut loose, acoustic guitar:

jpr: 'burn all the letters' sounds to me like an open-d tuning [d a d f# a d].

es: now that's a weird one because of the key change.

ar: i'm open in eb [eb bb eb g bb eb].

es: i start in open d, so i play the chunka-chunk in the beginning. [when the song modulates to eb.] amy takes over the chunka-chunk and i play muted a half step up. i obviously can't play open chords.

ar: it was a bitch to do, but it ended up being cool. guitars take on a different character when you tune them differently. the minor tunings are really sad and beautiful.

jpr: all these tunings must explain why you have so many guitars on stage.

ar: yeah, we feel gluttonous sometimes, but we are in different tunings from each other on most songs, or different capo positions at least. and then, there are never two songs in a row in the same tuning. when we didn't have a tech, we used to arrange our set list so that we did every song with a capo on the third fret in a row.

es: i can't believe we ever did that.

ar: we didn't arrange it by what sounded best, but by what was the easiest to keep in tune.

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1997-09-25: shaming of the sun , all things considered - national public radio:

lh: the song you do, "burn all the letters," political story, personal story, combination of both?

es: combination of both definitely. it started out personal and just became political. i think in a lot of amy's and my travels, we've come across a lot of activists, especially in the native american communities. started reading up on, you know, some of the united state's government involvement in central and latin american countries and thinking about the way that large power systems infiltrate personal lives. it's a love song, but also in the context of all it, the people we've met whose lives have been torn apart by infiltration, i couldn't help but think about that kind of experience and what that would feel like and that's how 'burn all the letters' started out, as a love song and then became this sort of sentiment of: we have to keep something for ourselves sacred and personal and private, and the only way we can do that is to burn the physical evidence of it.

(audio clip of burn all the letters)

lh: tell us about the ulali women who are singing backup.

es: (to amy) where did we first meet those guys?

lh: was that on your tour? the honor the earth tour....

es: the honor the earth tour - yeah, that's right.

ar: it was the honor the earth tour in '93. they're just - they're amazing. three women, multi - it's a weird mix. they, like they blend like african and gospel and folk and celtic and traditional indian sort of music together and it's like vocalizing, in a serious way. i mean, their harmonies are impeccable.

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1997-12-04: indigo girls: the politics of change and song, high plains reader:

hpr: on the new album songs like "it's alright" she opens up with a little again. but the song "burn all the letters" seems to be more about trying to retain a sense of privacy and the resentment of intrusion. is it hard to balance the desire to tell people about yourself and still keep some things private?

ar: i think for her it's hard to balance. i say everything, i don't worry about it. for her that is what that song is about. it started out from a personal perspective about the invasion of privacy. i the process of writing that song she started thinking about all the activists that we know whose lives are infiltrated by the f.b.i. and their phones are tapped. they can never have a life of their own, because someone is always watching over them. then she started thinking about the lack of privacy that those people have and how it relates to her own, and the world of voyerism and the world of paparazzi and all that invasion, compared to the black panthers or wounded knee.

hpr: there is an interesting duality that comes across in that song. emily sings the chorus and you follow withthis other chorus almost call-and-response like. she sings "burn all the letters" and you follow that singing "someone is always watching." it reflects the fact that you two are different but work together so well as a unit.

ar: when she wrote that song i kept saying, "you have to write more. i know what this song is about, but there is so much more that other people aren't going to know. you need to write more lyrics and i'll sing something separate from you." that's what happened and that's the whole point, for it to be that duality that she was talking about. that is the lucky thing about being a duo: being able to work that way.

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2014-12-02: es.1996, official indigo girls "a year a month blog" on tumblr:

there were other new musical avenues for me that came to life on shaming. i wrote my first song on banjo, "get out the map." i wrote it in the same living room as i had previously written "galileo." i was learning that picking up a different instrument brought a completely different song. i never would have written "get out the map" on guitar, and i never would have written "cara mia" on acoustic guitar. i found the chords to "leeds" on a piano. the experience from that dark trip to england had been literally brooding in me for a couple of years, but when i stumbled on those chords, they found their way out. and that was the first song i wrote on piano. i don't even remember the chords now. i'm not a piano player. but it was a huge step in expanding musically to pick up a new instrument and write with it, even if i didn't play it well and certainly not properly. around this time, amy and i were broadening our sound palette with harmonica, mandolin, banjo, piano, dulcimer, and more than ever, electric guitar. i also remember when amy chose a hip-hop loop to run through "shed your skin," an absolutely new twist and turn for amy's music. "leeds" is and may always be the only song we ever played a hurdy gurdy on.

we had met the group ulali (jennifer kreisberg, soni moreno, and pura fe crescioni) through honor the earth activism, and what they brought to shaming of the sun is more than i can attempt to describe. they shook "shed your skin," made "leeds" completely haunting, and brought all of the life to "burn all the letters." amy and i loved and love them as fierce native activists and strong women. there are moments during making a record when i can't believe my good fortune that an artist has joined us. and then there is ulali!!!! they possess me to crank the volume full blast whenever their parts come up.

a little note on "burn all the letters;" it was the only song i've ever written while in the studio making a record. i was in the booth, and we were working on something else, and i came up with the guitar chords and jerry marotta started playing to it. and then i just loved it immediately. part of the song lyrics became about private papers being published for public consumption, and the other part became about the u.s. government spying on and infiltrating communities during the american indian movement. it felt freeing to actually accept a song that hadn't been written with the intention of going on the record. and to this day, it is one of my favorite songs because of the way it came to life, because of dave edwards' stand-up bass part with jerry's drums, and because ulali took it to a soul-stirring place for me.


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