lifeblood: songs: backgrounds: closer to fine

1989-04-07: the indigo girls are red hot!, cbs records press release:

the atlanta-based duo have just completed work on their first video, "closer to fine." the clip was directed by tamra davis, whose diverse credits range from tone-loc to the bangles to soul asylum. no sooner was the video finished than indigo girls set out on their first national tour.


1994-02-18: (unknown source):

interviewer: your last album was up to about 800,000 units that are out.

emily saliers: [laughs]

amy ray: it hasn't recouped yet. it hasn't recouped yet. [laughs]

interviewer: how do you - is it hard to like come back with another album two years, like, to your audience and what are they going to get from this or - you know what i mean? like, if you just had a really great record, so how do they - how does this compare to the last album- and where you've gone from there, and what can the audience get from this. i mean -

[someone knocks on door]

interviewer: you can let somebody in.

interviewer: that's right. 'cause heidi should be in here too. i'm sorry. sorry heidi.

amy ray: when we do a record, we don't think about what the last record sold or what our audience expects. i mean, that's just not what we think about. and if - so really, it's more of a challenge of let's make sure that this record is different from the last one musically, maybe. make sure we don't repeat the same pattern. because when you work with the same producer, you have a habit of falling back on things that work for you. and so, you have to challenge yourself and not stagnate, and you challenge yourself by learning different instruments or creating something - a different arrangement idea, you know. and if you find yourself falling back on the same patterns, just kind of go - you know, we've tried, we used that before, we know that can work. why don't we explore a different area? and ultimately do what's best for the song, but explore as many different areas as possible. we never think about the sales from the last record or whether we'll ever have a "closer to fine" again and those kind of things.

emily saliers: oh, big deal, "closer to fine." [laughter]


1997-xx-xx: scholastic song writing contest tape transcription

emily: i wrote closer to fine probably about 8 years ago. i was sitting on a porch in vermont, and i was trying to get my life in order, and i was thinking about all the different sources that we look to for healing and one was you know looking to the youth and innocence of children, and one was going to the doctor to get your physical health taken care of, and one was turning to god or philosophy and so on and so i was thinking about all those different things where you look for your answers, and then what i sort of came up with was that we draw from each of those sources. sort of a reminder to myself not to get too stressed out, to take all things into account. sort of a reminder for balance in life.


1999-02-27: over at amy's, footnotes:

inspired to write "closer to fine" while taking a vacation with her parents, emily reflected on her friends' troubling times.

"i started to think about the ways that we try to solve our problems, and the songs is about a quest for balance in life," she said. "it's saying we put all our stock into religion or a therapist or into a vacation or things like that. it's better to take all things into account, rather than think that one source is going to give you all the answers to your problems."


2000-10-03: retrospective liner notes:

"sitting on the porch of a rustic cabin in vermont, thinking about where i and others seek respite and answers to questions that plague us and keep us from peace, realizing that we must drink from the many varied wells to almost quench that thirst."


2006-12-07: emily saliers of indigo girls, song facts:

carl wiser (songfacts): i'd love to start with "closer to fine."

emily saliers: okay.

songfacts: now, that song, i'm wondering if it's based on real experiences.

emily: it is based on real experiences. i mean, all of my songs, they're a combination of real experiences and what i observe through other peoples' behavior and experience. so that song... i was with my family in vermont, and we were sitting in this, like, rustic cabin, and i was sitting on a front porch and looking out into the trees, which, you know, whenever you're such a bucolic setting, it can make you feel very philosophical. so that's how i was feeling. and that song is about not beating yourself up too hard to get your answer from one place. there's no panacea, that in order to be balanced or feel closer to fine it's okay to draw from this or to draw from that, to draw from a bunch of different sources. so it's about being confused but looking for the answers, and in the end knowing that you're going to be fine. no seeking just one definitive answer.

songfacts: was there really a doctor of philosophy? was that based on a real person?

emily: no, it's sort of a type. like a stereotype. and i remember in high school one of my teachers had a poster of rasputin on his door. you know, and his pictures just looked so bizarre to me, and always struck me. and i sort of put those images together, and it was sort of a poke at academia and the way it can sometimes be removed from reality. so i was saying i don't think this professor has the right to judge me in terms of real life, when we're caught up in this insular, sort of strange academic world. so that was sort of a comment about that.

songfacts: and the bar at 3 a.m., did that actually happen?

emily: well, amy and i used to be a bar band, and we would play 'til 3 a.m. like every night. so practically... for 13 nights in a row. three sets, finishing at 3 a.m., so i had some early experiences at bars at 3 a.m., certainly.

songfacts: so, in the song "galileo," i have this image of you having one of your favorite beverages with a conversation with someone, and i was wondering what the real story is.

emily: well, i was talking with my friend about reincarnation. what we believe, you know, does it mean that you come back as a dog or a tree or whatever, another human being, and the exchange of souls and all that stuff. and that just got me thinking about it. and i wanted to write a song that was upbeat, that sort of took the whole subject sort of in a lighthearted way, even though i was thinking about it very seriously. there's this one point in the song where, as i understood reincarnation, you know it's a regeneration of souls for the betterment of all creatures and things over time. and i was thinking, you know, i'm so far from being the perfect soul that i should be that at least the world isn't going to experience nuclear holocaust while i'm alive, because i have to have my soul be regenerated at least once. so it was kind of like taking a heavy subject and sort of having fun with it.

songfacts: so we would keep improving on ourselves every time we reincarnate.

emily: that's the way i understood it back then. i don't know if i believe in the exchange of souls, but i'm not a firm believer in, like, reincarnation, and that i'm going to come back and be a dog, or another creature. i have a different belief system now. but back then, my friend really believed that we come back as something else. and it is a regeneration of souls until we reach nirvana.


2008-08-01: amy ray takes your questions,

q: your solo music is so different from the indigo girls' music - it's much harder-hitting. if that is your true style and love, are you at all weary of singing ig songs that don't at all jive with that style like "galileo" and "closer to fine"? - nina

ar: i don't get tired of "galileo" or "closer to fine," because whenever i play "closer to fine" i always think to myself, "wow, this is a great song." it's a very well-crafted folk song that means a lot.

there's something that i don't have in indigo girls - i can't put my finger on it-, but it's something i can't do, like with politics or a more radical queer approach, and certain loud kind of rock things that i just don't do with indigo girls. i think emily and i - we rock and we play some rocking songs at different times, but for me it's my passion in a different way. with indigo girls, it's a totally different feeling. creating harmonies with someone is very magical; there's really nothing like it. it's a whole other side of performing.


2009-02-24: interview with indigo girls' emily saliers,

how do you stay inspired on the road with all the older songs? how do you avoid auto-pilot on something like "closer to fine"?

[laughs] i can honestly say i have not gotten tired of singing that song. part of the reason is that the opening act, whoever it is, will sing that song with us, or the crowd takes the last verse. it's fun. it's not like a song we're performing anymore. it's like a hootenanny. it's very joyful and the crowd loves to sing so it's just fun. other songs are just performed, if you know what i mean. we write a new set list every night. we don't get bored because we only play songs that we really want to play.

i just got an email from amy recently saying, "are there any old songs you want to resurrect for this thing we've got coming up?" we like to dig into the past and bring out obscure songs and relearn them. every time we have a new album, that's at least 10 more new songs to add to the set list. we can't fit them all in anymore. we just have to pick and choose what we want, and that keeps it fun. never a dull moment.


2010-07-29: brilliant dreams: conversations with indigo girls and sugarland's kristian bush, the huffington post

mr: how did you decide on the tracklist?

amy ray: for me, the criteria first was what sounded good because we were listening for what felt good, what sounded good, and then after that, it was kind of a lot of different criteria. if we had four different versions, it was which one felt the best, or if we should put the band on it, or if should we do it as a duo. there were so many choices to be made, and we just had some priorities. the first priority was it had to feel good and be sort of unique and special. then we just tried to kind of spread things out amongst which record's songs came from because we wanted to represent different records and different parts of our lives, and a career that had happened over those three years of recording. the last live record we made was 15 years ago, so we tried to often get songs that we had been doing since that point live. we kind of whittled it down as we would get to 100, and then get to 50, and then we ended up mixing about 37, picking from that.

es: it was really a process of listening to the tracks. we did want to find some more obscure songs or ones that were not, well, "closer to fine." i was surprised that we even chose that one. but we chose that one because jill hennessy and michelle malone sang with us on that one. michelle was an old friend. we have known her forever and she's a great artist. jill hennessy we had just met a couple of days before. i knew she was an actress, but didn't know she was a singer. so, that just captured a very special moment. we didn't go in to it having any preconceived thoughts about what tracks would happen. we just knew we had some special moments that probably were going to be go to songs like "don't think twice" that we sang with brandi carlile. she is one of our favorite artists, and then "wild horses" we sang with michelle malone. we've been doing that song for close to two decades with her, so those were just special songs. we wanted to get a good number of band songs on the record. it was a very special band.


2010-11-03: amy ray of the indigo girls on keeping her 'strange fire' burning, the monclair times:

but what about the hits, the signature songs that they are always expected to pull out as their concerts come to crescendos? there is a way to keep those songs fresh as well, ray says. but instead of the fuel for the fire coming from the performer, it's inverted this time and the fuel comes from the audience.

"a song like 'closer to fine,' we'll do that every night. but it's different every night because everybody's singing and there's a different set of people singing. so you find different things in the song," ray says.

"when we start singing and the audience lights up and sings along, or stands up and claps along, there's some engagement that happens. it really becomes of the moment, in a way that's very powerful and different for every show."


2011-04-25: original spirits, the canberra times

one that almost wasn't included because it has been recorded "so many times" is the warm singalong closer to fine, which saliers describes as like a "favourite pair of worn in shoes".

she says, "god, i wrote that a million years ago, sitting on a cabin porch in vermont on a family vacation. i was just fresh out of college and i was just thinking about all the sources that we go to get our answers in life. so it's a young song, but thankfully it's lasted through the years."


2012-08-27: q&a: emily saliers, theater jones performing arts news:

you have used symphonic instruments in a number of recordings, such as the intro to the song "virginia woolf." how did you decide which songs to arrange for orchestra?

there were a couple of amy's songs that she wanted to do that she changed her mind about. there's a song, "compromise," a short rock song, it was really going out on a limb with the arrangement, which was awesome, but didn't work out. for me, there were some songs that would have been obvious choices, and i tried to avoid those for the most part. except for the song "ghost." in fact, michael kamen, who has passed, did arrangements on the record for "ghost," and stephen did an homage to michael's work there, which was very powerful.

there's a new song from beauty queen sister, called "able to sing," that was an odd choice, but it's a beautiful arrangement. the agency wanted "closer to fine" and "galileo" in there, a couple of well-known songs. if they hadn't asked for those, i wouldn't have chosen them because it's more fun to do the obscure songs.


2012-09-13: emily saliers talks indigo girls, watershed, the atlanta journal constitution

then there are the gotta-plays, most notably "closer to fine," which fans heading to their sold out show at atlanta botanical garden will hear for the umpteenth time.

saliers swears she isn't weary of performing the song.

"i should get tired, but i don't!" she said. "everybody [in the crowd] just singing together is always fun. and we always have a guest, either the opening act or people from the audience, sing with us, so it's different every night."


2012-10-15: indigo girls bring full electric show to baltimore, baltimore gay life

in "closer to fine," one of your biggest mainstream hits, there's the line, "there's more than one answer to these questions pointing me in a crooked line." you were so young when you wrote that line, and yet there's so much wisdom in it. when you look back, do you ever think certain lyrics sound young?

"yeah, totally. there are lines in songs that i wish i hadn't written that way. their either overwrought or i let a line go when i could have tweaked it. some songs we just don't play ever again because we just outgrow them. most of them, we've kept, but it's just a learning process and there are certain periods of time in your writing that reflect where you were. sometimes you get a real gem when you're 18, but consistently for me, i feel like i've become a better writer. i try not to let anything go by any more. i try not to be lazy, especially about lyrics."


2014-04-29: es.1989, official indigo girls "a year a month blog" on tumblr

north hollywood felt unsettling to me, as if something dark was perpetually lurking. during that time, i listened to the allman brothers cassette tape of 'eat a peach' obsessively and went running on the sidewalks of the neighborhood. los angeles was a world i hadn't experienced, and i was both charmed by and fearful of the energy that buzzed beneath every surface. it was almost like living in a dream too exotic and removed from the life i knew to be real. funny, i remember driving to ocean way studios where we recorded and being particularly thrilled to have a parking space reserved for us near the entrance to the studio. i don't think i was able to absorb the magnitude of what was happening all around me, both the daily living experience so far from home and the thrill of making a record with scott litt and having hothouse flowers come in and shape 'closer to fine' and having "michael stipe' forever imprint 'kid fears'.

when the record came out in 1989 and began to do well, i was excited. we shot the video for 'closer to fine' in atlanta, in an abandoned warehouse area. along with hothouse flowers, many of our closest friends and family show up in the last part of the video, as we all walk down a road together. i think that captures the essence of what was happening then; our world expanding with new musical friends from across the sea, and our hearts rooted in our family and friends at home who had nurtured us all along. we still know or are in contact with every person from our community that showed up in the video. the little baby boy in our manager's arms is cooper carter, now 25, who recently played electric guitar with us onstage. the woman with the little girl is caroline aiken who first took amy and me under her wings when we were just starting out.


2014-04-29: ar.1989, official indigo girls "a year a month blog" on tumblr

in the last part of 1988, after our time in athens, ga we went out to ocean way studios in la to record the rest of the indigo girls album. it was a luxurious time, living in an apartment in la for a month, getting up every morning and jogging up into nichols canyon, and then heading to the historical and perfectly appointed vintage studios of ocean way. we were in the heady world of rock stars and movie stars, a big budget, any food we could imagine, everything at our fingertips. it was an adjustment for sure, but we went into it wide-eyed and laughing. our a&r guy, snake lived in la and actually helped to keep us grounded. and rather than stomp out our spirit, he added to what we were doing and introduced us to some amazing people. the guys from hothouse flowers came in and recorded "closer to fine" with us and brought their irish energy to the room. they were a favorite band of mine and totally infectious; we ended up touring together and becoming fast friends.


2014-06-01: es.1990, official indigo girls "a year a month blog" on tumblr

when it came to playing new venues, these were the dream come true years, starting with opening for r.e.m at madison square garden in 1989, to playing two nights at the beacon, nyc, chastain park in atlanta, and the newport folk festival all for the first time in 1990. even as a very young child, before i became a musician, i was an obessive lover of music. i think that's why everything along the way has been so thrilling to me, starting with getting local gigs. these were the stages where other great music had happened. and, so, even to this day, i feel as much a fan of music as i do a performer of it. i stand on a stage, playing music with amy, whom i cherish, or having our opening act or the audience sing a verse of "closer to fine" and i can't believe i'm here.


2014-06-01: ar.2004, official indigo girls "a year a month blog" on tumblr

we toured all through the summer with our band, kicking off the tour in nyc with two television more apprearnces-"last call with carson daly" and "late night with conan o'brien". we played a lot of our favorite venues from the east to the west. there were a couple of stand-outs for me. we had two shows at the pier in seattle, and this was the last season the summer nights concert series was held at this beloved location. you had the puget sound on one side, with the sunsets, big ships, small boats and ferries, and the sights and sounds of downtown seattle on the other side. at our shows and probably other ones, there was often a parade of protestors, with anti-gay and anti-choice signs - very similar to the ones that showed up at the march for women's lives in d.c. though there was so much going on around the venue, it felt very intimate and unto itself-it was a magical place. our last stop on the west coast was in olympia, wa for the homo a go go art and music festival. it was an amazing event, where artists from the queer community came together every other year in olympia, wa. to play music, perform spoken word, show films, display art, attend workshops, and encourage radical activism. the billing for the weekend of shows included team dresch and the gossip, two visionary bands that had a big influence on my solo music. money raised by the festival went to the olympia based gender variance healthcare project. while this event was too short-lived it was so important to the greater queer community, especially with its emphasis on transgender advocacy. i remember listening to all the bands and spoken word, thinking how much better radio would be, if it wasn't so trans/homophobic. it felt super special to play for the homo a go go audience and the organizers were some of the best we've worked with. we ended our set by raffling off a chance to sing "closer to fine" with us to raise money for the gvhp.


2015-06-18: indigo girls' emily saliers talks about motherhood, her solo record and more, the ann arbor news:

q. i think that people who sing along to your signature song, "closer to fine," tend to believe you have a pretty jaundiced view of college ["i spent four years protrate to the higher mind/ got my paper and i was free]. is that accurate?

a. i loved college. i hated high school, and i loved college. i think it's a song about getting too much into your own head in academia. ... the professor in the song is very cerebral, judging everything from a really romanticized, overly cerebral point of view; but that doesn't represent my my whole college experience. it's more about where i go to seek answers. i think the song's overall message is, 'chill out.' we can gain knowledge from all kinds of different sources and experiences in our lives. academics aren't the whole world; nor is the gym, or a bottle of beer or the bible.

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