lifeblood: songs: backgrounds: hammer and a nail

1990-09-xx: nomads*indians*saints, epic records press release:

"about not being intimidated by all the problems of the world, and the idea that every one of us has a contribution to make. about not putting things off, about getting down to work."


1990-10-30: the indigo girls: living life one day at a time, rocket magazine:

the new record is loaded with anthemic tunes; the first single, "hammer and a nail," is bound for glory. the song sounds like a peter, paul, and mary tune from the '60s, complete with lyrics that speak of the power to change the world. "it's a positive song," ray says, "about something that i think is real important. it's about people who think about stuff rather than doing something about it. you can make a difference in the world and through actual physical action each person can change things. but you've got to get up and get out there and put your hands to work."


1991-02-03: the indigos' blues, the chicago tribune:

"sometimes i just think too much," saliers says. "i need to relax, i need to just live and be part of the world. i never want to be the suffering, thinking artist type, ever. i want to be active in the world."

on "hammer and a nail," a song from the latest album, saliers sounds as though she's aware of the problem: "i've been digging too deep, i always do."

"that is a totally self-referential line, totally," saliers concurs.

when confronted with the same problem, other artists, notably bob dylan, resort to writing "throwaways"-songs written for their own sake, rather than for the ages. as dylan's recent work with the traveling wilburys indicates, such an exercise can often break a creative tailspin.

it's a solution that has eluded saliers, however.

"i often wonder why when i sit down to write a song i can't write like i used to, which was to get it down, sing it and play it and if in a couple months it died down, let it go because it doesn't matter," she says.

"i have a desire to write little anecdotes, like loggins and messina did so successfully or even elton john and bernie taupin. both amy and i would love to write using more irony and humor.

"right now, though, because of time constraints, i feel much more pressure to write a 'keeper.' our thoughts do tend to be sometimes lofty, deep, somber. we think a lot that way because that's the way we live our lives: we're not just breezing through the day."

saliers indirectly addresses those concerns in songs such as "hammer and a nail" and "watershed," which includes the following lines: "you can stand there and agonize/till your agony's your heaviest load."


the two continue to write separately, and it caused saliers some major headaches as they prepared to record "nomads+indians+saints" last june. after the success of the first major-label album (the duo also put out "strange fire" on their own record label in 1987; it has since been reissued by epic), she acknowledged that she felt pressured to live up to the duo's rave reviews.

"i couldn't move forward because i was worried the songs i was working on weren't good enough," she says. "i'd been tossing around the ideas for months, afraid to get them out. amy had tons of songs, so she felt more relaxed. i just wanted my work to be represented and i felt pressure from myself."

ironically, the two songs that saliers struggled to finish, "hammer and a nail" and "watershed," became the first singles released off the album.

"watershed" also was a key song in that saliers envisioned a "big sound," with textures and instruments beyond the two-voice, two-guitar lineup.


1994-10-07: out in the open, the akron beacon journal:

emily: i tend to write self-motivational songs actually. i always think about what's wrong with the way i operate in the world. hammer and a nail is about not getting lazy, and trying not to complain about your situation - chances are it could be a lot worse. you can't sit on your butt all day and think about things, you gotta get out in the world and do what your heart calls you to do. so that's what that song is about - a call to action. and that's what a hammer and a nail is, a metaphor for that.

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