lifeblood: songs: backgrounds: watershed

1991-01: the power of two, acoustic guitar:

indigo girls also use a capo frequently. this can help make the song more playable on guitar and put it in a comfortable vocal range. but saliers says she likes the way chords sound "kind of nice and tinkly up there with the capo," and cites the canadian singer-songwriter ferron as an influence. ray and saliers don't always capo at the same fret though. in "hand me downs" on nomads, indians, saints, ray capos at the second fret, while saliers is playing open. they also sometimes mix tunings: on "watershed' from their latest effort, for example, saliers drops her low e string down to d and fingerpicks her part using a thumbpick, while ray strums chords in standard tuning.


1991-01-25: indigos blend intricate sound, thought, the cleveland plain dealer:

the contemporary folk category in the grammy competition is in fact a notorious catchall for performers and groups that are hard to define, picking up musicians as diverse as tracy chapman, beausoleil and guy clark.

but saliers says the diversity applies equally to her and ray.

"our writing is so different," she said. "(ray's) images are kind of these sweeping images, more passionate and fiery - in your face, sort of. mine is more reflective, more emotionally removed."

the tunes' alterations in style and instrumentation are mostly an attempt to marry the musical approach with the song's identity. "we're not trying to be unpredictable," saliers said.

for instance, on "pushing the needle," off their current album, they used an accordion and a snare and cymbals instead of a full drum kit.

"it gave it a loose, raw feeling, fitting for that song," saliers said.

by contrast, the song "watershed," is "more conducive to the whole works," including "tons of percussion. it just lent itself musically."

so what happens when they're on the road?

they take a sax and a bass and their two guitars, and "don't really worry about it."


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.


1994-03: the indigo girls: the musical ties that bind, performing songwriter:

"in 'watershed,' i think the line that starts, 'twisted guardrails on the highway' is my favorite line she's ever written. i don't know why - it just really pops out at you. it's so true."


1994-05-13: world cafe radio program:

interviewer: the final track on the new indigo girls album "swamp ophelia" - "this train revised". want to do another one live?

amy: yeah.

emily: sure.

interviewer: i'm trying to think where we're at. it's probably time for another...

amy: do you want to do an old one or a new one?

interviewer: oh, if you can do some old ones that would be great.

emily: we can do an old one.

interviewer: i had this whole idea of making you tell everybody what your favorite song of the other person's was, but i don't know if that's gonna work cause you can only do so many things today.

amy: (laughs).

emily: (laughs) we've got a lot to learn of our old stuff.

amy: but what we're gonna do one that we like...that i like of emily's. "watershed"?

emily: "watershed". i hope we remember this too.

amy: we're gonna try this one.

emily: we went through this in the dressing room a couple weeks ago.

amy: we played it.

emily: we never played this one live did we?

amy: oh...we didn't play it.

emily: we didn''s gonna be should be fun. i'm trying to remember the chords.

amy: uh-oh. all right, let's go for it.

emily: want to wing it?

amy: yeah.

(live version of "watershed")


2000-10-03: retrospective liner notes:

"written in my tiny apartment. you can never predict twists of fate, reminding myself not to agonize over decisions, the mile is long and crooked and worth every bump, relax a little with it."


2020-01-31: artfully political: the indigo girls, the santa fe new mexican:

pasa: you have several truly iconic songs that enormous crowds of people sing along with at your concerts. do you know what your most requested song is? and is there a physical sensation at a concert when all those people are singing with you?

ray: "watershed" is very requested. "the wood song," "galileo," "power of two." people assume we're going to do "closer to fine," so they don't really request it. i don't even know how to describe it when crowds sing along. it's a physical thing because it's sound waves, and it's overwhelming. i love it. i couldn't do the songs over and over again if it was just us playing without that kind of participation and community vibe. it would be boring to me. for me, that makes it feel different all the time. you hear different things. some crowds have people singing harmonies and counter melodies. i always feel lucky.

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