AE: Prom also contains a recurring high school theme, as heard on â€œPut It Out For Goodâ€ and â€œDriver Education.â€ Are these songs based on your own experiences in combination with what you are seeing now in high school kids?
AR: Yes, itâ€™s definitely both. Although I wouldnâ€™t say that Iâ€™m in touch with what every high school thinks in every part of the country (laughs). Itâ€™s so different from one region to the next. Itâ€™s my little neck of the woods. For some reason this record became thematic around that time period. A lot of it references things that I went through and images that I remember from high school and I put it in the context of some high school experiences of kids I know now or things that I see on the news or that I read or kids that I talk to at shows. I probably fell into the trap a couple of times, but I didnâ€™t want it to be too sentimental about back in the good old days when I was in high school (laughs).
I think high school was a coming of age for me, more than college was. Iâ€™m more attached to the things I went through in high school and the teachers that I had. That was when I started singing and playing in clubs. Thatâ€™s when Emily and I started the Indigo Girls and thatâ€™s when I started finding my political self. College was a really great time for me academically, but I was already playing music and I was already an activist and I was already gay (laughs). All of those things happened to me in high school. When I have a touchstone to talk about activism or politics or rebellion or identity, high school usually becomes that.
AE: The song on Prom that I keep coming back to is â€œRural Faggot.â€ You shine an unyielding light on homophobia, and by the time the song reaches its dramatic and ironic conclusion, you have rewarded the listener ten-fold.
AR: Iâ€™m glad that you found that ending to be like that. The song was pretty dark and I didnâ€™t intend it to be a hopeless song. It was meant to be like â€œThis is what youâ€™re going to go through and itâ€™s going to be all right.â€ But this is the process that is happening right now that you may not see. I wrote if from the rural area that I live in and a couple of my neighbors and their kids and these boys that Iâ€™ve seen grow up over the last twelve years and become teenagers and then leave the house. Some of them are gay and some of them arenâ€™t. Many of them went through a period of gay bashing and would tell me about it (laugh of disbelief), as if I would think it was funny. They knew I was gay and I donâ€™t know why they thought I would think it was funny. They wanted to get approval from me for something that was obviously not something that I would agree with.
They saw me as different, because Iâ€™m a gay woman, and these were all guys. They saw a real difference between gay women and gay men. That is a real hallmark of living in a rural area. In a rural area, you almost expect the flannel and the almost mannish style of dress. But if guys walk around with a purse, thereâ€™s just no place for that in a rural area (laughs). Thereâ€™s no place for a man who is effeminate or for a man who isnâ€™t effeminate, but is gay. Itâ€™s a really hard road, and thatâ€™s why I made it (the song) specifically about guys. Itâ€™s something I wanted to talk about because itâ€™s something I see a lot where I live.
AE: The closing track, â€œLet It Ring,â€ is the sound of someone trying to wrestle their God back from the Christian Right, and it has this gospel fervor to it.
AR: I started it after a pro-choice march and then merged it into gay rights issues, too. Because (laughs) often when weâ€™re doing something that is pro-choice, we also get picketed by people who are anti-gay, too. They conflate the two for some reason. I have a lot of friends who really struggle because they want to go to church but they donâ€™t feel like itâ€™s their place anymore. There is not enough reconciliation.
I have people in my family that are gay and really religious and struggle with wanting to be a part of a religious community, but also feel like they need to boycott it if itâ€™s not going to accept them. I wrote it thinking about them and wanted to start out with this caustic, sarcastic thing, because I remember the womenâ€™s march in D.C. and one of the most striking images was these young, almost punk kids with the pro-life signs with pictures of the dead fetuses standing on the sidewalk that were part of a big church group. It was striking to me that their parents had passed down all this hate and fervor to them and they were just taking the torch up. I got the idea for writing the song being really sarcastic and then letting it move into a place that was about love.