Melissa Etheridge: It’s personal
Singer-guitarist Melissa Etheridge released a debut self-titled album that yielded the Grammy-nominated single “Bring Me Some Water” in 1988. Now, some 25 years later, This is M.E., returns to the heartland rock sound of that first record. The album is the first that Etheridge has released on her newly formed label, ME Records. She phoned us to talk about inspiration, independence and longevity in the music industry.
Your career started nearly 30 years ago. Did you think it would last this long when you started?
People used to ask me when I made my first record what I wanted to do in 20 or 30 years. I would say that I hoped I was still making music that people were interested in because that would be the sign that I had a successful career.
Your voice seems to have held up remarkably well. What’s been the key to keeping it together?
It’s very un-rock ’n’ roll. Keeping my body healthy is part of it. My voice is a muscle. It’s about sleep and eating right.
Did your voice always sound so raspy?
I’m not sure. I remember my choir teacher used to put me in the back row of the choir because of I had such a strange voice.
Talk about your approach on This is M.E. What did you want to emphasize on this particular outing?
I wanted to use the technologies of today. I think it’s possible to do that without having it take over. And I have a big soulful side of me that’s just waiting to get out. I got to do that on this record. I collaborated with Jon Levine, who’s an amazing teacher of sounds. He’s played bass with the Fugees and Lauryn Hill. He’s touring with me on this tour. It’s going to be a frickin’ celebration. I can’t wait.
Reading the credits, it seemed like an intense recording process.
It’s different. The recording industry has changed. Gone are the days of “here are all my songs and I’m going to go into the studio for two weeks.” Now, each producer has their own studio and you go there. It’s almost on spec. If it works, it works and then you go on to the next phase. It’s like speed dating. Since it’s an independent record, you have to do it that way.
What was it like to put the album out yourself?
It was scary. There’s more personal investment. You don’t have the money up front. It will take a lot of me having to work it. I have to do the work that the record company would normally do for you. That’s fine, really. It’s exciting.
Songs such as “Do It Again” and “Take My Number” deal with personal insecurities and feelings. Is the album as a whole more personal than previous efforts?
You know, all my albums are so darn personal. This is what’s personal to me now so it seems personal. Ultimately, they’re all personal.
“Monster” is a great rock tune. Did something in particular inspire it?
I love that song. I can’t wait to play it live. The music was the first inspiration. [Producer] Jerry [Wonda] and I were working on a different song. I was going to play the slide and I was practicing. I was playing that and he made everyone stop. He had me record it. We built a track from that riff and I was like, “Holy crap. This is great.” I went home and wrote the lyrics. I wanted it to fit that beat. I knew it had to be some sort of anthem. Going into the chorus, I thought, “I am a what?” I kept thinking, “What am I?” I was walking around the house. I was in New York at the UN and they were having a LGBT thing on sports and human rights and all this stuff. It was the first time they were acknowledging human rights as human rights and it was a pretty big deal. I noticed outside the UN that there’s a sculpture outside that is this big dragon. St. George is killing it and has a spear through its head. I thought, “I’m a monster” and that’s where the lyric came from.
I love the concept for the album cover art. What made you think of it and what was it like executing it?
That came from my management. They wanted to fire up the fanbase and let them feel like they’re part of it. We asked them to send their pictures in and they did. We sent the pictures to a digital artist who picked out the photos. I didn’t have a hand in who made it. I was surprised no one has done it before.
The music industry has changed so much. If you were to start out playing small clubs today, would you still have a shot at making it as a musician?
You know, I think so. I think there’s still a system of discovery, especially with social media. It took many years for it to happen with me but it was word-of-mouth. Somebody told somebody else and that’s the way it works.
You got your start playing in country bands. How did that experience shape your music?
That was the first time I really sang in front of people for real. I was singing Tammy Wynette’s “Stand By Your Man.” That’s where that belting and bigness comes from.
Would you ever make a country album?
Some people consider me country. I don’t know why but they do. Country music has changed so much that it’s like soft rock now. Who knows? I think it’s more not so much of a genre as it is a group of people. I don’t know how to explain it. I would love to be part of that club if they’ll have me.
Do you feel you’ve had greater obstacles because you’re a woman?
It’s hard to tell. I’m not one to ever blame people and say I didn’t get something because of this. I know that when my first record came out and we took it to the rock ’n’ roll stations, they said they couldn’t play another woman. But that broke down after a while. I don’t tend to look at it like that.
Have you figured out the set list for these shows yet?
Yes. I’m very excited because I like to pride myself on changing up my shows and doing different things. But this show is so different when you hear “Come to My Window” and I’m the Only One,” you’ll hear new versions that are supercharged. This tour is the hits and a lot of the new album. That’s pretty much what I’m going for.
I think the new songs will fit in well with the old ones.
I think so too. I’m so excited.
Upcoming 2014 Tour Dates
Durham, NC -Durham Performing Arts Center
Morgantown, WV – Lyell B. Clay Concert Theatre
Cleveland, OH – PlayhouseSquare
Chicago, IL – Cadillac Palace Theatre
Ann Arbor, MI – Michigan Theater
Washington, DC – Lincoln Theatre
Virginia Beach, VA – Sandler Center for the Performing Arts
Jacksonville, FL – Florida Theatre
Clearwater, FL – Ruth Eckerd Hall
Sarasota, FL – Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall
Orlando, FL – Hard Rock Live
Atlanta, GA – Atlanta Symphony Hall
Pompano Beach, FL – Pompano Beach Amphitheatre
Fort Pierce, FL – Sunrise Theatre
New Orleans, LA – Saenger Theatre
Houston, TX – Bayou Music Center
Austin, TX – ACL Live at the Moody Theater
Thackerville, OK – Winstar Casino
Tulsa, OK – Brady Theater
Mesa, AZ – Ikeda Theater
Santa Ynez, CA – Chumash Casino
Los Angeles, CA – Orpheum Theatre