by Albert Rodriguez -
SGN A&E Writer
September 11 @ 7:30pm
When it comes to women who rock, Melissa Etheridge is somewhere near the very top. Since 1988, the Kansas-born musician has put out a string of consistently bold and personal albums, starting with her audacious self-titled debut that contained the fiery hits 'Bring Me Some Water' and 'Like the Way I Do.' In total, she's released 14 studio albums, which have not only produced several big singles, but two Grammy Awards and in 2007 added an Oscar to her trophy case by penning the song 'I Need to Wake Up' for Al Gore's environmental documentary An Inconvenient Truth.
Etheridge has also been at the forefront of the LGBT rights movement for the past few decades, since coming out publicly herself and is now recognized around the world as one of the most famous gay people in entertainment. And despite a brief setback, when diagnosed with breast cancer in 2005, the acclaimed singer-songwriter is still going strong. Last year, she put her own spin on classic soul and blues numbers with the album MEmphis Rock and Soul and has been touring in support of it for months, selling out venues across the country.
Etheridge is set to perform September 11 at the Washington State Fair in Puyallup, a show you don't want to miss. For more information and tickets, visit www.thefair.com.
I recently spoke with the tireless rocker by phone during a tour stop and here is what the one and only Melissa Etheridge shared with me inside The Music Lounge.
Albert Rodriguez: You've played in and around Seattle many times over the years. Do have any specific memories of performing in Seattle that come to mind?
Melissa Etheridge: Oh man, Seattle has been amazing! I remember playing in the late '80s and early '90s when the music scene there was just red-hot and it's always been such a great place to play. Seattle's just been awesome.
Rodriguez: And you'll be playing at the Washington State Fair, so will you have time to enjoy some corn on the cob, or go on any rides?
Etheridge: (laughs) Sometimes I do and sometimes I have my kids with me. Today we're doing an Oregon fair, so we'll be going out. When I don't have my kids with me, I'm not as likely to go out, but you never know. Fairs are such a beautiful American thing and I like being part of it now.
Rodriguez: You're touring in support of your new album, MEmphis Rock and Soul, which has been out for a while, and I'm wondering how many songs from it you will include in the upcoming show?
Etheridge: Depending on the length of the show, I usually do at least 3, if not more. I always want to do the hits. I want people to know that when they come to see me, they're gonna hear the songs they know and love, and we're gonna sing 'I'm the Only One' at the top of our lungs, and then I will present a few songs from this new album just because they're so much fun. So at least 3, and if it's a longer show, sometimes more.
Rodriguez: Will you be performing with a full band and/or horn section?
Etheridge: This one will not have the horn section, but I will be with a full band - drums, bass, organ and myself. It's one of the reasons I'm not doing more of the new songs. When I have the full band - the background and the horns - then we do all the songs and tracks, but this will be a combination of both.
Rodriguez: You've been active with a lot of issues, from the environment to politics to writing a song last year as a tribute to the Orlando nightclub attack victims. In another interview, you commented that as an artist, as a songwriter, you feel that you have an obligation to respond to these events by writing about them. I wanted to tap into what you were thinking about when you said that.
Etheridge: If you are a writer, a creator and you work from inspiration, these are the times when we need to rise up, to be inspired and to be inspiring. When so many of us can be afraid and these things that we've been working on for the last 20 years are being rolled back and taken away from us - that sort of fear, when you feel this sort of backlash of who we are - that's when we put our pen to paper, that's when we put our voices into music and change people's hearts and minds, that's when we create something that moves the heart and the soul, so that people stop stealing, they stop hating, they stop being angry, and music can do that. That's my mission this year is to really come together about these issues and come together about who we are as people, and how it stirs up the whole nation and how we can learn to look at each other without fear.
Rodriguez: Even today with the transgender military ban and the events in Charlottesville, there are people wondering why this is all happening. Are you surprised at what's happening in our country right now in 2017?
Etheridge: I, myself, because I always think so positively in my life, I did not see this coming. I really thought we were on a trajectory of peace and working together and being stronger together, so I find it very interesting. I don't get discouraged because I still think we are on our way to a future of peace and harmony, I do believe that. I think what we're seeing is that the underbelly is being exposed, that part of humanity that has such fear of sexuality and fear of differences in their own selves that makes them become violent towards people, or have to suppress and oppress people, or a behavior, because they can't handle it. That is what we're seeing, is this sort of weakness in people that maybe have a lot of money, maybe have a lot of power now, they try to use that money and power to oppress, to pull out and to pull back, and I'm not afraid of it. They are showing themselves. I think we as a people, as a society, we need to keep moving forward and change minds, as people are learning that their children that are gay, or transgender, and people in their workplace, family members, and these other people by coming out and being out in the open, people can then see that we're part of the community and we've been a part of the community for a long time.
Rodriguez: I remember when you came out and it was inspiring to so many people, including myself, because there were only a handful of LGBT artists who were publicly out and impacting pop culture at the time. Was coming out a difficult process for you?
Etheridge: I wouldn't say it was difficult. It was, as it should have been, a step by step (process) and I got to the point where I wasn't someone to lie or keep things hidden like that. I was writing very personally and so I needed to be willing to answer personal questions truthfully, and I did and it led me to coming out. So, no, it wasn't difficult. If some people stopped listening or buying my music because I'm gay, then they don't get my music in the first place.
Rodriguez: In the last year or so, we've lost prominent musicians like David Bowie, Leonard Cohen and Prince, but very recently we lost Chris Cornell and Chester Bennington of Linkin Park, who both took their own lives. As a fan, I'm wondering if I'm missing something. Is the pressure of being an artist so heavy that fans aren't seeing or paying attention to signs that could ultimately lead to losing more musicians?
Etheridge: Well, I'll tell you my experience, having been in this now for 30 years. There's a personality that you agree to sort of be, or play, for the public and there certainly is a dream-like place where rock stars live, when you're on the stage or when you're in front of the fans, you live in that space. It's a wonderful, beautiful space full of adoration and respect, and such. And then, you cannot sustain that 24 hours a day, you can't. It's sort of a part we play. I try to keep the two as close as possible. I try to be myself on stage and to feel the power I feel on stage into my personal life, yet it does not solve our problems. Many of us have our issues and things that haunt us, and if you don't really work on the personal stuff - like everyone else, even if you're a rock star - you can succumb to fear and despair. Yes, we've seen it in our rock stars lately, but it's a worldwide problem. We need to put a highlight on how important joy is in our lives and finding joy a priority. Happiness is important, you can't just work and make money; that really does not make us happy.
Rodriguez: Going back to the album, I think you really tapped into that Memphis soul and blues sound. Did you spend any time there researching the sound before recording the album?
Etheridge: I did, I went down there at the end of 2015 and visited a lot of the studios, met with a lot of people that have been making music in Memphis a long time. When I got to Royal Studios, the place that I ended up playing and where I met the musicians, I really felt a family feeling there - they had been doing this since the '50s and '60s, and they had kept their father's legacy alive, Willy Mitchell - and it felt like I had found the core, that I had what I wanted, when I got to Royal Studios.
Rodriguez: For anyone pondering a career in music, do you have any advice on how they should start out - should they learn how to play an instrument, should they begin writing songs, should they stay in school and wait until college to explore a music career?
Etheridge: You know what, it's very personal. There is no one-size-fits-all for music. That's the beautiful thing is you can make your own path. What is it that you love, what excites you? If it's writing lyrics, you should do it every day, as much as you can. If it's singing and getting in front of people, do that. If it's studying music, do that. There's no right way to do it. If you are enjoying yourself, loving yourself, loving the music, putting out your truth and your inspiration, then you're on the right path.
Rodriguez: Everybody has their favorite Melissa Etheridge album or song. For me, it's your first album and specifically 'Like the Way I Do.' These songs are now over 25 years old, so after playing them all this time, do you ever feel like changing the arrangements to give them a different sound, or do you perform them closer to the original recordings?
Etheridge: The songs have grown over the years and they can't help but change, because I've changed as well, so they have taken on a life of their own. Like 'Bring Me Some Water' - that guitar lick, everyone knows that, and then you're in the song - now we go from there. I'll play the song and then I'll just jam on it, same as 'Like the Way I Do.' When people are in the live experience, we go way beyond the albums and into each song. Like 'Chrome Plated Heart,' it's finding what's the groove of the song, what's the power of the song and hanging out there with my fans for a while.
Rodriguez: And many artists are now playing some of their albums in their entirety; so have you considered performing the first album completely in future shows?
Etheridge: Yes! Actually, just before I talked to you, I had a conversation with my manager about that. That's exactly what I was considering, the first album from beginning to end; I think the fans would like that. We're definitely considering that.
Rodriguez: We have to wrap up, but I want to say thank you for being a strong, strong voice for the LGBT community all these years.
Etheridge: Ah, thank you very much. Thank you for what you do, and stay strong.
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