It’s been just over 25 years since Melissa Etheridge released her self-titled debut album. In that time, the rocker has come out of the closet, weathered some very public relationship scrutiny and battled cancer.
Etheridge’s Nashville concert at the Schermerhorn Symphony Center on April 15 is the first in a string of dates for the This is ME Solo Tour—where fans will get their first taste of a newly independent Melissa Etheridge.
Out & About Nashville chatted with the veteran star about activism throughout her career, collaborations with producers and writers who’ve worked with Eminem, Kesha, Demi Lovato and more for her forthcoming record and when she’s tying the knot with partner Linda Wallem.
Out & About Nashville: You have ties to Nashville—what does Music City mean to you?
Melissa Etheridge: Nashville is such a beautiful place to play. It’s always so full of music with an audience that really listens. Of course, one of the songs from my earliest albums, from Brave and Crazy, is “You Can Sleep While I Drive” where I talk about my friend Barbara, who is still there in Nashville. Nashville is just a special place in America and has a special place in my heart.
O&AN: Earlier this month at SXSW, you played a cover of Tom Petty’s “Refugee” with Nashville punk-rock faves Diarrhea Planet—how did that happen?
ME: (laughs) Yes, I did. It came about because of Twitter. When it was announced that I was going to be at SXSW, a band out of Austin The Midgetmen, tweeted something on my twitter feed saying, oh I hope Melissa gets signed, the unknown act Melissa, kind of taunting me because SXSW is for unknown, independent artists. He taunted me a couple of times that I hadn’t gotten back on the invitation to their party so I finally tweeted him back and said hey dude, I’ll come to your party and I'm bringing a guitar. He said it was his friends band Diarrhea Planet and I said we’ll do it, we’ll jam. It was like an eight guitar jam to Tom Petty’s “Refugee.”
O&AN: Overall, how was your SXSW experience?
ME: It was . . . crazy. If you look at me, I’m actually making my first record not with a major record label this time. We thought SXSW would be the way to get into that sort of thing. People think of it as this music festival where everyone gets together in one place but it’s really just Austin being its cool Austin self.
O&AN: What can you share about the album that you are working on independently?
ME: This is my first album where I haven’t been on Island Records and it’s an album I am going to own and is going to be distributed through another company.
I am very excited because I also changed management and that management set me up with a whole lot of other artists, producers and writers. I collaborated and it’s so exciting because it brings out all the different parts in me. I collaborated with some great rock-pop writers-producers like Matt Squire (Panic! At the Disco, Kesha, Demi Lovato) and Jon Levine (Serena Ryder) all the way to Mark Batson (Eminem) and Jerry Wonda, who are r&b/urban artists.
I have an overabundance of songs now that I’ll be going through next month and we should have a single by the beginning of summer and by the end of summer, the album should be coming.
O&AN: The record sounds like a completely new baby for you—
ME: Experimenting and bringing out all these different types of music in me has been amazing. It’s a completely different baby and I am so thrilled to play these songs live, too. I’m just so happy about my music right now.
O&AN: With these new collaborations, what music is currently moving Melissa Etheridge?
ME: Oh god, I love Beyoncé’s new album. (laughs) I’m crazy about it. At the end of the day, I love putting that on and it really takes me away.
O&AN: Several successful 80s and 90s singer-songwriters have been striking out independently, are you finding a new freedom in independence?
ME: You know a lot of people talk about the music industry and the trouble—it’s only trouble for the record companies. People are still listening to music, people still love music, music is important. It’s a good day for artists, I think. We can step up and say, I can directly get to my audience now and I don’t have to go through this middle guy or that middle guy. I can just get there directly and it’s very exciting.
O&AN: Was there just a lack of innovation on the part of middle guys?
ME: Oh yeah, well they went for the where the money is and it narrowed and narrowed the work until they were all making the same album.
O&AN: In your interview with Dan Rather, you said you were grateful for your cancer diagnosis because you got to this point where you got to know yourself and came out excited about life, your art and only doing what you love. Nearly a decade after your diagnosis, is that still the case or are there moments where you’ve had to remind yourself of that?
ME: Oh, no. It’s something I live every single day and moment. I understood it as a life or death choice and I have to do what I love. If I step into a place where I am actively supporting something that I do not love, that feels negative to me, it will weigh me down. It is my number one priority.
O&AN: Some of your recent projects include the organization Uprising of Love—an organization that highlights the LGBT injustices in Russia. From boycotting shows in Colorado in the early 90s, there has always been an activist component to your art. Why is activism important to you?
ME: I wouldn’t say it’s important to me. It’s become a part of my life because of the choices I’ve made. I didn’t really set out to be a gay right’s advocate and activist; just by standing up and saying, ‘Yeah, I’m gay and this is who I am and this is my life’— just by speaking truthfully, I became an activist. I hope that I helped the movement but then, I found myself speaking truthfully about my cannabis use and I became a cannabis activist, and then cancer finds me and I go through the whole hell thing, so I’m a cancer advocate now. It’s these things that kind of happen to me, I don’t go looking for them.
O&AN: The organization’s title track was given a wicked club remix. Was that the first time you’ve had a track remixed?
ME: Yes, and oh my god, I just got another remix of it that ‘s just amazing. I love this sort of art now where people take a piece of music and recreate stuff around it and remix it up. And of course, it’s making me look very cool with my kids, which is very, very important.
O&AN: You’ve dabbled a bit over the last couple years with Broadway. What is the status on the rumored musical you and Linda are working on?
ME: It is still in line; it’s just that other projects keep cutting in line. We are so close to having it done so hopefully after my album and her TV show. It’s right there though and I would say give me another two years to get it up on its feet.
O&AN: Speaking of Linda, last summer after the Supreme Court decision, you announced you and Linda would be married. Did you tie the knot?
ME: No, it’s going to be—I’ll tell you, it’s in the next four months we’re going to get married.
O&AN: Well, a pre-congratulations to you both.
ME: Thank-you. And I’m looking forward to getting down there to Nashville, thank-you so much.
In a special Q&A fan session, Out & About Nashville went straight to Melissa Etheridge’s fans and the rocker answered two selected fan questions:
Q: In an interview you did with iTunes, you said that musically, Breakdown was the best album you did. Do you ever find difficulty in performing songs that were conceived out of such despair?
A: I don’t find it difficult. I might not be drawn to perform them because I’m not quite there right now or when I do, it’s like acting I think I can put myself back into that place that I remember. It did happen. It was an emotional situation I was in. The Breakdown songs are not the ones I choose to do every night because they are very personal and very deep. But they’re not difficult to do, no.
Q: This question came from a Twitter follower, who is flying to the Nashville show: @sevenuvseven do you read all your fans tweets? Or just some of them?
A: I try to read my Twitter feed every day. I love the technology and the opportunity to actually interact and hear my fans one-on-one, so yeah, I’m on the there! All the stuff you see, all the mistakes I make, that’s me.
Melissa Etheridge bring the This is ME Solo Tour to the Schermerhorn Symphony Center on April 15. Limited tickets available here.