Letting the music speak

Despite a very public and nasty break up, Oscar-winning rocker Melissa Etheridge finds solace and confidence in her career

GREGG SHAPIRO  | Contributing Writer greggshapiro@aol.com
RICH LOPEZ  | Staff Writer lopez@dallasvoice.com

Melissa Etheridge
GUITAR HERO | Right now, Etheridge focuses on her music and new album, staying mum about her personal life.

MELISSA ETHERIDGE
McFarlin Auditorium, 6405 Boaz Lane on the SMU
campus. Aug. 3 at 8 p.m. $55–$100. Ticketmaster.com.

Longtime Melissa Etheridge fans who miss the harder sound of her early years will find much to like on her new album, Fearless Love. Etheridge hasn’t rocked with this much   passion in years and it’s clear that she hasn’t forgotten how to do it.

Such rock-n-roll fury could be a way for her to be working out some personal issues, including the recent public ending of her relationship with longtime partner Tammy Lynn Michaels. Whatever it is, Etheridge is back in ass-kicking mode.

……………………………

Dallas Voice: Your new disc, Fearless Love, is co-produced by John Shanks who also produced your Breakdown album. What do you like about working with John? Etheridge: We played in my first band and we played together on the road for years and years and years before he became mister mega-producer. I know him like a brother. He can tell me anything and I can tell him anything. He knows, musically, what I’m about. I think he’s incredibly talented. It’s a perfect fit.

Is it hard to believe that it’s been more than 20 years since your self-titled major-label disc was released? Yeah! The passage of time has been kind of freaky. And feeling like I do in the entertainment industry now, looking back [I’m] going “Wow, it’s been over 20 years!” There’s a certain amount of, “Oh, I think I can relax. I’m still selling tickets. People are coming to see me.” It’s a good feeling and it’s also a “time flies” feeling.

You do some serious rocking out on songs such as “Miss California,” “Nervous,” “The Wanting of You,” “Drag Me Away,” “Indiana” and the title track. How did it feel to rock like that again? Oh, it feels so good, and it’s really reflected in the live show. I plug those songs in and then I do all the other songs around them. It’s like, “Whoa!” That’s a couple of hours of rock and roll right there. It feels really good; I like it.

You’ve been on tour in support of Fearless Love for a few months — are the new songs being received by your fans the way you want them to be? Even more so. I have to tell you, when I start “Indiana,” [it gets] a huge response. It’s really nice. And everybody’s singing along. That means so much, especially for the new material to reach people like that. That’s what you want.

“Miss California,” like “Tuesday Morning” from Lucky, “Scarecrow” from Breakdown and your Oscar-winning tune “I Need To Wake Up,” is an example of your political voice in your work. What does it mean to you to be able to combine your music with causes and issues about which you feel strongly? That’s been quite a journey for me. That started on my second record [Brave And Crazy] with the song “Testify,” which was an awakening of that part of me. Realizing that I have a voice and that I’ve been gifted with the ability to maybe make people think or do something socially through my music. I’m always very conscious when I do it. I never want to preach from my personal perspective.

Rock musicals have been dominating Broadway stages in recent years. Is there any chance that there is a Melissa Etheridge Broadway musical in the pipeline? I have been thinking about doing a Broadway show even before the rock musicals were in. When I saw that U2 was doing something and Green Day, I was like, “Aw, come on! I’m putting mine together!” But, no, it’s good. I’m glad that they’re doing it and they’ve been successful. Yes, I am actually in the process now. It’s very near to being written.

Did you do theater in high school, too? I did! Love theater. Of course, I’m gay! Theater!

Lilith Fair is going on and Lollapalooza is right around the bend. Have you considered organizing a music festival either of LGBT musicians or one in support of a cause that is near to you? Those thoughts pass by me. I tried to get something together Dinah Shore Weekend [but] it’s hard: It’s hard to find people who want to do it with you. It’s just hard, especially with the economy right now. I’m doing well and I’m very grateful. When people are feeling a little better, it’s might be something I’d be in to, but not right now.

You helped pave the way for artists such as Chely Wright (a fellow Kansan), Ricky Martin and Christian singer Jennifer Knapp to come out publicly this year. How do you feel about that? I love it, because coming out publicly when you are a public figure is such a personal choice. It’s a big thing and it’s [a] huge responsibility. To help and inspire and be a part of anybody’s experience in that, I’m honored. Because I know it’s the best thing to do for yourself because you can never feel your success all the way in to your bones if you don’t. You feel like you’re living a lie and it’s unhealthy.

Your break up with Michaels has been publicized across magazines and blogs. Do you think that the media has been fair in its coverage of you? There is no way that the press can be fair because they can never know everything. You basically are listening to one person and that’s the one person’s perspective. Because of that, I’ve chosen not to go into too much detail.

With all that’s been going on personally, how has the tour been for you? Is it a difficult endeavor or is it possibly therapeutic?  It’s a bunch of different things. For me, it is this great safe place. People come to a show and look for a good time and that gives me a wonderful feeling. And it is cathartic and therapeutic. Music has always been that for me. This  is what I have to do.  I do miss my kids when I don’t see them but I get back enough.

Would the album have been any different had it come out last week as opposed to before everything came out in the open? I wrote this album last year and so I can’t say it would have. Of course, it would have sounded different if I was writing after everything happened, but I wouldn’t have changed anything here and I wouldn’t have rescheduled its release because of it all. Music is the one thing I feel really confident in. It feeds me and it’s my work. Music I can do — everything else, maybe not so much.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition July 30, 2010.

—  Kevin Thomas

Concert notice: Melissa Etheridge comes to McFarlin Auditorium Aug. 3

Just saw that LiveNation announced Melissa Etheridge is making her way to Dallas. She’s on the road to support her album, Fearless Love, which comes out next Tuesday. She’ll perform at McFarlin Auditorium at SMU, Aug. 3 at 8 p.m. Tickets go on sale Friday, April 30 and range from $55–$100.

Earlier this month, Etheridge and partner of nine years, Tammy Lynn Michaels, announced their mutual separation. But today on Oprah, Etheridge mentioned Michaels “will always be in my life” and they will co-parent their children amicably.

Check her video for the title track here.

—  Rich Lopez