Melissa Etheridge has always been a sort of mysterious character. Even though it seems her whole life is on easy display, there's still something about her that makes you want to delve deeper, something that draws you to her metaphorical window.
Two things the singer is most known for, after her music, are that she is, in fact, a gay woman, and she and her former partner had children using David Crosby's seed -- which is absolutely the reproductive definition of rock 'n' roll. But there's so much more to Etheridge than these seemingly juicy bits of tabloid fodder. She's a breast cancer survivor and an activist for the environment, marijuana, and gay rights -- so, it's safe to say that after last night's election, we'll be lucky if she's still coming to town.
Thanks to Pompano Beach Arts and AEG Live, she's heading to the new Pompano Beach Amphitheater (The AMP) which was recently been taken over by the Creative City Collaborative. She's touring with a whole new, bluesier sound and showcasing her album This Is M.E.. And you can whet your palate for the show with PBS' Hitmakers series, which airs November 14 at 9 p.m.
We spoke with Etheridge recently about what nurtures her soul, the new elements she's added to her live performances, and the crowdsourced cover art that decorates her newest release.
New Times: I wanted to ask you about the cover art on your newest album. You took pictures from your fans to create an image of yourself. Where'd you come up with that idea?
Melissa Etheridge: Well, that was through a lot of thought with my new management when we were putting the record together. We knew it would be an independent effort, so we knew we had to really ignite the fan base because we wouldn't have as much money to promote and kinda do the things you can with a large label.
We wanted to get interest before and connect the fan base with it. It was actually the marketing part of my management that came up with, "Is there something we can use, pictures they send in?" I went, "Maybe we can make a mosaic of a picture of me?" Yeah, This Is M.E.! Just one of those brainstorming sessions.
Have you had a positive response?
Oh, man. They love it, because they send their pictures in, and we use them, but there's an app on the website they can look at like a magnifying glass and find their picture on the website.
The new album, your single off it, "Take My Number," is kind of a romantic song. Do you consider this a romantic album -- not in the classic sense, but...
There's a lot of romance, emotion, and sexual stuff on this album. It's a very intimate album... I won't say intimate, but there's a lot of feelings.
Anything in your life influence it?
The way I always made my records is I can't help to write very personally at the time. Whether the songs are looking forward or looking back, there's very much of me in it.
Look at all my albums and put them back to back to back, and it's one big diary, basically. This album is no exception. The good news is I'm in a really great and exciting place, and so you're going to have a really great and exciting album, because that's how I feel. I have more energy. I feel stronger about who I am, about myself, about what I need. And all those things. Just really powerful, and it comes through in the album.
Do you think it's more difficult to be in the spotlight writing about more personal stuff?
I wouldn't call it more difficult. It makes it more sharp; it makes it more interesting. You have to be more clever.
You got your start making country.
Oh yeah, back when I was a preteen.
How do you feel about where country's gone today?
I'm a classic country girl. When I want to listen to country music, I'll listen to Charley Pride, Merle Haggard, Tammy Wynette, Loretta Lynn. I go way back. The country of today just reminds me of the pop music of yesterday.
To me, country was... country's more in the writing. I understand the subject is going to be country. And there are some artists really holding that country line. I love country music; I think it's great music.
You fall in that same tradition of storytelling...
I always stand just outside the country music world. I'm friends with tons of them and would love to someday be invited inside their playground to play.
Have you ever played with any of your heroes, like Merle Haggard?
I've been on stage with Emmylou Harris, Dwight Yoakam, Vince Gill, some really great ones, but not the early ones.
You recently just got married. Congratulations. I wanted to ask you a little about the politics of gay marriage. Any thoughts on how the country's trending?
I think we rolled the boulder up the hill, and now it's rolling down and it feels like it's got some momentum. And we don't have to push so hard, you know? Our gorgeous American Constitution, our whole form of democracy, can withstand social changes. It was built to do that. To ensure that it's based on freedom.
I'm not going to quote Thomas Jefferson, but one of his quotes says, we believe in this equality for even things we can't imagine right now. That's what he was talking about. What's happening in our country is a direct reflection of that, of the idea of freedom of democracy, of equal rights, human rights. America's always been the leader in that. And we continue to be the leader in that.
I know you're an environmental activist. We don't seem to be making any progress there. Any solutions?
The environment is such a funny thing. It's in the mind of the beholder. We have to bring it back to ourselves. It's about our own personal environment. If our own personal environment isn't healthy, how am I supposed to expect them to be concerned about living in the world environment? It's the hermetic principle, "as above, so below." You gotta work it out here first and then it'll take care of itself out there.
It was Breast Cancer Awareness Month. You're a survivor. Do you take part in events or anything?
It's funny. I was diagnosed in October, and man it comes every year, and I have a celebration. I'm all for being aware. I emphasize and really try to bring home: It's awareness of your own self. It's not about being afraid. It's not about running out and getting a mammogram out of fear. I would hope it could turn into the awareness of being aware of taking care of yourself, of nourishing yourself, understanding that food is medicine and stress will kill you. These things we can look at.
I don't' take part in a lot of big pink things. I do spend a lot of time talking about it in October; people ask me questions about it. I try to let them know as a ten-year survivor, a "brvivor," as I call it, this is what's working for me, being mindful of myself, understanding what I'm eating and the stress I'm under.
What do you do on a daily basis, like to nurture your soul?
It's about being in touch with yourself, with your own happiness. Happiness and joy are extremely important to put so far down the line. That'll make you sick. If it's not one of your priorities, you're not going to get it; you can't have a happy ending to an unhappy journey.
I really focus on that, on the joy in my life. I can't stress healthy foods enough, whatever I'm putting in my body, just understanding the energy, where it comes from and what it's going to do to my body. And stress. A little bit of stress is good, but the stress that worries us and wears us down, that'll make us sick. I monitor that. And yoga. I think yoga is going to save the world.
And how about therapy of making music?
I'm so lucky to be able to make music. Music is just a healer. To exchange that energy with people is amazing, to sing my innermost thoughts and scream them out into the world is extremely healthy. Yes, I think it's great.
Are you working on anything new musically?
The new album came out. I have a new band, and I'm taking my rock roots and sort of stretching them. Where I used to be like a Led Zeppelin, the one singer with the rock band behind him, now, I'm looking more of a Joe Cocker thing. A more soulful band. I have backup singers for the first time. I'm really excited about this tour.
My bass player is the incredible Jerry Wonda; he was the bass player for the Fugees. He's put together the Platinum Sound. He has a whole music factory in New York City. I asked him to join forces with me.
How do you hope people respond to this new sound?
I hope they get up and dance and can't sit down!
Melissa Etheridge: This is M.E., 8 p.m. Friday, November 28, at Pompano Beach Amphitheater, 1806 NE Sixth St., Pompano Beach. Tickets cost $45 to $75 plus fees. Visit PompanoBeachArts.org.