From her public coming out in the early ’90s to her battle against breast cancer to the raw, honesty of her music, Melissa Etheridge has always “kept it real.”
During a successful career spanning nearly half her 54 years, Etheridge is known for mixing confessional, soul-baring lyrics with pop-based rock set, driving guitars and the smoky rasp of her signature vocals.
With hits like “Ain’t It Heavy,” “Come to My Window,” “I’m the Only One” under her belt, the Kansas-bred musician has won Grammys, an Oscar and earned a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Now touring in support of “This is M.E.,” her 12th studio album — and the first released on her own label, ME, since parting ways with Island Records — Etheridge will co-headline a show with Blondie on July 1, at the Rose Music Center at The Heights in Huber Heights. Etheridge’s 50-date summer tour also ties into the June 9 release of her new DVD “A Little Bit of Me: Live in L.A.”
The chatty, engaging singer held court on a variety of subjects during a recent phone conversation from New York, where she was playing several dates.
BMP: I saw you live in the ’90s at Fraze Pavilion in Dayton. From them to now, so much has changed in your personal and professional lives. How how have those events impacted you as an artist?
Etheridge: That’s what it’s all about — whatever happens to you. I made a decision long ago that my music would be true to life. What singer-songwriters create is from their personal experiences. Coming out, having to publicly walk through my relationship lessons, going through cancer … those are huge life-changers. Along with that came a change of style and my spirit. The music IS me; you can’t separate one from the other.
BMP: Is that what inspired the title of your latest album, “This is M.E”?
Etheridge: That’s exactly where it came from. All the albums have been me, but this music stretches a little further. There’s still a lot of rock, but I allow myself to get as soulful, as much in to R&B as I want to; that music has always been a part of me.
BMP: The album is pretty smokin’ … it mixes a lot of different styles. There’s the love song, “Who Are You Waiting For,” that everyone’s talking about, and I even detect kind of a hip-hop beat in “Like a Preacher.” What prompted you to cover such a broad territory?
Etheridge: I was led by the experience of knowing this album would be more of a collaborative effort. Getting in there with these different people — Jon Levine, with his love of rock’n’roll and lush productions, Jerry Wonda on the R&B/hip-hop side — and having their music blend with mine, I felt I was using them as another instrument. That’s what led me there; I wouldn’t go there on my own.
BMP: What are you listening to these days?
Etheridge: I’m so influenced by my children. My teenagers get into the car and want to share their music with me, after I spent so much of their growing years introducing them to music. My daughter (Bailey Jean, 18) is into independent, alternative stuff and my son (Beckett, 16) is much more into R&B and hip-hop. So in one day, I can listen to Schoolboy Q and then the Lumineers. My 8-year-olds (twins Johnnie Rose and Miller Steven) can’t get enough of Taylor Swift.
BMP: You’re now working with your own label. That must give you an incredible sense of freedom.
Etheridge: Yes, it does, and also an incredible sense of responsibility! Now I’m in charge of it all. I have to know what I can and can’t do, and I have to know how to really run a business. The major difference between is that when you’re on a label, they are selling the record, they want to sell that piece of work. With myself and my company, they’re selling ME. The piece of work is a means to get more people into my realm. We’re looking at the long run, whereas the record company is selling the product.
BMP: How have technology and social media impacted your career, i.e., the way you reach your audience?
Etheridge: Using something like (the live video streaming app) Periscope, I can now directly reach my fans and my fan base is growing. When I went from 20,000 to almost 70,000 followers on Twitter, I began understanding that social media and technology give me the power to directly reach my fans without having to go through a radio station, a record store or television station. I instantly get to them and I build loyalty. It’s a very exciting time for artists; we have more power than we’ve ever had.
BMP: I read an interview in which you mentioned you’d like to do a Broadway musical. Is that still an interest?
Etheridge: Yes, it’s definitely still a thing. Linda and I have been working on that. (Etheridge is married to “Nurse Jackie” co-creator Linda Wallem.) It takes second place attention to her television show and my music, but we really want to create something like that. I wouldn’t be starring in it. It would be something that would live on its own, either songs that I’ve done or songs that are unique to the show. It wouldn’t be about me … it would be about the story and about the songs.