Melissa Etheridge needs very little introduction. Singer -songwriter extraordinaire, icon, activist, Grammy winner. We are very honored to bring you this special in-depth interview we had with her whilst she was in London recently. So, please grab yourself a coffee and join us ….
Welcome, Melissa. Thanks so much for taking the time out to talk to us. Let’s start by talking about your new album, ‘The Medicine Show’ Tell us how your approach to studio different from what you’ve done before?
It’s my 15th album. I’ve done this and had many different types of experience. So when I approached this album I promised myself I wouldn’t put any expectations on it, I wouldn’t think it has to turn out this way or that. I said I’m willing to let this album unfold. There was a lot of freedom in that. When I started, I had no expectations.
I went to my bass player’s studio in Nashville. It’s such a great city, just filled with creators, people writing music. They celebrate the songwriter. I really love that about Nashville. I said to myself, I want to go to Nashville and submerge myself in that and create.
So, I started the tracks. Some of them just started with the rhythm and drums Like ‘Wild and Lonely.’ Some of them I sat down and played guitar. I just started creating music. I don’t usually do that. I usually write on my guitar, the song and words at the same time, take it to the band and we record it. This was me going from a different place, coming through drums, the electric guitar, the acoustic, the piano.
In the end, the producer John Shanks, came on board, and said ‘Let’s work together.’ He’s an old friend, I’ve known him for years and years. It just unfolded, and here it is.
How did you arrive at the lead single ‘Faded by Design.’ What were you trying to capture on that particular song?
That one, I was sitting in studio, playing my 12 string guitar, signature 12 string, that so many of my songs have come from. I thought let me do what I do best, what my fans love me for. I was just playing, finding a rhythm and I just began to sing out. I thought, that feels good, I started going down that road. I started writing, sketched it out, really went in lyrically, working on what I wanted to say.
It’s about the freedom to explore our own consciousness. I believe that plant medicine is one way of doing that. Cannabis, it’s an interesting topic right now. We have stereotypes of what we think stoners are. It was about using about actual plant medicine as medicine, for health.
In the hip-hop world, ‘faded’ is another word for being stoned. You can actually find ‘faded by design’ on clothing, it goes on stone-washed jeans. So I thought, wait a minute, that’s exactly what it is – faded by design. This remedy, maybe it’s the end of the day, time to unwind – it’s a way to relieve stress, which is a huge factor in poor health.
Let’s talk about music as medicine, that seems to underpin this album. Was there one song that was actually healing for you to write? Maybe you could tell us the story please?
The whole album was such a healing experience. The one that’s obvious to me, it’s the last track on the album, ‘The Last Hello’. I was in the studio when the tragic events of the Parkland shooting in America happened, in a school in Florida. It turned us sideways; it was so hard to hear that. My first reaction when anything emotional hits me like that is I’ve got to transform it through music – I’ve got to do something.
So I sat down to write and I didn’t want to meet it with anger. I needed to feel better somehow, to find some redemption in this. Along with some of the stuff I was reading , I saw a little article that said there are 150,000 survivors of school shootings. These are people that are affected, that are alive. They lost their friends, so I went in that way. What must have been like to witness that and have to deal with that tragedy as a child, but also lose your friend? Very simply, where is my friend? I was able to transform that in the end into let’s be bigger than this. Let’s figure this out.
One of the tracks off the album, ‘Woman Like You’ stood out for me, as it has very real truth. How did you arrive at that song?
This album is kind of a throwback to when I started, almost 30 years ago. I’m looking back at those times. Now that I’m farther away from them, I can really examine them. One of experiences back then was that I was very attracted to beauty, to perceived beauty. I was in Los Angeles, Hollywood. That was the currency. If you were a beautiful woman, doors opened for you. Every door. I knew these women who were making lots of money from their looks, whether they were actors or whatever they do. If you had the look you got through.
My first serious relationship, she understood that she had power because she had this look. Well, what happens 30 years later, when that’s where you put everything? That was where you chose your strength, but what happens to the rest of your life? I found that when I started writing this song, although I’m singing about an ex, who went out looking for herself, I didn’t want to condemn this person. That’s not what I’m doing. I am observing.
Somewhere in the song you find me say ‘Your book’s been judged ’. Where you used to be judged by your looks, now, you can find grace as a woman like you. Our society can value a woman over 50. Maybe it’s not the ideal beauty anymore, but there is so much more to women. That’s where I am now. This is so untapped.
So, five things that are fabulous about being over fifty would include….
- You don’t have to sweat the small stuff at all
- You can wear comfortable shoes
- You really start to understand how to prioritise. There’s just some things you don’t have to spend your time and energy on, or people you don’t have to spend your time and energy on
- You appreciate family deeper than ever. You understand that love
- You start appreciating everyday of your life more because you realise you’ve gone around the sun fifty time. You have appreciation for every single day of your life.
So let’s wind that back a little, you recently celebrated the 25th anniversary of the release of ‘Yes I am’. What was exciting about that time period in your life?
My life was completely changing. ‘Yes I Am’ was a massive hit in America. It was a good thing I was slightly older when that happened. These days you get you get 19/ 20 year olds who are huge and that can kind of mess you up a little bit.
I have such an appreciation for the music that I made then and the commitment that I made to make music that I love and really stay true to myself. I’m glad that those were the hits. I can play them night after night and they are still loved.
What songs do your fans continually ask you to play as you do have this amazing back catalogue ….
Internationally, ‘Bring Me Some Water’ I can play that song that song anywhere. ‘Like The Way I Do’, ‘Come to my Window.’ and ‘I’m the Only One.’ Those four songs are probably the biggest. I get requests for every song. For someone, somewhere, one of my songs is their favourite song. That means a lot as a songwriter.
You’re not really allowed to have a favourite child, but if your songs are children, is there any particular favourite song for you personally?’
Don’t tell, but I do have a favourite child!!! I usually fall in love with my last album, but, in the work that I did before that, I am just so grateful for so many songs. I would say, ‘You Can Sleep While I Drive.’ I was surprised that so many people related to it and sing it so deeply and took it into their lives. That one I always enjoy singing.
You have done some amazing collaborations, with people such as Bruce Springsteen and Don Henley. Is there anybody you’d like to collaborate with now?
I love to collaborate and love being able to do that. I have this cruise happening in a couple of weeks, and with those artists it ends up being a lot of collaborative work. I love it because I came from bars where you played, and, if somebody wasn’t able to, they’d say ‘Come on, do a song.’ You’d just do that. I love walking into someone else’s situation and getting to sing with them.
Steve Tyler, I’ve always wanted to sing with him – that would be fun. But then, I would love to do something totally off the wall, with Kendrick Lamar…. call me!!
Have you got any words of wisdom for young artists, especially for women, who are trying to make their way in the music business? It is business, so you have to navigate that and keep your creativity.
I do see many young women coming through these days and I am very comfortable mentoring. I have business experience, for about 30 years. Women have more opportunity now, so many more channels. We are not beholden to the head of a record company or radio station. It’s different now and there is opportunity. I always say, do what you love and it will unfold in front of you.
If you are not enjoying your work or the business part, stop. If you get massive success and you’re not enjoying it, that’s just magnified. You’re going to live life playing these songs night after night after night. So, you’d better love them. If you’re going to succeed, that’s what’s going to happen. So do what you love in the moment.
We all want to know what everyone thinks of us. We’re going to look at the charts and worry. I tell them it comes and goes and in the end, you’re just going to play your music for people that love music. So just make the music you love.
What still inspires you and keeps you passionate about being a songwriter?
It’s life. I could try to make my living writing broken hearted songs for the rest of my life, because that gave me some of my big hits. But that’s not the point. The point is I was going through that at the time and that is what I was writing about. I’m not going through that now, thank God, I’ve moved on.
Life is what inspires me, how life happens to me personally and also politically. It inspires to me be an artist. That’s my job, it’s to reflect and contemplate and create. I want people to be able to look back in ten years and go this is one of the time capsules, this is one of the pieces, this is what we were going through. That’s the kind of work, art, I want to create.
Quick Fire Questions
Hope or charity – Hope
Cat or dog – Dog
Wine or Whiskey – Wine
Forest walk or mountain hike – Forest walk
Don Henley or Donny Hathaway – Donny Hathaway. Love you Don Henley, but Hathaway’s getting me through the night