Q&A: Melissa Etheridge In Concert at the Orpheum

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Melissa Etheridge sat down with Goweho Managing Editor Laurie Schenden to talk about her new album, her marriage earlier this year, and starting a new chapter. She brings her “This Is M.E.” tour home for the holidays, performing at the Los Angeles Orpheum Theater on Friday, Dec. 12.

Goweho: Congratulations on the new album, it reminds me of your early work.

Melissa Etheridge: I am so excited, and I love it! I mean, I’m ready for the next chapter.

Goweho: Let’s talk about that, because it seems to be reflected in the new music.

M.E.: I started to go through professionally what I had gone thru personally. I fired my manager, fired everybody. For the first time I went out and met with managers and lawyers and agents. I was very mature about this, [laughs] I’m very proud of myself! One of the changes I made was to go to Island Records and say, “can I own my record?” And of course they say no because their business is selling records [laugh], so I left Island. I own the record.

G: That’s huge for an artist.

It’s massive. Of course it’s much less money [up front], so the way you spend the money and what you do is very important.

G: You have other things to celebrate this year as well, congratulations on your marriage, and your family.

That’s something I could never have visualized. I was a gay rock star, children were not in the plan. It wasn’t until the ‘90s that Julie … oh, this is something you could do.

G: You had two previous committed relationships with children–Bailey and Beckett with Julie Cypher, and the twins Miller and Johnnie Rose with Tammy Lynne Michaels.

After that [I said] I’m done. I’m just going to have fun if I want to have fun, but I’m done having relationships.

G: And then Linda Wallem came along…

We met in 2001. She called me for a TV show she was doing that didn’t work out, but we became best friends. When everything fell apart with the last relationship, I asked her to come help me, because now I had four children in my house and just me [laughs]. And she had been working in New York on ‘Nurse Jackie’ and had some time, so I said come stay with me, it’s a big house. In that process of kids’ lunches, talking to teenagers, driving to and from this and that, love happened. We fell in love.

G: What was your wedding like?

I wanted the wedding to be so simple … family, friends, it was beautiful. And, I wanted to be legal in California. But, when I saw it was working its way through the courts I said, let’s wait til it’s legal, legal, legal. There’s no pretending here. That whole process of the state, federal sanction … this is what we do as a country, to support families and build households, that felt amazing. Yes, we are married, we are married-married. 

G: How does a rock star juggle family life?

When school’s in session it’s school stuff; normal breakfast, lunches, dinner, soccer practice, ballet. It is normal. When I’m with my family, that’s the only time I’m like, ‘Oh gosh.’ You want to give them kind of a normal experience. Yet, they know that strangers talk to me, that’s part of their life. It’s important for my children to see that I love what I do. That if I’m going to spend time away from them, it’s because I’m doing what I love.

G: The boy who just left, is that Beckett?

Yeah, the young boy was my son. It’s so funny, I got so much grief over David Crosby [when it was publicized that he was the sperm donor]. You see my children…. All four of my kids are crazy gorgeous! [She shows me a portrait of her four children.]

G: They are!
You’ve always written your own songs, and about things close to your heart. Was it awkward to collaborate on the new album?

A couple of the experiences were a disaster and I was like “thank you, good-bye.” And some of them, like Jon Levine who did most of the tracts, were such a delight. 

G: It clicked?

Oh, when it clicked! He and I both, with our intense love of Bruce Springsteen, created all this music. Then I went away for a few days, wrote lyrics, came back and we finished and recorded.

G: So most of the lyrics were you, which explains why it sounds like a Melissa album.

Yes, I would say 98% of the lyrics you hear are mine.

G: You also collaborated with Angela Hunte?

This woman just appeared in the studio. I’m thinking, who is this? Linda, my wife, happened to be there and leaned over and said, ‘That’s Angela Hunte, she wrote ‘Empire State of Mind.’ ’ Oh, OK, come right here! I started working with her and just fell in love with her.

G: That was on “Do It Again?” Great song.

That was the first lyrical collaboration I did. The only other one was with Roccstar. I brought in my electric guitar. He’d never worked with electric guitar in the studio. He’s worked with Chris Brown … This other type of music. He would go and stand at the microphone and totally free style. He wouldn’t even write anything down, you know, making a whole joke about the lyrics and what they are, and then I would grab them and rearrange, and this and this and this.

G: You’re getting pumped just talking about it!

Oh yah, I would come home and go, “Yah! Bla-bla, bla–bla! And it was quick and super powerful. Because you’ve gotta be super honest when you’re right in front of somebody.

G: Can you rank these, starting with your favorite: Giving interviews, writing, performing, hearing yourself on radio and recording?

Performing, recording, writing, hearing myself on the radio, and giving interviews.

G: Dang, everybody hates interviews.

Oh come on! I love to talk about myself!

G: When you wrote this album, who were you writing for?

I discovered a long time ago, the more personal I got, the more universal it was. So I don’t have to worry about the universality of anything, because we all have the same emotional core. And we all interpret things differently.

G: You’re back on tour now, do you enjoy being on the road?

I like touring, the travel part is the only part that gets a little wearing, the hotels and the flights and the bus. It’s romantic in your 20s, and OK in your 30s, but in the 50s, can’t I get a helicopter?

Journalist Laurie Schenden covers the entertainment industry, with many of her notable celebrity interviews appearing in the Los Angeles Times and other national and international publications. As a longtime columnist and feature writer for the LA Times, she also covered events and California destinations for the lifestyle, Outdoors and Travel sections. Laurie Schenden's international pieces include the long-running Where Are They Now celebrity feature for Spotlight Magazine, published in five languages. Laurie has also contributed to numerous documentary films, and produces content via Saving Grace Films.

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