With a career spanning nearly three decades and still going strong, Melissa Etheridge is a goddess of good old fashioned rock ‘n’ roll. With 15 Grammy Award nominations, 2 Grammy Awards, an Academy Award for Best Original Song, 14 studio albums - 5 of which went Platinum – and 11 Billboard Hot 100 charting singles, Etheridge has had the kind of career most musicians dream of. However, this rockstar insists that she is happier now than she has ever been.
“Wisdom and learning over the years will eventually lead one to happiness if you keep learning,” explained Etheridge in a recent phone interview. “I don’t sweat the small stuff anymore. I have a wonderful marriage to an amazing woman who is just my joy and I feel well enough within myself to be open to being in a healthy relationship.”
Known for heart wrenching lyrics like “Please baby can't you see/My mind's a burnin' hell/I got razors a rippin' and tearin' and strippin'/My heart apart as well,” Etheridge’s new found happiness almost seems like it may spell the end of the relationship anthems her fans love. But according to Etheridge, shedding the days of being a young artist in the throes of a melancholic state doesn’t mean a switch up in her musical stylings.
“I may be happier in my life now but I have definitely written from sadness, from longing, from a desire to feel better – many, many songs have come from those times where you want to feel better,” said Etheridge. “I write from conflict but that does not necessarily mean sadness. It could be a desire to see more love in the world or to just see changes. There have been songs that I have written specifically about incidents or specific things, yet I try to always come from a personal place. There are so many places that inspiration can come from.”
Her 2016 release of “Memphis Rock and Soul” is a testament to the diverse sources of her inspiration.
“Stax Records was such a big part of my past and such an influence on rock ‘n’ roll,” Etheridge said. “When I think about it, all of my influences really can be traced back to that soul music in Memphis, which is one of the reasons I wanted to recreate it again.”
Producing some of the biggest names in 60s soul music, Stax Records’ legendary roster included the likes of Otis Redding, Albert King, Eddie Floyd, Sam & Dave, David Porter, Shirley Brown, Steve Cropper and Rufus Thomas, just to name a few.
“I started out with over a hundred songs that I was considering and it took a while for me to figure out which songs I wanted to cover – which songs really moved me, which songs did people want to hear, which songs could I add something to. It just came down to the final 20, I recorded 17 and 15 made the album,” Etheridge said.
On the way to whittling 100 potential song choices down to a mere 15, Etheridge found that some songs just weren’t meant to be recorded by her.
“I couldn’t quite get ‘Knock on Wood’ to work for me,” laughed Etheridge in her signature raspy voice. “It’s a great song, it just didn’t pop.”
While Etheridge may be dipping into the world of covers, fans likely won’t see her paying homage to club bangers like Rhianna, Taylor Swift and Katy Perry.
“Probably the biggest driving force in how music has changed over the years has been the digitization of music. You used to just make the music and record it. Then in the 90s there was this huge change from live music to really good taped music. It became more about the technology and suddenly one could make a whole album in their bedroom, which has really changed what type of music there is out there. I mean my kids listen to music that makes me think ‘wow, that’s really techno’ and I don’t know how they like it. But that’s just how they have grown up,” Etheridge explained.
Thumping techno beats aren’t the only thing distinguishing the singer from today’s pop stars – there’s advocacy, too. Etheridge has built a career on using her music as a platform for social activism from civil rights to environmental issues.
“Advocacy is a personal choice and it really has to come from a genuine place. One can’t be told to do it; you really have to be compelled to do it from inside. As young artists kind of go along their path and start to see that it’s about the journey, not the accomplishments, you know, it’s about what happens along the way, then they will become more aware that life is about cooperation not competition. I think advocacy is a journey in of itself,” said Etheridge in response to the limited activism of younger musicians.
Etheridge may not force the importance of leveraging one’s celebrity for the betterment of society but she does have some sound advice to offer.
“The best advice I was ever given was to just know that everything changes,” she said. “In any situation that might seem like it is the worst or best it could be, to always know that life is in constant change and the waves go up and down. That’s why there is life.”
*Originally published by the Anchorage Press