Melissa Etheridge is an open book. Listening to her songs is like reading pages of her diary. She has always been one to wear her heart on her sleeve.
Etheridge’s fans have seen the singer/songwriter through publicly coming out as a gay woman, romantic breakups, a cancer battle and most recently the loss of her 21-year-old son Beckett. Through it all music has always been and still remains Etheridge’s touchstone.
Her new album, "One Way Out," finds her digging back in her past recording unreleased songs with her old band drummer Fritz Lewak, guitarist John Shanks and drummer Kevin McCormick. This reunion has put some spark back into Etheridge’s step as she taps into her inner fire from the ‘90s.
Newsday's David J. Criblez spoke with Etheridge, 60, prior to her Nov. 3 appearance at The Paramount in Huntington about her musical journey, the impact from losing her son and what she learned during the pandemic lockdown.
How would you describe the current place you are at in your career?
I’m finally relaxing. I don’t worry about numbers anymore — radio or charts. My whole sole purpose is to create music that moves me so I can move other people. I look at the world around me taking all the inspirations in and create from that.
What do you make of the strides the LGBTQ community has made since you first came out in the ‘90s?
Oh yeah! I can be on the NFL channel and without thinking twice say, "Oh, I was watching with my wife …" It’s normal now. I have to sit and go, "WOW!" Things are changing and I think we are headed for a better place. It just shows what we can do as people by moving past old fears.
Your new album is composed of fresh recordings of older unreleased songs. How did that project come about?
About eight years ago I was considering doing a box set. I asked Universal to send me all my stuff in the vault. I started getting these tapes with my old songs. I thought I wanted to rerecord these old tunes in the studio with my old band.
How did you achieve that throwback Melissa Etheridge sound?
I brought in Nico Bolas who produced my first few albums. We did it the same way — recording the live performance of the band. People really like the straightforwardness of it. It’s good to know I can always do that. What feels the best is doing these songs on the road with my band. When I play them live, it sounds like they came off the second or third album. They fit right in.
How does it feel to be back on the road after being shut down from the pandemic?
I’ve never been so grateful to be in front of people and exchange that energy. I really love it. I will never take this for granted or say I’m tired of playing anywhere for anybody ever. It’s so nice to feel a bit of normalcy.
You lost your son Beckett last year. How did you handle that grief?
I was doing the Facebook concerts for 58 days and my son died so I stopped. Because it was such a strange time, we couldn’t even have a funeral. I looked at my wife and told her I wanted to build a streaming studio in our garage. I really threw myself into learning how to stream — cameras, lights, sound, internet. I’d bring fans entertainment five days a week and stay connected. It really healed me because learning something new that you love is really healing.
Have you written any songs for him yet?
I’ve written things down but I have not sat down and given myself time to write that album. I just need space and time to open up and let all that out.
Your songs are so personal. Do you feel this is what draws people in?
I discovered a long time ago when I would write songs that were deeply personal to me, those were the ones that people absolutely made their own. I realized that personal space is something that’s universal in all of us. Going into my heart and creating from that place was the best path because that’s where I felt all the great music came from. When I was growing up listening to Joni Mitchell, I’d listen to her songs and knew they came directly from experience. That’s where I write from. My commitment is to keep writing from that inspired place inside of me that’s truthful and full on.
You have been through so much in your life — fighting for equality in the gay community, battling cancer, losing your son and going through various romantic relationships publicly. Where do you get the strength?
I just walk the walk and live my life. When I came out, I would simply answer questions openly. The more open I got as a person, the more open I became as an artist. It’s become a conversation that I’ve been having with everybody. I still do that because I’m doing what I love and what inspires me. As long as I’m doing that I think I can stay open.
What do you view as your greatest artistic achievement?
The fact that I’m still making music and people are still wanting to hear it. I’m grateful that it’s still relevant. My goal is to stay on this journey.