Melissa Etheridge: Forever Fearless

Oscar and Grammy award-winning singer-songwriter Melissa Etheridge is set to return to Australia and New Zealand in 2012. This will be her first appearance in Australia since 1996.

Since her gripping 1988 debut, Etheridge’s life and music have captivated us. Her musical interpretation of her personal story has had the unique and rare quality of appealing both universally, as well as personally, to a diverse fan base worldwide. Zoe Carter caught up with her recently to discuss the tour and what to expect on the next album.

Does it get a bit dull being a lesbian icon after over 20 years in the spotlight?

No that’s the fun part. It’s kinda  funny. I’ve found that it’s finally settled down now. It was a bit weird for a while there being the ‘big lesbian’ but I found that finally after experiencing breast cancer and some other stuff in my life that it has become just one of the colours in my colouring box.

But yet for a lot of the lesbian community it’s still a very special part for them coming out to your music and watching your musical and personal progression.

Sure, but I like to say now that it’s (being a lesbian) a part of you, but it shouldn’t define you.

What’s the secret to your longevity in your career as a musician?

That I love what I do, and that I really, really love performing live and connecting to people live. I love to write songs for people and myself, and to share and express. There is nothing else I would rather do as a job.

You’ve said in the past that one of the things you really enjoy about performance is the interaction of the audience, and when they sing along to your songs. Is there a particular track off the new album that we should be boning up on for this tour?

You know, since it’s been SO LONG since I’ve been down there, I hope to play everybody’s favourites. I want to do everything. I’ll do all the hits, some new stuff. On the new album I would on the new my new songs like Fearless Love, the title track. Nervous is my favourite song to do live

Can you tell me a bit about the process for Nervous?

It was pretty much the way it usually is with me. It was the idea. I think the inspiration was that I wanted to write a shuffle beat (you know that jump up and down beat) and there were some personal things going on, I was becoming single again, and you know that always fires up some interesting emotions that help with the process – so there it is!

That personal and intimate aspect of your music is something that I think quite resonates with your audience. Do you find that it’s cathartic being able to use those emotions in your music?

I’m constantly surprised…or amazed, that what I can write about, that these very, very personal emotions and feelings can actually be universally felt and appreciated and accepted, and that the more personal it gets, the more universal it gets [laughs].

How do you find performing a song now that is reflective of something that has been deeply and personally felt that you have written 15 years ago about a situation? When you are performing it now, is it a different kind of experience. Do you go back to that place?

Well it’s definitely not, I don’t go back to that place because it’s so long ago and that thing is so done  and over – and yet – the emotional release and the feeling of wanting to sing ‘somebody bring me some water’  that’s still there. That I can use.  You learn to call up the memory of that, doesn’t mean you need to be going through it. You can call it up, you can remember, and indulge in it for a minute actress and then you can move on.

How has it been for you balancing motherhood with such a public and high profile career?

Well it’s hard to balance motherhood with anything. Motherhood is definitely the most interesting and definitely the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done (probably the hardest). However, since I live out here in LA and there are tons of famous and interesting people out here, it’s not so unusual. I hope that I have instilled in my kids a sense that that they are special and solid and we are down to earth. The schools they go, there are always someone else in the business. I mean we car pooled with the Van Halens. When you have a family, everyone just understands that the kids come first.

I remember when the news broke about you and Julia having children. It was still at a stage in Australia where it was a bit out there and brave, but now just about everyone in my age group has children. Did you have the same in your community or do you think it is more common now?

It’s becoming more common now. Well I thought when I was growing up and I was young and crazy and gay, I just thought having kids wasn’t an option.  To realise that, oh, it is an option, wow! it is an option and then moving into it, is unique.  But I gotta tell you that the work I do, being a rock star is weirder to the kids than being gay.

What role does spirituality play in your music?

Oh it’s huge! Ever since I got cancer my perspective really changed around this. I thought about what life was and studied philosophies, religions, quantum physics, I really wanted to understand life and disease and health. And to me spirituality is not just everyday practice to me, it’s a moment to moment practice for me now

What I found from studying everything…from Bhuddism to Taoism to Christainity to the nostic gospels or quantum physics to Plato…they are all saying the same things, and what they are saying is we are amazing beings who are all connected in some way through some ether, or some matrix or some form of one ‘over spirit’. We were all created, and we are all divine, and we are here to experience and create. And what we feel, and think and do ‘creates’. It’s really simple from every teaching to every philosophy and it really comes down to the same thing…’do unto others…because you are doing it to yourself’ – it’s very much deeper than that of course but that would take hours to explore.

Going back to Fearless Love as an album, you’ve talked a bit about wanting to honour and pay tribute to some of the great songwriters and musicians of rock. Can you tell me a little about some of those influences?

I grew up in the 60,s and 70s with the Who, Rolling Stones and Bruce Springsteen and Led Zeppelin – these epic albums that you would put on with your headphones listen through from beginning to end and they would just transport you to this magical place of these huge guitars and vocals and they would just paint this wonderful picture. And I wanted to just try and hold that. I wanted people to be able to put Fearless Love on and just have an experience.

 You’ve talked about Bruce Springsteen as being amongst one of your favourites. What is it about music and lyrics that you find inspiring?

He is an incredible poet. I love his poetry of the common man, his carpentry of words, he is amazing and he has always had his finger on the pulse of the working man. He held it – He is very humble yet strong, and I’ve always whenever I got into a situation would ask myself ‘what would Bruce do?” He is a real rock star…I’ve always admired him.

Now you’ve been making music for 20 years, what do you find you are learning about making music now that you weren’t learning when you were younger?

I’m finding I am more confident in myself as a musician, as a guitar player and as a songwriter. It’s a recognition that ‘hey I’ve been doing this for a while, if I wasn’t any good, I really probably would have stopped by now!’. It’s a feeling that there’s something to this and I really need to respect that and love it and do the best I can do.

Zoe Carter

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