When I think about some of the most memorable music moments of the decade, I think about Melissa Etheridge and Joss Stone’s no-holds-barred performance of “Piece of My Heart” at the 2006 Grammy Awards. It was Etheridge’s first appearance since she’d announced she was battling cancer. She got up on stage, bald as a cue ball from chemotherapy, and sang her heart and soul out. I was backstage in the press room and there wasn’t a dry eye in there. Even if you weren’t a fan of Etheridge’s music, you couldn’t help but fall in love with her that day for her utterly fearless, radiant, joyous, performance.
I recently hung out with Etheridge on the set of her music video for her new single, “Fearless Love. “ The video shoot was at a house in Tarzana, Calif., that time had forgotten. A very sweet elderly lady lived there and had left it virtually unchanged since the Eisenhower era.
As Etheridge and I chatted in her doily-filled dining room, the lady of the house asked Etheridge what kind of music she made. She had a preference for jazz herself. Etheridge politely told her rock and roll and expressed her hope that it wouldn’t be too loud for her as we headed into the performance segment.
The owner interrupted us a second time and Etheridge was as respectful and courteous with her as if she were her own grandmother, even though we were on a very tight time schedule, but that’s how Etheridge is. For a rock star, she’s always been exceptionally grounded—maybe it’s her Midwestern roots. Her bout with cancer left her humbled, but also determined to enjoy every minute and to allow herself, her voice and her fame to be used for causes she supports: whether it be the environment, gay rights or breast cancer awareness.
I’ve interviewed Etheridge a number of times, but on this night, she was more present and vibrant than I’d ever seen her. She’s tremendously excited about her new album, “Fearless Love,” which comes out in early 2010, and heralds it as a return to her rock roots (Her kids had to talk her out of calling it "Fearless," reminding her there's another artist who claimed that album title recently).
“The whole album just rocks and rocks and rocks,” she says. “It doesn’t give up. Every song is very emotional and intense. There’s all kinds of different subjects in it. Most of the songs are about me. There’s a couple where I sing about other people, situations, where I’m the third-person observer. I don’t do that very often. I decided I want to do that more.”
Etheridge can’t wait to get back on the road, or more specifically, back on stage. “It’s an exchange of energy,” she says, between her and her audience. “And there are people who come to listen and have it be a one-way conversation and then there are people who literally talk to me. I don’t always hear them.”
I add that they’re usually shouting out, “Melissa, we love you!”
“Thank you very much is how I usually answer… and it’s a two way conversation.”
“Fearless Love” is her 10th studio album and she feels she finally has enough material for “the perfect set list,” she says. “Oh! This album puts it over the top. I can interchange now.”
For the rest of our interview with Etheridge, click here.