Interview: Melissa Etheridge Readies Boston Residency

by Christopher Ehlers

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Sunday June 5, 2022
Originally published on June 5, 2022

Melissa Etheridge
Melissa Etheridge  (Source:Elizabeth Miranda)

Just in time to kick of Pride Month in Boston, rock icon Melissa Etheridge is bringing her brand-new "One Woman Band" residency to City Winery beginning June 5.

Inspired by the livestreamed, at-home performances that she offered during the pandemic, "One Woman Band" is exactly that: Etheridge — and only Etheridge — providing all the instrumentation and vocals, building each song live on a looper. Unlike anything she's ever done before, this intimate residency will allow both fans — and Etheridge herself — to connect with her material like never before.

EDGE chats with Etheridge about what to expect during the show, her connection to Boston, achieving EGOT status, and the two current musicians she can't get enough of.

EDGE: Why did the idea of a mini-residency appeal to you?

Melissa Etheridge: Oh, because I love doing different things and being in different situations for my fans so that it's not always kind of the same, even though my fans know that every show is different. This is very intimate. And, you know, City Winery is such a great little venue. This is just me solo, it's something I sort of grew during the pandemic when I was streaming, it was just me. So I really worked on looping and it's all live, it's sort of like having all these ingredients and I'm cooking in front of you and you're seeing each ingredient as it goes in. You've got keyboards and bass and percussion and I build the song up. It's gonna be a song you know, but it's gonna sound a little different and it's a different approach to it. I's just a real intimate evening of my music and I'm, really looking forward to it.

EDGE: Wow, that's so cool. So you're really sort of showing how a song is built, how a song comes together?

Melissa Etheridge: Yeah, well, how it can, because most of my songs have been recorded very live... and it might be different day to day. I mean, I'll probably do "Come To My Window" every night, but I'm gonna put a little different beat to it on Monday than I do on Friday, you know?

Melissa Etheridge
Melissa Etheridge  

EDGE: That's so great. And it must feel freeing for you to be able to reimagine your hits however you're feeling that night.

Melissa Etheridge: That's exactly it. I have all the control.

EDGE: With these sit downs you're doing in New York and Boston, I imagine that you feel more at home after a night or two and you can you feel freer to kind of be daring.

Melissa Etheridge: Oh, yeah. I'm sure that by the last night, it's gonna be crazy. So...

EDGE: So you're saying that's the night I should go?

Melissa Etheridge: What happens is when I perform live, I get very chatty, so I start telling lots of stories. And so there's lots of music and lots of songs, lots of stories.

Melissa Etheridge
Melissa Etheridge  

EDGE: You could probably do this residency anywhere. Why did you decide that Boston was a place you wanted to go?

Melissa Etheridge: Well, in, discussing this with the City Winery, it was something they wanted to do on a larger level. And so we said, "Hey, let's see what this is like in two of my favorite cities, New York and Boston. Let's just see how it turns out and see if it's something we'll be able to do at a later date in more cities."

EDGE: So this is like the pilot program.

Melissa Etheridge: Yes, this is the Off-Broadway.

EDGE: And you went to school here for a time!

Melissa Etheridge: I did for, like, three months, but I lived there for almost two years.

EDGE: Clearly, you made the right choice to leave, but I've heard from a lot of people — whether they've stayed in Boston or not — that when they've sowed their oats here, even for a brief time, the city makes an impact on them. So what do you think it is about the culture of the city that breeds such incredible musicians?

Melissa Etheridge: Well, it was the perfect place for me to go. It was 1979 and I just graduated high school, so I was all wet behind the ears and fresh. For a big city, it's not quite as scary as New York or LA or something like that. It's easy to get around. I loved how y'all put everything into the "combat zone," all the bad stuff, so I could just stay away from that. And it's so beautiful and the history is so rich and they love music. They love rock'n'roll, they love everything from classics to rock to jazz, everything is there. The people are warm and friendly. The food is good. It was just a great place to sew my oats, to find myself.

Melissa Etheridge
Melissa Etheridge  

EDGE: A few weeks ago, I saw John Mayer, and he was talking about how this city is such a special place for him because he remembers roaming the streets with his guitar on his back, not really knowing what was going to happen.

Melissa Etheridge: Yeah, I went down to the Park Street subway station and opened my case and played for an hour and made seven bucks. That's how much I was making as a security guard at the Deaconess hospital, so I went, "I'm going to be a musician. I'm going to do this for real," and I ended up in a restaurant across from the John Hancock, it was called Ken's by George.

Melissa Etheridge
Melissa Etheridge  

EDGE: So we can can we expect an appearance from you at the Park Street subway station next week?

Melissa Etheridge: Wouldn't that be crazy?

EDGE: Yeah, in disguise or something! Earlier you mentioned the live streams that you were doing during the pandemic. Do you think that in doing that, maybe without realizing it at the time, you opened up a new sort of crevice in your career to explore?

Melissa Etheridge: Yes, absolutely. It did so much for me, not only for me thinking outside the box of performing but to reconnect me with my music. I ended up singing every single song I ever recorded, and it got me back in touch with those songs and why I performed them. And people liked them! So I put a lot of songs back in my repertoire that I didn't have for many years. It gave me confidence. And it connected me to my fans a little bit deeper.

EDGE: Were there any songs that you avoided during live performance that you pulled out of the trunk and sort of said, "Wow, this is a lot better than I thought?"

Melissa Etheridge: Yes, there were quite a few like that. Some of my middle albums that are lesser known — "4th Street Feeling," even "Lucky." With "Lucky" I was kind of like, "Oh, nobody knows that." But then I'm like, "Wait a minute, they do!" They like these songs and I like these songs!

Melissa Etheridge
Melissa Etheridge  

EDGE: Now that you're sort of in this phase where you're thinking a bit outside the box, you're halfway to an EGOT. Do you have any thoughts about writing a musical or to finish off those last two awards?

Melissa Etheridge: Gee, we don't think of that at all, no, no... yes, we do. Yes. Oh my gosh. My wife and I are actually working on something now for Broadway. It's more along the lines of "Springsteen on Broadway," it's not a jukebox musical or anything like that. It's more of a performance of my life that I'm going to do on Broadway.

EDGE: That is terrific.

Melissa Etheridge: Working on it. And I'll hopefully have my GOT, at least.

EDGE: Well, then you have to record it and put it on TV...

Melissa Etheridge: Oh, there you go! Give it to me! Come on!

EDGE: Speaking of, where do you keep your Oscar?

Melissa Etheridge: I can turn around and see it. Cool. It's right there. I'm in my office right now, and in my office is a big, large bookshelf. It is next to my two Grammys.

EDGE: I know you probably saw Grammys in your future at a certain point, but did you ever see an Oscar in your future?

Melissa Etheridge: You know, growing up in the Midwest, I would watch the Oscars every single year. They were the pinnacle of the entertainment industry. And I soon noticed there were only two Oscars given out to musicians every year, one was for scoring, which I didn't do but would love to do in the future sometime, and then the other one was for original song. And I was like, "Well, that's just one every year. Just one." So there's not a whole lot of people who have gotten those. Of course, I was like, "Gosh, wouldn't that be great?" But I didn't know how that would happen. And I didn't even think about it when Al Gore called me and said he was doing a documentary of his slideshow on global warming. It sounded like something that was going to be shown in high schools or something, you know? So I didn't know. And then, lo and behold, as it started rolling out, I'm like, "Oh my God, I just got nominated." And then I won. And it was really a surprise.

Melissa Etheridge
Melissa Etheridge  

EDGE: Did you know that ["An Inconvenient Truth"] was in the works? Or when you get a phone call from the Vice President are you like, "Holy shit, am I in trouble?"

Melissa Etheridge: Yeah, right! Well, I had worked with him before. I like to tell people I got him elected for President in 2000.

EDGE: Yes, you certainly did.

Melissa Etheridge: I had known him and he's a very kind man that would send me happy birthdays and stuff like that. So he called me and... then he presented it all to me. And I was like, "This is awesome, thank you very much. Yes, I'd love to."

EDGE: It sort of fit perfectly, too. As much as you're known for being a musician, you're also known for your activism in a lot of different areas. This is a silly question, but once you become known for being an activist, do you feel like there's more pressure to be more of an activist?

Melissa Etheridge: It's funny, when I first heard people use the term "activist," I thought, "Good Lord, I am the least active activist ever." I think I got that title because I was willing to talk about things, I was willing to talk about being gay, I was willing to talk about when I had cancer, and I would lend my voice or my presence whenever I could. But I've never been out on the corner hollering and disrupting things and being an activist like that. And the climate crisis, it has to do with everything. I had just gone through my health crisis and I know how important it is to treat myself as a treasured space and make sure that what I put in my body is good, healthy stuff. And that expands out to the earth. It's like, you know the trees are our lungs the Earth is our body.

EDGE: The last question I have for you is hopefully an easy one. What is Melissa Etheridge listening to now?

Melissa Etheridge: Every time I listen to something I think I better remember it for when people ask me what I'm listening to. Let's see, I listen to all kinds of different music, and it always depends on my mood. I've been listening to a lot of country music lately. I don't know, there's some good songwriting in country music. I've been listening to a lot of R&B, a lot of soul music, H.E.R.

EDGE: I love H.E.R.!

Melissa Etheridge: Oh, don't you just love her? And SZA, I love SZA, I can listen to that all day long. And there'll come a time when I jump in the car and go, "Classic rock it is! Led Zeppelin, here we go!" And my daughter, who I take to school and back... she's 15 and heavily into hair metal. It's Mötley Crüe and Poison all day long, so I'm like, "Well, I'm revisiting the '80s, okay, here we go!" Haha!

EDGE: That's a very well-rounded group of things you just named.

Melissa Etheridge: Yeah, I just love music.

Melissa Etheridge: One Woman Band, June 5, 6, 7, & 9 at City Winery, 80 Beverly St., Boston. On tour through September.