After 25 years of recording gutsy rock and roll, Melissa Etheridge's latest creative effort brings the trailblazing singer back in time — both in subject matter and in style.
The new music also brings her back to Austin for the first time in two years, where she'll have a chance to reconnect with her dedicated fans from the stage of ACL Live at the Moody Theater on Friday October 12.
"I love playing Austin. Austin is like the little oasis in Texas. I love the music, I love your food and I'm really looking forward to playing the new theater," Etheridge says in a phone interview about her stop in town.
Her Austin stop is in support of 4th Street Feeling, a record Etheridge says she set out to make as organic as possible. "It's just a big solid chunk of me and I can really stand behind it," she says of her twelfth studio album.
“The actual subject matter kind of being reminiscent — I didn’t expect that. I didn’t really see that until I started putting the songs together and went 'wow,' there’s a real sense of looking back and kind of bringing it in..." - Melissa Etheridge
“I dedicated myself to recording an album that was something I love and that really came from me, like my core albums. Like my first album... like Yes I Am. These albums that were just the songs that I love, that came from this place inside of me that loves to create music.”
While getting back to her roots, Etheridge challenged herself to improve her already impressive guitar skills and play lead guitar on the record — something she’s never done before.
“In the last couple of years it dawned on me that I have been defining myself thinking that I’m only this good of a guitar player… not realizing that I can learn anything I want… So I said, well, of course I can get better. Why would I ever limit myself to say no that’s as good as I am and that’s it? So I am better.”
She jokes that her new love for lead guitar may result in getting lost in nine-minute guitar solos while on tour. “It’s so much fun! All right, maybe not that long. But I will indulge myself a little.”
During my conversation with the Grammy winner, she recalled the milestone of turning 50 last year, and what she’s learned since simpler times when everything she owned could fit in her Chevrolet, as the title track of her latest CD reminisces.
“Well most of the wisdom is just the clear fact that I don’t know anything. There’s a certain wisdom in knowing there’s so much to know. Yet once you’ve gone around the sun 50 times, you don’t sweat the small stuff as quickly. You realize that the stress about it is worse than what the perceived injustice might be.”
While putting together 4th Street Feeling, a common theme emerged Etheridge hadn’t planned.
“The actual subject matter kind of being reminiscent — I didn’t expect that. I didn’t really see that until I started putting the songs together and went 'wow,' there’s a real sense of looking back and kind of bringing it in, but that’s what I’ve been doing," Etheridge says.
"I mean, I turned 50 last year and it’s kind of ‘wait a minute, I gotta stop running away from my past.' Let’s incorporate my past and have an understanding and maybe a different perspective on [it].”
The exploration of her past includes mentions of her childhood, her youth and past relationships. After going through a very public breakup and custody battle, she admits she’s getting lots of questions about the inspiration for the track titled “A Disaster,” and was a little guarded in talking about it.
“Everyone’s kind of like 'so, what’s that one about?' Being a songwriter I have the ability to take my emotions, my thoughts… and filter them through an expression of art. And 'A Disaster' is definitely a nice cathartic release for me. The end.”
Looking forward, Etheridge says much of her focus will remain directed to her four children. The music veteran is also excited about her next creative challenges, which include developing a musical for Broadway.
“I want to create music. I want to create something on Broadway. I want to create for film and television. There’s just all kinds of fun things I want to do. I’m just taking it one day at a time.”
One of those days will be a stop in the Live Music Capital, an event the rocker is looking forward to.
“You guys are smart. There are some audiences — I’m not saying they’re not smart — but they like certain things and they’re kind of predictable," Etheridge says.
"But you guys really like your music. You’re connoisseurs of fine music and of lyrics and of performance and you’re not easily misled. You’ve got to work for your appreciation, but boy once you’re behind something you really get behind it and I feel grateful for that.”
Tickets are still available for Melissa Etheridge’s show at ACL Live at the Moody Theater on Friday, Oct. 12.