Q&A: Melissa Etheridge talks about her latest album and coming home to Kansas ahead of upcoming Lawrence show
photo by: Elizabeth Miranda
Grammy-winning musician Melissa Etheridge — with her distinctive voice and more than a dozen albums and decades of performing to back her up — will soon be coming to Lawrence.
Etheridge will perform at Liberty Hall on Aug. 14 as part of the tour for her 2021 album “One Way Out.” One of the country’s biggest female rock stars, Etheridge has had multiple platinum albums, won two Grammys, and led a decadeslong career that includes hits such as “Ain’t It Heavy,” “Come to My Window” and “I’m the Only One.”
Ahead of her Lawrence show, Etheridge talked to the Journal-World about her latest album and her hometown of Leavenworth, and reflected on coming out almost 30 years ago.
You wrote seven of the songs on “One Way Out” in the late 1980s and early ’90s. Can you talk about what held you back from putting those songs out at the time?
Well, so many different things. One, just having other songs that I wanted to put on. But I hadn’t come out yet, and songs like “Wild Wild Wild” were to me so obviously about a woman. I was like, “Ah, I love this song,” but I was a little hesitant, so I didn’t put it out. And when I went back and discovered the songs and was really listening to them, I was like, “That’s such a great song. I love that song.” And I’m very happy that I finally get to put it out and have it be in the world now.
Have the years changed how you relate to these songs now?
Oh yes. Oh my gosh, yes. Because I’m such a different person. And now it seems so quaint to be, you know, “Ohhh, someone is going to know that’s about a woman.” That’s silly now. It’s so very silly. The others were very feminist, and I kind of needed to gauge my feminism and my power. It was just a funny world back in the late ’80s, early ’90s, you know … “Cool As You Try” and “Save Myself” — both of those are all about your own power.
How does it feel for you to play in Kansas? And what kind of thoughts or feelings do you have for your home state?
It is always a memorable experience. It’s always something that I look back on and say, “Look how far you’ve come.” It’s always a moment of that. It’s always a memory of rides in the car, and traveling, and being in that town. And Lawrence or Kansas City or wherever it might be. And it’s filled with gratitude. I love playing my hometown. I love having fans in my hometown. It makes me very, very happy.
It’s been almost 30 years since you’ve come out now. In your personal experience, how have things changed when it comes to acceptance of LGBTQ people, and are there things that remain the same?
There will always be people who have a great deal of fear about the other, if the other is not like them. Whether it’s different color, different love, different origin of birth, or whatever it might be. There will always be people afraid of that. And what I have seen is that it’s less now, and it’s recognized as a phobia. Homophobia — you are actually afraid of something that really has nothing to do with you. And I have seen the world become much more understanding. And people coming out a lot more, and it makes a huge difference.
I was reading that during the pandemic you did these regular live shows on the internet. I was curious to know if that affected your perspective at all now that you’re back touring in person.
Oh, yes. Oh my gosh, first of all I’m so grateful for real audiences and real people. Put me in front of 10 people, I’m fine, it doesn’t matter, I just love it. And what else it did was I ended up performing every single song I ever recorded, and that’s hundreds. And it got me back in touch with a lot of songs that I had kind of forgotten about.
And so now when I do my shows, I do — I call them album spotlights — I spotlight, say, an album from last century and one from this century. And I just go and take a deep dive and do songs that I might not usually do in concert. So there’s between four to six songs that you might not normally hear in concert that I bring out and do. And I’m also of course doing the hit songs, and having a lot of fun doing that. But it’s nice to kind of go a little deeper.
Is that the model, essentially, that you’re going to follow for the show coming up in Lawrence? Some songs from the new album, I assume, and then what else can people expect to hear?
Yeah, you’ll hear one or two songs from the new album and then, oh boy, you’ll hear the hits. You’ll hear your favorite song, because there is nothing like singing, “Come to My Window” at the top of our lungs. That’s what we do. And then I like to step up and play the electric guitar, so I’ll do a couple songs where I can really let go on that. And then I’ll do, like, a deep dive into a couple albums that may be songs you haven’t heard in a while.
Of all your songs, not just this most recent album but overall — as you said, there are hundreds — is there one that is your favorite to play for a live audience? Do you have a song like that?
There are a few songs that I do every night and I’m so grateful for that; those are the hit songs. But ever since I started playing 35 years ago or whatever it is, the song, “Like the Way I Do,” from my first album, I end the show with it. It’s the encore, because it’s become this, like, epic song and it always, always leaves the audience done. It’s just like the last thing. And that song is my favorite song to do live.
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Etheridge will perform at 8 p.m. on Sunday, Aug. 14 at Liberty Hall, 644 Massachusetts St. Ticket information is available at the Liberty Hall box office or on its website, libertyhall.net.