ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN THE GEORGIA STRAIGHT, SEPT. 20, 1990
By Steve Newton
Challenge any devoted Melissa Etheridge fan to come up with the one element they appreciate most about the singer, and chances are they’ll pare it down to one thing: passion. When the diminutive Etheridge wraps her powerful lungs around a lusty tune like “Somebody Give Me Some Water”, her desire becomes a shared passion, a direct hit on the old heartstrings.
In our often impassive, self-absorbed world, that sort of immediate communication is something to be cherished, at least as far as Etheridge is concerned.
“We’re all a product of where our society is going,” she says, on the blower from her L.A. home. “The chips get smaller, the food gets faster, and we’re caught up in that. We’re all expected to achieve in work and so many areas that emotion—and passion especially—is thinned out, is secondary. And ultimately we’re alone, but we’re alone together. I think that maybe the music supplements that.”
Etheridge, 29, has been learning how to craft songs around raw emotion for some time. She first started writing tunes as a 12-year-old kid in Leavenworth, Kansas.
“I remember learning three chords on my guitar—like A, B, and E—and thinking, ‘Well there’s a song.’ Basically what I was doing at that age was just mimicking what I heard on the radio, and out of that came some originality later.”
Etheridge’s search for her own style has paid off, as evidenced by her two acclaimed albums. But it didn’t make things easy for her during a year-long academic sojourn at Boston’s Berklee School of Music.
“It was worthwhile insofar as it got me out of Leavenworth,” she says. “I learned a little bit, but I’m still not a real by-the-books musician—I go a lot more naturally. I found the school to be kind of stifling as far as the creative part went.”
After another year of honing her own style in Beantown clubs, Etheridge was ready to take a shot at a recording career in L.A. But that didn’t happen fast enough for the ambitious singer/songwriter.
“I thought I should be signed right away, and of course it took about four years. Then after you get signed it takes another year—well it took me two years—before the album is ever released. So it’s tough.”
In late ’86 Etheridge caught the ear of Island Records founder Chris Blackwell, who saw her in a small club on the outskirts of L.A. He came back to the club a couple of days later to hear more, and the next week the paperwork was done. The result was a Grammy-nominated debut album, which went gold in the States and double platinum in Canada. The follow-up, last year’s Brave and Crazy, did well too, and was more of a reflection of Melissa’s live performance than the first.
“The first album was really focused on the solo aspect,” she says. “I was a solo artist when I made it, and the musicians only worked in the studio with me. I then took Kevin and Fritz and Bernie on the road, and that’s where Brave and Crazy came from—the songs have that live energy and feel to them. We went right into the studio and—bam bam—just put ’em down.”
Etheridge named her latest album after its second track, but there was an underlying reason why she chose that particular title.
“I know that after the first album people had a feeling that I was a very dark, sombre, heartbroken kinda gal, and I wanted to show on the second album that there was more—that, yes, I do deal with the darker side of relationships, but that I am reaching, and that there is also another part of me that is brave and crazy.”
Etheridge has been writing material for her next album for over a year, and expects to be back in the studio by February of ’91. Vancouver fans may get a little preview of her newest tunes when she makes her fourth local appearance with a show at the Pacific Coliseum on Friday (September 28). She says that her songwriting has taken a slightly altered course in recent months.
“It’s focusing more intensely on different parts of my personality and my thoughts and reactions to things. I’ve certainly got the relationship reactions down—hopefully I can broaden out to other parts of my life.”
Whatever direction Melissa Etheridge decides to take in her songs, don’t expect her emotional intensity to lose its effect. And if she ever does find passion elusive within herself, there are always other ways to draw it out. Like reading a good book.
“I’m very inspired by authors,” she asserts, “Reading is probably the best inspiration to me. I’ve been reading a book called The Vampire Chronicles, by Anne Rice, and it’s really passionate. And that’s the side of me that I want to keep working.”