Wednesday, 30 September 2015 09:19

Melissa Etheridge Flies Solo into Kalamazoo

Written by  Dwayne Hoover
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Meissa Etheridge Meissa Etheridge PHOTO: John Tsiavis

Melissa Etheridge ‘This is M.E. Solo’ tour
Kalamazoo State Theatre, 404 S Burdick St, Kalamazoo
Oct. 13, 7:30 p.m., $45-$125 / kazoostate.com; (269) 345-6500

Back on June 26, Grammy-winner Melissa Etheridge was on tour in Iowa just kicking back with her wife, when her phone unexpectedly started going nuts. As the legendary songwriter soon found out, it was a historic day.

“My phone just started blowing up with texts from people,” Etheridge recalled of the landmark Supreme Court decision that legalized marriage for everyone. “We weren’t expecting it because it didn’t happen on Thursday and so Friday we thought they would wait until Monday. But all of a sudden they surprised everyone and came out with it on Friday morning, otherwise I would’ve been up and listening for it.”

The legendary pop/rock songwriter, known for mega hits like “Come to My Window” and “I’m the Only One,” has been outspoken on a number of politically charged topics since her start in the biz back in 1985.

After all of her rocking and political activism, that momentous June is a standout for the 54-year-old singer/songwriter. She said she spent the day reflecting on how the world has changed since she came out and how liberating it was after all these years to finally feel like, as she put it, “a part of the beautiful fabric of this beautiful nation.”

And while the decision took longer than it needed to, gay marriage is now acknowledged as a human right and can no longer be argued, especially if you’re attempting to argue with Etheridge.

“If you’ve got a problem with it, that’s your problem. You can’t take away the rights of the people now,” Etheridge said. “You can hate all you like. You can say, ‘You guys are going to Hell.’ Great, you go to your church and do that but don’t take away my rights and my liberties.”

Never one to shy away from telling it like it is, even in her music, Etheridge brought the same Yes I Am confidence and mentality to her latest album, 2014’s This is M.E. The disc is her 13th full-length and the first release on her own record label, ME Records. Etheridge took full advantage of this newfound freedom to really explore a wide variety of styles and sounds, bringing in a mix of talented musicians to lay down tracks.

“I wanted to go so far outside of the box that I ended up coming around to the other side of the box,” Etheridge said. “Because it was independent, I could make those choices and find the person that everyone’s head will move a little to the side and go, ‘Huh? Who did she work with?’”

And that’s exactly what she did, enlisting the talents of Jerrod Bettis, Jon Levine, Jerry Wonda and even rapper RoccStar, who has written and produced songs for a variety of artists including J.Lo, Chris Brown and Rihanna.

“He was just amazing,” Etheridge said of RoccStar. “We just spent one day together and we came up with ‘Ain’t That Bad.’ To me, it’s one of the most rocking songs I’ve done. What’s funny is that when you go to the edges of hip-hop or rap and R&B, and you go to the edges of rock‘n’roll, they’re going to meet. It’s almost the same thing.”

Even with a fresh approach, Etheridge said the songs are still very much her.

“I really enjoyed working with [everyone], yet in all of these songs you can hear the core of it, which is me, my guitar and my lyrics,” she said. “The center of it is still there.”

One of the songs in particular stayed very true to Etheridge’s heart. The final track, “Who Are You Waiting For,” was actually written for her wife Linda Wallem and performed for her at their wedding in May 2014.

“I remember telling her, ‘I’m going to sing my vows to you,’” recalled Etheridge. “I got a string quartet to play it, it was outside and it was beautiful. I was singing like a foot from her and I had never sung to anyone that close, ever. It was overwhelmingly intimate and intense, looking right in her eyes, and we were both weeping. It was a really beautiful moment that I will never forget.”

An intimate performance is what Etheridge is bringing to her latest tour as she takes her solo act across the country to some smaller venues and stages, including a stop at the Kalamazoo State Theatre. But if you think Etheridge’s solo shows are quiet, less rock-filled affairs, think again.

“It’s not any less rocking, that’s one thing I really want to make sure people know,” Etheridge said. “You’re going to hear the hits and you’re going to be up and dancing even though it’s just me. I’ve got a looper where I loop drum loops in and play a couple of layers of guitar and rock out and have a great time.”

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