Etheridge embraces change, live and in the studio

Patrick Dunn
Special to The Detroit News

Many middle-aged rock stars are content to just rehash previous successes, but after three decades in the music business Melissa Etheridge is reinventing just about every facet of her career.

Take her live show, for example. Etheridge has spent most of her career touring with a full band. But for many shows over the past two years Etheridge has employed looping technology to singlehandedly create her own backing tracks onstage, performing multiple instruments herself to create a full-band sound. She’ll use that approach in her June 23 show at the Sound Board.

Unlike many middle-aged rock stars, Melissa Etheridge is reinventing just about every facet of her career.

“Solo doesn’t mean a girl and an acoustic guitar anymore,” Etheridge says. “I have about 10 guitars onstage, I have a piano, I have a hand drum set up, I have a looping machine, and I have a bass that I play with it. It’s a really fun experience because (concertgoers) see me laying these tracks down and creating a rhythm.”

Etheridge struck out on her own in a different way with her 2014 studio album “This Is M.E.” After 25 years with Island Records, which had released all of the singer’s previous studio albums including her 1993 breakthrough “Yes I Am,” Etheridge decided to self-release her first record. Although she expressed some frustration with Island, she still says she was “blessed” to be with the label for so long.

“We had a great relationship, but I’d sort of become numbers to them,” she says. “They knew that if they put so many numbers in, they’d get so many numbers out. That was all and it was very static and there wasn’t anything new happening.”

“This Is M.E.” found Etheridge playing with a variety of genres and recruiting lyrical co-writers for the first time in her career. However, Etheridge is pushing her creative boundaries much further for her next studio release. Etheridge will release “Memphis Rock and Soul,” a collection of covers and “reimaginings” of Stax Records’ legendary soul catalog, this fall on Concord Records.

“It’s Otis Redding and Sam and Dave and the Staple Singers, just some of the greatest songs ever,” Etheridge says.

Outside her musical career, the openly gay Etheridge also has found herself rethinking her long-running role as an activist for the LGBT community. In the wake of last year’s Supreme Court ruling on same-sex marriage, she says she doesn’t think the LGBT community is “fighting anybody” anymore and that it should instead focus on the way it represents itself. Etheridge suggests that it’s time to move past labels like “gay” or “lesbian.”

“I see the generation coming up not wanting to be labeled,” she says. “In my experience, kids are like, ‘I like this. I like that. It doesn’t mean I’m this and it doesn’t mean I’m that. I’m me.’ The less labels we put on it, the less fear there is.”

For all her embrace of the new, Etheridge remains best known for a trio of hits — “Come To My Window,” “Bring Me Some Water” and “I’m the Only One” — that are all now a couple of decades old. Although she’s all about reinvention these days, Etheridge remains unabashedly enthusiastic about revisiting those chart-toppers in concert night after night.

“My gosh, every time I start ‘Come to My Window,’ there’s that feeling from the audience,” she says. “They’re like, ‘That’s that song I love!’ and they scream and holler. ... That’s what I dreamed of in my life. I want to be able to start a song and people know it.”

Patrick Dunn is an Ann Arbor-based freelance writer.



8 p.m. June 23

Sound Board

2901 Grand River, Detroit

Tickets: $42-$60

(313) 309-4614