4 min


And in charge

A GIRL AND HER GUITAR. On CD and on tour, Melissa Etheridge sings her heart out. Credit: Xtra files

Melissa Etheridge’s trademark guitar and bluesy rock vocals are what drive “Lover, Please,” the opening track of Skin, her first post-relationship album.

On the gorgeous and revealing “The Prison,” her voice, paired up with her own harmonica playing, is at its most emotionally compelling.

In fact, the whole album is layered, like skin, with heartbreak.

The pain from her very public break-up with Julie Cypher seems to have been exorcized; Etheridge is decidedly upbeat talking about her new album and her Live And Alone tour. Her solo acoustic concert graces Toronto’s Massey Hall stage on Fri, Aug 24.

XTRA: You have described your new album Skin as a collision between your “personal and professional lives.” Can you please say something about that?

MELISSA ETHERIDGE: Hmmm. I’ve always been very autobiographical and personal in my music. But most of the time people didn’t really know what I was singing about – they knew kind of generally, maybe. This is the first time that an emotional experience in my life – the break-up of my relationship – has been so public and the knowledge out there. I created these songs to help me. My own personal experience of going through healing and understanding and forgiveness and just everything… I’ve put it in the music and now I’ve put it out there. Everybody knows what I’m singing about. It’s kind of a collision between the two.

XTRA: For the song that closes the album, the lovely “Heal Me,” the background vocals are by Laura Dern and Meg Ryan.

ETHERIDGE: [laughs] Those famous background singers.

XTRA: How did you discover that Laura and Meg could sing?

ETHERIDGE: Well, I just sort of believed. They’re very good friends of mine. They dropped in a lot while I was recording and were very supportive. I made a joke one day that I needed some background vocals for the song “Heal Me.” So, when are they coming in tomorrow? They said, “All right, we’ll be there.” And they showed up. It was really easy when you record it five or six times and overdub it and fix it. And they sound great.

But they actually did sing well. The experience was probably the best.

XTRA: The album proudly proclaims, “Produced by Melissa Etheridge.”

ETHERIDGE: Oh, it’s all me [laughs]!

XTRA: Can you talk about why you finally decided to take the reins?

ETHERIDGE: This whole project was very singular, very small, even. I thought, as I was going in [to the studio] that I was just going to put some acoustic guitar tracks down and some vocals. I realized when I was in there that there was a lot available to me, technology-wise. I started expanding out and learning and producing it. Putting it together, seeing where each song can go.

It kind of grew and my role grew and I learned. It was a great creative experience.

XTRA: One of my favorite albums of yours is Never Enough, because I really liked the surprise of technology on it. The new album also has a strong use of loops and samples. How do you feel about incorporating that into your work?

ETHERIDGE: I like it very much. I like it because it inspires the organic stuff. What drives the song is still my acoustic guitars and my voice and the lyrics. Yet I can bring the loops and the rhythms in and it inspires new things. I like using both. I don’t ever see me going one way totally. I like incorporating both. That’s what our ears are listening to nowadays.

XTRA: There is a theme, throughout the album, of skin, new skin, wounded skin.

ETHERIDGE: When I was looking at the overall view of the all the songs I realized that skin was definitely a theme. I was talking about trying to get out of my skin and skin being new and getting back into it. I think the whole metaphor of change – change in the relationship, of sexuality, and touching and feeling and affection, and all those things that skin can represent. I just said that this has to be the name of the album. I have to call this whole experience that I’ve just had “skin.”

XTRA: If you didn’t have music, would you have another means of creative expression for the sake of purgation?

ETHERIDGE: Gosh. Not right now. I don’t know. Drink, maybe [laughs]. I don’t know. Because that’s the outlet I’ve had, that’s where it went.

XTRA: Tell me something about your Live And Alone solo acoustic tour.

ETHERIDGE: It’s another [component] in my journey of self-expression and aloneness and change. I decided to create this tour around the idea of the album being this singular experience. I’m recreating some of my older material. Each show will be a new set list. I’m challenging myself to not only play guitar, but some keyboards and some a cappella. Trying to create a new experience of this raw, organic state of me performing solo.

XTRA: Is there a solo acoustic album in your future?

ETHERIDGE: I thought that’s what this was going to be [laughs]. It didn’t turn out [that way]. It went somewhere else. Maybe I’ll record this tour and it’ll be a live thing.

XTRA: Do you think it’s easier to be in a relationship with someone who is more private, less of a known figure, or with someone of your stature, who is accustomed to all of the attention?

ETHERIDGE: In the last few months, I’ve experienced both. I’ve experienced private people going, “Whoa! Your life is way too big. I can’t deal with that.” Right now, I’m dating an actress [Tammy Lynn Michaels of the TV show Popular] who has her own certain amount of celebrity. And it’s very comfortable. She understands what it’s like. Yes, it causes people to chase us and stuff, and it’s weird in that way.

It just comes down to what’s in your heart is what matters.

Melissa Etheridge.

$55.50 & $79.50.

8pm. Fri, Aug 24.

Massey Hall.

178 Victoria St.

(416) 870-8000.