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Natalie Merchant goes deep

Former 10,000 Maniacs front woman curates solo career with new box set

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Natalie Merchant, gay news, Washington Blade

When working on her new box set, Natalie Merchant says it was important to her to maintain a high quality throughout. (Photo by Jacob Blickenstaff; courtesy Nonesuch Records)

Natalie Merchant

 

Summer Tour 2017

 

‘3 Decades of Song’

 

Thursday, July 6

 

8 p.m.

 

Wolf Trap

 

Filene Center

 

1551 Trap Rd.

 

Vienna, Va.

 

$30-75

wolftrap.org

nataliemerchant.com

Natalie Merchant, a ‘90s radio mainstay and former lead singer of 10,000 Maniacs, is sort of “bookending,” as she puts it, her solo material with the release of a new box set.

Out July 14 (postponed from a planned June release), “The Natalie Merchant Collection” is a deluxe, 10-CD box set that features her eight solo albums, a new studio disc called “Butterfly” that features four new songs and six catalogue tracks re-recorded with a string quartet, as well as a full disc of rarities and outtakes.

Merchant brings her summer tour to Wolf Trap on Thursday, July 6. She spoke to the Blade by phone last week from her home in upstate New York.

WASHINGTON BLADE: Why did you feel now was the right time for such a lavish box set?

NATALIE MERCHANT: It was a combination of factors. I feel that we’re definitely in the twilight moments of recorded music in the physical realm. As much as people talk about the resurgence of an interest in vinyl, I think that’s a small cult. So I felt like if I didn’t do it soon, there might not be an audience for it. I’ve also been steadily making records since the late ‘90s that have been a bit under the radar and I thought this would be an opportunity to combine all the work in one place for people who might have been familiar with what I was doing 20 years ago to see what I’m doing today.

BLADE: Was it hard to find a deal for it?

MERCHANT: Actually the suggestion came from Nonesuch a couple years ago because Nonesuch is owned by the same parent company as (her former label home) Elektra, so this idea of consolidating the whole catalogue under one roof was suggested and I thought that was a great idea. Elektra kind of folded for several years and I did feel like a lot of the records had gone out of print. Even my independent release, “The House Carpenter’s Daughter,” copies of it sell for like $50 online, which seemed silly to me because it’s really not worth that (laughs). It just felt like there were so many different factors. And also, when I did “Paradise is Here,” (a 2015 re-recording of breakthrough album “Tigerlily”), I went through all my archives, all the music, all the video, all the photography, so I had all these assets and I’d recently sort of curated them all, so this gave me an opportunity to put the book together. I just got it in the mail today.

BLADE: Oh wow, how does it feel to have it in your hands?

MERCHANT: It’s heavy! It feels very substantial. That’s my first impression. And my second impression is that it’s really so different from looking at a group of virtual files on a computer screen to have this whole thing in your hand and this 100-page book. It feels like a substantial amount of work that I think can get really distorted when you’re looking at it digitally. … It feels great.

BLADE: Did you have all this stuff yourself or did you have to round it up from various sources?

MERCHANT: It was interesting. One thing people might notice when they get the box set, is that it’s a different cover for (second solo album) “Ophelia” because the original photo was lost. Even Warner Bros. didn’t have it in their archives. I event went back to the original photographer, I went back to the original art director. I was the only person who had a lot of these assets. Also, I don’t want to sound morbid, but some day I’ll be dead and I wanted to make sure the material was presented in a way that I wanted it to be presented. I found it kind of shocking that they’d lost my art work but luckily I’m a bit of a pack rat, so I had many of the things that were necessary for this package in my basement including all the rarities which were in my own files at home.

BLADE: Do you feel a little more freedom to go deeper with your set list on your summer tour since you’re essentially touring this box set?

MERCHANT: If you include the 10,000 Maniacs songs, I’ve probably written about 250 songs. So yeah, it’s difficult to put together a set list of 26 or even 30 songs that are going to make everyone happy. But I think it’s going to be a really interesting set. I’m carrying a string quartet, piano, guitar, bass and drummer. It’s a big band and I think people will be pleasantly surprised by the arrangement of the material they know and to also hear some things they may not be familiar with.

BLADE: You sang at an anti-Trump rally earlier this year and have always been politically active. Why was that event important to you?

MERCHANT: It’s very disturbing what’s happening in our country right now. I believe that rally was on the even of the inauguration and I was in New York near Trump Tower. It was announced, I think, just two or three days before and we had 30,000 people there. That was encouraging and the next day was the women’s march and that was further confirmation that those of us who really sensed that the election of this man was extremely dangerous, you know, to have that many people show up in Washington the day after and protest was really encouraging. I’m hoping that we win back the House in 2018 at the very least. That would be a step forward. I don’t know about impeachment. I don’t know if that’s going to happen or how much things would improve if we have President Pence. So it’s frightening, really frightening, especially when he stepped away from the Paris accord. We don’t have time to mess around at this point. We have to transition from being a fossil fuel-based, energy-consuming country or we will not survive. It’s just really horrifying to think that we now have a president, whether he thinks global climate change exists or not, who would do that. That, to me, is the most important issue. But there’s women’s issues, there’s the health care issue, it’s overwhelming that there’s so many different fronts now and that we have to be fighting on. But I think without stabilizing the environment, or at least severely reducing the negative impact we’re having on the environment, we’re all fucked.

BLADE: Tell me more about the “Butterfly” disc. Of all the new material you might have recorded, why did you go with  the string quartet approach?

MERCHANT: Since 2008 I’ve been doing orchestral shows and quartet shows almost exclusively so when it came time to make this record, I think there are about 40 songs now that I have string arrangements for. I had the entire “Paradise is There” album, celebrating the 20th anniversary of “Tigerlily,” so I’d used several of the arrangements on that record, so this was an opportunity to do that with some of those other songs in the new arrangements that had never been recorded.

BLADE: Sometimes long-time fans balk at these kinds of sets and say, “Oh, she’s making us buy all this stuff we already have just to get the new material.” Was that a concern?

MERCHANT: I think the fan that has every single thing I’ve ever released is rare. I think most people will be kind of grateful, at least I am when there’s an artist I’m interested in, I may not have everything they’ve ever released. I buy a lot of box sets because I’ve missed some of the pieces and I guess I’m kind of the personality who’s a completist. I like to have complete sets. And people will be able to digitally access the two new (discs) if they want. There’s also  talk of a vinyl version (of the new material) coming out in the fall, so that’s another opportunity, but I don’t know. We’ll have to see. I also insisted it be very reasonably priced. I wanted it to be $50 or less.

BLADE: That’s certainly fair for a 10-disc set. 

MERCHANT: And I think Amazon will be selling it for $40-something.

BLADE: Did you have any creative battles at Elektra or did they pretty much let you do your thing?

MERCHANT: Well, two interesting things happened. When I went solo, Bob Krasnow, who’d been the chairman of the company the entire time I’d been on Elektra, I can’t remember under what circumstances he departed, but he was gone and Sylvia Rhone came in and I think Sylvia was eager to prove herself and she really liked the song, “Carnival.” She’d been responsible for breaking a lot of African-American bands and artists but not a white artist and and I think that was her challenge and she loved that song so that was a stroke of luck. And I heard that Jon Landeau, who’d been executive managing Bruce Springsteen since the beginning of his career, Bruce was taking a hiatus so Jon started managing me, so I had this encouraging situation at the company and had great management, so I felt protected and respected. I didn’t feel it was an antagonistic relationship with Elektra at that point. I think I’d proven myself with three platinum records with 10,000 Maniacs.

BLADE: Did you choose the singles or the label on your first few albums? 

MERCHANT: I think it was pretty obvious what the singles were on the first record. I don’t remember there being any discussion of that. I think with (third album) “Motherland” (2001), I wasn’t happy with a couple of the choices, but the first couple albums, it was fine. At that point, I was 30 years old, I’d been with the label since I was 19 and to be honest with you, I’d outlives just about everybody who worked at the label except the woman who ran the publicity department. I think we were the last two standing by the time it folded (laughs). … As people started doing more and more file sharing, the art department disappeared, the video department, it felt like departments were disappearing weekly until eventually the label just folded.

BLADE: Will you keep making records or is this set a sort of a bookend for you?

MERCHANT: It’s a little bit of a bookend because I’ll never be able to make records the way I did before. That leisurely two months in the studio, that’s just unheard of. “Leave Your Sleep” (2010) was the final project that I did on that scale and it took a full year to make that record. I employed, I think, 135 different musicians and it was folly in a way, but it was a beautiful folly. I still haven’t recouped and that was seven years ago (laughs). I felt like Orson Welles making “Citizen Kane” or David Lean making “Bridge on the River Kwai.” It felt like I had to make it even though it made absolutely no sense financially. But I learned so much from it and it still sold a quarter of a million copies which is still kind of unheard of in today’s market.

BLADE: You wouldn’t be happy doing something on a smaller scale? I saw Sheryl Crow last night and she has this great new album out that she made in her home studio while her kids were at school and it’s this really fun little album. You wouldn’t want to do something like that?

MERCHANT: I have two projects I’d like to do. One is to make an online database of folk music for children, performed by children. The other is a children’s theater company. I feel compulsive about creativity and there are so many different aspects to it. I’d love to do costume design, I would love to hire a choreographer and do some dance, or maybe research folk tales from other lands and other music. There are so many other things I want to do with music that don’t involve going into a studio, recording a pop record and going on tour. It used to be that years ago you’d get to a certain point in your career and then you’d start producing other artists. I think I would have done that more if the industry hadn’t collapsed.

BLADE: Did you have a lot of stuff to pull from for the rarities disc? Did you ever toy with the idea of doing a two- or three-disc set of all rarities?

MERCHANT: Well, for the rarities I wanted to put out music of high quality. I didn’t want it to just be all home demos and bad outtakes. It really is a combination of little-known tracks, like the collaboration I did with David Byrne for “Here Lies Love” or the track I did with the Chieftains, which I really loved going to Ireland and recording with them, that were really special moments in my career. And there was other unknown stuff that I’d been holding on to like “The Village Green” and “Too Long at the Fair” that were all recorded by great musicians in world-class studios under different circumstances. I did a session back in 2008 when I was looking for a label to put out “Leave Your Sleep” and I recorded a group of demos and we recorded some covers that were lovely covers, they just never belonged on a record. I wanted to put out only rare tracks that were of great quality.

Natalie Merchant says her self-described ‘pack rat’ tendencies came in handy when putting together her lavish new, 10-disc box set. (Photo by Jacob Blickenstaff; courtesy Nonesuch Records)

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Daisy Edgar-Jones knows why ‘the Crawdads sing’

Actress on process, perfecting a southern accent, and her queer following

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Daisy Edgar-Jones as Kya Clark. (Photo courtesy Sony/Columbia)

Daisy Edgar-Jones is an actor whose career is blossoming like her namesake. In recent years, she seems to be everywhere. LGBTQ viewers may recognize Edgar-Jones from her role as Delia Rawson in the recently canceled queer HBO series “Gentleman Jack.” She also played memorable parts in a pair of popular Hulu series, “Normal People” and “Under the Banner of Heaven.” Earlier this year, Edgar-Jones was seen as Noa in the black comedy/horror flick “Fresh” alongside Sebastian Stan. 

With her new movie, “Where the Crawdads Sing” (Sony/Columbia), she officially becomes a lead actress. Based on Delia Owens’ popular book club title of the same name, the movie spans a considerable period of time, part murder mystery, part courtroom drama. She was kind enough to answer a few questions for the Blade.

BLADE: Daisy, had you read Delia Owens’s novel “Where the Crawdads Sing” before signing on to play Kya?

DAISY EDGAR-JONES: I read it during my audition process, as I was auditioning for the part. So, the two went hand in hand.

BLADE: What was it about the character of Kya that appealed to you as an actress?

EDGAR-JONES: There was so much about her that appealed to me. I think the fact that she is a very complicated woman. She’s a mixture of things. She’s gentle and she’s curious. She’s strong and she’s resilient. She felt like a real person. I love real character studies and it felt like a character I haven’t had a chance to delve into. It felt different from anyone I’ve played before. Her resilience was one that I really admired. So, I really wanted to spend some time with her.

BLADE: While Kya is in jail, accused of killing the character Chase, she is visited by a cat in her cell. Are you a cat person or do you prefer dogs?

EDGAR-JONES: I like both! I think I like the fact that dogs unconditionally love you. While a cat’s love can feel a bit conditional. I do think both are very cute. Probably, if I had to choose, it would be dogs.

BLADE: I’m a dog person, so I’m glad you said that.

EDGAR-JONES: [Laughs]

BLADE: Kya lives on the marsh and spends a lot of time on and in the water. Are you a swimmer or do you prefer to be on dry land?

EDGAR-JONES: I like swimming, I do. I grew up swimming a lot. If I’m ever on holidays, I like it to be by the sea or by a nice pool.

BLADE: Kya is also a gifted artist, and it is the thing that brings her great joy. Do you draw or paint?

EDGAR-JONES: I always doodle. I’m an avid doodler. I do love to draw and paint. I loved it at school. I wouldn’t say I was anywhere near as skilled as Kya. But I do love drawing if I get the chance to do it.

BLADE: Kya was born and raised in North Carolina. What can you tell me about your process when it comes to doing a southern accent or an American accent in general?

EDGAR-JONES: It’s obviously quite different from mine. I’ve been lucky that I’ve spent a lot of time working on various accents for different parts for a few years now, so I feel like I’m developed an ear for, I guess, the difference in tone and vowel sounds [laughs]. When it came to this, it was really important to get it right, of course. Kya has a very lyrical, gentle voice, which I think that North Carolina kind of sound really helped me to access. I worked with a brilliant accent coach who helped me out and I just listened and listened.

BLADE: While I was watching “Where the Crawdads Sing” I thought about how Kya could easily be a character from the LGBTQ community because she is considered an outsider, is shunned and ridiculed, and experiences physical and emotional harm. Do you also see the parallels?

EDGAR-JONES: I certainly do. I think that aspect of being an outsider is there, and this film does a really good job of showing how important it is to be kind to everyone. I think this film celebrates the goodness you can give to each other if you choose to be kind. Yes, I definitely see the parallels.

BLADE: Do you have an awareness of an LGBTQ following for your acting career?

EDGAR-JONES: I tend to stay off social media and am honestly not really aware of who follows me, but I do really hope the projects I’ve worked on resonate with everyone.

BLADE: Are there any upcoming acting projects that you’d like to mention?

EDGAR-JONES: None that I can talk of quite yet. But there are a few things that are coming up next year, so I’m really excited.

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CAMP Rehoboth’s president talks pandemic, planning, and the future

Wesley Combs marks six months in new role

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Wesley Combs took over as president of CAMP Rehoboth six months ago and is now focused on searching for a new permanent executive director. (Blade photo by Daniel Truitt)

June marks half a year since Wesley Combs stepped into his role as president of CAMP Rehoboth. In a conversation with the Blade, Combs recounted his first six months in the position — a time he said was characterized by transition and learning.

Since 1991, CAMP Rehoboth has worked to develop programming “inclusive of all sexual orientations and gender identities” in the Rehoboth Beach, Del. area, according to the nonprofit’s website. As president, Combs oversees the organization’s board of directors and executive director, helping determine areas of focus and ensure programming meets community needs.

For Combs, his more than three decades of involvement with CAMP Rehoboth have shaped the course of his life. In the summer of 1989 — just before the organization’s creation — he met his now-husband, who was then living in a beach house with Steve Elkins and Murray Archibald, CAMP Rehoboth’s founders.

Since then, he has served as a financial supporter of the organization, noting that it has been crucial to fostering understanding that works against an “undercurrent of anti-LGBTQ sentiment” in Rehoboth Beach’s history that has, at times, propagated violence against LGBTQ community members.

In 2019, after Elkins passed away, Combs was called upon by CAMP Rehoboth’s Board of Directors to serve on a search committee for the organization’s next executive director. Later that year, he was invited to become a board member and, this past November, was elected president.

Combs noted that CAMP Rehoboth is also still recovering from the pandemic, and is working to restart programming paused in the switch to remote operations. In his first six months, he has sought to ensure that people feel “comfortable” visiting and engaging with CAMP Rehoboth again, and wants to ensure all community members can access its programming, including those from rural parts of Delaware and those without a means of getting downtown.

Still, Combs’s first six months were not without unexpected turns: On May 31, David Mariner stepped down from his role as CAMP Rehoboth executive director, necessitating a search for his replacement. Combs noted that he would help facilitate the search for an interim director to serve for the remainder of the year and ensure that there is “a stable transition of power.” CAMP Rehoboth last week announced it has named Lisa Evans to the interim director role.

Chris Beagle, whose term as president of CAMP Rehoboth preceded Combs’s own, noted that the experience of participating in a search committee with the organization will “better enable him to lead the process this time.”

Before completing his term, Beagle helped prepare Combs for the new role, noting that the “combination of his professional background, his executive leadership (and) his passion for the organization” make Combs a strong president. Regarding the results of the election, “I was extremely confident, and I remain extremely confident,” Beagle said.

Bob Witeck, a pioneer in LGBTQ marketing and communications, has known Combs for nearly four decades. The two founded a public relations firm together in 1993 and went on to work together for 20 years, with clients ranging from major businesses like Ford Motor Company to celebrities including Chaz Bono and Christopher Reeve. According to Witeck, Combs’s work in the firm is a testament to his commitment to LGBTQ advocacy.

“Our firm was the first founded primarily to work on issues specific to LGBTQ identities, because we wanted to counsel corporations about their marketing and media strategies and working in the LGBTQ market,” he explained. By helping develop communications strategies inclusive of those with LGBTQ identities, Combs established a background of LGBTQ advocacy that truly “made a mark,” Witeck said.

Witeck emphasized that, in his new position, Combs brings both business experience and a renewed focus on historically underrepresented in LGBTQ advocacy — including people with disabilities, trans people and people of color.

Looking to the rest of the year, CAMP Rehoboth hopes to host a larger-scale event during Labor Day weekend. In addition, the organization will revisit its strategic plan — first developed in 2019 but delayed due to the pandemic — and ensure it still meets the needs of the local community, Combs said. He added that he intends to reexamine the plan and other programming to ensure inclusivity for trans community members.

“CAMP Rehoboth continues to be a vital resource in the community,” he said. “The focus for the next two years is to make sure we’re doing and delivering services that meet the needs of everyone in our community.”

Wesley Combs, gay news, Washington Blade
Wesley Combs (Washington Blade photo by Daniel Truitt)
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Melissa Etheridge shares Q&A in advance of April 26 Tysons tour stop

Rock pioneer finds inspiration in the past — from revisiting old demos to reconnecting with celeb pals like Ellen

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Melissa Etheridge brings her ‘One Way Out Tour’ to the D.C. region next week with a show at the new Capital One Hall in Tysons. (Photo by Elizabeth Miranda; courtesy Primary Wave)

Melissa Etheridge
‘One Way Out Tour’
Tuesday, April 26
Capital One Hall
7750 Capital One Tower Rd.
Tysons, VA
7:30 p.m.
Tickets: $55
ticketmaster.com
capitalonehall.com
melissaetheridge.com

We caught up with rock legend Melissa Etheridge on April 8 by phone from Snoqualmie, Wash. — it’s about 26 miles east of Seattle —where she was playing the Snoqualmie Casino on her “One Way Out Tour,” which plays our region on Tuesday, April 26. 

It’s named after her latest album, released last fall, which found Etheridge, who’s been out since ’93, revisiting demos from early in her career.

Her comments have been slightly edited for length.

WASHINGTON BLADE: “One Way Out” sounds like such a cool project. Was it all re-recorded stuff of old songs or were some of those vintage takes on the record as well?

MELISSA ETHERIDGE: The last two songs, the live songs, were from where? From 2002? OK, but the other songs were newly recorded. 

BLADE: And how many of them did you remember?

ETHERIDGE: You know, when I found them again, they all came back very clearly. And I was like, “Oh, this is — why did I throw that away? That’s weird.” And I really enjoyed, you know, hearing them, they were just old demos. I’d never done full-blown recordings. So I thought, “This is great, I want to do these songs.”

BLADE: We have a relatively new venue you’re going to be playing, Capital One Hall. I’ve only been there once. You excited?

ETHERIDGE: Yeah, it’s always fun. I love the D.C.-area crowd. It’s just really, really nice.

BLADE: And how do you decide where you’ll be? Or do you have any say in it? 

ETHERIDGE: Well, it’s not necessarily me. I do have a say in it, in what I want the whole tour to look like. But it is really up to William Morris, my agent, to find the right venue that understands what we need and the kind of atmosphere we’re looking for that and the amount of people and, you know, that sort of thing.

BLADE: Tell me about Etheridge TV. I just wonder, when we were in that acute phase of the pandemic, wasn’t it even remotely tempting to you to just take a break?

ETHERIDGE: No, because since I was 12 years old, I sang all the time for people, like five days a week and it’s just been what I do. And so when it was like, I was looking at a massive, cavernous amount of time that I was going to be home, I still needed a way to pay the bills, so we put our heads together — I’ve got one of the greatest television minds with me, you know, my wife (TV producer Linda Wallem), so I had the space and I had the equipment, and I was like, “Let’s do it.” And it was really fun to learn new things. It was fun to learn about computers and sound and streaming and lights and cameras and all these things that I didn’t know. … I feel a little smarter.

BLADE: When did you start back on the road?

ETHERIDGE: We went out last fall. We went out September, October, right around there. And you know, it was a little different, Now things are things are loosening up … but some places still require masks. But people are starting to get back out and it feels good. It’s not the overwhelming thing that it was a few months ago.

BLADE: And what was it like being on ‘Ellen’ again for her final season?

ETHERIDGE: Oh, I love her. She’s such an old friend. You know, I say that about myself, too. (chuckles) But, you know, she’s just a relationship in my life that I have treasured. We’ve watched each other grow and the changes we’ve made and the successes and what we’ve gone through and I love that she had me on and just it was just a really — she’s a dear friend. And she showed an old photo there, and we both said, “Oh, that was before we were so busy.”

BLADE: Do you talk to her often?

ETHERIDGE: I would say we see each other socially once or twice a year. It just seemed like once we started having children, all my friends from my 20s and 30s when we were not as busy — it just gets harder to stay in touch and life got crazy. 

BLADE: So when you were hanging out back in the day with Ellen and Rosie and everybody, how was it that Brad Pitt was in that group too? 

ETHERIDGE: Well, my girlfriend (Julie Cypher) had been married to Lou Diamond Phillips and we were all very good friends with Dermot Mulroney and Catherine Keener and Catherine Keener did a movie with Brad, like a movie nobody saw, like Johnny Dangerously or something (1991’s “Johnny Suede”), some really weird movie. So I met Brad before he was terribly famous. He was a part of that group. There was a whole group of all of us that just hung out, and we were all totally different. We were just like young, hungry Hollywood and we’d talk about, “Oh, I had this audition,” or “I went and did this,” and we were just all trying to make it in that town. So we’d get together and have fun. 

BLADE: I was so terribly sorry to hear about Beckett (Etheridge’s son, who died in 2020 at age 21 after struggling with opioid addiction). How are you and the rest of the family, especially (Beckett’s twin) Bailey, dealing with it now?

ETHERIDGE: There are many, many families like us that deal with a loss like that. It just blows a family sideways. But we have a deep love and connection, all of us. We all knew he had a problem and it’s a problem that starts way before he actually passes, so it was not a surprise. So now we’re just living with the missing aspect. You try not to think about what could have been and you try to think about him in a happier place and that he’s out of pain, so that helps us.

BLADE: Had he and Bailey been as close in recent years?

ETHERIDGE: They were very close, but in the last couple of years as he made worse and worse choices, we couldn’t support that, so they were less close, but of course in her heart, it was her brother, he was very dear to her. 

BLADE: Did you watch the Grammys?  Was there anybody you were particularly rooting for?

ETHERIDGE: I watched bits and pieces of it. I had a show that night, so I didn’t get to see the main thing, but I have seen pieces and I just love the crazy diversity and you know, the TikTok people winning stuff, it’s like, “Wow, this is so not the Grammys I remember from the ’80s,” but that was what, 30 years ago? So it’s all good.

BLADE: You were such a perennial favorite back in the day in the best rock female category. Were you pissed when they eliminated it? 

ETHERIDGE: It’s sad because I felt like the criteria they were using to judge what is female rock, they just really dropped the ball. I still think there are some amazing musicians that could be considered, you know, rock, but it feels like we’re having a hard time even defining what rock and roll is now anyway. There’s a whole bunch of strong women out there playing, rocking, you know, playing guitar, being excellent musicians and songwriters. If you can’t call it best rock female, OK, call it something else. 

BLADE: I remember so vividly when you were on the Grammys in 2005, in the midst of chemo, when you sang “Piece of My Heart.” I remember you saying you were wondering how people would react to seeing you bald. Having been through that, any thoughts on the Will/Jada Oscars situation since her baldness, too, was due to a medical condition? 

ETHERIDGE: You know, it’s funny, I did feel a little remembrance of (thinking), “I just hope people don’t make fun of me.” That was kind of the first thing because to go out there bald, that was so different for me as an artist whose hair had kind of defined her. I was thinking, “How am I gonna rock without my hair?” I thought people might make fun of me, but I got over that. I just thought, “Well, if somebody makes fun of me, that just makes them look bad.” So I just walked through it. And you know, it’s hard to draw the line between what’s funny and what’s painful and how to look at something. I feel for all parties involved. 

BLADE: When you go on these cruises, do fans give you some space or do they swarm around the minute you walk out? Is it even enjoyable for you? 

ETHERIDGE: Yeah, it is. You know, we did our last one, now we’re doing Etheridge Island, we now have a destination in Mexico, outside of Cancun, it’s just this island that we’re going to that is really fantastic. But I do I make myself available, I don’t run away. When I have to be somewhere, I have a great company we work with called Sixthman that knows how to get me from point A to point B without being bogged down. But I do my make myself available. Everyone gets a picture with me. It’s my work, but I love it. I try to make myself available but also have some time just for myself too.

Melissa Etheridge says slowing down wasn’t an option for her when the pandemic hit. She’s glad to be back on the road now, she says. (Photo by Elizabeth Miranda; courtesy Primary Wave)

BLADE: You Tweeted a few nights ago about having a tight curfew of just 90 minutes at a casino but then it worked out and you got to do a full set. Why are the curfews so tight at casinos?  

ETHERIDGE: Why do you think? They want people at the tables. Like for tonight, we we settled on 100 minutes. They’re giving me 10 extra minutes. I don’t like it, but in some areas, the only really good venue is a casino, so if you want to reach your folks there, you kind of have to meet them half way. 

BLADE: Yeah, but it seems like in concert halls, the curfews can sometimes be really tight too. Even Madonna got her lights shut off a couple years ago. Of course, she’s notoriously late, but why are they so strict with these things nowadays? 

ETHERIDGE: There are all different situations — concert halls often have union crews that will absolutely shut you down if you go one second over. There are also sound curfews, noise curfews, mostly with outdoor venues, but sometimes indoor as well. They have an agreement with the neighborhood. So you have people in the neighborhood standing by with their phones ready to pounce the minute it goes over one minute, they’re gonna call the police. As a performer, you just realize, “OK, it’s not just about me.” When I don’t have a curfew, I usually land at about two hours and some change. That seems comfortable to everyone. Any longer and I think I’m wearing my audience out. When I’m at a place with a shorter show, I just do my best. 

BLADE: I know you’re a big Chiefs fan. Did you watch that game back in January all the way to the end? 

ETHERIDGE: Well, at the end of it, I was on the floor. My wife was like, “Honey, honey, there’s still 13 seconds,” and I was moaning and sort of getting my feet on the floor and, you know, laying down and throwing a fit. And she’s like, “No, there’s still 13 seconds.” I dragged myself back to the television. And I couldn’t believe it. I was like, “Wait a minute. Did we just win?” You know, just really crazy, really crazy stuff. … When you’re a fan like that, it’s a ride you can’t fully explain.

BLADE: Are you in a cordial or good place with your exes? Does it get easier when the kids are starting to grow up?

ETHERIDGE: Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah. And you realize that it’s best for the kids if you can really get along and that any sort of conflict that can’t get resolved, that gets emotional, does no good for anyone. And absolutely, I have, I’ve gotten better at that as the years have gone by.

BLADE: Do you have the slightest inkling yet what the next studio album might be like?

ETHERIDGE: Well, I’ve got some interesting projects that I’m not ready to talk about just yet. But they have to do with my life story. There’s a lot of digging up of my past and really telling the story. So I imagine the next series of music you’ll get from me is going to be very focused on my journey. 

Melissa Etheridge, gay news, Washington Blade
Melissa Etheridge (Photo by Elizabeth Miranda; courtesy Primary Wave)
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