Melissa Etheridge's trademark sound—guitar and bluesy rock vocals—are what drive "Lover, Please," the opening track of Skin ( Island ) , 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, as you can hear on the raw "Down To One," "It's Only Me," and "Please Forgive Me." However, there is healing in the balance, and Etheridge sounds positively upbeat on the exhilarating first single "I Wanna Be Loved," "Goodnight," and "Heal Me."
Gregg Shapiro: Your new album Skin, proudly proclaims, "Produced by Melissa Etheridge."
Melissa Etheridge: ( laughs ) Oh, it's all me ( laughs ) !
GS: Can you talk about why you finally decided to take the reins on that?
ME: 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.
GS: Do you feel like the producers that you worked with over the years contributed to your knowledge and production abilities or does it feel like you were jumping into production on your own?
ME: This was a very different experience than any of those. I've definitely learned, over the last ten years, about being in the studio. This was different. We didn't record it to tape. We recorded it to hard drive, hard disc. I needed an engineer who would understand that. Basically, the difference was that I made all of the creative decisions on my own without an outside opinion. That was where I really had to step out.
GS: You have described the album as a collision between your "personal and professional lives." Can you please say something about that?
ME: 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, i.e. the breakup 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.
GS: I'm glad that you mentioned the healing process and music as a means to heal. The song that closes the album, the lovely on "Heal Me"—the background vocals are by Laura Dern and Meg Ryan.
ME: ( laughs ) Those famous background singers.
GS: How did you discover that Laura and Meg could sing?
ME: 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 put in the back and they sound great. But they actually did sing well. The experience was probably the best.
GS: 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?
ME: 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.
GS: So it's very smart of you to be able to mix the two.
ME: Yeah, I hope so. I enjoy it, too. I like the way it sounds.
GS: The album is called Skin, and there is a theme, throughout the album of "skin"—new skin, wounded skin. Can you please talk about that?
ME: Yeah. 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."
GS: Along the same lines of healing, you have music as your creative outlet for catharsis. If you didn't have music, would you have another means of creative expression for the sake of purgation?
ME: Gosh. Not right now ( laughs ) . I don't know. Drink, maybe ( laughs ) . I don't know. Because that's the outlet I've had, that's where it went.
GS: One of my fondest memories of the Equality Rocks concert in Washington, D.C., in 2000, was when you sang the Dusty Springfield part of "What Have I Done To Deserve This?" with the Pet Shop Boys. I was wondering if you had been asked to be a part of the Wotapalava tour that Neil and Chris are doing this summer?
ME: You know, I have not. They did not contact me. But I can guarantee you that if I am in the same place that they are, I so have to get up and do that with them. I loved that.
GS: It was flawless. Really great.
ME: It was so great to work with them. They were so sweet.
GS: Can you please tell me something about your upcoming "Live And Alone" solo acoustic tour?
ME: 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.
GS: Is there a solo acoustic album in your future?
ME: 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.
GS: Another new thing in your life is that you wrote a book. Your autobiography, The Truth Is..., is being published. What was the process of writing that like?
ME: Once again it started out as something different ( laughs ) and it became this. I thought I was going to be putting my lyrics together in a book. It became another healing process for me to sort of spill out my life and my experiences that have made me what I am now—inspiring the choices that I make now. I made this record and it all came out at the same time. They're sort of companion pieces.
GS: As a public persona, there are aspects of your relationship that are going to be public, as well. Do you think it's easier to be in a relationship with someone who is more private, less of a known figure, or someone of your stature who is accustomed to all of the attention?
ME: In the last nine 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.