In the past year, Melissa Etheridge changed everything. She got married (to "Nurse Jackie" co-creator Linda Wallem), left her management team, left her record label and founded a new one, and released the steamy, soulful "This is M.E."
In a recent phoner, Etheridge, who plays the Cadillac Palace Theatre on Saturday night, talked about her new love, her new life, and the sweet-but-kind-of-awkward thing she did at her wedding. This is an edited transcript of that conversation.
Q: A Rolling Stone review of your album said it might be "the start of a whole new you." Agree?
A: Sure, I suppose. I'm still the same old me, but there's a lot of newness to it. This is the first album not with Island (Records). I went through a big change last year. I really changed up management and everything, and my music evolved with that.
Q: What caused the shake-up?
A: I'd just been through a big personal shake-up a few years ago, and after that happened, I was feeling really healthy in my personal life, but I felt my professional life had flatlined. I had leveled out and wasn't growing my business anymore. I consider myself a small business ... so I did what a lot of businesses do. I got rid of the old paradigm and put a new one in, and it's really supercharged my career.
Q: When you say flatlined, that usually means dying. Was it that bad?
A: I just really needed a change. The last couple albums I'd made, I loved them, but I never got any sort of radio play, and yet I'd tour and a certain amount of people would come see me. I could just do that for the rest of my life, I suppose, but I wanted to shake it up.
Q: Tell me how (new song) "Who Are You Waiting For" came about.
A: Aw, that's the sweet, tender part of this. I'm in love. It was the first song that I actually started writing. One of the first things I go to is my own personal relationship, and I started describing the relationship and it wasn't like, I met you and we fell in love. (It was), when you found me I was face down, down and out, and thinking, "Boy, I'm not going to fall in love again. I'm giving this up." Linda was my best friend. By the time I got to the third verse, I realized, "Oh, this is my wedding vows. I'm gonna marry this person." And that's what this song is.
Q: And didn't you then bust the song out at the wedding?
A: (laughs) Yes, I did. Poor Linda.
Q: What did she do?
A: Oh, cried. I told her beforehand I was gonna sing at the wedding, a new song. I had to warn her or I didn't know if she would've been able to handle it, but it was really amazing. I'd never stood right in front of someone and held their hand and sang to them, and that was a really powerful moment.
Q: Obviously you guys are married and you're going to be together, but in past relationships, if you write a really tender love song for them and then you have a bad break up, how does it change your relationship to the song? Does it make you resentful of having to sing it?
A: (laughs) No. It's funny, because it's more of a comment on myself and my own capacity to love. It's not like I do a lot of the love songs live, because I don't. Any of the songs I sing about past relationships, which most of them are, they're outside of me. I don't still live in that space with them. I celebrate it as a song like anybody else.
Q: These lyrics are also sexier than we're used to hearing from you. Considering rock is a genre where you're over the hill at 25, for you to be a lesbian in your 50s singing these sexy love songs is transgressive, isn't it?
A: That's what I'm saying. That's the rock 'n' roll spirit. This pushes the limit. I'm onstage and I'm happier and healthier, I look better than I've ever looked, I've got more energy, more sexual energy. I'm thinking it's my most fun tour I've ever done.
Q: This is your first state-sanctioned marriage, isn't it? Does it feel different?
A: I was talking to some friends of mine, women who had been together for 19 years who got married, and they said they woke up the next day and it feels different. There's something about walking into the courthouse and holding up your hand and swearing that you're not going to date anybody else. And the rights our society gives to married couples — it means so much to the families to know that wherever you're walking, you're not going to be questioned about who your family is.
Q: So what did you know going into this relationship that you didn't know before?
A: That the only way I can make a relationship last is to take care of myself, to make sure each person in the relationship is taking care of themselves. I know that now.
When: 8 p.m. Saturday
Where: Cadillac Palace Theatre, 151 W. Randolph St.
Tickets: $54.75-$109.75; 800-745-3000 or ticketmaster.com