Melissa Etheridge Harkens Back to Her Dive-Bar Beginnings on ‘As Cool as You Try’
Melissa Etheridge is nostalgic on set at Molly Malone’s, a local Irish pub on Los Angeles’ Westside, reminiscent of the older haunts she frequented when she was cutting her teeth more than 30 years ago. She’s filming the music video for her single “As Cool as You Try,” an allegory for her ascent from an aspiring performer fighting for attention to commanding a crowd as an esteemed performer with her own set of devout fans.
“Coming full circle in a bar, it’s really fun because that never leaves you,” Etheridge tells Rolling Stone. “You can always tell a singer who came up through the bars. We’re always grateful to play any place where they aren’t throwing things at you.”
Along with its dive-bar locale, the video has other nods to Etheridge’s beginnings, such as outfitting some of the extras as soccer players — a reference to the women’s soccer team Etheridge befriended that lead to her getting discovered. As the story goes, she was friends with a few women on a team in L.A., and they came to support her at a show in the Eighties. One of the players’ husband was a music manager, who signed Etheridge as his client soon after listening to her demo.
Etheridge wrote “As Cool as You Try,” like most of the rest of her upcoming album, One Way Out, during these early years. Unsure about how fans would react and how they’d sell, Etheridge didn’t record the tracks until 2013, intended for a box set. A battle with her old record label kept the songs shelved for longer, and when her current label, BMG, was brainstorming with her as the pandemic began, she knew the timing was right to finally release the album. The songs come from an intimate place, before her career took off and before she came out as a lesbian.
” ‘As Cool as You Try’ is feminist in nature [and] self-empowering,” she says. “I didn’t feel comfortable with that until after I came out. I tried to be truthful before I came out. I was writing nongender-specific lyrics, and that helped sharpen my writing. I had to be specific, and after I’d come out, I didn’t feel like I needed to change. I wasn’t writing songs for gay people. They were for everybody.”
The feminist energy Etheridge mentions is matched by the video’s working crew. At Etheridge’s request, the entire video staff — from director to producer to grip — was made up of women, a rarity in an industry dominated by men. And most of the extras on the set were women or members of the LGBTQ community.
Dawn Church, who produced the video, was responsible for assembling the crew. She’d never had a request for an all-women workforce before, and while it was a fresh challenge, she felt rewarded with championing new workers rather than going back to the same few contacts. “It takes just a bit more effort, but the results are worth it,” she says.
Going forward, Etheridge expects she’ll keep this all-female process going. “Women love getting things done,” she says. “Having been in entertainment for 30 years, and my wife being in entertainment, I know how difficult it is to break in, especially on the other side of the camera. I had to be the one to say I wanted a predominantly female crew and people of color. It absolutely can happen, it’s right here.”