Melissa Etheridge’s 10th studio album, Fearless Love, is a mix of the deeply personal (the cancer diary “Drag Me Away”) and the intensely political (“Miss California” expresses her anger at California’s ban on gay marriage). For the singer, who recently split with wife Tammy Lynn Michaels, it’s also her most classic-rock-indebted record yet, with guitar riffs that recall ZZ Top, Led Zeppelin and the Who. “When you hear Muddy Waters, you realize that’s where Zeppelin came from,” says Etheridge. “That’s what rock & roll is: taking your influences and saying, ‘This is how I interpret that feeling.'”
Fearless Love is your hardest-rocking album yet. Was that your intention?
Absolutely, I wanted it to be like that big-old-headphones type of rock & roll. John Shanks, who produced the record, was my first guitar player, and we used to talk about our love of Houses of the Holy, the Who and Pink Floyd. I wanted to incorporate that drama, that feeling of taking it to the edge.
Is there a specific room where you write?
Before I was a family gal, I’d write anywhere. Now it’s like, “OK, Mom’s going into her office.”
What’s in there?
My Oscar and my Grammys, a photo of me and Al Gore, and the runner-up trophy from the Leavenworth Plaza talent contest, my first performance.
What did you sing?
An original tune of mine called “Lonely Is a Child,” which was an anti-war song about a child who’d lost her family. It was a horribly sad and depressing tune. I didn’t win.
Do you still like discovering new music?
Yes, I love the Kings of Leon, Cory Chisel’s “Born Again” and that One Eskimo song “Kandi.” That makes me nuts.
What about Taylor Swift? Are you a fan?
I listen to her as a mother, and in that way I really appreciate her music. I was scared about my kids listening to the radio, but thankfully Taylor Swift is one of the artists that my daughter hung on to. She’s real, and she’s singing about real experiences of teenagers, and for that I’m grateful.
Is there one album you’ve listened to more than any other?
Born to Run. No doubt. Bruce has always been so nice to me, which is crazy, because he’s one of my heroes. I’ll never forget being at a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame ceremony the year Bruce and Paul McCartney were inducted. We were at the bar, and Bruce was talking to Paul, and he turned to me and said, “I can’t believe I’m talking to Paul McCartney!” I thought, “I can’t believe I’m talking to Bruce Springsteen, who’s talking to Paul McCartney!”
David Crosby is the father of two of your kids, so are they good at harmonizing?
He’s a big part of their lives, and they appreciate his musical talent. My eldest son, Beckett, is very good at guitar, my daughter plays piano, and my youngest son plays drums. If I can get my little daughter to play bass, then we’ve got a whole band.
So you’re the cool mom who will house a drum kit?
I’m so cool that the kids come to my bedroom and go, “Mom! Turn the music down!”