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Melissa Etheridge on 'Pulse,' cannabis-infused wine and why she never thought she’d be an activist

'I was going to be a rock star and have no problems, but life has other plans for you as the path unfolds.'
Greg Doherty/Getty Images

Melissa Etheridge calls in from Keene, New Hampshire, following the kickoff of her summer tour. The two time-Grammy winner with mega hits like “Come to My Window” and “I’m the Only One,” is also known for her activist work.

Most recently, Etheridge released “Pulse,” a song dedicated to the victims of the Orlando shooting, with all proceeds going to an LGBT charity. She wrote, recorded and released the song within a matter of days, providing a source of comfort and expression to not only herself, but the thousands who have streamed the song.

"I woke the same as everyone on Sunday morning, with disbelief and grief," she says "I dealt with my grief the way I always have — take it to song. I’m very fortunate I have a place to put it."

She chats about the song, her tour and how she fell into the surprising role of an activist.

Can we start by talking about “Pulse”? How did the song come to be so quickly?

I didn’t even think, at first, “Oh I need to write a song.” I was more like, “I just want to play my guitar.” I picked up my guitar in New York and then I thought I’d write a song for myself, but then I called my good friend and bandmate Jerry Wonda to see if we could get some studio time. He cleared his schedule and it was such a labor of beautiful love. My management was like, “Let’s put it on the Internet and give it to Rolling Stone, just to make people feel better and have a place to focus their hope.” Seeing it take off the way it did has really humbled me. I’m so grateful to be of service.

And you were able to play it live for the first time just a few days ago. What was that like?

The city I was playing in was Torrington, Connecticut, which happened to be home to one of the victims. She was beloved there. Just being in that city and knowing that there were people who knew her in the audience… you want to be of service and play, but it’s not easy.

Do you think you’re a reactionary songwriter, where you get instantly inspired and have to write a song? Does that happen often?

Oh my goodness, so many times. I have so many songs [that touch on] the social aspect, Matthew Shepard and 9/11.And then, of course, my own losses and heartbreaks and [those] songs. I’ve been quite a living on that. That’s the fuel of which I cook my musical meals.

Did you ever think at any specific point in your musical career, “I’m an activist now”? Or was there any point in time where you felt like it was your responsibility to become one?

It’s funny because I never thought I’d be an activist. That wasn’t it. I was going to be a rock star and have no problems, but life has other plans for you as the path unfolds. I made the choice to speak truthfully about who I am and what I am and that creates vibrations and a space for people to be inspired. That causes momentum.

I always say I’m the least active activist I know because I never took to the street. I’ve marched in a couple marches, but I’m not out on the front line. I’m a figure to people like you, who have a horn to blow and can write words that many people will listen to; and if you ask the questions, I’ll answer them. That’s my activism: my willingness to open my heart and say the truth. That’s what changes hearts and minds the most. I encourage everyone to be that kind of activist.

You released a live album last year, but these days, if anyone wants to watch video of your live performances they can just turn to social media or YouTube. What’s that like for you as an artist — knowing someone could be recording and sharing your live work at any given time?

It’s good pressure. if I’m going on stage, I better be prepared for the world to see it. Before it would be like, I’d perform for an audience but then wait for four days for a review to come out in a newspaper and maybe the reviewer didn’t like it. And I’d get my heart broken, especially when I thought the thousand or so people who went to the show had a great time. [Without social media] it was a long, long time before I could hear other peoples’ experiences, but now I can have a conversation with 80,000 people at once.

Was there any given point where you also decided you were a businesswoman, or was it more like entrepreneurship and musicianship always went hand-in-hand?

It’s crazy because I said for so many years, “I’m leaving the business part to my business manager, la la la la, I’ll do the creative and that's it.” But that was when business and the record industry were strong and you just had people at your disposal to do anything for you. It wasn’t until four or five years ago that I realized, “A-ha, I need to be my own business woman.” I’ve been making my own creative choices for a long time but I’ve definitely stepped up [on the business side] and by that, have learned I can branch into other areas out there.

On that note, it seems like a good time to bring up your cannabis wine, NO LABEL. Where did the idea come from?

The idea came from a thousand years ago. [Laughs] It’s not anything new; herbal infusions have been happening forever. But prohibitions have driven cannabis underground and I found that wine through friends at a dispensary that was doing it. I was like, “This needs to be brought to the world,” and here we go. Of course, I’m in the most difficult business industry in the world right now because it’s like quicksand. Rules and regulations are constantly being changed. But that’s how it goes!

If you go:

Boston
June 28 at 8 p.m.
Wilbur Theatre
246 Tremont St
617-248-9700
$60-$75, thewilbur.com

New York
July 6 at 8 p.m.
Beacon Theatre
2124 Broadway
212-465-6500
$55-$150, beacontheatre.com

 

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