“This album had to be about the songs,” says Melissa Etheridge of her tenth studio album, Fearless Love.
This is typical of Melissa, because putting the songs first is one of the hallmarks of her career. From our introduction to her in 1988, and throughout her illustrious career, Etheridge has never forgotten that it all begins with the songs. She has poured everything into those songs and they have served her well.
Those songs—“Bring Me Some Water,” “Ain’t it Heavy,” “I’m the Only One,” “Come to My Window,” “I Want to Come Over,” “Angels Would Fall,” “I Run for Life” and “I Need to Wake Up” among them—have rewarded her with five Platinum albums (including the multi-Platinum sets Melissa Etheridge, Your Little Secret and the six-million-selling Yes I Am), a pair of Grammys®, an Oscar®, an ASCAP Songwriter of the Year honor and the ASCAP Founders Award.
Easily one of the greatest all-time female rock icons, Melissa Etheridge is also a mother and a cancer survivor. She is an outspoken cultural, political and human rights activist, a thought-provoker and a longtime truth-seeker.
With Fearless Love, which comes out April 27th, 2010, on Island Records, she is at the top of her game.
In early 2009, Etheridge began to think about her next album. She was thinking about what to write about and it hit her. “Everything is either fear or love,” she says. “As I started writing, the working title of the album was Songs of Love and Fear because each song had an ingredient of love and fear, and the battle between the two.”
The first new song, a dramatic number called “To be Loved,” came out much darker than the album as a whole. As more songs were written, potential singles began to emerge: “Indiana,” a ballad-cum-monster-of-a-rocker that relates the story of a girl who has overcome a difficult childhood in the Heartland; “The Wanting of You,” a classic Etheridge rocker based on the story of a small-town, Midwestern girl who lives in fear of the life-changing choices she’s made; and “Company,” a mid-tempo rocker that will all undoubtedly amass plenty of airplay in 2010. The big Pete Townshend-inspired power chords in “Company” are an example of Etheridge’s propensity for proudly displaying her influences on Fearless Love; listen carefully and you’ll hear a U2-like guitar line here, a ZZ Top-like lick there, some Led Zeppelin-style rock for all to hear. “I wanted to unabashedly use the influences I’ve had all my life,” Etheridge explains, “I wanted to present them in this album, and honor them and respect them.”
Also influencing Fearless Love were Melissa’s four kids. “I can’t help but be influenced now by my children. I said I was thinking of calling the album Songs of Love and Fear and my daughter said, ‘No mom, that’s way too long.’ ‘It has to be about love and fear,’ I said, ‘so how about Fearless?’ ‘That’s Taylor Swift’s song,’ she told me, ‘what about Fearless Love?’ ‘That’s perfect,’ I thought. ‘Now I have to write a song called “Fearless Love.”’ And so she did, and when the modern rocker with the full-throttle guitar attack became the first single it immediately assaulted the Hot AC and Adult Album Alternative radio charts.
To make Fearless Love, Etheridge invited old friend John Shanks to produce and play guitar. “I like to tell people I discovered John Shanks,” she teases. “He toured as my guitar player on my very first tour and he worked with me from 1993 to 1999.” Shanks’ first production credit came when he co-produced Melissa’s 1999 effort, Breakdown. “ “After that he went on to produce Michelle Branch, Sheryl Crow, Alanis Morissette—he’s Mr. Pop guy now. He’s done quite well,” Notes Etheridge. The 2005 Grammy® winner for Producer of the Year has written with and produced an A+ list of stars including Carlos Santana, Celine Dion, Sting, Fleetwood Mac, Bon Jovi, Jewel, Robbie Robertson, Chris Isaak, Stevie Nicks, Keith Urban, Kelly Clarkson and Rod Stewart.
“I hadn’t done a whole project with him since Breakdown, so I called him up and said, ‘John, I want a whole album, the way great rock and roll groups used to do it where they would go away, live together and give their time and energy just to the music.’”
So Etheridge, Shanks and a new core band—bassist Sean Hurley (Ringo Starr, Josh Groban, Alicia Keys), drummer Victor Indrizzo (Willie Nelson, Five For Fighting, Colbie Caillat) and keyboardist Jamie Muhoberac (Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton, Sheryl Crow)—moved into Malibu, California’s Document Room studios where they cut the basic tracks as live as possible. “John gathered these incredible musicians that I had never worked with,” Etheridge beams, “and he dedicated himself day and night to this album. I’m extremely proud of how it sounds—Fearless Love was exactly what I intended when I first spoke with him.”
Fearless Love arrives two and a half years after her autobiographical The Awakening and six years after her battle with breast cancer. At this point, her accomplishments are endless and well-documented. This has allowed Melissa Etheridge to find herself in the enviable position of being able to make exactly the music she hears in her head and feels in her heart. In 2010, that music embodies much of what we’ve come to anticipate from Etheridge—giant, soaring melodies, her bold, expressive voice, plenty of musical, lyrical and emotional drama—and it also embraces a freshness, with the appearance of mandolin and more piano, and guest vocals from Joss Stone and Natasha Bedingfield. Fearless Love offers pounding rockers and whisper-light ballads, and nods to her musical muses are tastefully sprinkled to and fro.
Fearless Love pulls no punches—again, very typical of Melissa Etheridge—as it expands the musical and topical boundaries that she has never stopped redrawing.