Grammy and Oscar-winning singer songstress Melissa Etheridge recognizes the inspiration behind a good song.
She will make her debut with Boston Pops for Berkeley night at the Pops featuring winners of the Berklee College of Music singer/songwriter competition at Boston Symphony Hall, 301 Massachusetts Ave in Boston, Massachusetts Thursday, June 12 and Friday, June 13 at 8pm.
When you first started, was it the guitar or the singing that came first for you?
It was the music. I guess I started singing in choirs, at church choir and choir at school. About the same time when I was 8 years old, my father brought a guitar home for my sister, but I wanted to play it really badly and they said that I was too young. The teacher said, ‘No, it will hurt her fingers.’ I said, ‘Please, please, please.’ They finally let me do it just to prove me wrong, but I proved them wrong and I just kept playing. The guitar was probably the thing that I studied, but I was always singing.
What made you decide to perform in the first place?
Well, one of the first memories I have is listening to the Beatles sing, ‘I Wanna Hold your Hand’ on a transistor radio when I was about 3 years old, and it was just thrilling! I liked when I would be in a choir at school and we would get up in front of people and perform. It was an excited nervous. The more I would play guitar and could do it myself and do it for other people, the more they would sit and listen to me and say, ‘hey that’s good,’ and I was just hooked. The first time that I got in front of anybody like strangers in an audience, I was 11, at a talent contest.
You loved it.
I loved it! I was hooked. There was a band there, I started playing with the band, and then the rest is history.
You took lessons when you played the guitar or do you think you taught yourself a bit?
No, I took lessons from a wonderful teacher at the Tune Shop in Leavenworth, Kansas. His name was Don Raymond. He was an old jazz guitar player who had a horrible accident and got his fingers cut off, and now he just teaching. So, he was a little bit bitter. He was a stern teacher, but he was amazing and I learned so much from him.
Sometimes, it is just watching someone play the guitar that helps so much.
One of things that he really instilled in me was timing. He said, ‘I don’t really care if you get the notes right or wrong, but never go out of time.’ To this day musicians, drummers especially, go wow your timing is great. It was tacked into me.
Yes, that makes you easily adaptable anywhere. Tell me a little bit about as a singer/songwriter, how does the music come for you? When you get inspired, does it come in your dreams? Do you hear a melody?
It’s always different. I find inspiration is the first piece of it and that inspiration is always different. It can be a thought, a melody that pops in my head. I’m just sitting and playing the guitar, and a note that follows another note or a chord. It can be as large as an idea and oh, I want to write a song about this. I can think about it all ahead of time before I write it also. Many, many different inspirations, but it always comes from some spark.
When you write about your music, was there a particular song that was more challenging for you to write and then there’s one that just flowed for you?
They are always different. There are those that just really don’t want to come to light or something. You just work on them and you change them and dig. Sometimes, I’ll put pieces of songs together from other songs and then there’s the song that boom, writes itself in 10 minutes, and wow, there it is. You just never know.
Which one just flowed for you, for example?
‘Come to my Window’ took a long time. ‘I’m the Only One’ wrote that in one bus ride in Europe.
You read stories about people writing music, for example I believe Phil Collins wrote ‘Sussudio’ in his car on the way to the studio.
Yeah, I just wrote a song on the plane the other day, a really good song, you just never know. Songwriting is kind of like a muscle. If you just keep doing it then you can do it easily, but if you haven’t done it for a long time, it’s going to be harder to work back up into that. Once you get the creative process flowing, running on all pistons or firing, you know it’s good. You can hop into it and do it quickly.
Now, I wanted to get into the upcoming event. This is your first time performing with the Boston Pops.
Oh yes, first time really. I performed ‘I Need to Wake Up’ with the Oslo symphony, but this is the first time I performed my songs like that with the Pops or anybody like that. I’m just thrilled!
What excites you most about the event?
There’s something very special about playing music with other people. I love doing it in a band. It’s a special thing that humans can do. We can set rules, time and parameters. We can all play and create a feeling and to do it on such a large level with so many musicians creating a moment, that’s just magic. That’s a miracle.
Live music is just so incredible.
There’s nothing like it. You can never replace it.
What kind of music can we look forward to at the performance?
There’s going to be some of my hits, and then doing ‘Uprising of Love,’ going to do a new song off the new album. It’s pretty much my hits, the songs you know.
What advice would you give singer/songwriters today?
I would say do what you love. It’s the only way that you’re going to get anywhere. If you try to make your music so that somebody else likes it, then you’ll be in a box. Do what you love, perform for whoever you want, write what’s in your heart, because you never know where the world is going and you are creating where the world is going anyway. Just do it because you love it. That’s the only way it’s ever been done.
Visit bostonpops.org for ticket information!