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Interview with Michelle Malone

Lesbian Life Talks to Michelle Malone


Michelle Malone

Michelle Malone

© Trish Land
Michelle Malone has been on the music scene for over 20 years and was an out lesbian from the get-go because, as she says, “I’ve always just been me - I’ve never had to make a statement about it.” Sometimes referred to as Moanin’ Michelle Malone for her dirty, edgy vocals, she is on the ballot for a Grammy for her recent release, Debris. Malone talked with our Stephanie Schroeder about the nod from the Grammy nomination committee, her 20-year career, her idols and just plain life.

So you’re on the Grammy ballot for Debris?

Yeah, neat huh? They’ve been putting me on the ballot lately, they put me on for Sugarfoot [Malone’s 2006 release] and it means something and it means nothing. It’s like having someone you respect patting you on the back or something, which is nice.

There are a lot of new categories: Folk has been broken into Folk and Americana, and you’re in the Americana category, right?

Yeah, they put me in the Americana category. The last time [I was on the ballot, for [Sugarfoot] they had me in the contemporary blues and I didn’t think it was a blues record. I don’t even know what Americana means. I think it’s [“Debris”] a rock album. They just keep dividing it up and it’s to sell more records. To me you’ve got two kinds of music -- good music or bad music and that’s it. Or you can say its music you like or music you don’t like or music that sells or music that doesn’t sell. I just do what I do. And, you know, it’s just nice to be recognized for all the hard work.

I saw you at the Rodeo Bar (NYC) during the summer and you put on a good show. You were on for two-plus hours and it must have taken a lot of energy. You were very gracious to your fans, but you were on for hours and hours…

Well… I want to be entertained when I go to a show. I would rather see Bruce Springsteen than Bob Dylan... I mean I love Bob Dylan, I love Bruce Springsteen, but Bob just stands there and mumbles a lot. Bruce jumps around and gets into the crowd and it gets very interactive. You know, maybe it’s because I need constant entertainment or constant stimulation, but I want to be entertained and I feel that is part of my job, I’m an entertainer: I’m not just a singer, I’m not just a guitar player, I’m an entertainer.

Brandi Carlile just came out…in terms of lesbian entertainment, do you feel like you’re a lesbian trendsetter or lesbian role model?

I don’t’ know what I am to other people, I don’t really have a clue about what other people think or say or do. I’m not a trendsetter or an example. I just live my life and do what I do. And maybe people appreciate it enough to say hey I like that sound or I like your attitude and follow by example...and I try to live my life like that: I don’t preach to people about how they should live their life or live in the world. I live by example and I think that speaks loudly and strongly.

When all these well-known entertainers came out: I’ve known Ellen [DeGeneres] a long time and I remember when she came out on her TV show. Back then it was a big deal because it was national television and she was a big star, but I don’t know that she actually ever kept her sexual preference a secret—she just didn’t make a giant statement on television until the time when she did. And some people, you know, it’s a marketing tool…. I’m not saying that was the case with Ellen, but it did make her a household name and that is what she always wanted. And I commend her for that because it changed the face of television frankly, it was milestone. It changed everything, but it didn’t change Ellen except make her more money. She was the same before she was famous and she’s the same now. So, sometimes people use it as marketing tool and sometimes they just happen to answer the question because it was asked.

When I started recording for Arista in the late 80s, you just went about your business and no one asked that kind of stuff. Everyone knew because they saw you running around with your girlfriend, but no one talked about it, no one asked about it.

I want to ask something about “Debris." I have a signed copy from your show here in NYC. The lyrics in the song “Weed and Wine,” the part about being with your girlfriend and the line “listening to Sweet Melissa” and whether that refers to Melissa Etheridge and, if so, how much she has influenced you, in any arena, if any…

Oh my god, you couldn’t be further off the mark, I’ve never heard anyone say that…I’m from Georgia and the whole Southern rock thing and grew up on that and “Sweet Melissa” is an Allman Brothers song…

I have something in my notes to ask about Emmylou Harris…

Yeah, I was at Lilith Faire on tour, backstage and Emmylou and I are in this little room sitting on a couch chit chatting and I finally get up the nerve to tell her that her song “From Boulder to Birmingham” is one of the first songs I ever sang in public when I was, like, 11. She grabbed her 1958 Gibson Everly Brothers acoustic guitar and she just sang it to me sitting next to me there on the couch. It was amazing. I didn’t ask her to do it and it wasn’t like she was trying to do anything but share her music with me and make that a special moment. I just went away from that a changed person, a changed musician because she volunteered so much or herself to me in that moment, and it wasn’t for show and it wasn’t for applause or ego or anything. She just wanted to share that with me because she knew it would be special. I came away a changed person—a changed musician. I mean, that’s going the extra mile in life, not at work or for your family, but in LIFE, and it was such a kind gesture, and meant so much to me as a human being, it was just amazing.
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