Hi, cowpokes! I'm going to keep this intro short and sweet because I've been laid low by COVID!
Last time, I wrote about the links between queer country history and the current trans liberation movement. I said that women’s music doesn’t necessarily align with country music…but AmericanaFest gave the Olivia Records founders a lifetime achievement award in 2019 so if it’s good enough for them, it’s good enough for us!
I also learned that Sandy Stone, the Olivia Records sound engineer whose outing precipitated the ban on trans people at MichFest, helped create the term transgender -- that is, instead of viewing being trans as a medical disorder in which "x brain is trapped in y body," being trans is a much more expensive state that is not a congenital disorder and does not necessitate medical transition. So it turns out the connections are even stronger than I thought!
Also, I interview The Voice alumni Whitney Fenimore about her beautiful new EP Leaving Ashwood and her whirlwind romance with her Olympic athlete wife on this month's episode of Rainbow Rodeo! They met on Instagram! Stars -- they're just like us! Click here to listen or find it on your favorite podcast app.
Lastly, a belated l'shanah tovah to those who celebrate! Keep an eye on Adobe & Teardrops next week -- I'll re-up my Jewish country music playlist!
As you'll see in this interview, Michelle Malone is an OG. I've been enchanted by her brash, uncompromising country rock pretty much since I started writing Adobe & Teardrops ten years ago. Her latest album, 1977, is a spacious, gauzy affair influenced as much by Malone's last tour stop before the pandemic as isolation itself. At the end of this interview, we discuss her experience as a queer artist in roots music. Her perspective is one that I think a lot of us will find surprising, but hey -- she has a lot more miles and wisdom than I do.
This interview has been edited for length. A longer version will be available in the next Rainbow Rodeo zine
RR: Your previous albums have been a lot more rock-forward, and 1977 is very spacious. Was wondering what brought about that change for you?
Michelle: I think when you're 20-something, you're generally pretty ramped up. And I was a wild, crazy rebellious, super angry kind of kid for a long time. So I had extra energy to spare. And then in 2020, I was just sitting home for so long. I hadn't been off the road for that long, since I was a teenager. I had time to really just relax, which is something I haven't done in forever. I think that's why the songs are like this. Also, Doug and I, my guitar player had been out touring California for a couple of weeks, the last two weeks of February of 2020. We were really in that California vibe, you know, soaking up the sun and the ocean and the trees and things.
RR: How did it feel to be in one place for so long?
Michelle: I mean, after a month or so when I wasn't in fear of my life anymore and had a little better understanding of what was going on, I was able to relax.
I just enjoyed my time at home. I mean, I don't mean to make it sound like there wasn't a lot going on in the world -- I certainly was aware of that -- but for me inside my home, it was a relaxing place to be and I was doing a lot of live streaming and I started these things called four-packs where people in Atlanta would hire me to come sing them four songs in their yard.
Between that and the live streams, and then I started Patreon, you know, it really not only kept me going, financially and emotionally, but I felt a lot more connected to my audience in a way that I had not experienced before. So oddly enough, it was kind of a good thing for me personally.
RR: It seems like this allowed you to be in an introspective space because you worked with a lot of long-time collaborators. What's your relationship with the Indigo Girls like?
MM: We met in college. A friend of mine in my dorm kept raving about them and they were playing some little dumpy club in town across from Emory. We met them and they found out I played and wrote songs. So we all went to the Majestic 24-hour diner, which people here know is just a greasy spoon, but a cool place.
That's how friendship began. They were very encouraging and invited me to sing some songs at their shows and these little dive bars around Atlanta that they were playing at the time. So we did a lot of shows together and we recorded together.
I've been on the majority of their records, or at least more than half, especially the early stuff. People in Atlanta, at least back then, it was such a rich community in that we all shared music and shared studio and tour gigs.We loved hanging out and playing music together. We did it because we loved it and we really didn't have you know, a goal in mind. It was just ‘cuz we loved music and I still feel that way. I've opened for them. I’ve toured with them and their band more times than I can count.
RR: I was wondering if you'd be open to sharing your own experience as an LGBTQ+ artist in Roots music.
Michelle: I don't really think of it. I mean, I don't really think of any of that as being a prevalent part of who I am. I'm so just me and I'm a singer-songwriter. I've been with the same woman for almost 20 years, but that's just a part of me. I think of myself as a musician first and foremost, and I don't necessarily write from that perspective simply because for me personally, it feels divisive and I'd rather bring everyone together than create a division.
I don't often discuss politics, religion sexual orientation, any of that stuff, because I want to be for everyone. Now, having said that, I don't hide who I am or my personal life. I just don't think about it anymore. Gosh, I've been out since I was in high school and that. It's just not something I think about. It's like breathing or being alive.
RR: As you say, things are so divisive right now. What do you see as like a way to move forward?
Michelle: I find that when I look for our commonalities instead of our differences, when I think more about others' needs than mine -- and this is coming from perspective of standing on the stage, looking at an audience of all kinds of people -- that's my focus, bringing people together.
It just comes from wanting that more than you want to be heard and seen.
I'm 56 years old now, so I've kind of been around the block a few times and I've shot myself in the foot a dozen times or more, but I've come to realize that what I do, I enjoy and it pays my bills -- but it's for everyone else. When I get on stage, I wanna make people feel good. I wanna bring people together. I want to have a special, communicative, emotional experience with them through the music that they may really need or may not get anywhere else. And then that always makes me feel better as a human, not just as a musician.
I used to really operate from ego and I would get on stage and be like, "Look at me. Look how great I am. Look what I can do." And I realized along the way, that's not really what it's about. I say to myself, "Well, if I want this person to feel good, I'm gonna go talk about things with them that bring us together that we might have in common, instead of things that can divide us." I'm tired of arguing.
1977 is available on all streaming platforms.
Here are all of the queer country album releases this month! Let me know if I should add something to the list!
Updated every two weeks!
Thanks to Catie Pearl-Hartling for making a parallel list on Apple Music!