As part of the Atlanta music scene that yielded the Indigo Girls, Shawn Mullins, Sugarland, and John Mayer, singer/songwriter Michelle Malone has come a long way, musically speaking, since making her 1988 debut. “When I started, we all did it because it was a stepping stone to the next level,” she recalls. “Amy [Ray] and Emily [Saliers] made an independent record with John Keane and I was there with them so I thought, ‘Oh, that’s what you do.’ So I went and made an independent record with John Keane and then we all got signed.”

Though Malone did get signed to Arista Records with her band Drag the River, she has primarily been an indie artist throughout her career. It’s just in her nature to go her own way. “Frankly, I just hate for someone to tell me what to do because I’ll second-guess them,” she says with a laugh. “I’m fiercely independent in that I’ve learned a self-reliance from the beginning of my life that has worked for me, in whatever capacity.”

She pauses, then adds, “It may have come back to bite me in the ass, but I’m still alive and I’m still kicking.”

Some 30 years into her career, Malone has just issued her 18th album, Stronger Than You Think. So, has it gotten harder or easier to be a working musician over the past few decades? “It really depends on your attitude at the time and your expectations,” Malone offers. “I can make it as easy or as difficult as I want. And I’ve found that it is easier now simply because I’m older and wiser. I make it easy and I don’t sweat the little stuff. … Also, it’s not a means to an end. It’s just part of a journey now.”

Along that journey, Malone has built a mutually beneficial fellowship with her fans, both old and new. They fund her records through her self-run “Kick Start Me Up” campaigns and they fill her heart through their personal stories. “I get a lot of folks saying, ‘This song really helped me get through a divorce… or chemo…’ things like that. And that is amazing,” she says. “The power of song… I’m sure there are a lot of other things in their life that contribute to them being able to get through these hardships, but to be part of that? That means so much to me, so much more than the 10 bucks I’d make off a record. It’s an honor to be part of someone’s life, in that respect. You’re just part of the giant quilt of someone’s life and it just goes to prove the theory that we’re all connected.”

Though older and wiser she may be, the 49-year-old Malone is still as feisty as she was when she started making music as a teen. That much is made perfectly clear throughout the new album and it’s a result of her continual striving on the artistic front. “I just try to keep raising the bar for myself with each record and with each song and with each show. I think I’ve been able to do that,” she says. “I love my new record. People seem to connect to it and it seems to make a lot of people happy. That is a win for me because, if I’m not connecting to people and making the world a better place — at least in some little corner of the universe — then I don’t know what the fucking point is.”