STORY WRITTEN BY DAVID WANNOP
For 21st Century Media
“I had ACL reconstruction. I have cadaver pendant in my leg. I was playing tennis,” said Paula Cole when she called from her home in Beverley, Mass. “Now you can say it’s that old sports injury,” I quipped figuring she now had an all-purpose excuse for weak backhands. Conversation with the multi-instrumentalist and songwriter tends towards a blend of stories, laughter, and serious points about music and life. Paula Cole is much as you might imagine her; a survivor in a tough business but with the gentle spirit and faith in art still intact. She recently rose more than $75,000 via Kick Starter so as to maintain artistic independence. Her career has continued on a persistent journey since her early breakout phase hanging with Peter Gabriel and Sarah McLachlan. She ruminated about her inspirations and guiding principles.
Many don’t realize that Cole is mostly a self-produced act. She stated, “Being self-produced just feels right for me. I’ve had some great teachers and engineers. One unsung heroe in production is Kate Bush. She produced her own work and when I was growing up women were nearly always produced by men. It’s so unusual what she does and it takes a long time for her to craft an album. Musicians adore her. Her influence is profound.”
Even as a student at the Berklee College of Music Cole was making a statement for women. She offered, “Berklee was coming out of its jazz college roots and defining itself as a more contemporary school. At that time the ratio was 13 men for every woman. Welcome to the music business. I took a lot of jazz there. Towards the end of my time there I started finding my voice. The people in my band are from my Berklee days and I’ve known them since I was 19.”
The nineties had Paula’s album “Where Have All The Cowboys Gone” high on the charts, plus she toured with Peter Gabriel. She explained, “Peter Gabriel was a teacher in a sense. He gave me the opportunity to sing on Secret World live. Ultimately, I wanted to do my own thing. I didn’t feel comfortable being background.” However, she said, “It was amazing.”
Cole knows how to make adjustments from the days of major label support 20 years ago to the current scene. She said, “Kick Starter. Welcome to another new paradigm of the music business. The good thing is you build a team. Cons include putting yourself out there for a lot of work and pledge fulfillment. We did private concerts, songwriting consultation, I hand-painted guitars, I pressed vinyl, I took cover requests.”
Cole was immediately identified as a serious songwriter yet her tunes ended up in auto ads and as a TV theme song. She has perspective on this. “The song (‘I Don’t Want To Wait’) had a radio and chart life, and Kevin Williamson (television producer) was a fan, and no one knew that Dawson Creek would be so popular, and in a way, it usurped the song. I write about my life. It’s an autobiographical process. ‘I Don’t Want To Wait’ was the most used song but I wrote that about my grandfather at the end of his life. I sensed he’d be leaving me soon.”
Cole also discussed how she helped define Lilith Fair and the process that brought women’s’ music out of the shadows of the industry. “I was with Sarah McLachlan during the Fumbling Towards Ecstasy Tour in 1995 and then Lilith Fair in 1997. Soon she added Suzanne Vega and Tracie Chapman.” At this point our conversation veered toward McLachlan’s good fortune of being a Canadian artist which gives her access to recording, touring, and other artistic grants, plus the Canadian content law that gives a percentage of all broadcast time to Canadian artists. I asked Cole when she and I were moving to Canada which she answered with a laugh.
Cole shared the differences from those days until now regarding her live performances. “The difference now since the time I opened for Counting Crows and Matchbox 20 is that I am headlining and the audience is coming for the character of the show and the catalog and not just for the hits. I feel like I am like fine wine; I’ve gotten better with age. You’re chasing a mystery and there is a part of it that is undiagnosable. You have to be the best person you can be, like keeping yourself clean so that you can receive the muse. You need time away from distractions so you have focus and singularity of flow.”
IF YOU GO
Paula Cole performs at 8 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 18 at Sellersville Theater, 24 W Temple Ave, Sellersville. Tickets are $33-$45. Call (215) 257-5808 or check www.st94.com.