Paula Cole Returns with New Album and Empowered Approach to Life and Love

Originally published at cherrygrrl.com, August 30, 2010 – Read the full text here

Paula Cole is an interesting amalgam: a Grammy-award winning singer/songwriter, producer, and activist, but despite her many contributions to the world of music, she still finds time to challenge, motivate, and above all things, live. Her chart-topping singles, “Where Have All the Cowboys Gone?” and “I Don’t Want to Wait” (aka theDawson’s Creek theme song) made her a household name and one of the prominent voices of a generation. Her new album, “Ithaca,” is arriving on September 21st, and it tells us the story of her entering new stages of being: motherhood, separation, and finding new love.

Cherry Grrl (CG): You’re returning to a music industry that is very much changed since you left. Are you concerned about the evolving state of the industry?

Paula Cole (PC): It has always been a swirling mystery to me.

CG: What is your relationship with music?

PC: To me, music is the universal language. I probably have some mild autism, I would guess, and feel inclined to think in pictures and music before English language. Music transcends vocabulary; language barriers. I sang before I spoke. I made up songs from my cradle before I was speaking. I was blessed to be born into a musical family, where it was a living and fun form of expression. We have my dad to thank for making it so fun. So, thank you, Dad. Music is my chi. Music is the prana toward which I meditate and which heals me, teaches me. I subscribe to Eastern thinking in that being a musician is a divine responsibility.

CG: You’ve taken time off from the industry to raise your daughter. Are you more introspective or grounded now, and what brought you back to music?

PC: My daughter is smarter than me. I stand in awe sometimes. I’m so glad to be a mom, even though it robs you of many years, much ego, and looking pretty! I needed those years with my daughter, and yes, they grounded me a lot. I’m back to music because I need it in my life. To walk away from my gift brought a lot of dark problems. My “voice” is a conduit to my subconscious and that gift is a responsibility not to be taken lightly. Without being in contact with my SELF, music, other musicians and audiences, I withdrew to an atrophied place.

CG: Speaking of contacting yourself, as an artist you have taken us on so many journeys via your music. Where would you like fans to go when they’re listening to “Ithaca?”

PC: I find I’m inspired by the truly autobiographical writers like John Lennon and Joni Mitchell, who were both fearless in putting their minds, hearts, and souls into their work. They were both so courageous. As are Dolly Parton and Neil Young. My songs are just encapsulations of this life I’m living. I’m trying hard to be the best person I can be. I hope that wherever I am on my “journey,” I’ll be relevant to my audience and they’ll want to walk with me.

CG: As you begin a new journey with “Ithaca,” it should take you to some interesting places. Do you enjoy touring?

PC: Let’s be honest, do I enjoy flying every day, shlepping suitcases around to a different city again and again? Of course it’s hard. I am a nester. I love my home. I miss my daughter and my partner, his kids and my home. The logistics of moving a troubadour from town-to-town stinks. It’s that magic time on stage: riding-the-light-fantastic, tripping with the audience-energy, making healing-love (am I a hippie or what?!), bringing tears, elevating, elevating, elevating. That’s what makes it all worthwhile.

CG: What kind of insight has being a parent and growing older given to you and your music?

PC: Suddenly I have to be an authority. A tigress to protect my kid. That gives me some backbone I didn’t have before. I also am not the center of the Universe anymore! And that is a good thing!

CG: How does your daughter feel about your career?

PC: She is very annoyed by my singing. She says, “Mommy, STOP singing!” But I think she knows it’s special, deep down.

CG: When “I Don’t Want to Wait” became the theme to Dawson’s Creek, did you know how iconic that series or the song would be?

PC: I don’t think anyone knew how successful Dawson’s Creek would be. It eclipsed my career and my name.

CG: With such a massive record attributed to your name, is there ever pressure to create another “hit?”

PC: Probably, but it comes mostly from myself.

CG: You’ve played many instruments on your records and you were also nominated for a Grammy for “Producer of the Year.” Do you find the production side more interesting or challenging?

PC: Over time, I’ve come to realize I have a lot of the production in my head as I write and live with the songs. Producing the work feels as if I’m punctuating my prose. I enjoy that deeply musical side of the work. I’m able to fully see it through by being “producer.” I suppose I’m a bit of an obstinate purist, and I want to be sure the songs are represented the way I feel them in my heart and mind.

CG: Are there any musicians or artists that you find interesting right now? As far as collaborations, anyone you’d like to work with?

PC: I appreciate Ray LaMontagne. I’m so glad he keeps his music sparse, soulful and organic. The music is made up of real musicians who play real instruments and his voice is whispery, soulful. Would love to hear about some more fantastic, unique new writers. I do love certain voices: I think Kelly Clarkson’s voice is wonderful. Every time I hear it I lean in. Also I’m drawn to Leona Lewis’ voice. And Amy Lee’s voice is fricking fantastic.

I very much want to make a record with Emmy Lou. I love her musically and personally. There is something knowing and warm in her soul that I crave to be around again. Also, to sing again with Shawn Colvin. Amy Lee. And I would just like to give Annie Lennox a hug.

CG: Some of your songs have been incredibly political. What are your feelings on the current state of the world?

PC: The world makes me sad. A lot. Yet I read the newspaper almost daily. I like theNew York Times and the Financial Times. There is too much to be said here. I needed to make my own “What’s Goin’ On” social/spiritual attempt in “Amen.” Of course, it was a flop! But I was true to myself, and in hindsight I think it’s a special work. My focus is global climate change, empowering women, animals, elevating environmental respect and cleanliness. Ghandi said (to paraphrase) that to understand the consciousness of a culture, look at how they treat their animals.

CG: Are there any songs or albums that remain with you, or never left you as your life evolved?

PC: Of course. “Plastic Ono Band,” John Lennon. “Blue,” Joni Mitchell. Early Dolly work (with “Jolene” and “The Bargain Store,”) which was banned by radio, by the way. Radio at the time deemed it too risque; too sexual. I also adore Annie Lennox’s “Diva,” Bob Marley’s “Rastaman Vibration,” Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Goin’ On,” Neil Young’s “Harvest Moon,” Miles Davis’ “Kind Of Blue,” Kate Bush’s “Hounds Of Love,” and Peter Gabriel’s “So.”

CG: What inspires you?

PC: I think hardship, pain in the arse that it is, inspires greatness. Great music comes out of the blues, oppression, divorce, heartbreak, mid-life crises. By nature of being an overly sensitive introvert with a propensity toward anxiety and depression, contemplation of life is a difficult nut. Honestly, it’s the day to day – getting through it – that inspires me to be better in my life, and therefore, in my writing (the path of Truth).

CG: What are some of your other passions?

PC: Well, I try to be a loving mom; a consistent, boundaried parent with follow-through! It’s hard, but so rewarding. I have always gravitated toward plants. I love to garden. I also love nesting; creating a beautiful home. I adore animals, and have rescued many. I love the NY Times crossword puzzle, too. I’m also a supporter of World Wildlife Fund, Environmental Action and The National Wildlife Federation. I am very interested in the human race morphing into better stewards of our precious planet. To my mind, that starts with oneself; vegetarianism, smaller carbon footprint, empathy, positive action in one’s community, then supporting women, children, and animals.

CG: You’ve accomplished so much in your life. Do you still set goals or push yourself to achieve things?

PC: I certainly do. I don’t sit around contemplating how great my accomplishments are! I write a ‘do list’ probably every day, and work hard every day (I am the same waitress from age 14 and former class president, after all!) I am not afraid to scrub a floor or dig a ditch. To me, being on television is harder than any of that. But I am willing to face that fear and loathing again for the love of music. And I have other private personal goals, too.

Look out for Paula Cole’s “Ithaca” on September 21st, and be sure to pick up any of her wonderful past releases if you have not. For more information on Paula, such as tour dates and other media, please visit her website at www.paulacole.com.