Ebru Yildiz

Paula Cole On Metaphors, Motherhood, Revolutionizing the Nineties, & Her New Album ‘Lo’

From personal experience and recent memory, I can say that Paula Cole puts on one of the most honest, memorable, and classy concerts you could ever see. The way she played piano at National Sawdust earlier this year with the utmost professional of a backing band illustrated an artist oozing grace and comfort. Through-and-through, it was a magical evening. 

Paula Cole debuted on the singer-songwriter scene in the early nineties and would fairly quickly begin paving the way for women to come. She delivered the album Harbinger in 1994, and that was filled with great songs and personal tales, but it wasn’t until 1996’s This Fire that she broke through. It was the years of the Lilith Fair Festival where powerful women like Sarah McLachlan and Tori Amos held the torch for not only iconic females in the industry, but for music in general. Cole’s songs have weight to them, and tracks like “Where Have All The Cowboys Gone?” and “I Don’t Want To Wait” are iconic hits and pop culture treasures that stand the test of time. 

The Aquarian’s Robert Frezza sat down with the songstress to talk about the nineties, but also to get into an in-depth conversation about her new album, Lo. She spoke honestly about her career and how it all happened fast, as well as the art of love.

Paula Cole really does have such a legacy behind her, and with so much more to come, too.

You came up in this industry during such a revolutionary time for females and music in general. What was your favorite memory from that era?

One thing I really loved about back then and Lilith Fair was the audience. It felt like the spirit of Woodstock. It felt revolutionary and hopeful. It felt as though cultural zeitgeist was among us. The audiences felt electric in 1997, especially the very first year. That was fantastic. I also loved that every ticket sold donated a dollar to a local women’s shelter, so during the publicity of the same day as a concert, we would present these women’s shelters with checks that would represent their whole annual budget covered. There were a lot of tears and gratitude… that was profound. It was bigger than a festival categorized by our gender. It was something beautiful affecting the people of the community positively. 

You are out with a new album called Lo. Why wait 10 years to return to the studio to create original music? And how is this album different from your other works?

I needed time before I could release very personal music. It takes time to find your feelings.

I like to write autobiographically, and I had to get a couple cover albums off my chest and unleash my inner jazz singer. In regard to highly personal work, I needed to live life and it takes time. My children are growing up and I feel freer now. 

Did your children help inspire your music at any point?

Oh, for sure! They’re part of my life. Raising children takes a lot of self-sacrifice and requires your heart to expand. You become number two. I taught at the Brooklyn College of Music for 11 years as I had to be accountable and stable and stay in one place more. I wasn’t writing and touring as much as I could. It forces you to gather wisdom, and some soul, so that you are not so self-focused. Then, when it’s time, the wheel of life spins and it’s time to express your inner truth or music again. There’s a whole lot to say; I find that both men and women my age who are raising children that are growing up have a second adolescence and we become wiser again. 

What do you want your audiences to take away from your live experience?

I hope that the music and the performance touch their feelings. I love emotional work, and this is emotional. It’s highly grooving. If you’re a professional musician, you know about my musicians – they are the greats. When we are on stage, we cannot help to groove. I just love jamming with my band. It’s the art of feeling rather going right into the bullseye of feelings. I hope the audience finds their emotions and their moves while at my show. 

How was it working with producer Mike Piersante? You also had a song dedicated to one of your producers Mark Hutchins, who passed away.

Mark passed away before I wrote/recorded this album. We were friends in the nineties. I learned a lot of engineering and music from Mark. He passed away when he was 51. He should have had a brilliant career. I’m sad that didn’t happen. He was just an absolute diamond. I needed to sing about him just for my own sadness and to honor him. The song had to be a little funky and fun. I learned a lot from Mark. He was brilliant.

Mike Piersante is also brilliant. I was a producer on Lo and he was the engineer. He worked with T Bone Burnett. He has about 10 Grammys! What I love about Mike he would apply the same passion with a brand new artist as he would with Robert Plant and Alison Krauss. 

What song do you hold closely from the new album and why?

They are all really personal. I would say “Invisible Armor,” “Follow The Moon,” and “Wildflower.” 

Where do you get the motivation to prosper – especially through the years – and get yourself back in the studio?

That is my favorite thing to do: work on an album of originals. I always have metaphorical pots on the stovetop – like working on a musical. I am also producing a new artist named Eva James. I always have something going on or on the business side of things.

There is so much preparatory work that goes into the live aspect and the studio, but I feel like I am a wanderer on a life path, and I like looking through my life my lens and writing about it and making my art. I just hope I want to leave really good art behind. I want to leave behind love

Were there any hardships along the way in the music business especially in your early career?

I did have a lot of respect starting off with the first couple of albums; although I think it happened too quickly. I would have rather had less success and a stable, long plateau. I really wanted to leave the business and go on hiatus. You can’t control it. I wanted a career like PJ Harvey or Tori Amos with larger concert-going audiences and being invited to Coachella rather than have such enormous hits and being so associated with pop. I think I am much more left of center in my own mind. It made me feel a bit frustrated that it didn’t go that way more. You can’t control it; you go where there is energy.

The songs were ridiculously successful in the world. The songs even overshadowed my name. That was hard, especially being feminist when there was a lot of patriarchy in the business. It’s so much more blended and open now in music now. They didn’t want a very dark, introspective, socially, spiritually, and politically-oriented singer-songwriter who was a feminist at the time… so I left for a while and had a family. It must be an intuitive path, so you must pay attention to how you feel about it all. I guess there were challenges, but also brilliant things that happened. The songs are still so strong and just incredible. I don’t hear anything like “Where Have All The Cowboys Gone?” and “I Don’t Want To Wait” today. However, I am a whole artist with a whole catalog of songs.