The singer/songwriter tells us about the music biz, Dawson’s Creek and learning how to polka.
Photo Credit: Fabrizio Ferri
Grammy-winner and seven-time nominee Paula Cole, 44, was born and raised in Rockport. After attending Rockport High School, she studied jazz vocals and improvisation on a scholarship at Berklee College of Music. Her single “Where Have All the Cowboys Gone” was a Billboard Hot 100 hit in 1997, and in 1998, the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences named her best new artist. Her single “I Don’t Want to Wait” became the theme song of the popular TV series Dawson’s Creek. In the past 18 years, she’s released six solo albums, selling approximately three million copies, and she’s collaborated with artists ranging from Peter Gabriel to Dolly Parton. She currently teaches, gives clinics and continues to perform extensively, as well as participate in projects like the student-penned Back to the Garden: The Artistry of Joni Mitchell at Berklee. She lives with her daughter in Rockport.
So where have all the cowboys gone?
You’ve got to be kidding me. I can’t believe I’m 44, and you’re asking me that question. I haven’t been asked that question since the late ’90s, and I went into hiding because I was traumatized. [Laughs.] It’s rhetorical!
A few. I play piano, and I sing well, but the rest I play badly. I’m not a natural guitar player. My left hand just lacks the motor skill. I have rhythm and harmony, so I can make things work. I play clarinet, but it’s very rudimentary.
Yup. I started out as a jazz singer in Boston.
[Laughs.] Not off the cuff. But I have rhythm, so I can speak in rhythm with a nice feel. I did a little bit on my Amen album.
My dad played bass in a polka band that was, ironically, successful, which is unheard of. It was called Johnny Prytko and the Connecticut Hi-Tones. They had albums, and I grew up seeing my dad on album covers, and they played gigs all over. He played every instrument. He’s way more musical than I am.
Yeah. I’d stand on my dad’s shoes as a kid, and he’d dance me around the kitchen, teaching me how to polka.
Because I didn’t want to be singing other people’s songs. I was in my early 20s, at the beginning of my warrior path, and I needed to sing my truth. I didn’t want to sing about “a woman’s born to weep and fret and tend her oven.” I didn’t want to be pigeonholed. And maybe that was a mistake. But I do feel that I will make a jazz album someday.
Both. It helped because it’s a song for a generation, and it bumped it up to a level that I never imagined. Therefore, the song is what people know. They don’t know me. But I retreated from marketing and branding. That whole big shiny career was ill-fitting for an introvert like myself.
In “I Don’t Want to Wait,” the lyric “seeing the love in every eye.” I was very influenced by Bob Marley in my writing, and I think that’s where that comes from. I love that phrase.
I’m always late to the party in discovering new talent. I’m a mother, and I’m busy, and I’m a bit hermetic. But I love Amy Lee, and I think she’s going somewhere. There’s a very talented singer there. And I just recently discovered Lucy Kaplansky. She has a Ph.D. in clinical psychology. She’s a mom, like me. She’s highly intelligent, and I think her writing is really special.
Joni Mitchell, Lucy Kaplansky, early Nat King Cole, a lot of jazz. It’s all over the place.
Oh, brutal. I’ll have to say Billie, because she’s so inside the lyric it becomes poetic. I feel Sarah is thinking more about the notes, and Billie lives inside the sadness.
One of those dreams came true. Dolly Parton and I were in the studio together. It would be really cool to write a song with Keith Richards.
That’s a can of worms. It was brilliant at first. Then it became Sarah [McLachlan]’s vehicle. I liked the audiences and the donations we made to women’s organizations. There was a very positive energy.
It’s easy to say yes, but you could also say it’s ageist. I think the fact is that it’s just really damn hard. It’s hard for men, too.
It makes a good bookend, so it’s in the library, kind of out of the way. It’s not a big deal.
Full of wisdom and sorrow and joy.
It was pretty cool to have Annie Lennox and Herbie Hancock do “Hush, Hush, Hush.” They’re both idols of mine.
That’s yin and yang. I need both. Recording is very internal and private. Going out to perform is so electrifying. I can’t live without both.
I let it close. I was starting to lose the ability to scrunch my nose up and do the Bewitched thing, so the ring had