Singer Paula Cole won a Grammy for Best New Artist back in 1998 and her songs “Where Have All the Cowboys Gone” and “I Don’t Want to Wait” were all over the charts. The latter was even the theme song for the TV show “Dawson’s Creek.”
Since then Cole, 45, has lived a quieter life and resides on Massachusetts’ North Shore with her daughter Sky, now 12. But what hasn’t changed is her passion for music.
After a several year hiatus Cole released “Courage” in 2007, “Ithaca” in 2010 and most recently “Raven” last April. The record was crowd-funded and released independently by Cole, who also produced it. It was mastered, like all of Cole’s records, by Portland’s Bob Ludwig at Gateway Mastering.
As for me, I’ve been a fan since I first heard her debut “Harbinger” in 1994. The reason Cole’s music has never fallen out of favor with me and with other fans is because she continues to have one of the most gorgeous voices you’ll ever hear and she writes songs that pack all sorts of emotional and heart-rending punches, often with her thundering piano as the backdrop and Ben Wittman’s very persuasive percussion. Guitarist Kevin Barry is also a staple of Cole’s records.
Cole will perform with Wittman and singer-songwriter Mark Erelli at the Stone Mountain Arts Center on Friday.
I caught up with Cole, who was in Colorado, via telephone.
Why is the album called “Raven”?
This is a really hard question to answer and I guess the right answer is I don’t know why. It just came out and it demanded to be called that. I relate to that lone wolf, raven imagery very much. The raven is a wolf bird; it’s an industrious, smart, dark bird. It’s a symbol of so much transformation and it’s just right. It just works for who I am, it’s very intuitive.
“Imaginary Man” is my current favorite “Raven” song. What’s the back-story?
I wrote that in 1991. I think I was in a kind of an alt-rock place in my life at that time. I was living in San Francisco and I was listening to more dark and intense rock. Emotionally it’s vague but it is like a longing for something that probably could never be had.
What about “Secretary”?
The album was done and sequenced and it felt to me that something was missing. When I went about making “Raven,” my producer’s mind was always thinking, “I want this to be like Emmylou Harris meets PJ Harvey” and there wasn’t enough of the dark rock side of things. It needed edge and so I wrote “Secretary” for that hole.
Tell me about “Red Corsette.” You mention the artist Frida Kahlo in it. Did it just fit in the song or are you also a fan of her work?
I wrote that song because my daughter Sky had to do a project on Frida and we were visiting my sister in the Bay Area. There was a painting at the the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, a quirky little painting, and she painted it of herself and it’s like her head is coming off of her body. I just got so heavily into Frida at the time that she crept up in my songwriting because she was kind of the first to lay it all out there; the gory womanness of it all; the pain, the blood.
Finally, I bow down to the song “Manitoba.” Tell me about it. Why is it called that?
It’s a beautiful word. It sounds native and it’s sonorous so it’s great for a song. It’s also just vast and cold and so that’s the metaphor; it’s pure metaphor. My mom rescued it from obsolescence. She lovingly kept my demos on cassette and when I was gathering songs for “Raven” she told me that she had some early demos so I listened to them and that one really compelled me.
Has your approach to songwriting changed over the years, and if so, how?
My songwriting has changed in a couple of ways. One, I am significantly less prolific due to multitasking and being a parent. But also I’m forced to be a morning person, so I find my highest level of productivity is after drop-off. The nitty-gritty of songwriting; I think I’m a little less wordy, I allow words to be spread out over longer periods of music. I also think I’m trying to add more dominant chords and seventh chords into my writing. I think maybe that’s a Beatles influence coming late. Lyrically, it’s still writing out my life, it’s still highly autographical. That’s no different, it’s been a constant.
Paula Cole. 8 p.m. Friday. Stone Mountain Arts Center. 695 Dugway Road, Brownfield. $45; stonemountainartscenter.com.
Aimsel Ponti can be contacted at 791-6455 or at: