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Paula Cole talks Lilith Fair, Lady Gaga and her long road back to the spotlight




It seems pretty premature to declare the death of the female singer-songwriter.

But when you look back at the wealth of talented girls with guitars who comprised the first Lilith Fair tour in 1997 — Sarah McLachlan, Sheryl Crow, Fiona Apple, Tracy Chapman, Jewel, Emmylou Harris — you do have to wonder when we’ll see another female folk-pop artist achieve that kind of success. (Is KT Tunstall there yet? Feist? Regina Spektor?)

“I think it’s harder now than it was for my generation, and it was harder for my generation for the Boomers,” said Paula Cole, a veteran of that first Lilith Fair tour. “People have become less discriminating listeners, which is tragic, really. There’s a lot of emperor’s new clothes out there, whether they’re female or male solo acts. That bothers me. It’s hard to break through, and it’s like climbing Mount Everest if you actually do.”

Cole made a name for herself touring with Peter Gabriel in the early ’90s, but it wasn’t until her 1996 album This Fire that she became a true star. Thanks to the blockbuster success of singles Where Have All the Cowboys Gone? and I Don’t Want to Wait, Cole was nominated for seven Grammys in 1998, even winning Best New Artist over Puff Daddy, Erykah Badu, Fiona Apple and Hanson.

But then, in 1999, she disappeared. She entered a bad marriage (“A mistake,” she says); had a daughter, Sky, who suffers from severe asthma; and retired from public view. “There were long stretches where the muse was quiet,” she says now.

But in 2007, she released Courage, her first new album in eight years. And on Friday, Cole returns to Florida for the first time in a decade for a show at the Capitol Theatre in Clearwater. Tickets are $31; go here for details.

Calling from her home in Rockport, Mass., Cole reminisced on Lilith Fair and sized up the state of the modern female artist.

Was there a moment where you decided, 'I have to get out of the industry?’

I wrestle with that moment still, to be perfectly honest, but yeah, for sure. I was this highly specialized, driven person, living out on the road for years in a tour bus or van, usually with guys, always being far away from family, and not having much of a personal life. It’s like I was this autistic person in the world, and all I could do was music. I really wanted to have a successful relationship with someone. I wanted a child. I wanted to be a mother. I want to explore other aspects of my psyche. And that’s healthy, but lo and behold, of course your career drifts away from you, and I’m eating humble pie now as I try to work again. Thank god I still have a record company, and some people that come to see me. (laughs). I’m so much more grateful. I’m so much a nicer person now than I was when I was burnt out at the end of that stint.

I read that Lilith Fair is supposedly coming back in 2010. Have you been asked to be a part of it?

Well, I’d love to be, and I hope to be. It would be so fun and such an honor. It’s been discussed a little, but I don’t want to count my chickens before they hatch.

What would a Lilith Fair tour look like in 2010?

If I were the boss? I think Katy Perry is great. She’s smart, and kind of cocky, which I like about her. I think she’s an interesting writer; some of the things she weaves into her little pop ditties are fun. I like Kelly Clarkson, although she sells out arenas, and she probably wouldn’t be part of Lilith. I would love Karen O and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, too. Those are girl’s girls — they’re strong and smart talented, with really good voices and opinions. They’re not going to be little pop snow bunnies. They’ve got spine.

Another female artist who’s getting a lot of press these days is Lady Gaga. Are you a fan?

My daughter liked Just Dance, and she was 7 at the time. (laughs) I think it’s fun music. It plays an important need in society, to let loose steam. It won’t stand the test of time; I’d be surprised (if it does), and if she does, then god bless her. We need some fluff and some cake, and something interesting to look at.

When you won Best New Artist at the Grammys, it was during a stretch when seven straight solo female artists won that award. Why do the Grammys love young, solo female artists so much?

I don’t know. Maybe because they aren’t winning in the other categories. (laughs)

Do you pay attention to the Best New Artist Grammy whenever it’s unveiled?

No! I’m not watching television at all these days. I’m lucky I heard about the Kanye West and Taylor Swift moment.

Do you want to weigh in on that fiasco? Do you feel like Paula Cole needs to get involved in that?

Oh, no! I like doing the crossword puzzle in the New York Times, not watching E! on TV.

It seems like these days, it’s a little tougher to be an introvert, and be in the public eye. There’s so much pressure to put yourself out there in order to succeed in pop music.

Yes. And if that’s what pop music is — a land of extroverts of little talent — then that’s not my world.  I mean, I’m not going to be on a (radio) station next to Lady Gaga. I’m just not. So I’m writing more highly personalized and intellectual music, and I think that’s good. It might take longer to find me, but I think that niche is perhaps underserved, so I’m going to serve that.

Finally, I can’t even believe I’m going to ask this, but ... did you ever find your John Wayne?

(laughs) Well, you know I’m being satirical with that. There was some true longing, of course, and then there’s some satire. But you know, my favorite people have a nice comfortable blend of anima and animus, to use Jungian tems — the inner feminime energy and the inner masculine energy. I find I like men who have some healthy anima to them and I like women who have some healthy animus to them . I like women who can throw a ball and laugh loud and have some spine, and I like men who don’t mind cooking dinner. So, have I found a John Wayne? No, not some silly macho archetype. But I have found a most beautiful someone.

-- Jay Cridlin, tbt*.

[Last modified: Wednesday, July 28, 2010 3:13pm]


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