Twenty years ago, singer Paula Cole released her second album, “This Fire” (Warner Bros.) It was the follow-up to her 1994 debut “Harbinger” (Imago Records).
She produced it herself and it’s home to the hit songs “I Don’t Want to Wait” and “Where Have All the Cowboys Gone?”
The album was recorded over a two-week period at The Magic Shop recording studio in New York City and mastered in Portland by Bob Ludwig at Gateway Mastering.
Guests include Peter Gabriel on the song “Hush, Hush, Hush,” as well as Gabriel’s long-time bass player, Tony Levin, and guitarist Greg Leisz who has worked with David Bowie.
Drummer Jay Bellerose is a native Mainer who has played with Meshelle Ndegeocello, Patty Griffin, John Mellencamp and K.D. Lang.
Cole received an incredible seven Grammy nominations for “This Fire,” including album of the year, best pop album, record of the year, best female pop vocal performance, producer of the year and best new artist. She took home one, for best new artist, and that Grammy resides on a bookshelf in her Massachusetts home.
At her Sunday night show at Vinegar Hill Music Theater in Arundel, Cole will perform “This Fire” in its entirety, along with other songs from her catalog. Her backing band will be drummer Bellerose and electric and stand-up bass player and guitarist Chris Bruce.
In a phone conversation from her home, Cole talked about the record and what the spotlight felt like back then.
What’s it like playing all of “This Fire” all these years later?
It’s exhausting. Truly, I was rebellious in my 20s, and it’s young, powerful music and it’s fantastic. It’s really quite a rush. We did this in New York City on May 1st. That night was so electric that I went and listened to the board tape afterwards, and it was so good that I’ve made it into a live album with the exception of a few songs. It will be a memento, in a way, of the 20th anniversary concert.
Can you talk about “Where Have All the Cowboys Gone?”
A sophomore effort is a precarious time in an artist’s career. I knew that I needed to make a strong showing if I wanted to have any kind of lasting career. I appreciated a pop gem so I was thinking, what do I have that could help spread wings? What could be commercial? I thought about this song that had been totally overlooked the first time around called, “Where Have All the Cowboys Gone?” It was on a demo tape that I had given to the company but nobody paid any attention to it. It was demoed as a rumba, and it was really quirky and weird but I thought, there’s something special in that song. I think I just need to change the production of it. I need to give it a beat that’s much more accessible to people. So I re-demoed it in my home studio and I sampled the intro to “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (Reprise)” when Paul McCartney counts off Ringo, “One, two, three, four.” So I looped that and I put my “Where Have All the Cowboys Gone?” over Ringo. It’s the same song, but it’s a different beat. So that’s what electrified “Where Have All the Cowboys Gone?” And you need to stay true to yourself and the little voice inside of yourself that tells you things like, “That’s a good song. I know everyone is overlooking it, but that’s a good song.” Then everyone was very much behind that song, and I knew going in that I had to make a go of that song. There was so much focus on the track that we all knew that it was going to be the first single and knew it even when I was cutting it. So I knew that it had to be special. We all knew it was going to be a hit. It just felt like it.
Do you remember when the song started catching fire and the whole country was singing it? What did that feel like?
Incredulity, bottom-of-my-heart gratitude, shock, and then it’s coupled with increasing loss of anonymity, working so much that you don’t know if you’re voice is gonna last through the next gig.
You were based in New York City at the time right?
Yes. I was there, but I was not there, because I was traveling constantly. When you’re having a moment like that you’re busy from the moment you wake up until late at night, and you’re using your voice constantly. I know why Adele got nodes. You’re either talking in interviews constantly or you’re doing meet and greets or small radio performances, shows, then after-show interviews for different time zones. Then you’re usually driving through the night on a bus to the next market. It’s a lot of work and you have to be ready.
Now, can you talk about “I Don’t Wait to Wait?” It was the next single, and that went to No. 11 on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart and also made it to No. 1 on the Adult Top 40 chart. In 1998, it became the “Dawson’s Creek” theme song.
The thing about “I Don’t Want to Wait” is that it just continued on. It wasn’t flashy but it was a song that stayed on the charts. And the album, too, it stayed on the charts for about two years. “Dawson’s Creek” happened and it was so much huger than my song, and it was so much huger than me. It did kind of take over, and that then overlapped with my retreating from the music business for seven and a half years to take care of my daughter. Then “Dawson’s Creek” continued to be so big, and I had a lot of thoughts and feeling around that because it was so big that it kind of usurped me and my career, and people just knew the song for being the theme song, and this wasn’t the day and age where it was hip. Now, it’s hip if you’ve got your song to “Orange is the New Black” or whatever. But then, I took so much (expletive) for it. And, yet, it was a good thing. That “Dawson’s Creek” placement allowed me to take care of my severely asthmatic daughter.
What was your reaction when you learned that you had been nominated for, not one, but seven Grammys?
I had never watched the Grammys until I was in them. That announcement was unreal. I remember I was wearing my grandmother’s alpaca poncho. I wasn’t show business. I had my hair down long, and I was wearing a very late ’60s, early ’70s poncho and then, one after another, I’m on the list, and I really couldn’t comprehend it, and, honestly, I didn’t comprehend it, because I had never paid attention to the Grammys like that before. I didn’t know how rare that is. But what really blew me away is afterwards when someone said, “Do you realize that you’re the first solo woman to be nominated in the best producer category?” – and I was gob-smacked. That’s when I realized, no wonder it’s so hard, because there’s nobody else doing it, because this male landscape is so unaccustomed to that gender dynamic. That’s why it was so hard. So, I felt confirmed. But I think I was kind of clueless, honestly. I think I was clueless until even until after the Grammys ended, after I had been there performing with my hairy armpits not really understanding that would make waves. I wasn’t even prepared for the red carpet experience. That’s just not me. I’m a music geek and an introvert and someone who hadn’t paid attention to these flashy shows. I know that sounds incredible.
Aretha Franklin was one of the presenters of your best new artist Grammy. Was that the one time you were able to be that close to her or have there been other times?
I have not had other times. I so wish I did. It was so beautiful. I didn’t get to express to her how influential she’s been to me. Her “Gold” album and her “Lady Soul” album, I have sung to countless times. I started off horrifically unable to reach notes. She was my greatest vocal teacher. I adore her.
Do you have a favorite song on “This Fire?
If I had to choose one it’s probably “Hush, Hush, Hush.” My favorites tend to be the ballads on every album. I think that my ballads are my most niche and special thing that I do. But those creative places that go into “Mississippi” or “Tiger,” they’re so unique, and I’m proud of them. “This Fire” was my coming-of-age record. I had to step away from the business as it was, and I had to stand up for the little voice inside that said, “I want to produce this album myself. I want it to sound like this, and I want it to be more organic.” In making a coming-of-age record, I feel like it became a lot of other people’s coming-of-age album, too.
WHEN: 8 p.m. Sunday, July 24
WHERE: Vinegar Hill Music Theatre, 53 Old Post Road, Arundel
HOW MUCH: $35, $40
TICKETS & INFO: vinegerhillmusic.com
And here’s Aimsel’s favorite song from Cole’s “This Fire” album