With a balanced life, Cole is ready to return to the spotlight

By Moira E. McLaughlin
Washington Post / October 16, 2009

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Paula Cole is not just a singer known for the “Dawson’s Creek’’ theme song, “I Don’t Want to Wait,’’ or her 1997 Grammy-nominated tune, “Where Have All the Cowboys Gone.’’

She is a class mom, a nature lover, still a friend to her schoolmates, and a woman with a few regrets.

“It’s healthy to do a few different things and be a little more well-rounded,’’ Cole says from her hometown in Rockport, where she returned with her daughter after a divorce.

That’s the way she feels now, but in the 1990s, when her career was taking off, music was who she was.

“When I was young,’’ she says, “I was really willing to have [my career] be 24-7.’’

Cole, 41, sang before she could talk. A self-described “high achiever with a touch of depression,’’ she attended the Berklee College of Music. After earning a degree in jazz singing and improvisation, she was offered a record deal with a jazz label but turned it down because she didn’t want to be confined to one genre. (She has performed with jazz trumpeter Chris Botti since and hopes to make a jazz album.)

In 1993, Peter Gabriel left a message on her answering machine. Sinead O’Connor, his backup singer, had left his Secret World Tour. Did Cole want to fill in? Cole jumped on a plane to Germany, had one rehearsal and was thrown in front of a crowd of 60,000. That was her first big tour.

“I was terrified,’’ she said, but “ready for it.’’

Cole released her first album, “Harbinger,’’ in 1994; “This Fire,’’ her breakout album, in 1996, showcased her emotive, agile, and strong soprano. In 1998, she received seven Grammy nominations, and the teen drama “Dawson’s Creek’’ became a hit, along with her song. Her album “Amen’’ followed in 1999.

But after touring and arriving home to an empty New York apartment, estranged from family and friends, Cole decided to reassess her life.

“I was frankly tired of living on the road in a bus with a bunch of guys,’’ she says. “I needed a break just to explore another aspect of my psyche. I was over-specialized and headed for a midlife crisis.’’

Cole now calls what she subsequently did “reactive’’: She became a wife and mother. Her daughter, Sky, now 7, was born with severe asthma, requiring Cole’s full attention.

“I think I’m more of a shade-loving plant by nature,’’ she says. “Being in the spotlight was an uncomfortable place for me, for starters.’’

But she returned to her fans in 2007 with the release of “Courage.’’ Music, she says, was “too much of a darn calling and the reason why I’m here.’’

Next summer Cole hopes to release “Ithaca,’’ which she says “represents that inner fortitude and the journey I’ve been on.’’

She knows that a new album will require promoting, touring, and being away from her partner and daughter, the school drop-offs and coffee with girlfriends. But she also knows that she “needs to be in music. That’s what I’m meant to do.’’

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