There are about 5 female artists in my world that I refer to by first name. Sarah (McLachlan), Shawn (Colvin), Patty (Griffin), Jonatha (Brooke) and PAULA. My very first interview of all time just happens to be with one of my favorite artists of all time. This wasn’t nerve-wracking at all. [insert anxiety] My love of Paula Cole began just freshly out of high school in 1994. I saw her album “Harbinger” at a music store, looked at the song titles, and bought it with my babysitting money. I fell in love at first listen. The vocals, the production, the SONGS. The lyrics were meaningful and artistic and tugged on my 18-year-old heart.
Jump ahead to Fall 1994, when I began Berklee College of Music. I joined a vocal ensemble called Viridian, and our director (Gates Thomas!) had an arrangement of Paula’s song, “The Ladder”, in our repertoire. And, he wanted ME to sing lead. (!!!) I was so honored, thrilled and perfectionist about it. I studied Paula’s vocal, tried to replicate every little detail and just be perfect about it. I learned so much from listening to her sing. When Paula’s album, This Fire came out with hits including “Where Have All The Cowboys Gone”, “I Don’t Wanna Wait”, and “Me” (my personal favorite), I finally got to see her sing live. Jaw-to-the-floor amazement. She did all of this stuff LIVE, too. I remember watching the Grammys the year that she took home the award for Best New Artist, and was nominated for *7* in total. Such a badass.
I have followed Paula’s career for a while now, and I am so proud to now call her a colleague at Berklee College of Music, where she also teaches in the Voice Department. In fact, one of the first times that I got to ‘hang out’ with Paula was during some Voice Department audition-thingy a few years ago. We were paired up as an audition team, and I revealed to her that I was about 8 weeks pregnant. She put her hand on my belly and brought me such great mama energy. She is such a delight to pass in the hallways, always radiating sweetness.
It seems very fitting to have Paula as my first Singermommy interview. She is the epitome of a SingerMommy. Paula continues to inspire me as a teacher, an artist, and now a mom.
Kristin Cifelli: How long have you been a mommy and how many children do you have?(Feel free to gush about your child/children here)
Paula Cole: My daughter Sky is 14 years old. I also have a fourteen year old stepson (Faolán) and an eighteen year old stepdaughter (Aoife). I've been in Faolán's and Aoife's lives for nearly ten years now.
KC: How would you describe the way that it felt to sing BEFORE you became a mother?
PC: Singing has always felt very, very natural. It helps to stay in condition, of course - to still be nimble with your mini-athletic, laryngeal self. But when you become a mother it's not possible to live your life the way it was once lived. You become #2. And for me, that was necessary and great.
KC: How did you feel about singing while you were pregnant? Were there any side effects of pregnancy that made it easier or more difficult to sing?
PC: Well, Sky was what is called a Frank's breech. Her head was up by my heart. I think she had no intention of coming out. She was ten days overdue and her hair was long and her fingertips wrinkled from being in the womb so long. She loved being close, and has been reluctant to transition at nearly every subsequent life stage - she didn't want to stop breast-feeding, didn't want to leave the stroller, etc....very attached. So, because of her breech position, my rib cage was expanded, I was very swollen, I literally couldn't turn to the side. I don't remember singing very much at the end like that! Also I was nauseous until five months and that curtailed personal comfort, let alone singing. From five months to nine months, I had a good stretch and actually recorded the basics for an album with Hugh Padgham in Los Angeles.
KC: Did you feel that you were in a postpartum "baby bubble" before you were able to start singing again, and, if so, how did you approach getting your voice back into shape?
PC: My bubble lasted a very long time. I took many years off from my career. I needed to be with Sky. She developed severe asthma from age 15 months to approximately 5 years old, and I simply had to be vigilant through that period. There was just no way I could go about my former life. Seven years after her birth, when I finally began making motions to record and perform, I simply started vocalizing again. Every day. I would pace around the living room and sing. Sometimes I would stand in the corner of a room in order to hear my voice being projected back to me, the vectors bouncing from the walls. My voice was more fragile from lack of use and I needed to patiently build the strength back. Honestly, a post-child career will be and should be different. My life is so different now. It is so much better. Looking back to my pre-Sky years, it seems selfish and empty and ego-driven. Largely the change is spiritual and psychological. My vocal condition mattered little to me honestly: I believed it would come back and it did, with perseverance. My second adulthood is more about acceptance, patience, love. I love and need my personal life, my family. They come first. Career second.
KC: Did you have a regular vocal workout routine before becoming a mama and if so, can you tell me about that pre-mommy-hood vocal regimen? How has having a baby/child affected your singing routine?
PC: Mostly I drink copious amounts of water. I try to limit speaking. I notice how talking deteriorates my voice a lot, especially now in my 40's. I've become a morning person, for better or worse because of my kids' school schedules. It is difficult staying out late for concerts then coming home and waking early for school. But I do this. I try to find balance between the world of family and career and sometimes that means lack of sleep.
KC: How has having a baby/child affected your singing, physically and emotionally? In what ways, if any, do you think it has affected your career?"
PC: There are few role models for me; women who have long, successful careers in the music business, long, successful marriages, and kids. It is so very difficult to maintain a touring career and fanbase when you need to be focused on mothering. Finding the balance between the two worlds is the key. I struggle with it constantly.
KC: How has having a child affected your songwriting in both time management and emotional content?
PC: I am less prolific a writer. But when I do write, the content is rich and deep. I am living the experiences that inform good work. It's hard on kids to share their parents with the world, with their parents' obsession for music, or worse, leaving for gigs. Sky has needed me over these years and I'm proud I've given her a lot of my time throughout her childhood. I can tour more again in the future, should I need, once the kids leave the nest. I'd like to think that there will still be a small but loyal fanbase for me. I want success for both my family and career.