The Grammy-winning singer-songwriter’s performance will feature songs from her new album American Quilt.
Over the past 25 years, Paula Cole’s impact on music and culture has been palpable, whether through her own music or her impact on the sound of others. In May, the Grammy-winning artist added to that legacy with American Quilt, an immensely moving journey through the patchwork of American history. Embellished with soulful sounds and rhythmic riffs, American quilt pays homage to the pulse of American music by presenting interpretations of songs rich in history such as “Wayfaring Stranger” by Johnny Cash, “Nobody Knows You” by Eric Clapton and “What A Wonderful World” by Louis Armstrong. Ahead of his touring opening performance at Cain Park this Saturday (doors open at 7 p.m.), Cole shares the inspiration behind his eleventh studio album.
Cleveland Magazine: Why did you choose to start your tour in Cleveland?
Paula Cole: It was the moment, but it seems so fatal. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is here. The lyrics “Cleveland” crept into the only song I wrote for my new album. So it’s on my mind. It’s just interesting that it all landed cosmically like this. Cleveland has a lot of heart. I have always liked people. It’s a hard work ethic, and yet a real open-mindedness.
CM: After decades of consistently producing and playing music, what motivates you to continue and evolve your sound?
computer : The muse is alive and I am very prolific at the moment. I am not someone who took a beating and then moved on to a comfortable life. If anything, the punches gave me a chip on my shoulder to show that I’m not just the punches. I feel like a legacy artist and these successes were kind of an anomaly. I love music and am still working to become a better pianist and writer. I basically love music at the altar. I meditate on my death and think I want to leave a beautiful catalog behind me.
CM: Why do you think your impact on music and culture in the 1990s still resonates today?
computer : It’s so gratifying to see young artists discover me or cover my songs. It is the most beautiful of compliments. I always thought time would tell. I had a great influence when my star was shining brightly at the time when I had the hits. But, I didn’t feel well and left the company for a while. I wanted to have my daughter and welcome a quieter time while building more catalog and thinking long and hard. I’m not an extrovert and it was difficult for me to be in the spotlight. I have not always been well received. Some of the things that people find out now and love so much, like my album Amen, have been really castigated. Things are not always well received at the time, then time shows what music really is and who the artist really is. So, I just have faith in that. I am so touched that people appreciate it. In a way, I feel more connected to the younger ones. I always pushed the boundaries as a feminist and my sounds were misinterpreted. For example, “Where have all the cowboys gone?” – people thought it was a call for conservatism, when it was really a feminist and ironic message.
CM: What was the inspiration behind American quilt?
computer : I wanted people to appreciate my roots and the music that informed me. I wanted to pay tribute to the masters who taught me, from Bessie Smith to John Coltrane, from Emmylou Harris to Johnny Cash. Also, to break down gender barriers because we tend to over classify music. It’s based on money, demographics, and advertisers. They categorize and separate people on radio stations or platforms. Too often it’s based on race, age or gender. When really, all American music is quite similar. Some could come from the mountains, some could come from the cities and some could be 200 years old. I think it’s really similar and we’re just this beautiful, diverse patchwork. American quilt is symbolic for breaking genders and unifying the human family. He recognizes the beautiful music that has come from the dark underbelly of American history. That’s why I wrote about Cleveland because it was a city where the Underground Railroad ended. It is very deep.