As Paula Cole recounts the history of her smash sophomore album “This Fire,” you can feel the overwhelming emotion in her voice when she speaks.
“‘[Where Have All the Cowboys Gone?]’ felt like a hit, it just did ... and all of a sudden the stars just aligned,” she says walking through how the album came together and how the sudden fame almost tore her apart. “[But] it was the beginning of the end in a way. It happened too fast. To lose one’s anonymity is very bizarre.”
Now 20 years later Cole opens up to amNew York on the anniversary of its release, sharing the joys, pains and aftermath behind one of the most successful feminist albums in rock ’n’ roll history.
What experiences did you bring into the studio that inspired you to make “This Fire”?
I was living in New York City, it was the mid-’90s and we were still in the era of big labels. I’d had some critical success with my first album, “Harbinger,” [but] I made a false start to “This Fire” and it wasn’t going well. So I pulled the plug and had to go to my new label at Warner Bros and say, “Can we shelve this $100,000 we spent and will you let me produce it going forward?” It was uncommon at the time — young female artists were almost always produced by older men — but I knew what I wanted and didn’t need the middle man. I went back in and we made “This Fire” very quickly. It was a lot of live-takes and it was really organic.
Walk me through Grammy night and the moment you won for Best New Artist.
Seven Grammy nominations was an acknowledgement of the artistry of the album, [but] I think the most satisfying one was the Best Producer nomination. I was the first woman not in collaboration to ever be nominated and that was shocking. I’m up there as a feminist with a little bit of a [explective]-you attitude. The Grammy itself doesn’t matter, is the conclusion I came to.
You’ve been touring behind the album all summer long. What was the impetus behind doing the tour? Any memorable moments?
I started this because fans were asking me to do this. There were songs I don’t even play anymore from the album that I had to re-learn [laughs]. It’s fun to visit them again. I can really feel my 20-something- year-old self in them. It’s exhausting [laughs]. What’s really cool is those mothers are bringing their daughters and those husbands are bringing their second wives.