Paula ColeThe great American author Thomas Wolfe famously declared you can't go home again, but don't tell that to Paula Cole. After years of rebelling against her Rockport, Mass., childhood and everything it represented, the singer-songwriter moved back to her hometown in 2008.

"The ego dreams of the teenager and the 20-year-old want you to go far afield and conquer the world. I rejected my hometown," Cole tells PopEater. "And the joke's on me as I'm moving back to my hometown and embracing and accepting this beautiful family that has patiently endured my crotchetiness."

These days, Cole laughs readily, but for years, humor did not come easily to her. Though it seemed as if the Berklee College of Music grad led a charmed life, the reality was different. Her second album, 1996's 'This Fire,' garnered her seven Grammy nominations, including Album of the Year and a win for Best New Artist. It also catapulted her to stardom on the back of such hits as 'Where Have All the Cowboys Gone' and 'I Don't Want to Wait.' But fame didn't fit the introvert well and after seven years of relentless recording and touring "with nothing to come home to," Cole made some "bad choices," including a debilitating marriage and the resulting divorce that took years to resolve. In 2001, after the birth of her daughter, Cole broke free from her musical shackles, focused on being a mom and even contemplated pursuing an MBA at U.C.L.A. Six years later, she re-entered the music world with 2007's jazzy 'Courage,' but saved her most confessional stories for 'Ithaca,' which is out now.

Her fifth studio album showcases not only her remarkably fluid voice but also her fearless approach to revealing her journey through divorce ('P.R.E.N.U.P.,' 'The Hard Way'), motherhood ('Somethin' I've Gotta Say') and, ultimately, learning to love again ('Sex,' '2 Lifetimes'). Cole recently spoke with PopEater about why she sometimes feels like driving her car into a Mack truck, her year of celibacy and the focus on her armpit hair.


'Ithaca,' like many of your albums, is extremely personal. Has anyone you wrote about ever told you they were hurt by your songs?

My mom and I endured several years of an uncomfortable relationship because I was then in my 20s and finally having the rebellion I'd suppressed because I was a repressed goody two shoes, a straight-A student [and] class president in high school. I went on to be a straight-A student at Berklee. When I started to taste some reciprocity from the career, I rebelled and started pushing into my parents hard and behaved badly. I tried my drugs and had my men and I guess I needed that, but I'm not proud of it. It's just when you delay your age-appropriate rebellion until you're in a larger arena, you can get beat up more badly.

Most people would be envious of your life and career. What do you mean when you say your career beat you up?


I have profound blessings. In the end, I will definitely be a glass-half-full person, but being a woman in the music business is still like climbing Mt. Everest. We've gone backwards again in women's rights. It's going to be constant and we can't get so discouraged. And trust me, I do. Sometimes I feel like driving into a Mack truck. Sometimes I really don't know what the point is and I feel terribly depressed and I do have issues with anxiety and depression, if that's not readily apparent [laughs]. Anybody who writes worth a damn has some of that, I think, because we're sensitive.

After turning your back on music, what made you decide to return?

Now I know I can wear a couple of hats and I believe in myself more to do that. A couple of years of having no gigs, no travel, no interaction with fellow musicians, not enough singing, it's like my heart was atrophying. Singing keeps my heart happy and I started to become very depressed. When I'm not singing, I'm literally not giving voice to my subconscious and then bad things start to happen in my life, like getting buried in a very bad marriage. Not singing is like turning your back on a God-given gift.

Looking back, you caught grief for incredibly silly reasons, like not shaving under your armpits. How do you feel about that now?

Now I can laugh about it and think it's hysterical, actually. I didn't have the spine or that self-happiness or a personal life to be strong enough to just laugh about it [then]. Jay Leno invited me back on his show and wanted us to have a laugh about it and I was absolutely indignant and hurt. I took myself so seriously that I couldn't do it. I just performed the rest of my shows in an all-black turtleneck, but now I laugh and think it's too bad I couldn't just let it go. Let it go, laugh, move on.

How are you going to explain the lyrics to 'Sex,' which talk about phone sex and "f--- me pumps" to your daughter when she's older?

She thinks I'm annoying when I just sing around the house. I don't think she's going to actually discover the deeper levels in my album tracks until who knows when. I had to change the "f--- me pumps" for Walmart. I changed it to "Walmart shoes" [laughs].

'Ithaca' takes the listener on a journey through a horrible breakup, your love for your daughter and, ultimately, to a place where you are able to love again. How hard was that for you?

I spent a year of celibacy and solitude that was very important to me. I'd always been in a relationship since I left home. I needed that time alone and living in New York City. I finally felt ready after a year. I see my parents after nearly 50 years [of marriage] and they are best friends. I really wanted that and I wanted that for my daughter so I just had to trust again. Otherwise, there's just no point.