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Interview: Jude Cole

Jude Cole photo
9 October 2021

Photo by Kiersten Friesen

There’s a lot of squeaking going on in the background when singer-songwriter Jude Cole calls from his home studio in Los Angeles: his new puppy is chewing a toy. By the end of the chat, Cole discovers that the dog has switched to chewing through a wire on an expensive piece of equipment, so he must hang up before more damage is done. In between, though, he talks of the two albums he’s released this year: Coup De Main, a collection of his original songs, and Coolerator, a covers album of ‘50s songs. These are his first new releases in 21 years, but before he went on hiatus, Cole had put out five critically acclaimed studio albums, starting with his 1987 self-titled debut. Here, he explains what he’s being doing during the past two decades – and what made him decide to return to recording and releasing albums.

It’s been 21 years since your last release – how did you know now was the right time to do so again?

JUDE COLE: I’ve been pretty busy for twenty years – I started managing [artists], and then that led back to writing a lot of songs with Jason Wade, who is the lead singer and the writer for Lifehouse. I managed and produced a lot of their records, and then co-wrote with them quite often. Then I managed others along the way. I still do manage Lifehouse, but I’m not looking for new clients. So with COVID and everything else, it’s just kind of like, “Maybe I’d like to focus on me again.”

Now you’ve released one album of original material and another of cover songs in the same year, which is unusual – how did you decide to do it that way?

JUDE COLE: I always write songs. I’ll write a lot, but it doesn’t make the record. But these, I felt, were worthy. I always ask myself the question, “Why am I writing the song?” If I can answer that question, then usually I like the song. And if I can’t, then generally, it doesn’t need to be said. The Coolerator [covers] record has been a project for over ten years; I’ve just been nudging it along every step of the way whenever I have the time. I’m an artist, I always have been, but I think maybe before artist you could say I’m just a fan. I love to try to emulate the records I love, and I love to try to sound as good as, or in some cases different than, the [original] record.

With so many songs to choose from, how did you pick which ones to cover?

JUDE COLE: I tried to keep them mostly obscure. So in other words, I didn’t do “Blueberry Hill” by Fats Domino; I did “It Hurts to Love Someone” by Guitar Slim. That was a song that I loved equally that is not quite as well known. I did include “I Only Have Eyes for You” and “I Wanna Be Your Man” – those are the two songs that most everybody would know on that record. But the other ones are pretty obscure. I tried to keep it like, “These are great songs and I think they’ll sound familiar, but they’re not the tried-and-true mainstays.”

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And with your original songs, were there any that are particularly meaningful to you?

JUDE COLE: For Coup De Main, I think the song “Taking Away My Home” was pretty significant. There seems to be so many regulations in life now. I think the government, at any point, can go into any woman or man’s house and say, “You’re in violation of something.” In Europe, it’s worse. They have 150 violations you could possibly have for items on your coffee table. But it’s gotten really bad here, too. And I’ve gotten into a little bit of a conflict with the state here on a few issues, and I just thought, “Man, it’s so intrusive.” That song was pretty meaningful. This other song called “Partners In Time” was an actual event that happened to me as I was going home from the studio one night in the ‘90s. It was about a man that I picked up that looked like he was lost at a bus stop in the middle of the night. Turns out he had Alzheimer’s, and luckily, he had his address and phone number printed on his bracelet. So he rolled up his shirt sleeve and showed me his address and I took him home. So I was able to capture that exact story in that song, and I was very pleased with it. That’s a real snapshot of my life, right there. Songs like “The Dark,” “Wax Wings” – they have their meanings. I’ll let the individual listener get their own meaning out of it.

How did you know you should be a musician in the first place?

JUDE COLE: I just automatically gravitated to it from a very young age. I used to play the broom to Elvis Presley records, and my parents would watch me and go, “Wow, maybe we should get him a guitar.” So they got me a guitar. When the first Beatles record came out, I was obsessed with it. I carried it around everywhere with me. We lived in the Midwest, it was summertime, so the thing was completely melted and warped. Real close connection with that record, I had. And Paul McCartney, especially. He came out with the song “Hey Jude” in 1968 when I was eight years old. He was born on the same day I was. I just was completely taken with him from the earliest days that I can remember. So much so that when Rubber Soul came out, I remember he was French-inhaling a cigarette in one of the photos on the back cover. I ran to my parents’ bedroom and got one of those old wire hangers with the cardboard insert at the bottom and I took the cardboard insert out and cut it in half and put it in the fireplace, lit it, and inhaled it. I choked for about five minutes. I realized, “Okay, maybe I don’t want to do that!” But it was really just trying to imitate McCartney.

How did you make the leap from being a big fan to becoming a professional musician yourself?

JUDE COLE: I started in bands in the Midwest. My dad was astute enough to keep a log of our dates. I look back on the dates that I did at that age, and I was very busy. There were a lot of dances that I missed at my high school, parties and things like that, because I was playing at other high school dances. And birthday parties, weddings. We played almost every weekend. And when we played, it was four sets a night, so that was a lot of experience that I got from twelve years old until I left home at eighteen.

Then after you moved to L.A. and established yourself as a successful solo artist, why did you switch to being a manager?

JUDE COLE: I had a wife and two kids. And Nirvana came out and did a real Etch-a-Sketch on the music business. If you were a metal band at that time, you were dead. I didn’t fit into any category, so it didn’t label me dead. But it did label me completely insignificant. Another thing that happened simultaneously is that my manager at the time, who also managed Van Halen, thought I should be a much bigger star and was mad at Warner Brothers for not promoting me enough, and so he took me off of the label – and then he died. So I was left without a manager and without a label. I had to negotiate my own deal with Island Records. They kept me for a short time, and then dropped me. I was depressed and I had two boys and not a lot of money coming in. I was watching TV one night and this Tony Robbins infomercial came on. I’m like, “This guy looks too damn happy.” And so I bought the thing – and it really opened my mind to thinking there are things I’m able to do, and it’s not just being an artist. So I started to develop a couple things. I got Lifehouse signed to DreamWorks, so my management career was off and running. I did about a year and a half stint with Extra on television where I could interview all the superstars of the day. I got to play bass guitar with Del Shannon. I’ve just done a lot of different things that have given me some perspectives on every facet of the music business. And now I can make my records and I don’t expect them to blow up anywhere, but I still love to make them and I still love to continue to grow as an artist and get better. I think at this point, it’s probably the most fun it’s ever been, only because I really am doing it out of love. Much the same way I did when I was in my early teens and just trying to learn records on the radio and be good. That was really fun, too. So it’s kind of come full circle.

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