In Plain Sight: A Conversation With Jude Cole

He’s known for his production chops behind Lifehouse’s Billboard, chart-topping hits and Kiefer Sutherland’s debut album Down In A Hole. But acclaimed producer, songwriter, manager and artist, Jude Cole, offers a new 5-track EP, In Plain Sight. FYI, bucking industry norms, Jude is not releasing the project to any streaming outlets.

Mike Ragogna: Why it’s Jude Cole, love child of Dave Edmunds, Matthew Sweet and perhaps Mark Oliver Everett!

Jude Cole: [laughs] Dave Edmunds, that’s quite a compliment you know! He is an old hero of mine.

MR: Mine too! I loved the whole Rockpile gang including especially Nick Lowe, but also Carlene Carter and Dave, plus their musical cousins like Squeeze and Elvis Costello. Anyway, let’s jump into In Plain Sight. It’s been a while since we’ve gotten a new project from you. Why so long?

JC: It’s been a long time. It was kind of a default that I had become a manager. There was just nothing musical for me at the time in the face of the grunge movement. I left my label at Warners and had a very short trip down Island Records lane. After that, with a couple kids, I found myself going like, “What am I going to do?” I tried to get a deal and I didn’t fall into the grunge. I didn’t fall into hair band metal rock. I didn’t have a group. That’s kind of been the story of my life–I never fit into anything–so I became a manager. When I did, I took it very seriously.

MR: You worked under the Irving Azoff umbrella for some time, right?

JC: I partnered with Irving. Irving made the most sense to me. I met with everybody in town. You know, I had Lifehouse and at the time, it was 1999. They were the hottest ticket in town. It looked like they were going to do phenomenal numbers and every label wanted them. After we had the hit, every manager wanted to partner with me and Irving was the only guy that talked straight to me. So I spent five years with him, learning from him vicariously, and I loved it. After 20 years of developing artists, Kiefer and I started a small label and we signed many of them.

MR: Kiefer Sutherland?

JC: Yes, Kiefer Sutherland. It’s been 20 years since I released something with my own identity. I recorded and worked in to studio for some time and realized it was a mishmosh of five different genres. I was like, “Wow, I can’t put an album together. I don’t have enough consistent material. There’s a country song, a folk song. Each one of them true to its form. I realized something in it all–what I really am is just a huge music fan, and I love to emulate the records that I love the best way I can. An EP just works fine for me because, let’s just face it, no one sits down and listens to an album anymore, and it’s a nice way to showcase some of your best material and I can keep my genres. The next one I’ll do will probably be country. The one after that will probably be a ’50s record. I recorded a lot of ’50s songs.

MR: Well, you know what Jude, the good thing is you are showing your singer/songwriter prowess regarding artists whose projects spanned multiple genres. I know that you know what you’re doing with lyrics and melodies, just like songwriting greats such as Paul Simon, James Taylor, Carly Simon and Joni Mitchell. These artists and so many others of their eras expressed what was needed in the song, not necessarily what was needed as an “artist identity.”

JC: I think you’re right on the money there and I think this record is the same way if you listen to the history of my production. To me, every one of them sound like the artist they’re like, and I’m very proud of that. I try to give an artist a real signature and it’s interesting… You actually hit the target when you said the artists that you mentioned, because when I was growing up, AM radio played the “pop” side of all those artists.

MR: Thanks, Jude. By the way, you got me on “Taking Away My Home” and its concept of disillusionment. I’m going to get political, sorry, but I can apply this song to the 34% of Trump voters–not the remaining 56% so much–that are being left in the quagmire. And I get that these people feel like everything is being taken away from them, the world they knew, the customs they’re used to that they believe is “America,” the ability to make a decent living, etc. That’s what I interpret the song to be from how I look at things, not necessarily your intention. But from that perspective, I feel like you captured how everything these believed in is turning out to not be true and you nailed it in a subtle way.

JC: Thank you for that and I appreciate you kind of picking up on it. I’m not preaching or getting political, but you got the message. You know, I was going through something with the county that I lived in and I had a permit situation. I was dealing with a building safety commission. They literally were in my yard with a backhoe digging 15 feet holes for geological purposes. I spent nearly $60,000 to appease the county for preparation of work that might end up costing me hundreds of thousands of dollars. And I realized something, from a naive place, a guy that spent his life in a recording studio. I got into trouble because I didn’t get a realtor to defend me or a bank to defend me or an inspector to defend me. I was on my own to deal with the county and they’re brutal. It made me realize that with all the regulations that they have, if they want you, they’ll get you. It made me realize conglomerates like Spotify have singed the entire industry. Amazon’s retail business singed-up the whole game. Uber has rental cars and taxis which have singed-up the whole game. You can look at every walk of life and see that. I am not trying to be a conspiracy theorist, but it’s really kind of like “it’s in plain sight.” If you don’t see it, I think you are ignorant. There is no “mom and pop” anymore and there is change happening so they are taking away the home as I know it. I’m not saying it’s doomsday. But I am saying that there was a beautiful part of growing up; there was a freedom that we assumed and it’s disappearing right before our eyes.

MR: On the other side of that, and leading into your next song, “The Dark,” it’s interesting because we’re talking about the concept of “darkness,” perhaps in ways you were just talking about?

JC: The song might as well be called “The God Particle.” It’s when the sun goes on the other side and all the same objects appear or are still there. You know, I live in a canyon where there are a lot of rocks and when it gets dark, it gets very ominous because all you hear up here are tiny leafs and things. Then the sun comes up and you realize the rock is still there. Nothing changes because it goes black but this is living stuff. We could call it “The God Particle” because it’s what makes us spirited, inspired, or what makes us dark and what makes us insecure. All of these emotions are fascinating to me in that human magic-self level. “What is that?” I think there are a lot of scientists and global thinkers who want to capture that, but it’s a magic that kind of goes beyond our thinking so it’s just a way of not really saying anything pointed about it but just pointing it out.

MR: “The God Particle,” yes. We might as well go to any number of esoteric explanations but it’s also the balance behind each perfect day, kind of how you explained it. It’s there, the dark. It’s the balance.

JC: Yeah, exactly.

MR: Before we leave the concept of the dark, my favorite line in the payoff of that song, “You were told when you were young that you didn’t need to fear the dark.” It’s interesting. It’s like you don’t have to fear this stuff, we’re being told that all along. “There are no monsters under the bed.” “Everything’s gong to be okay.” We forget lessons like that and fear the dark regardless. It’s interesting the way you put that.

JC: It was an interesting topic for me to try to touch on because I have a hard time talking about it. I’m not a spiritual teacher but I do think a lot about it. There is something here that has re-instilled faith in me. I’ve done a lot of soul-searching for different religions and philosophies and teachings and, at the end of the day, I think at my age, I’ve come back full circle into just going, “Okay, I have faith.” I’m not out to preach to anyone because there are a lot of things that I don’t do right so I try to incorporate that into my days–to slow time a little bit because time seems to be moving so fast.

MR: There is another lesson that we never seem to get that’s contained in the classic story of Daedelus and Icarus. “Wax Wing,” your next song on the EP, covers that challenge–hubris.

JC: Well, “Wax Wing” is almost a nursery rhyme version of Daedalus and Icarus and is actually a great example of what is happening right now. There are always going to be wings made of wax, to some degree. When I think about it, it is because it is about faith and saying the true flight is however you want to put it–the universe, God, Jesus, the Torah. However you want to believe is fine by me but the greater power has done something that I don’t think we can toil away.

MR: Is that a real horn section in the end section or are you having a little synth-y fun?

JC: There are real horns in there. Dan Higgins, a great sax player, is on that record. He’s truly wonderful.

MR: Speaking of horns, on “Only Far Away,” those Beatles/George Martin trumpets at the end with the backwards effect and fade did not go unnoticed. Topically, to me, you approached the song with the analogy of bravery facing a relationship and its demise, or at least the feeling of it ending and you being brave about it.

JC: At the time, I was going through something that was indescribably lovely and painful at the same time. And a bit of a mess, what they call on Facebook as “it’s complicated.” [It was] a complicated relationship. I think “Only Far Away” was a way of just addressing the insanity of relationships, you know, a love interest where you sit around thinking that you’ve lost someone and imagine all the ways that you’ve lost them, and they try to get a hold of you and they’re frantic and… It’s just kind of funny.

MR: Always, it seems there’s the fear of losing a relationship. So you’re writing for the art of it. That brings us to your last song, “I’ll Miss You,” that closes the EP.

JC: When I moved out here, I had gone from very much the kind of prog music that maybe “The Dark” and “Wax Wings” contained. With “I’ll Miss You,” I gave a little reflection of something I was going through at the time while writing the other songs. It’s very hard for an artist to be objective with their own material, you know?

MR: What’s your advice for new artists?

JCWell, I don’t have any real advice for a new artist other than… I mean if I was forced to say something to a new artist, I would translate something that was just a conversation I had on New Years with a guy. We were talking about my record because we were at the engineer who mixed it’s party with “The Dark” on, and everybody was kind of talking about it. He was asking me why I did it. I just kind of had this feeling that there was a reason I started this and I had lost that reason through finances and buying homes and having kids and keeping insurances and, you know, things that I always say. I went, “Oh, I don’t want to go down that road. I’m not going to go down this ‘anything for art’ road where I don’t pay my rent, because I have been evicted like five times. I knew what that was like. I had a very struggling younger life. With knowing that you aren’t going to get on the radio now, with knowing you’re not going to get some major label entertaining you and wining you and dining you, without all that, it was very hard to find the inspiration to do the record until I realized, ‘I have to do it.’ Why do I have to do it? Because I can do it really well.” He said, “You have re-discovered your beginner’s mind,” and I thought that was brilliant, because that’s really everything. So getting back to your question, try to hold dear to that beginner’s mind, because the beginner’s mind is not looking at the automobile, or shouldn’t be, at least. It’s not looking at the red carpet. It’s just trying to get that damn lick you heard on the radio right. That’s a wonderful place to be because when you drop all this other stuff it could be, which is really just–using the Fountainhead as an example–a distraction of the creation of something itself. It has nothing to do with the creating of it. All the accolades that come after is really interfering with your next record. That’s why there are so many sophomore slumps, etc., because I think the focus shifts and if you can hold onto that beginner’s mind… That’s a really great phrase. I think that’s as pure as you’ll ever be able to be and it’s probably where that true artist lives.

MR: Jude, you’ve had some major hits, like “Baby It’s Tonight,” “Time For Letting Go,” and other charting singles. When you look back at that period, what do you think of that? What would you tell your younger self?

JC: I think I would tell him, “Don’t worry, it’s just not that important. And yet, the creating of it is very important. But we get taught early on to focus on the wrong carrot. I wish I had known obviously what I know now. But you know, I think there was a bar back then. We had a major label and some of the acts were happening in a big way. I saw that stuff happening and I wanted that. And so, when you get into the recording studio and the producer tells you what you need to do to have those things, you don’t just say no. You go, “Oh,” and your instincts say, “That doesn’t really sound right for me.” But being from where I’m from and coming the path that I came from, I suffer from too much respect and I listen to too many people and I think that it gave me a long road to where I still got some commercial success out of it. But I don’t think that I ever displayed the artist that I truly am because I listened to too many variations of those defining me that I don’t think really “got me.” Nothing against them. I’m not an easy guy to get and I really don’t care if you hear it or not. It doesn’t matter to me. At this point, that girl you chase until you really don’t want her anymore and the minute you don’t want her, it’s like, “Oh, big deal.” I want to do what I’m doing because I’m passionate and love music. I’ve opened the desk drawer to the beginner’s mind and I found a project to create and I’m loving life again with music and I don’t want that ever taken from me again

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