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Elizabeth Cook lands on this side of the moon

By Rick Bell, June 2005

Page 2...

"Part of it was knowing I could feed myself," she says. "I'm not a trust fund baby. There was no recipe; I didn't say, 'I'm going to be a performer.'"

Cook landed in Nashville about a month before her job started and hit as many clubs as she could.

"Here's this 100-pound blonde girl traipsing all over Nashville," she recalls.

But once work started, music took a back seat, she says.

"PriceWaterhouse worked me to death," she says. "They sent me all over the country."

The gigs were few and far between, she says. Yet, there was a chance meeting that put music back up front for her.

"An executive with (music publisher) ASCAP heard me," she says. "He had me meet with the publishers. So we met, and I was offered a publishing deal. I was tired of the workload at my job, so I quit and took the publishing deal."

Most parents, when told their daughter's leaving her successful career track for a shot at a country music singer and songwriter, would probably gently - okay, beg her - to reconsider.

Not so with the Cooks.

"My folks were really excited," Cook says. "They always believed in me, and they knew I was serious about it. I still had money. At that point, I wasn't a waitress to make ends meet. That came later."

Over the course of the next couple of years, Cook witnessed first-hand the good, bad and ugly of Nashville. Like the corporate treadmill she once rode, Cook said she's happy to be off Nashville's fast track - for now.

"It makes sense where I am now," she says. "The major label wants to shoot you to the top. They wanted me to be a superstar. They wanted me to buy into it."

"But there was no learning curve, no hard gigs, no easy gigs. Warner Brothers got my contract and made me make a record. You can waste a lot of years. They don't send you out on the road with a band like Emmylou (Harris). I got a job offer, but I never went to work. We left a lot of money on the table."

With a new 13-song independent record and a better perspective on the music business, Cook is looking forward to what lies ahead.

"This is much more grass-roots, more real to me," she says "I have a better chance of building something. It's another step to building a career. I have another (record) project this winter. I'm pretty driven. It keeps me trying."

Like a lover still recovering from a breakup, Cook recalls the last months of her deal with Warner.

"It was heartbreaking," she says simply. "The last phone call with Warner Brothers, I asked to be released from my contract. Then I got a call from my producer who asked me not to leave. It was a period of extreme frustration."

The subsequent months yielded songs that, upon casual listen, deal with the separation of lovers. Cook said they directly involve the dissolution of her relationship with her record label.

" Hard-Hearted' is about Warner Brothers," she says. "So is 'Here's to You.' It sounds like songs about heartbreak. It's about my divorce with Music Row.

"I write to heal myself. When an artist writes, they usually write from personal experience. I think many mainstream artists are disconnected from what they perform."

Cook said she's focused on being a performer, temporarily setting aside the songwriter in her. But that will likely resurface soon, she said.

"Right now it's the performing part," she says. "But I've got books with a lot of ideas. This fall when I pull back, I'll be reclusing, looking at my ideas and inspirations."

Cook was vague about her project this winter, saying she couldn't talk much about it. Is there another major label deal in the offing?

"I've got a lot of lines in the water; I can't really say."

Such a project could put a crimp in her writing plans, however, which she said comes in spurts.

"I take a few days; it's a real creative time and gives me a lot of peace of mind," she says. "I like to make sure I don't have a lot of other business going on; sometimes I'll go out to my parents' farm."

Cook on May 13 celebrated her second anniversary with Carroll, who has received a measure of recognition among the Nashville songwriting community. One of his songs in particular, "If I Could," has been covered by the likes of John Prine and Asleep at the Wheel.

"I needed a guitar player a couple years ago, and Tim had been out on the road with Sonny Burgess," Cook says of her husband. "He came and did the tour with me. He's on the road with me now. Our shows are just me and him. We're a country duet."

And how are the harmonies?

"Our voices sing together," she said. "We'll do 'Jackson' or some other country duet. I think we sound good."

Cook said she generally likes the trend these days in songwriting, with the more traditional Gretchen Wilson country sound vs. the pop music that filters in and out, depending on what - or who - is hot at the moment.

"As I was making my first independent record in 1998, my music was very country, while everyone else was more pop, Diane Warren sound," she says of the noted songwriter, who's penned such hits as Trisha Yearwood's "How Do I Live" and Sara Evans' "I Could not Ask for More," among dozens of other pop and country hits.

"I've always gone against the grain," she says. "I think country music has to get its identity back."

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