Singer-songwriter Cassandra Cole’s career has grown in baby steps.
Though she’s written songs since age six, it’s only recently that she finally recorded any of her original material. She’ll release one of these new tracks this Saturday at the Aster Café.
Cole is from Orange County, California, and her family relocated to Georgia, then Boston, during her youth. As a high schooler on the East Coast, she sang in bands, coffee houses, and at church, but it wasn’t until she moved to Minnesota in 2000 that she started performing regularly at open mics. During the day, she worked in sales, selling copiers and software. At night, she would gig. “But I always found myself, even at work, writing song lyrics down on scraps of paper,” she says.
Cole might not have stayed in Minnesota had she not met her husband here, then given birth to two sets of twins, now 8 and 4 years old. She put her music on hold in the interest of parenthood, which she describes as “interesting and fun and crazy.”
But two years ago, she launched an Indiegogo campaign and raised $2,290 from 21 backers, enough to record two songs with Savannah Street Music. At Aster, Cole will perform seven of her pop tunes which borrow stylistically from singer-songwriters like Annie Lennox, Tori Amos, and even Janet Jackson.
City Pages: You’ve been writing songs for a long time. What themes do you find yourself returning to again and again?
Cassandra Cole: Moving around [in childhood] so much was really difficult. I was bullied a lot. I never quite fit in. My song “Leave Me Alone” is about me being bullied. It can come off a little… not aggressive, but it’s a strong song. All of my songs have a positive message overall, even if it talks about some deep, dark stuff. One of the lines in the song is “write it down / won’t see you again.” I’ve always turned to my writing and my singing as a way to get it out of me. Not all of my music is about me. I hear stories, too. I hear a lot of personal struggles from my friends. I sat once in a park once and just watched people. I pull from those experiences. I am a mom, so I’ve used those challenges and daily struggles as well.
CP: What have been your biggest challenges in terms of recording?
CC: One is money, to be honest with you. It’s expensive to record. Obviously my first objective is making sure we have enough to feed my kids. In an ideal world, I would have a whole album done. The other challenge, before this point, was finding musicians that have the same passion and drive as me that stuck around long enough, which I think is pretty common in the industry. But now I have a great core group of people that are passionate about music and that I just love and trust.
CP: You used to sing in church. Does faith factor into your music?
CC: I’m a Christian. I go to church and I believe that there is something bigger out there than us. I have some health issues as well. I’ve had seven surgeries. I couldn’t imagine going through all of that, and having two sets of twins, and not being grounded with my faith. It’s something to pull from.
CP: What were your surgeries were for?
CC: I have stage four endometriosis. I’m pretty open about it. I think it’s something nobody really talks about. With my last surgery, though, I’m really kind of good to go now. Hopefully it won’t hold me back any longer.
CP: Is singing a healing activity for you?
CC: Oh my gosh, yes. I can’t imagine not having it. I have a lot of friends who hit up the bars and I’ll be in my room writing music.
CP: What singer-songwriters influenced you as you were developing as an artist?
CC: I am influenced by the greats like Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald. I volunteered at Paisley and Prince was introducing a new artist he just found, Norah Jones, and when I was there, she struck a chord in me. Our voices are similar. She’s influenced me as well as Fiona Apple, just her rawness and realness, especially when I was younger. It just hit me. I’m like, “That is who I want to be as an artist – authentic. Whatever that may end up translating as.” Also Ed Sheeran, that vibe of positivity. Something you can still move to, but at the same time he’s talking about real stuff.
CP: Did you have a musical mentor at all?
CC: My mom. Growing up, I would sing and she would press my stomach in and be like, “Sing from your diaphragm.” She definitely helped me develop my tone and control. Tim Levy, he’s also a local artist. We connected when I moved here in 2000. We’re still working together. He has always believed in me and really inspired me and is direct with me. He will definitely use positive criticism to help push me to the next level.
CP: Is making music a full-time career dream or just a hobby for you?
CC: Oh my gosh, full-time. That’s been my dream. I want others, especially moms, but anybody, to know it’s never too late. The time is now. We only live once. Be you and be authentic, wherever it may lead, as long as you’re doing what you’re passionate about.
CP: Given the demands of motherhood, how have you carved out time to make music?
CC: I am a very hard worker. I’m very ambitious. I wake up really early in the morning. That’s when I start work for an hour or two. And then I’m a night owl. I’ll lay my kids down and I’ll be up writing music. I’m always kind of working in between things. I’ll play a game, work on the side.
CP: Your husband must be supportive, too?
CC: Very supportive. I just actually bought all new equipment, new speakers. He’s supportive emotionally as well as financially. It takes a lot to do what I do.
CP: Does he get to hear the songs first before everyone else does?
CC: He does. And my kids. A lot of times, they hear the process. They’ll hear me for hours and hours, recording myself on two sentences. I have to hear it back so many times before I can change a word or the melody or whatever. Especially with rehearsing, my children know every lyric to every song because it’s always being played.
CP: You’re also a visual artist, too, correct?
CC: Yes, I’m an artist. I can paint just about anything and I can sketch anything. I’ve just always done that. I do that in my free time as well as music. I don’t advertise it as much because I feel like I should just focus on music. But it’s cathartic as well.
Where: Aster Café
When: 9 p.m. Sat. Feb. 17
Tickets: $10; more info here