Mining for Cole

By Joanna Hunkin

Songwriter Lydia Cole was the one of the last to appreciate her own musical talent. She tells JOANNA HUNKIN how she came to accept her fate

As Lydia Cole sat on stage at the Parachute Festival this year, looking down on a packed crowd, just one thought crossed her mind.

"Who are you people? What are you here for!?"

The 500-strong crowd was there for Cole - a 21-year-old songwriter, who plays delicate, fragile acoustic ballads, etched with honesty, hope and sometimes sadness. She is also someone, as she openly admits, who suffers from a severe lack of self-belief.

"I'm really not a driven person. I'm one of those people, if I try something and it's not awesome the first time, then I will just never try again."

Fortunately, other people have been quicker to pick up on Cole's talent, cajoling the petite brunette into pursuing a music career.

"For a few years, it was really hard because people were like 'you're the next Brooke Fraser' and stuff. I didn't even know if I wanted that. I didn't know if I wanted to do music."

These days, the singer has accepted her fate and just released her second EP, Love Will Find a Way. The EP was recorded at Neil Finn's Roundhead Studios and features keyboards by the proprietor.

"It's a little bit strange," says Cole when asked how she enlisted his help.

"Totally out of the blue."

Finn was on the hunt for fresh talent, deserving of a break, to record at Roundhead. Word circulated and someone slipped him a copy of Cole's debut EP.

He liked what he heard and invited Lydia and her band - comprised of Jol Mulholland from The Mots and Goldenhorse's Nick Gafney - into the studio.

Once there, Finn couldn't help but pop his head round the corner and offer some advice.

"He came down and heard us recording one of the songs that just has me and Jol on acoustics. It's really sparse.

"And he goes, 'Oh I can totally hear something psychedelic happening on the top.' And then he goes, 'Can I have a go, please?'

"We were like, 'yes, yes you can'," she says laughing and rolling her eyes. As if she was going to say no.

Finn has become a mentor of sorts to Cole, regularly checking in on her progress. She's grateful for the support but confesses she was never intimidated by the local icon, because she didn't know much about him.

"I'm really ignorant to the whole Finn thing. So meeting him was good because I wasn't nervous. I had no idea what to expect. And his presence gets rid of any of that anyway. He doesn't see himself as a rock star so it's impossible for you to."

It's an ethos the self-deprecating Cole can relate to. Talking herself up is not her style.

"That's not what I do," she says, recalling last year's MTV Kickstart competition, which saw her thrust into the spotlight and told to sell herself.

"I woke up the next day feeling like I'd been on a week of boot camp or something. It totally took its toll on me.

"They just hype it up so much and you're just like 'ahhhh, it's hurting my soul!"'

Like her personality, Cole's ambitions are modest. Fame and fortune are the least of her concerns.

"I'm happy to go wherever. It's just really buzzy that people like my music. I just want to keep recording and writing songs that I'm happy with.

"I'm so happy with the EP, insanely happy ... There's lots of exciting things to look forward to but I don't have any ideas to crack London or anything. I don't like being on planes for very long," she laughs quietly.

"Just keep me in Australasia and I'll be happy."

LOWDOWN

Who: Lydia Cole

What: Her EP, Love Will Find a Way is out now.

When: Cole plays the Classic Comedy and Bar with Johnny Barker tonight at 8pm

- NZ Herald

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