Puremusic: I saw you recently. We were both eating breakfast at the Red Wagon, last week. Sorry I didn't stop and say hello--Tim and I kind of waved--but I had just gotten some plywood sawdust in my eye that weekend, and had a terrible allergic reaction.
Elizabeth Cook: Oh, gosh. Especially when I go out to eat, around East Nashville, that happens to me a lot: I know or recognize a lot of people there--I know them from many contexts and different places, and I can't keep them all straight. I'm just not that smart. [laughs] So, no big deal...
PM: [Her mgr. had mentioned that she was stopping over for an interview after her straight job, while he made her into a household name.] Now, because of your background and your education, are you coming from a straight gig in the accounting domain?
EC: That's more or less what they're using me for. It's a one-of-a-kind department store, called Jamie. They carry Dolce and Gabanna and Gucci and similar lines--and it's huge. A girl that I used to know at Warner Brothers knew I needed a job when I lost my publishing deal. And I was in between Europe trips and the like, and she said, "Hey, can you come up and help out on the computer?" Or, "The lady in shoes needs help on her computer." So I went up there--I have a degree in that, so I went up and helped her, and she just sort of kept me on. I never really have officially been hired, but I've been there a year. And I get great discounts on designer clothes, and kind of breeze in and out in between gigs. It's really been a blessing, a huge blessing for me. I love it.
PM: Do you care if I mention any of that, or?
EC: I don't care--that's real. That's life.
PM: Exactly. That's how I feel.
EC: And how this whole business has been going, it's gotten so skewed, there's the vastly rich and the vastly poor. And I'm the Music Row crack baby where these big corporations come in, and they pay you all this money and tie your career up in contracts, but then they don't build your career to a point that when those contracts go away, you can't segue into the next thing, and you just--you crash, financially.
PM: You sound pretty smart to me. [laughs]
EC: I mean, you don't crash financially, necessarily. But if you've become accustomed to a certain lifestyle--which was nothing great, but I did have a cute little apartment in Hillsboro Village, and I had a little used car, and I had health insurance, and I was able to shop a little bit, and eat sushi once a week if I wanted to, and that kind of thing.
EC: And yeah, that changed. That changed. And that's realistic. I was paranoid about it at first, like if people found out that I had a certain job, maybe they wouldn't see me as an artist. But I find, especially in European countries, it's like it doesn't shake them at all. And I even happen to know of a couple of major label artists who have jobs waiting tables and such, and they have videos on CMT and singles on the radio.
EC: And so that's the reality. And I don't know if that deglamorizes it too much for people to be interested or not, but that's reality.
PM: And it's not just the fans who have feelings about that issue one way or the other. An artist friend of mine once asked me, "Well, Frank, what are you up to these days? Are you one of us or one of them?" And I said, "What the hell does that mean? Yeah, I'm a songwriter, yeah, I play, I do other things, I do whatever it takes to get along. I'm one of you, I'm sure, but who they are, I don't have a clue."
EC: Right. Merle Haggard said, "If I ever find out who 'they' are, I'm going to kick their ass."
EC: But yeah, I mean, that's just how it is.
PM: So I've been really enjoying This Side of the Moon, I think it's really amazing.
EC: Thank you, thank you.
PM: I always knew about you, but I never really went into it the way I have in recent days. I was always amazed that [Nashville luminaries] Jonell Mosser or Mike Henderson weren't huge stars, but now I'm equally amazed that you're not a huge star.
EC: Well, thank you. That's very nice of you to say.
PM: To me, it's mystifying. It just doesn't make sense.
EC: I don't know, I guess a lot of things have to line up. I'm not sure I have the key to what makes that formula work or not work. It seems like a decent bet that I could make my living in the entertainment business, and so that's why I'm still at it. I don't know if that will mean that I become a huge star and live with Shania on a neighboring mountain in Switzerland or [laughs] I may be able to have a nice little career and buy a chunk of land by my parents' farm in Smith County and sell 100,000 records every time I release an album and be really, really happy.
EC: So I don't know.
PM: Because that B plan works, as we know. It works hella well.
EC: Yeah. It works great. They used to block off the streets when George Jones sold 100,000 albums and have a big block party.
EC: But the business model they've got now says they can't make money at that level, mainly I believe because they pay themselves exorbitant salaries and they have other huge expenses.
PM: I don't know what comes first, the chicken or the egg--but it could be said that they begin by spending $200,000 to $300,000 recording the record. Before they make a video.
EC: And then sometimes don't put it out--or if they do, they don't pay any attention to it, which is what happened to me on Warner Brothers. I know, it's crazy.
PM: What happened to you on Warner Brothers?
EC: Well, I was signed to Atlantic, and that lasted about three months before the Atlantic Nashville office was closed. So already you're dealing with a business where apparently either they're so fat that it doesn't matter or they already don't have the synergy within themselves to know that they're contractually obligating themselves to this monetary venture while they're getting ready to merge with another label...and the artist just gets tossed in the corporate blender, you know.
PM: Right, that's skewed from the top.
EC: Yeah. So anyway, they keep it secret, or whatever. But they closed that office and then Warner Brothers picked up my contract. And at first Warner Brothers absorbed everybody. They got Giant, Asylum, and Atlantic. And they had everybody--I think there were forty-seven acts on their roster at that time.
PM: Which, of course, was never going to work.
EC: Right. And so then they cut it to sixteen acts within the week. And I made that cut--and why I did is a mystery to me, to this day. I don't know why they kept me because there was really no reason--well, I think they liked me, and I don't know if it was just cool to keep me or if they thought it might stick but we'll just keep it and see if it does.
PM: Right, just to see if it [the traditional sound] comes around again.
EC: I don't even think it was that thought out. I really don't. I mean, that's my gut instinct. But they were going through a lot of transitions, and I think they had people pulling strings way above them up in high-rises in major cities outside of Nashville. So I think that's sort of what happened.
PM: Pardon me. [I started shuffling some papers.] I got panicky about forty minutes ago. I usually have a load of questions, and I didn't at that moment. Now I have too many pages of questions.
EC: [laughs] That's all right. I'm going to bring this fruit over here. Would you like some fruit?
PM: No, thanks a lot. continue