Elizabeth Cook Says 'Exodus Of Venus' Is 'An Album Of Extremes'
MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
If you are a fan of country, of David Letterman - hey, of NPR, then you have heard of Elizabeth Cook. She's been on the circuit for more than a decade and a half now on the radio and on the stage of the Grand Ole Opry where fans love her darkly comic attitude toward life's ups and downs.
And she's gotten a lot more material to work with over the past few years, she tells us. It's reflected in her new album "Exodus Of Venus."
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "EXODUS OF VENUS")
ELIZABETH COOK: (Singing) Calm me. Come on. Hand me that bottle. Come on. Ask for forgiveness while you still can pray.
MARTIN: Elizabeth Cook joins us now from WXPN in Philadelphia to talk about her new album. Elizabeth Cook, thanks so much for speaking with us.
COOK: Oh, thank you. Thanks for having me.
MARTIN: You know, what? You've been through a lot. And I kind of hate to drag you through it. But the fact of the matter is that this last couple of years for you has had more than its share of life's ups and downs, you know - divorce - always difficult - deaths of family members, a major fire, a stint in rehab. Understand that there was a mental health diagnosis that was new. And dealing with that - that's a lot.
COOK: It's been a lot in a short amount of time. You know, as we know and as we are freshly reminded, there's a lot of tragedies in the world. And I had a experience that - where it - just a lot happened in a really short period of time. And I think that was sort of what was the breaker for me.
MARTIN: It's been awhile since your last album, "Welder," which was super popular, ended up on a lot of people's top 10 lists of the year in 2010. Were you writing all along or were you just not in a position to produce an album during this period?
COOK: Yeah. You know, I was writing some, not a lot, but some. There's always things brewing. Always - I'm always having ideas. Now with modern devices, I take notes on my phone and iPad and stuff. I've got ongoing lists of non sequitur.
So I'm always, always working on it. But every two years, there was a major disrupt when it seemed like it was time for me to make the record. And that just kept happening.
MARTIN: What is music to you at this stage of your life? I mean, for some people, I would imagine given the pressures of the music business now - I mean, you've got to tour. You really have to really in order to make a living. That can really wear on a person who's dealing with some other stuff.
But for other people, they say, gee, if I didn't have that, you know - it's my lifeline. What is music to you at this stage in your life?
COOK: Yeah, that for sure. I mean, having - it's having experimented with a lot of therapy in recent years, different types. It is my greatest therapy. It brings me along, heals me, consoles me. I feel like more powerfully than anything else.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "METHADONE BLUES")
COOK: (Singing) Now, don't be a doubter and don't be a cynic. All I ever need is a ride to the clinic. How does this sweat keep coming out of my head? It's like a number two pencil with a little extra lead.
MARTIN: Tell me about "Methadone Blues."
COOK: "Methadone Blues" - well, on the "Welder" album that came out in 2010 there was a song called "Heroin Addict Sister." And "Methadone Blues" is a continuation of that same character. She came to live with the family for a little while in south Georgia and got what I call on the government's form of doing heroin, which is called methadone.
And it's a real pain in the butt to deal with, and I felt so bad for her. She - you know, she was dealing with her addiction. She was sick as she could be. She just stayed on a constant hustle. It felt like trying to keep everybody OK around her. And I felt bad for her, so I wrote a song called "Methadone Blues."
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "METHADONE BLUES")
COOK: (Singing) If I need gas money and sell what I don't use - methadone, methadone, methadone blues.
MARTIN: Now, is this a real person?
MARTIN: This is a real person that this is based...
MARTIN: It's not you, though.
COOK: It's not me.
MARTIN: It's not you, but you...
COOK: Even though this - "Methadone Blues" is in first person, as if I am her.
MARTIN: Is this a family member?
COOK: Yes, yes.
MARTIN: You know, they used to say that rap is the CNN of the streets. And it's kind of like this album is the CNN of your life, not just your life but the people you know and like things kind of going on in your world.
COOK: Yeah, you know, it's highly informational, I guess. But that's where I write from. I don't really know how to do it any other way. One thing that we have always had as a family and as a characteristic in my people is a lot of love and a lot of humor.
And as so many people have fallen away and passed away on the inner circle and marriages blown up and things like that, it's really - it's changed my surroundings quite a bit. So I'm having to search again to find that. And I think that's why this record is, you know, coming from a darker place right now because that's just where it's at.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "STRAIGHTJACKET LOVE")
COOK: (Singing) When heartache's in a locket tangled in my hand. Look out. Look out, sugar. Mama needs a girl. Time for you to wrap me up in straitjacket love.
MARTIN: But it also is so fun to listen to.
COOK: I'm glad that prevails because that is, hopefully, the characteristic that supersedes everything else, something that I would hope to carry on no matter what life brings. That was sort of what was ingrained into me coming from, you know, a poor southern family that's messed up in every way that you can be messed up.
And that was something that we always held onto and that we had was love, humor and a good time in the face of any time.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SLOW PAIN")
COOK: (Singing) I feel a slow pain coming up my back. I feel a slow pain. Blow everything covering my tracks, blow everything.
MARTIN: Well, congratulations on getting this one out. How are people reacting to it so far?
COOK: So far, really well. And I've been nervous about it because I know that, sonically, it's a shift, which in a business where people like brands and they like genres, I definitely debunk that because I don't care about it. And I love country music. I love hillbilly music. I love rap music. I love, you know. And I - but I don't, like, claim some allegiance to one format when it comes to getting my songs out, so I'm so far so good.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DYIN'")
COOK: (Singing) I've been dying, turning into the dirt.
MARTIN: That's Elizabeth Cook. Her latest album is "Exodus Of Venus." Thanks so much for speaking with us. We really enjoyed it.
COOK: Thank you. I appreciate you all.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DYIN'")
COOK: (Singing) I've been trying, not to complain. I was hoping you would do the same. I see you. I see you do that dance. I see you...
MARTIN: For Sunday, that's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Michel Martin. Let's keep the conversation going on social media. Check us out on Twitter @npratc or follow me @nprmichel. We're back next week. Until then, thank you for listening and happy Father's Day to the dads. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.