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Interview: Songwriting legend Gardner Cole talks music, writing, 'Glee' and more

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Some people know what they want to be when they grow up from a very early age. Writer-composer-producer Gardner Cole started playing drums at age 3, piano at 5, guitar at 8 and bass guitar at 9. He was in 3 different bands with 3 different styles at 14 and by 16, he began to write and produce songs for himself and other artists.

Hailing from the small town of Davison, Michigan, Gardner was heavily influenced by Motown. After graduating from Davison High School, he attended Berklee College of Music, Boston and moved to Los Angeles to pursue a successful music career.

At 52, Gardner Cole has proven his musical prowess in building a legendary career as a songwriter, composer, producer and recording artist. He has collaborated with music industry giants in a variety of genres including Madonna, Nile Rodgers, Michael McDonald, The Jacksons, Amy Grant, Tina Turner, Adam Ant, James Newton-Howard, Al Jarreau, Tom Jones, Sister Sledge and more.

Gardner’s long list of professional achievements via his website profiles someone who could easily lead a songwriting and producing master class.

His songs have been recorded on Grammy winning and AMA winning albums and Grammy and AMA nominated albums. His enormous body of prestigious music awards includes 63 Platinum Album Awards, 21 Gold Album Awards, 2 Dove Awards, 2 NARAS Awards, 4 Billboard Music Awards, 8 BMI Awards in 3 different categories and a Los Angeles Songwriters Showcase award, to name a few.

In 1988, Gardner was the number 2 Billboard songwriter, with 6 charted singles (a really impressive feat!) and his songs have been featured in a variety of TV shows and films including “Glee,” “The Oprah Winfrey Show,” “American Bandstand,” “Solid Gold,” the 2012 Super Bowl Halftime Show, “Days of Thunder,” “Dying Young,” “Coming to America” and many, many more.

He co-wrote the number one smash hit single “Open Your Heart” with Madonna and Peter Rafelson and his fellow Michigan native music partner, Madonna, performed it following the historical 33 weddings that took place at this year’s 56th Annual Grammy Awards.

In 2013, he launched Kaleidosphere Records with his partner, Sara Cooper. In this exciting endeavor, Gardner gets to pay some of his success forward by helping to locate, shape and mentor new, undiscovered artists. Kaleidosphere’s mission is to “develop” instead of “manufacture” artists with its focus succinctly captured in its signature slogan “It’s all about the music.”

After more than three decades of making spectacular creative contributions, Gardner's passion for music remains unwavering. In 2014, the writing and producing mogul will release a new Adult Contemporary/Pop solo album from Warner-Chappell Music.

While Gardner’s career has reached dizzying heights and he arguably must possess some sort of musical super power, he’s also a devoted husband to his wife, Cristiana (who is a musician and visual artist), and their two young sons, Kingston and Jasper.

Gardner Cole remains a local hero and inspiration, as well as one of Michigan’s biggest and brightest examples of someone who broke out of small town America and worked tirelessly and passionately to make his dreams come true.

Gardner graciously took time out of his demanding schedule to discuss his prolific career in the following Examiner exclusive Q & A interview.

E: You’re an iconic songwriter that hails from a small town in Michigan. Tell us a little about your journey leading up to your first big break. Were there times you were afraid you’d fail? What kept you going?

GC: I’ve always loved music, and there were times when I felt it was the only thing that was always there for me. With that mindset, I was shocked when I realized I could actually make a living doing something that I loved!

E: How did growing up near Motown influence your writing and artistry?

GC: Being around Motown instilled an incredible sense of melody in me at a young age. They’re still playing those songs all these years later for a reason, they have great melodies.

E: Now, you’re located in Arizona. Tell us about your family. How long have you been married? How old are the boys? Are they musically inclined at all? Do you get back home to visit much?

GC: I've been in Arizona since 1997, I moved here because my wife Cristiana grew up in Litchfield Park (Just west of Phoenix). We've been together for 18 years and have two sons, one is 7 and one is 2. They both have natural music and art abilities; my wife is an accomplished drummer and gallery level visual artist so they get creativity from both sides. We were back in Michigan 3 years ago and plan on visiting soon. My son loved the big open fields and lakes.

E: Who are your biggest musical influences?

GC: Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, Michael Jackson, Led Zeppelin, Steely Dan, Earth Wind & Fire to name a few.

E: What songs are currently on your iPod playlist?

GC: Best of Queen, Lorde, Cage The Elephant, Artic Monkeys, Vampire Weekend, Imagine Dragons, One Republic, Ellie Goulding, Zedd, Daft Punk

E: You’ve written hundreds of songs. Do you have a favorite?

GC: Yes, “Say Once More” by Amy Grant

E: Would you consider working with Amy again?

GC: I'd love to write with her again, I may try to put that in motion this year.

E: Do you have a favorite collaboration?

GC: Michael McDonald is an amazing person to work with. His voice is so amazing and he’s the nicest guy you’ll ever meet.

E: Is there anyone you haven’t worked with, that you’d like to work with?

GC: I’d love to work with Bjork. I love what she can do with her voice.

E: Your songs have appeared in many films and TV shows. “Open Your Heart” has been featured on “Glee” and preceded the recent Grammy weddings. Are you a “Glee” fan? How did you feel having the song lead such a historical Grammy occasion?

GC: I love “Glee” and was very saddened to hear of Cory Monteith’s passing. I didn't know Madonna was going to perform our song on the Grammy show, I also didn't know she was going to perform it at the Super Bowl Half-time show either. It’s been a huge honor to hear our song being used at such internationally viewed shows. It’s amazing to think of how many generations have embraced that song.

E: You just signed a new contract with Warner-Chappell Music, is this in a writing capacity and will you put out your own record?

GC: Yes, it is a worldwide song administration deal and I am going to release a new album in 2014.

E: What do draw inspiration from as a writer?

GC: I am always affected by the events of my life around me, including my relationships with those I love. My sons have been very inspiring to me lately.

E: Which comes first, music or lyrics?

GC: Most of my songs come to me from a dreamlike state, and the melody and lyric usually come together, followed by the musical arrangement.

E: What do you think about reality singing competitions? Are they important in terms of tapping into unknown talent out there? Have you followed any artists emerging from one of these shows?

GC: I think they’re great. They bring exposure and opportunities to many [people] that wouldn’t have them any other way. I did work with a girl group that was made up of various vocal contest winners called “Arrowheart.”

E: Let’s talk about Kaleidosphere. What was your vision in starting the label?

GC: We started with the premise of bringing back the old style of labels actually investing in artist development. The major labels today just wait for talent to work their way up the chain and grab them when they’re already at the top.

E: How many artists are you producing right now?

GC: We have 6 acts that we’re currently in the process of developing. We will be showcasing some of them at the Ultra Music Festival this March in Miami.

E: What do you look for in an artist?

GC: Originality and conviction. You have to really want this as a career for it to work.

E: What kind of advice do you have for small town aspiring singer/songwriters? How tough do you think it is to make it and what does it take to succeed?

GC: If you do music for the love of it, the success will come to you eventually. If you focus on what is unique about you, and develop that aspect, you will have a much better chance at succeeding than trying to emulate someone else.

E: Do you have a mantra for your own life?

GC: Never, ever, ever give up!

Follow Gardner Cole on Facebook and visit his website at gardnercole.com.

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