Interview: Cyndi Lauper (@ Wolf Trap, 6/1/16)

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Cyndi Lauper (Photo by Chapman Baehler)

The inimitable Cyndi Lauper will soon launch a tour in support of her new album, Detour, a collection of covers of country songs, due out this Friday, May 6, via Sire Records.

For seven dates on that tour, including a stop at Wolf Trap in Vienna, Va., on Wednesday, June 1, Cyndi will share a stage with another icon of pop music in the 1980s — Boy George, lead singer of Culture Club.

Earlier this week, Cyndi held a telephone press conference with several music and arts reporters to chat about her new album and the tour. The following transcript has been edited for brevity and focus.

Q: Can you tell us how you came to record an album of country classics?

Cyndi Lauper: These covers and this time in country music are very closely linked to R&B, which is very closely linked to the birth of rock and roll. So it’s the foundation of everything I sing. When I was a kid, these songs were pop songs — Patsy Cline was on the radio, Loretta Lynn was on the radio. We had three radio stations! They were on the radio.

I wanted to do a project with Seymour Stein. He was one of the cofounders of Sire Records. Sire Records was there at the birth of punk music. He signed The Ramones, The Cramps, the Talking Heads — they were all on Sire. Madonna was on Sire but that was later on.

I had my guy over at Epic, but when he left in 1989, the new head would look at me and say, what is that you’re wearing and why aren’t you dressing more like Katrina and the Waves? I would look over at Sire, and cry, why oh why can’t I be on Sire? Well, I realized it’s never too late, and I’m on Sire Records now.

Seymour and I got together and went through music and decided that this was a very interesting time period, as was the blues record I did — Memphis Blues. It’s almost the same time period.

This is the link to my music and to everything I sang. At first I thought it’s going to be very different because I saw documentaries on Nashville Cats and Muscle Shoals. I want to be that. I was so busy being famous that I never had time to do those magical things — not that what we did in New York wasn’t! There were some wonderful, magic moments in New York, don’t get me wrong.

But leaving home and going somewhere else was fascinating to me. Well, it’s never too late, and here was an opportunity to do that. I met with different producers and I decided on Tony Brown because he had good hair! [laughs] But he also was Elvis’ piano player at one point; he worked with Emmylou Harris in a band. He was a band player.

I was looking for a partner to work with, and this partnership seemed to be a good one. He was talking about bringing young and old musicians together — some of the Nashville Cats and a guy who played with Muscle Shoals. So I had my own documentary going on in my head! But when I got there, I wasn’t Bob Dylan or Johnny Cash!

I was in a rockabilly band Blue Angel, and I cut my teeth with Miss Wanda Jackson and Patsy Cline and even Dolly Parton, because she was happening, and always is happening, and always will be happening! And the same for Loretta Lynn. To me, even though they were country, they had that rock and roll edge. When Loretta Lynn came out with “The Pill,” it really struck me that she understood a woman’s real plight. And I loved her. And I still love her, and I love her new work.

Watch the official music video for “Funnel of Love” by Cyndi Lauper covering Wanda Jackson on YouTube:

Q: What can people expect to hear on the tour? Will you play your own classic songs alongside the country songs?

CL: I think it’s going to be a combination of what’s on this album, Detour, and my hit songs including a few songs that I haven’t sang in a very long time.

Q: Will there be new arrangements of your own songs?

CL: I know, I know. How did they fit together? Surprisingly enough, they do! They are a little altered but not that much. It was really surprising how they went together.

Q: Was recording the new album satisfying with respect to your artistic freedom?

CL: When you first become famous, everything you want to do, you are always threatened with the same thing — “You’ll be ruined!” How many times can you be ruined? You just want to be able to grow as an artist and be a great artist one day — be a great singer — be a great writer — be great at your craft.

As you get older, you keep growing. You don’t stop growing. I still take vocal lessons three times a week. I look at my life’s work as evolving, always constantly evolving.

Now I wanted to do something that I can do, and hopefully I can do well, while I can still sing and I’m physically strong. Singers are athletes, and if you don’t keep yourself in an athletic form, it will be more difficult as you get older to sing. Athletically, you need to be strong — strong body, strong voice. As Roddy Piper used to tell me, “Strong core, strong limbs.”

It’s the same with your voice. If you have a guitar, and you don’t care of it, it’s not going to sound good after a while. This is the same.

After a while, it doesn’t matter what you’re told about what success really is. You really want to do something that if it’s the last thing you do, it’s remembered well. You’re in the field of humanity. You want to add; contribute if you can. That’s always been my intention. I do the best I can.

I can’t compare myself to the freakin’ great people. I’m only me. I can only do as good as I can do and try my hardest. Some days you’re fantastic, or you think you are, and some days, you stink. But you try to keep the stink part to a minimum and keep an even keel of taking your best step forward. And forward is a very important thing.

It’s important if other artists read this so they understand. There is a road. Each road is going to be your own. You have to make your own path. That will be the hardest thing because you won’t be like other people, and you think you should be.

I always had a problem with myself. I wasn’t like Madonna and I wasn’t like Prince. My career didn’t take off the same way as Billy Joel and his second big thing. I had my own road. But if you stay your own course, you will get there.

Watch the classic official music video for “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” by Cyndi Lauper on YouTube:

Q: You’ll be appearing with Boy George at Wolf Trap. It’s being billed as a night of the ‘80s! How will that be different than your other shows?

CL: Well, you do have two ‘80s icons, but the two of us have been making new music! The new music is going to be part of that! But it’s a mixture of new and old. And this new album that I did is all old music anyway! It’s not like, oh I never heard that one before! You’ve heard it all.

Also, there will be some older things that I haven’t done in a long time. So it’s not all the same, the same, the same.

It’s going to be fun. I can go back to what I used to do and put a little more performance art into it. It’s a little different. I’m excited about the performance, and I’m excited to work with my friend Boy George. He is so great. And we will sing together too, which is so fun for me.

**

Cyndi’s tour starts in Nashville on May 9! For a complete list of concert dates, visit her website at http://www.cyndilauper.com/events. Cyndi’s specific dates with Boy George include:

May 20, Uncasville, Conn., Mohegan Sun
May 21, Boston, Mass., Wang Center
May 25, New York, N.Y., Beacon Theatre
May 26, New York, N.Y., Beacon Theatre
May 28, Bethlehem, Pa., Sands Bethlehem Events Center
May 29, Atlantic City, N.J., Borgata
June 1, Vienna, Va., Wolf Trap Filene Center (Sold out!)

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