At 57, Cyndi Lauper is as feisty today as she was when her debut album, She's So Unusual, was released back in 1983.
Still performing in those outlandish outfits with an ever-changing array of multi-colored wigs, Lauper has always been a new wave pop and rock trailblazer. These days, Lauper is out on the road supporting Memphis Blues, her recent effort that more than lives up to its title.
Recorded in Memphis, the album features such legendary performers as B.B. King, Charlie Musselwhite and Allen Toussaint. Lauper more than holds her own against these heavyweights, even tackling a blues warhorse like "Crossroads" and coming out unscathed.
Speaking from her home in New York City, Lauper was kind enough to converse about her new album and her continued evolution as a singer and a songwriter. Read our interview after the jump.
Why did you decide to do a blues album?
I've been wanting to do this album for eight years, and the time was right. I figured it was now or never, so I jumped right in. In the past, we couldn't get the right people together. Someone was always on tour. This time, we got the people. And for me, it was important to be able to be in a place like Memphis to make a blues record--to be where blues music is made. I wanted to make a modern record that evoked the time of Robert Johnson. Those guys were the first rockers. They opened the door for people like me.
Is this a style of music that you may return to for your next album?
I don't know. I didn't feel that I got to record all of the songs that I wanted. I did this album live. It took two and a half weeks. It was important that it be recorded live so that the moment of discovery is really on there. And this album really reflects how things are. You know, a lot of people aren't doing so great at this moment. The blues is uplifting music. It was music written by an oppressed people. I embraced stories and songs that felt relevant to today's situations. For example, a song like "Down Don't Bother Me," that kind of attitude, saying that I'm going to take all my worries and cast them in the deep blue sea--I knew that was a good song to sing right now. And the song "Romance in the Dark" is sexy but it's also funny. I picked songs with humor as well. There were sad and funny moments and I gravitated towards both.
You pulled in some blues heavyweights like Charlie Musselwhite and B.B. King to play on the album. Was it difficult to gather together such an able group of sidemen?
Don't forget about Jonny Lang! I've always been a fan of his. My manager and I were fans of Lang's and my manager started making contacts trying to get him for this record. And I think Jonny really shines on "Crossroads." It was important for me to do that song, to explore the duality of the blues, the feminine and masculine aspects. The blues is also full of symbols, full of images like snakes. I like to look at pictures and symbols and figure what they mean. These symbols probably mean more than I was told they would mean. Everyone knows that I am into visuals and I wanted to use songs that are symbolic. I wanted capture the spirit of the blues and Jonny helped me do that. On record, Robert Johnson sounds fast and we wanted to slow it down a bit. When Robert Johnson recorded his music, the machine was slow and when it was put on record, it came out fast. You can go online and look that up.
You've collaborated with so many artists--people as diverse as Jeff Beck and Sarah McLachlan. Is there anyone that you haven't gotten to work with that you really want to do something with?
Well, I'm just happy to have been able to work with so many fine people. Saying that, I live in the here and now and I really don't think too much about the future. I want to work with as many people as I can. I am inspired and motivated by so many artists. I like to see other artists' processes.
Why do you think your album She's So Unusual became such an '80s touchstone and continues to resonate with so many people?
I had made my mind up to not make disposable music. I think the songs on that album found a commonality between people and touched people's hearts. People related to these songs. I think anthems like "Girls Just Want to Have Fun" can be handed down from generation to generation. I didn't know that "Time After Time" was going to be an important song. I was hoping it would be. I knew that I was developing as a writer. The record company had a different song that was going to be on that album besides "Time After Time," and I kept insisting that one of my own songs be included. I think "Time After Time" is a classic and the fact that Miles Davis covered it kind of puts the classic stamp on it. I had compromised with my music. You know, you want to play ball and get along, but sometimes, it has nothing to do with being difficult. It has everything to do with vision and your passion and where you are going. There will always be people who look at me and say, 'You look funny and you sing and you dress funny.' I think I showed that you can be who you want to.
I've read where over 100 artists have covered "Time After Time."
Wow. I guess. It was written sincerely. It wasn't written to be a pop song. It was written with a lot of heart. I was surprised when it became a hit. It was great to have a hit with a song that I wrote.
Do you think that women have a more difficult time being taken seriously in pop and rock music?
When I first started out, of course. I was having trouble even getting my own songs on my records. I had a big voice. Women with big voices didn't write. They sang. It used to drive me crazy. So much in the music industry has changed. Everyone is looking for a new way to do things and women certainly have a lot more financial power these days.