Cyndi Lauper is More than An Opening Act

Two years ago, while on tour with Tina Turner, Cyndi Lauper was a pregnant diva. Now, a mom (to son Declyn), she’s back on the road again, this time with Cher. Hew new dance single “Disco Inferno ’99” (Jellybean Records) has the potential to be the dance anthem of what has started out to be a long hot summer.

GREG SHAPIRO: YOU HAVE HAD A FEW DIFFERENT PHASES IN YOUR CAREER. YOU STARTED OUT WITH ROCKABILY, MOVED TO NEW WAVE, THEN TO POP MUSIC AND NOW DANCE. CAN YOU TELL ME A LITTLE SOMETHING ABOUT THAT PROGRESSION?

CYNDI LAUPER: I always had dance music incorporated in my work, because I always thought that dance was more innovative. I was never, when I first came out like Madonna, she was an all-dance artist. I wasn’t like that. I was more like pop, and then they did remixes in the clubs. But, I got most of the sounds from the dance songs, like the drums, the gated snare, that was all from the dance music. And I always tried to mix the rockabily in with that.

GS: WHEN DO YOU THINK IT WAS THAT THERE WAS THE MOST NOTABLE CHANGE IN YOUR MUSICAL STYLE?

CL: It was really only in ’90 that my work took a shift, when I started to try and use loops with the pop music. I remember calling Shep Pettibone and asking Shep, because I had slowed down a house (music) beat to like 104 beats per minute, and he said, “Well, that’s a good pop song, but that’s not a dance song. It has to be 142 (beats per minute).” Then I just continued working on mixing stuff and taking the stuff I did with the Hooters and was doing with Allee Willis and added loops. I started doing loops with Allee. I was very excited about it. I loved the beat of rap. I’m a big fan of Queen Latifah. I started to mix all that stuff together.

GS: IN ADDITION TO WORKING WITH SHEP PETTIBONE, YOU’VE ALSO WORKED WITH OTHER REMIXERS.

CL: In 1992, I met Junior (Vasquez) and I also met Eric, the guy who was producing Run DMC. Junior understood exactly what I was trying to do…he told me without my telling him…so I figured we’d make a good match. I’ve been working on that kind of stuff since “Hat Full Of Stars.” It wasn’t that popular then, it was something new. Everybody thought I was a little insane. They said, “Oh yeah, yeah, yeah, that Lauper girl.” And then, in 1995, when Garbage and Alanis Morissette came out, it (using loops in pop music) became a popular thing to do. It was a natural outcome of the new beat that hip-hop created. When hip-hop started, it was like the beginning of rock and roll again, for me. It was like new wave when it first happened or the punk scene. It was new, it was fabulous. Things are still mutating and that’s the fun and beauty of music. I always incorporated dance in that, because Junior Vasquez was from the dance community.

GS: YOU CAN REALLY FEEL THAT ON THE “SISTERS OF AVALON” ALBUM.

CL: When I did “Sisters of Avalon,” I incorporated the dance beat with “The Ballad of Cleo and Joe.” The aim was to write a dance song. I wrote it because I had these wonderful (drag) performers that traveled all around the world with me when I did the “Twelve Deadly Cyns” and they performed with me on “(he Now) Girls Just Want to Have Fun,” the remake. I worked with all these different drag queens in every country, it was the most amazing thing. It inspired (the writing of “Cleo and Joe”). I wanted to write something in honor of them. So, I thought, “Cleopatra and Joe Blow,” it really could be a regular guy who transforms himself into this fabulous creature. Very Fellini. I, myself, am a bit of a drag queen from time to time.

GS: HOW DID YOUR CURRENT DANCE SINGLE COME ABOUT?

CL: “Disco Inferno” happened because it was one of my birthing songs. My husband (David Thornton), was in this movie called “The Last Days of Disco” and he played this guy Bernie. So, he brought all this music home from (the time of) Studio 54 to do his research. “Disco Inferno” was one of the songs (and it has the line), “Burn baby burn,” because his name was Bernie in the film and I started singing it all the time, and then the opportunity came up (for me) to do it in the movie. We did it and then all of a sudden it was nominated for a Grammy, and everybody was saying, “You’ve got to put this out.” So, Jellybean acquired it and now it’s on Jellybean’s label, which is a dance label. I’m going to have a good time with it. I enjoy dance music. The thing about dance music is that there’s a lot of room to sing. I don’t have to worry about someone saying, “Oh, she sings too high” or “Oh, it’s this or that.” It doesn’t matter. The dance community is one place where there’s no racial barrier, no sex barrier, no barrier whether you’re straight or not. There’s none of that prejudice shit. White, black, green, Martian, who gives a shit? Is it good? Can you dance to it? Is it alive? It’s happening.

GS: IT’S A MUCH FREER COMMUNITY.

CL: And you know what, I’m so much more relaxed there (laughs). I don’t do well with “suits.” I really don’t. I don’t know what it is. I guess I have to back into therapy.

GS: OVER THE LAST COUPLE OF YEARS, YOU’VE BEEN ON SOME PRETTY SPECTACULAR TOURS. YOU’VE GONE FROM TOURING WITH TINA TURNER TO CHER. HOW DOES THAT FEEL?

CL: When I went on tour with Tina, I thought it was a great opportunity to promote the “Sisters Of Avalon” CD. It was a fabulous tour for me, except that her audience was much older. So, when I was talking about house music and deep house and I would look out in the audience, and these people, they don’t go to the clubs. So it became more like a stand-up (routine). It was a spectacular thing, because just touring with Tina alone was one of the most inspiring things. She’s got a great voice and every night when she would sing, she’d hit every freakin’ note. It’s pretty amazing. And I was sort of the big pregnant lady on tour (laughs). I used to wear the Iris Chacon outfits, because I figured I’m not going to wear a sack. I wore skin-tight latex. I figured, “Show the kid.” So me and the kid, on the inside, we’d go out there in foo-foo shoes and sing. Now, he’s on the outside, so it’s kind of peculiar.

GS: WHAT ABOUT THE CURRENT TOUR?

CL: This thing with Cher, the most remarkable thing is that I didn’t really want to go on a tour because I don’t have a full-fledged album. I just have this single coming out. I went on a few meetings and I felt like, well, “Do I really want to run right back into a corporate situation again?” Maybe I should just take a little bread. And then, when it came up a second time, and they said, “Come on, come on, this could be the biggest tour. You can do it, this is great, blah blah blah.” And I said, “Well, I’ve got the kid…but things started to become do-able. I decided to do the tour, and now, thinking about it, what I’m really knocked out about is two women (Turner and Cher) who people discounted, and who proved that it doesn’t matter how people see you, it’s how you see yourself. They came back with their strength and their longevity and they chose me to be with them because they feel that I have longevity, I guess. These are women who are remarkable, honestly, when you think about what they’ve done. And I know Cher, she’s a bit of a drag queen and I’m a bit of a drag queen. I’m right there with her. She’s an actress, she’s a singer. And I’m a singer’s singer, so I know she’s got a good voice, that one.

GS: ABSOLUTELY. WHAT DID YOU THINK THE PHIL COLLINS’ COVER OR “TRUE COLORS?”

CL: It was interesting. They made it work. I don’t know how intimate it was, but they made it work. They took a lot of stuff from our arrangement that we originally did and they added more music. That song can’t take a lot of music. You start putting a lot of music on there and it turns corny real quick. With that kind of sentiment (in the song), I always feel I go against it. I tried to do it in a really intimate way, to come from a very pure and emotion place, kind of naked. For me, I had a friend who had just passed away, and it was about healing. It was a healing song. It wasn’t just for the world, although it was, it was also for me. It was personal thing that I did. The Phil Collins version, I don’t know if he got that deep, but it was a good and beautiful song. Certainly, Billy Steinberg and Tom Kelly wrote a beautiful song. However you use those songs to tell your story is your business.

GS: WHEN WE SPOKE A COUPLE OF YEARS AGO, I ASKED YOU ABOUT WHAT BROADWAY MUSICAL YOU WOULD WANT TO DO IF YOU COULD DO ONE. YOU ANSWERED “ANNIE GET YOUR GUN.” GERNADETTE PETERS IS NOW DOING IT ON BROADWAY. WHAT ARE THE CHANCES THAT YOU WILL GET TO PLAY ANNIE IN A NATIONAL TOUR?

CL: God bless Bernadette Peters. She just got a Tony (award) for it. I don’t think I’d do a national tour. I either do it on Broadway or I wouldn’t do it.

GS: ARE THERE ANY OTHER SHOWS YOU MIGHT CONSIDER DOING ON BROADWAY?

CL: Yes. I’ve been approached to do some stuff. I’ve got to think about it. Somebody came to me when the heard the “Sisters Of Avalon” CD and they were inspired and they have backing. It’s pretty amazing. But, I’m just trying to get this tour mounted and make sure that the music and how we look is right. It’s an amazing little group–four women and three guys–and the women play just as well as the men. I’m very excited. You don’t just want cute girls (in your band). They’re cute, but they also play.

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