Cynthia Ann Stephanie Lauper Thorton was raised in Ozone Park, Queens. Lauper burst onto the music scene in 1984 with her album She’s So Unusual, the first debut record by a solo artist to spin off four top five singles, including Girls Just Want to Have Fun and Time after Time. Now a mother, Lauper has worked hard to shed her image as the red-haired, squeaky-voiced gal in the glad-rag getup.
Some folks have clung so tightly to Lauper’s first incarnation that they missed an entire decade of her career, including such albums as 1993’s Hatful of Stars the excellent Sisters of Avalon and her Emmy-winning appearance as a contessa on the sitcom Mad About You.
Now Lauper, along with her co-producers Bobby Guy and Ernie Lake, who make up the powerful creative partnship known as Soul Solution, have received a Grammy nomination for Disco Inferno from The Night at the Roxbury soundtrack. Recently I spoke with Lauper about babies, women in music and her perfect day.
IN Step: Last time I saw you perform, you were here in Milwaukee and you were wearing a blueberry-colored jumpsuit; you were very pregnant.
CL: (Laugh) Yeah. It was actually purple, but yes.
IN Step: Were you performing pretty much throughout your pregnancy?
CL: Pretty much, Yeah, since the very beginning. Then I was trying to hide it because you’re worried about what the record company’s gonna do or not do ’cause you’re pregnant.
IN Step: Could you tell me how you feel about being nominated for another Grammy?
CL: I think it’s wonderful. I think that… I’ve done a lot of other work, but any … the fact that they like that is great. I think the dance music is a whole world which is a wonderful place because it’s a lot less confining than the other, you know. It doesn’t seem to me that in the dance market they don’t really care who is singing it.
When you go to a club, and there’s a lot of room to sing, you can stand on your head and sing if you want to. That’s what makes it fun. It’s also innovative, it’s still an innovative place. So, I think it’s really great to be nominated in the dance category. Dance music is to me very viable and will eventually even come up even bigger in this country. Although all over the world it is huge, huge, huge.
IN Step: How did you get involved with this project?
CL: It just came up out of the blue, and it was one of my birthing songs. It turned out to be really fun to do. So, I did it, I did it really quick. I didn’t think much about it after I did it. I always thought it had great energy and it was fun. I think it’s great. And, it’s great for Bobby and Ernie. I think Bobby and Ernie are really talented.
IN Step: How did you enjoy collaborating with them?
CL: Well, I have before and I thought it was a lotta fun. It’s easy. I like when things are .. when the atmosphere is easy and very collaborative, I tend to try more and do more and work very hard. I think that’s a human nature kind o’ thing. If people around you are easy to be with; these guys have fun together; then the music comes out fun, you know. ’Cause you can always hear what goes on behind the music and in the music. For me, anyway, I can.
IN Step: Are you going to the Grammy’s?
CL: That’s a possibility, yes.
IN Step: If you’re going what are you going to be wearing?
CL: I don’t know. I don’t know. I’m going on the 16th to shoot an episode of Mad About You. I’m also going on the week of the 8th to talk to my partner… I’m developing a pilot for NBC. By the 16th I will know what the hell is goin’ on and what was picked up and what wasn’t and all that stuff. At least that’s what they say, so I’ll keep my fingers crossed.
IN Step: How has motherhood changed your life?
CL: Well, I don’t know. It certainly makes you busier. I love the kid more than anybody I’ve ever loved before. It’s interesting to have somebody love you like that. Nobody will ever love ya like a kid. It’s a real heart-opener. For me I just go day by day. I read pamphlets, booklets, and books to figure out what to do and how to do it, how to feed them and what to eat. My diet is so bad, so I don’t want him to have a bad diet.
IN Step: Is he crying in pitch?
CL: I did say that. I wanted to see if he’d cry on pitch. You know, he sings and he loves music. He sings and goes to music class. He really likes music, and right now, actually, he likes the beat of the new Cher songs. He stands in front of the beat box and starts to dance. It’s funny.
IN Step: How has the music industry changed over the years?
CL: I saw the corporate world take over and that was a little bit of a heartbreak because … I’m talkin’ about all over the world; they take over creative venues and outlets. In a way that kinda like threw me. Then I went through different changes in myself. I had to learn and deal with no matter what goes on on the outside, the insides gotta be okay. I gotta just keep working and keep writing and keep growing. You should never waste [talent] because each one of us of has a very unique voice.
If you don’t use happy wheels demo your voice, or keep the channel open, that viewpoint will always lost. Actually it’s not even my own thought; it’s from a letter that Martha Graham was writing to Cecil B. DeMille. I always go back to that letter when I feel discouraged or I’m really crazy. Now I’m a better singer than I ever was. I’m better producer than I ever was and; I hope; a better writer. I still feel like Vinny van Gough tryin’ to paint his paintin’s. But it’s always worth it and you have small victories and that’s what’s really important. My life is very full and I’m very grateful for that.
IN Step: You mentioned that the music industry has become more corporate. Has it become a better place for women to work?
CL: I don’t know, hon’… I don’t think so. But who knows? I really don’t know. I’m glad to see other women doing well. But has this become a nicer place? No! They’re racist, ageist, sexist and I think I hit ’em all. Have I hit ’em all?
IN Step: I think you have.
CL: Narrow minded and fearful. Other than that it’s pretty cool. You have to fit, whether you’re round or square, into that mold. Along with that, I guess my problem was that I was a personality and I could sing really well. So they could never figure out what the hell it was supposed to be. I never conform.
A lotta times they have people in the companies who don’t know anything about music, so your communication about music is not about music. You ask someone, “Well, I’m havin’ trouble with this track, it’s not quite fitting right. Could you listen to it; what do you think?” Instead of being articulate, they can’t be articulate because they don’t understand music. I found myself for years and years, tryin’ to decipher what they heard from what they said. Maybe there was a clue in there that I could . . . what was bothering me, mighta been bothering them, ya know what I mean. Music is very collaborative and it’s also … what’d they used to say before CDs? “It ain’t vinyl till it’s final.” Now vinyl’s comin’ back and it’s really great.
IN Step: How much control do you have in your projects as far as musically and even packaging? Do you have . . .
CL: Well in my projects, I get involved with because I enjoy the process.
IN Step: For example, “Sisters of Avalon.” Was that everything you wanted it to be from the start that you had that idea?
CL: I try. I had a partner that I found that I was on tour with that I could write.
IN Step: Did they think you were crazy because it was something totally out of what they expected Cyndi Lauper to come out with?
CL: Basically I was told, “Why do I have to dress the way I’m dressing? Why can’t I be like everybody else, why do I have to be so different?” When I did “Hat Full of Stars” I was just looking for who I was.
I found myself at adult contemporary stations sitting there with pink hair and wearing clothes that maybe weren’t the right clothes to wear for that particular venue. You know, like a duck outa water. That’s why dance is such a home to me.
The people who go to the clubs are more like people I know. It’s a place where there’s still innovative things. I know all my hits went underground like, You Don’t Know, which kept comin’ back and comin’ back. Cleo and Joe, which had promise was burnin’ up in Miami. But then we never even surfaced to radio, so … it was like oil and vinegar.
IN Step: Who inspires you?
CL: My kid inspires me. Joni Mitchell was always a big inspiration because she painted, because she wrote; she played her own guitar. At one point she made her clothes. To me, who was going to art high school and a fashion high school and playing guitar and writing, who else would you look up to but somebody who did it all.
IN Step: Out the many new talents that are out there, are there any females in particular that just blow your socks off?
CL: Yeah! I really like the Dixie Chicks. I think Alannis Morriset, but then I always will have a bit of a sore spot because when her CD first came out it kind of validated me a little. She took the loop and the pop thing and some of the formulas were the same things that I worked on and have worked hard on. I felt very validated like, “Okay, I was definitely right! I’m not crazy!”
IN Step: Some new female singers borrow, or they have taken what was already there from, let’s say Carly Simon and yourself…
CL: If you listen to Kate Bush you’ll hear a lotta people. If you listen to Joni Mitchell you’ll hear a lot of people, but I know a lot of these women … Cheryl Crow always talks about her different influences. I must say I kinda like her stuff, too. I get inspired by everyone. I saw Jewel once doing a hard rock thing and she was playing guitar and singing. She played and sang really, really well. I have a good rhythm hand but I’m not really great with my left hand.
IN Step: What would be a perfect day for you?
CL: Funny you should mention that. A perfect day would be to live in the present and be aware of just right now. Then you wouldn’t miss anything.