PEOPLE: Hi everyone. I’m Andrew Alden, this is PEOPLE Online on Pathfinder — and tonight’s guest is …(drum-roll)… singer Cyndi Lauper.
Tonight’s guest is singer Cyndi Lauper. From Blue Angel to Money Changes Everything; from She’s So Unusual to expectant motherhood, and her current tour with rock goddess Tina Turner, singer Cyndi Lauper has always been one of the true originals of the pop music scene. Never content with the bland cookie cutter sound of radio’s endless flavors of the month, Lauper’s new album, Sisters of Avalon heralds the return of a true diva with a style all her own.
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Welcome, Cyndi! I guess you’re an old hand online. I noticed you keep an online journal of your Avalon tour. Does it make you… NERVOUS to have something like that in so public a place?
Cyndi Lauper: Hi everyone. I DID keep my diary online for a while but I started compromising some of the truths, so I had to stop. It wasn’t worth it.
PEOPLE: So who are the Sisters of Avalon, and what do they represent? Is there some relation to the novel The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley? Or that old Brian Ferry tune “Avalon”?? Or Frankie Avalon???
Cyndi Lauper: The Sisters of Avalon are mythological or perhaps historical figures. Jan Pulsford–who co-wrote most of the songs on the album, helped produce it & plays a few instruments on it (acoustic piano, bass, harminium & a few others)–was reading a book about Merlin, and in it they mentioned the Sistars of Avalon. They wore black and they were into healing. When Jan told me about it I thought what a GREAT title — Jan wears black all the time and we’re sisters in a way. I read The Mists of Avalon after I did the album. There’s a sequel but I couldn’t read it – – the cover art was too cheesy.
PEOPLE: Sisters of Avalon is a very complex, multilayered record. Songs like The Ballad of Cleo and Joe are working so many different levels at the same time, almost like a collage. How do you construct a song like that?
Cyndi Lauper: I like to use a lot of different layers and textures. So does Jan. We both wanted the rythnm to be very strong. I love the Tennessee music box, which I’ve been learning to play with a bow. I was just so enamoured of it — and the Middle Eastern sounds. I also played electric dulcimer, and I played slide on it because I thought the guy who made it made it to be played slide.
PEOPLE: I think a slide dulcimer is NATURAL!
Cyndi Lauper: You don’t always find people like David Schnauffer, who is not only a musician but also a PROFESSORTOO much into it, because it has to have a certain purity. It’s a combination of the three types of music I like to do: dance, hip-hop and folk-rock. Maybe that’s FOUR…. It’s definitely a dance song — I just added these elements that I thought were real Americana — like the Tennessee dance box. And I thought it needed a story that was real Americana too so I gave it one. of dulcimer music. Just the thought that he would play it in a dancehouse music venue… Anyway, I guess the song was constructed with the rythmn first, but there are a lot of things that go into it. You try not to put
PEOPLE: Dance music will never die!!! What music are you listening to — and moving your bod to — these days?
Cyndi Lauper: The last Biggie Smalls album, Ani Di Franco — her live CD, the latest one. Ani Di Franco is a real hero of mine because she basically told everyone to get fucked. There’s something so fabulous about that.
PEOPLE: Oh yes!
Cyndi Lauper: And I heard that she makes more money than if she sold a LOT of records and got a smaller piece. I found a new House thing in the stores that I haven’t listened to yet — it’s next on my list. Hold on a minute, I’ll get it.
PEOPLE: Ah, house music… great stuff.
Cyndi Lauper: Funky Green Dog–The Way! I haven’t quite had the chance to listen to it yet. The Biggie album is in the last batch I got from the store & I listen to them one by one. It’s just really sad that they create these mythical gangster personas because a real gangster would NEVER say what they’re saying…and some poor jerk listens to it and goes out and shoots someone, using this as an excuse. Some of the sounds are really poignant and SAD — not because he’s dead, that’s just ironic — but some of the tracks are just so GREAT — the rythm, the swings –and I know where it comes from. I came from NYC and I know what it’s like. I’ve had friends who came from Bed-Stuy — it’s a hard place. That’s why the songs made me sad. Some of the lyrics are a little… well, I know… I think they did a really great job.
I LOVE that Ani Di Franco — Righteous Babe! What a title.
PEOPLE: I want to talk more about your record, but first I’m wondering… You’ve always been real hands-on with your music and its production. Do your songs come together in the studio, or do production and writing stay in separate spaces?
Cyndi Lauper: No. They come together the entire time you’re working on them so while you’re writing you’re also producing and recording. That’s the best way to do it. When we wrote the songs, we sat together in front of a fireplace with a Casio and a dulcimer and a guitar. Poor Jan! She likes the cold and I like the heat. You put the song down soon after you write it– but when you go into the studio, you start doing more work. And it develops more and more. Cleo started with the loop and the sample of the Egyptian stuff.
PEOPLE: Now you did some of the recording at a house up in Tuxedo Park. Did that go well? Did good work come out of it?
Cyndi Lauper: We did most of the basic stuff at my home in Connecticut and Jan’s studio in Tennessee. And then we took all the stuff and dumped it into Mark’s computer. That was hard. I tried to make everybody happy but it was difficult. I tried to let Mark know in a nice way that Jan and I knew what we were doing and we really weren’t looking for a Svengali. It was a really hard situation because at the same time, I found myself without a manager. So I found myself taking care of everybody — the gardener, the cook who didn’t speak English… It was kind of like “Fawlty Towers”!
PEOPLE: With you as Prunella Scales!
Cyndi Lauper: …I had my dog there who ate the ravioli, Mark didn’t like the food… there were great moments, there were tough moments. Would I do it the same way again? Probably no. I had to do it all in three months straight with everyone fighting. We were all living together. They all speak English from England; I speak whatever it is I speak. We needed a translator! We didn’t speak the same language.
PEOPLE: So you were more like the waiter from Barcelona…
Cyndi Lauper: There wasn’t enough time with Mark to hang out, to get how his mind worked before doing the album. But in the end I think he did an incredible job, Jan did an incredible job, and I’m very happy with it. Everyone really put their hearts into it, they didn’t just coast. And that’s what makes the difference — when people bring their hearts to it.
PEOPLE: Let’s talk some more about the results of that time and work… “Love To Hate” is a song we should be forced to listen to when we find ourselves talking negatively about anyone who isn’t sitting at the table. And it’s certainly a song that some pop culture writers should take to heart. Why is it so easy to talk trash, and why do we pretend that trash talk is innocent?
Cyndi Lauper: That’s a deep question! I don’t know — I hate the hypocrisy of everything sometimes.
We were at a really trendy restaurant with a business associate recently. It was like being in LA, but it was in New York! There was this one guy who had recently done very well for himself on the music scene sitting there, surrounded by lawyers. The lawyers knew me but they looked right through me. I was of no use to them, you see. And I looked at the kid and I knew — they were going to do to him what they’d done to ME. None of it is REAL. That’s what I kept thinking in my head, “dopey, dopey, it’s not real.” I just kept watching the fashion parade that was going on, the people doing blow at one of the other tables. I thought about those parties where nobody will talk to you till they know who you are… and Jan had had similar experiences, so we just wrote it.
PEOPLE: “You Don’t Know” is kind of a wonderfully caustic song with lyrics that skewer their target and leave a listener going “ouch” much as some Bob Dylan songs like “Just Like A Woman” once did. Is there a story behind the writing of that?
Cyndi Lauper: Well, I was mad when I wrote it. And also kind of frustrated. I had pulled an instrument out of the closet that was different from what I thought it was & I didn’t know how to tune it. So while I was complaining to Jan about somebody in the business who wouldn’t know the REAL me if he tripped over me on the street, I was also trying to tune this five-chord autoharp. So I started to write the song while we were talking and I was fooling with this thing… and meanwhile the Democratic Convention was on TV… and all the manipulation was driving me nuts! So I wanted to put that in too…
PEOPLE: A real Mixmaster approach!
Cyndi Lauper: I like to write what’s really going on. I was mad at myself too because every time you listen to other people and ignore your own instincts — who are you going to blame? See, we live in this society that’s so saturated with other people’s judgments — you can’t even see a movie unless it’s had a good review! You just for once want to think for yourself! You have to like take a step back and see the forest not the trees. That’s what the song was about. And I’m excited too because I was playing an instrument that I didn’t know how to play! I don’t have any fear anymore — if I like the sound, I use it.
PEOPLE: “Say A Prayer” has a great jazzy intimate sound, and lyrics reminding us of all the friends we’ve lost before their time. Is it hard to say something about the dead without sounding morose?
Cyndi Lauper: I don’t know. I know sometimes when I talk to people who struggle every day though their lives, and then you talk to somebody else who is making lots of trouble in their lives — that’s what the song was about, someone who was weaving themselves into a mess and hearing this while knowing that somebody else is really struggling to live and thinking: how important is this shit? That’s what was going on, those thoughts — and my own heartbreak about somebody I really cared about.
PEOPLE: “Fall Into Your Dreams” is a beautiful love song… the image of catching wishes from a falling star is very nice. How has your approach to writing a love song changed as you’ve gotten older?
Cyndi Lauper: It probably hasn’t. Except that when I write with Jan, with another woman — when you write with somebody you’re close to, you write more intimately. I guess more and more as I just become comfortable being with myself — which I guess I never have… It’s kind of nice.
PEOPLE: Which of the songs on your record surprised you the most? Something you didn’t expect coming from yourself.
Cyndi Lauper: Anything. I never expected ANYTHING to come out. I’m always frightened that nothing ever will. The way I grew up, I was always slow… I couldn’t read fast. I thought I was kind of dopey; everything took me forever to do. I always feel grateful when something creative happens. And it is trance-like.
PEOPLE: Sisters of Avalon is your 7th record, your 6th as a solo performer, and a lot of us who listen to you would say that almost every one has been a step forward artistically. What made you decide that it was time to record a CD with all new original material, and how important is it to you to stretch and to challange yourself with each new body of work?
Cyndi Lauper: You have to stretch and challenge yourself if you want to grow as an artist. And that’s a separate business from being an icon person. There’s a whole business of being FAMOUS. But then there’s a whole other business of being an arist, of being something creatively strong and free, of being the better part of who you are… and that was always my dream. At the end of A Night to Remember, I knew I could never go back. That was the end. I’d had it. And I didn’t think anyone would want to pay good money to see my spirit broken, least of all me. Twelve Deadly Cyns was a really good representation album, and there was an opporunity to have it be heard. I wanted to do an album in 1994 — I always want to do a new record, I don’t think you can ever do enough.
PEOPLE: Video has always been so important in your career. How about the video side of Sisters of Avalon? Are you still aiming at MTV, or are there getting to be enough outlets that you feel confident of reaching your audience?
Cyndi Lauper: I look at a video as a visual art form and I understand about the audience thing, but I think that a video should leave you with a feeling. You should be moved by it. You should either get the energy of it, or you should be mesmerised by it. You should get the visual charge from it. I always think you should approach it as though you were in art school trying to get an NEA grant… You should do the best. I always just try to do the best images I can — I direct my own videos. I love the visual side of it, I love all the technical stuff.
PEOPLE: You’re touring with Tina Turner. What’s that like? Do you do any songs together? What special thing are you getting from the experience?
Cyndi Lauper: Well, she has a very large audience that I play in front of. We play amphitheaters. My crowd is usually sitting on the lawn in the back — that’s how I know it’s them! Her audience is not necessarily my audience. Tina has a very set thing she’s doing right now, and what I’m doing is rather raw. But I love having the showcase for Sisters of Avalon. It’s a short show, 45 minutes. I can’t do two-hour shows in my delicate condition. But it’s great touring with another woman.
PEOPLE: Well time is running short on us — and it’s been GREAT having you online tonight — Cyndi, we alway ask this question of our artists… Do you have a particular favorite amongst the songs on Sisters of Avalon? And if so, which song, and why?
Cyndi Lauper: I don’t really. I look at it as a whole. I thought if I took one song off it, the album would be unbalanced. The one I almost took off it was “Fall Into Your Dreams.” But it came out a lot better than I thought it would. But I like all of them. I don’t know which one Jan likes best — I never asked her.
PEOPLE: Are your audiences picking out particular favorites?
Cyndi Lauper: I don’t get to perform all of it. I play half and half, old stuff and new stuff. They like “Cleo” and “Sisters of Avalon,” and “Searching,” which I do in the opening.
PEOPLE: Cyndi… Thanks SO much for spending this time with us tonight! It’s been real fun. Good luck with the record, and the tour!
Cyndi Lauper: Thank you! This has been fun.
PEOPLE: Yes it has… Cyndi Lauper’s new album, Sisters of Avalon is out from Epic Records! Good night! And goodnight to our audience too. This is Andrew Alden, on behalf of PEOPLE Online and Pathfinder, wishing you well!