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Cyndi Lauper on Her Turn to Country Music, Remembering Prince and What’s Next

She's still having fun—this time with country music—on her latest album, 'Detour,' and she opens up with us before her performance at L.A.'s Greek Theatre

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September 16, 2016 :: 8:30 AM

She has one of the most distinctive voices of the pop and rock music landscape, but these days Cyndi Lauper is putting it to use in a completely different genre. Detour, her 11th album (released back in May) is an examination of the “Golden Age” of country music—covers of hits from the ’40s, ’50s and ’60s that were part of the pop legend’s own upbringing. It’s a personal record for her, and it’s received critical acclaim thus far for its comfortable take on honky tonk.

In between stops around the country in support of the album, we sat down with Lauper to chat about how this new record—and genre—materialized, plus her remembrance of fellow music legend Prince, what she’s currently loving on the radio and when we can expect a new batch of original music.

(Above photo by Chapman Baehler)

The name of your new album, Detour (out now), seems loaded with meaning. Why did you love it for the name of the album?

Ya know, I actually love Detours. I do! I think it’s good to be able to take an unexpected turn, and the fact that my fans have supported me and come with me on every twist and turn—wow, I have the world’s greatest fans.

Tackling the country genre was possibly the last thing your fans expected from you. What put the idea in your head initially? Have you always had a connection to country music?

Old country music was very popular when I was a young kid growing up in Queens. No one labeled it as country music then—it was pop music. “Country” artists played right along “pop” artists, and we knew that it was just good hit music. AM radio was always blaring at my Aunt Gracie’s house. She listened to the radio while working in the kitchen. There I heard Patsy Cline, Hank Williams, Kitty Wells, Loretta Lynn and Johnny Cash. So when I started talking about the genre to cover on this record, I gravitated to what a lot of people consider the “Golden Age” of country—late ’40s, ’50s and ’60s. Plus, what made it even more attractive was that my last covers record, [20XX’s] Memphis Blues, we chose songs from the ’40s, ’50s and ’60s. So when those songs were being written, at the same time, across the racial street, the country odes were being written. I just thought, cool. What a brilliant time for music that era was.

The last time we spoke was when you were doing press for Memphis Blues. And back in 2003, you released At Last, a gorgeous album of standards. This being your third album of covers, are you looking at it like a trilogy of sorts? 

I really do see Detour as a companion piece of Memphis Blues because I pulled music from the same era. If you listen to the music, you can see that the country artists were influenced by their blues peers, and blues artists were influenced by country artists of that era. If you really listen, you can hear the similarity. Music has always been way more integrated then society. And even though everything was segregated, the artists were listening to each other, and that’s magical to me.

I was recently listening to your version of “When You Were Mine” from She’s So Unusual—a Prince cover, whom we of course lost back in April. What was it that drew you to initially cover that track, and what do you remember most about Prince as an artist?

I just loved the tune. Such a great song! I think Prince was one of the greatest songwriters of my generation. I mean, look at the body of music he produced and the quality of it. I’m proud to have covered one of his songs. He didn’t let a lot of artists cover his stuff, so I’m very proud he thought enough of me that he wanted me to sing his song. He was a great guy—a very funny and brilliant guy—and though it’s a stretch to say we were friends, we were friendly. He was a really good businessman, too, and gave me some of the best advice I ever got about music. The world is definitely darker for not having him in it. And hands down the best live musician I’ve ever seen, and I’ve seen pretty much everyone.

I know you’re still in the headspace of this Detour album and tour, but have you given any thought yet to what’s next, musically speaking? What genre do you think you’ll tackle next? Dance music? EDM? Back to your ‘80s pop roots?

Part of the reason I’ve done covers the last three albums is because I have been writing songs for other projects. Songs from Kinky Boots were written in between the years of At Last and Memphis Blues. I’ve been writing songs for another Broadway show that’s still in the development stage, and songs for a TV show that’s also in the development stage, so I miss being in the studio. So I do the covers projects because I love music and I miss singing and being in the studio. I love all three of those records. I got to do an homage to songs that influenced me and are part of my personal hit parade. But my next album will be new songs. I just released Detour and want to work and tour it before I go back into the studio again. But I am writing now, and I’m in a good space, so in between the other projects, I am writing songs for the next album.

I know that you try to keep well-informed of new artists and what’s currently on the radio. What are some of your favorites right now, whether artists or singles? Is there anything on the radio now that you wish you’d written yourself?

There are so many cool new artists. I love Halsey. She’s amazing. Huge fan. Love The Chainsmokers. Twenty One Pilots are so cool. Ro James is also someone I’m excited about. Leon Bridges blows my mind. I did a gig with him in D.C. and there were, like, 20 acts on the bill—mostly acts from my generation—and this kid stole the show. We all said it to each other, too. My son is into hip-hop, and he turns me onto new hip-hop artists. Rae Sremmurd—love those guys—and Travis Scott is great, too. There’s just an abundance of great music across genres right now.

Cyndi Lauper plays L.A.’s Greek Theater in support of the Detour album on Wednesday, Oct. 5. Purchase tickets at lagreektheatre.com

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