Having conquered pop and musical theatre, Lauper went to Nashville to record a country album, Detour. She talked about working with legends and why she chose to perform in a state with anti-LGBT law.
While Cyndi Lauper will no doubt be remembered for her mid-1980s pop hits (Girls Just Want to Have Fun, Time After Time), since then she has very successfully turned her hand to musical theater and traditional roots music.
Besides winning a Tony award for her original score to her Broadway show Kinky Boots, she earned a Grammy nomination for Memphis Blues, a collection of traditional blues covers. Next week she releases Detour, a collection of country music covers spanning the genre’s earliest days of the 1930s through the 1960s. Three days later she will launch an international tour at the historic Ryman Auditorium in Nashville.
Lauper, 62, traveled to Music City to record with many of the city’s top artists and session musicians, as well as Tony Brown, the veteran producer known for his work with Reba McEntire, George Strait, Vince Gill and more. Once there, she texted hometown stars like Jewel, Allison Krauss and Emmylou Harris, with hopes they would join her in the studio. They did.
In making this album you were the quintessential outsider coming in to work with some of Nashville’s finest players. How did you establish a working relationship?
I spoke to Tony Brown about what we were looking for. I saw the [BBC] documentary Nashville Cats [about Bob Dylan’s experience in Nashville recording Blonde on Blonde]. For me, I want to take the singer out and replace them with myself. I was in my own movie. But when I got there it wasn’t like a movie. Those guys play all the time together. But you could be Joe Blow. I didn’t want to do a cookie-cutter record and I didn’t have a lot of time.
The first song I sang, I sucked. The next one we tried was [Wanda Jackson’s] Funnel of Love. It was when I realised, “Oh I’ve been down this road before.” Because I cut my teeth listening to great rockabilly rock’n’rollers like Wanda Jackson and Patsy Cline. I remembered singing in my rockabilly band. It became very natural. Once they connected with me, it took everything to a different level. It was an extraordinary experience once it became real. It’s not going to be like Dylan or Johnny Cash. It was going to become like who you really are. They’re very soulful songs. The root of country music is soul.