Cyndi Lauper is all about country music these days, to the tune of “Detour,” an album born of her love of country music in its most soulful, pink-haired, storytelling glory.
For Lauper, whose resume boasts the 1980s pop-chart hits “Girls Just Want To Have Fun,” “True Colors,” “Time After Time” and “She Bop,” a country music album was a natural progression, she says. She’s recorded everything from blues to Broadway with the same fierce determination. Her efforts often paid off in the form of industry awards including a Tony Award (best original score for “Kinky Boots”), an Emmy (best guest actress in a comedy series for “Mad About You”) and two Grammys (best new artist and another for the “Kinky Boots” cast album).
CYNDI LAUPER With: The Peach Kings When: 7:30 p.m. May 16 Where: Chicago Theatre, 175 N. State Tickets: $40-$95 Info: ticketmaster.com
“Why not?” the 62-year-old asked rhetorically during a conference call with reporters last month, when asked about her foray into country music. “It was on my bucket list. I wanted to work with [Sire Records co-founder] Seymour Stein, one of the last great record company people. He suggested I do a country record around the time period of the ’50s and ’60s, when Elvis kicked the doors down.”
The album features covers of classic country songs, not necessarily what you’d hear on contemporary country radio, but songs that laid the groundwork for generations of artists — songs such as Skeeter Davis’ haunting “The End of the World,” Patsy Cline hits “I Fall to Pieces” and “Walkin’ After Midnight,” and the overlooked “Night Life” by Willie Nelson (one of a slew of guest artists on the album, incidentally).
What follows is an edited transcript of the media conference call.
Q. One of the earliest songs on the album is “I Wanna Be a Cowboy’s Sweetheart,” by [legendary country singer] Patsy Montana, who was one of the first female country stars dating back to the 1930s. How did you come across that song, and why you chose that song in particular to put it on this record?
A.Seymour [Stein] sent me a whole bunch of songs, and that song in particular I found to be kind of fun and also kind of poignant. You have to remember at the time it was written , you were a woman and you wanted to be something, but you couldn’t be something. You were a housewife or a librarian or an old maid, but you were never what you dreamed you could be. You had to be someone’s wife. She wanted to be a cowboy’s sweetheart. Whether we’re in the Midwest or South or in the North, we’re connected by our history.
Q. What was it like working in Nashville with the session musicians. Was it very different than working on albums you recorded in New York or L.A.?
A. This one was different because I didn’t know these guys. I think the biggest thing was connecting. Those guys play all the time together so they’re used to each other and they play fantastic. I had to figure out how to play off them and how it was gonna become a great record. … I didn’t want to do a cookie-cutter record and I didn’t have a lot of time. That was a challenge. Once I found a song like “Funnel of Love,” I realized I had been down this road before because I cut my teeth listening to rockabilly and rock ‘n’ rollers like Wanda Jackson and Patsy Cline. I remembered singing in my rockabilly band [Blue Angel, before Lauper became a solo artist] and it became very natural. Once they started to hear that stuff they started to respond and then we all connected. It took everything to a different level. I thought it was an extraordinary experience once we connected and it became real. A lot of these songs had real stories and they’re really soulful songs. The root of country music is soul, and it’s stories. I picked songs with stories that I could relate to, stories that I could actually believe.
Q. Do you wish you had visited this earlier in your career?
A. I used to go down to Nashville all the time to write with my friend Jan Pulsford. I wrote [the 1996 album/single] “Sisters of Avalon” down in Nashville. I would play the dulcimer on her back porch in the woods. I never was an insider; I was an outsider in Nashville. When I was [making “Detour”] I did think, why didn’t you do this before? I was too busy chasing something else. You get on that hamster wheel and you think: you gotta, you gotta, you gotta! And once you get off you realize you just have to do what you want.
Q. What would be your advice to someone wanting to get into this business? If you started out now do you think you’d be as successful as you were back then?
A. My kid is starting out. He’s doing hip-hop and he’s pretty good. But it’s a different ballgame because of social media. I don’t know if I had to be on one of those [reality music] shows if I’d get anywhere. I learned to sing in clubs and I was groomed in the clubs and learned to be a front person. I wanted to be a background singer. I happen to become the lead singer because the platform shoes I was wearing I kept falling [off them]. The manager at the time said the girl in the back who keeps falling will come and be the lead singer. I don’t know if I put up with doing “The Voice.” And this [show] and that [show]. My advice would be just keep going and do what you were put on this earth to do. And if it’s singing and writing, don’t stop. Make a map, make a plan and stick to it.