by Gregg Shapiro
She’s still unusual, but that’s what has earned Cyndi Lauper a special and enduring place in our hearts. On her new album, the spellbinding “The Body Acoustic” (Daylight/Epic), Lauper revisits some of the most beloved songs from her career, and reinvents them in fresh, new, acoustic settings. In doing so she has breathed new life into the songs, revitalizing them for the new century. Joined by a stellar array of guest artists, including Jeff Beck, Sarah McLachlan, Ani DiFranco, Vivan Green, Adam Lazarra (of emo band Taking Back Sunday), reggae performer Shaggy and Puffy AmiYumi, Lauper shines as her true colors radiate.
In a pre-coffee, on-the-way-to-the-airport interview, she talked to me about the new album.
Between The Lines: Would you say that being on tour and performing the songs from throughout your career had any influence on the songs you chose to revisit for “The Body Acoustic?”
Cindy Lauper: Oh, all of it was about live performance. And all of this stuff stemmed out of live performance.
BTL: In selecting the songs, would you say there were people around you who were eager to give you input on which songs to include or did you pretty much run the process?
CL: I just tried to see what songs lived in that dulcimer world. That’s all.
BTL: There was a certain style that you chose to perform the songs on “At Last.” Did that also have any influence on your performance style for the songs on “The Body Acoustic?”
CL: No, actually, not at all. Because on “At Last” I didn’t play any instruments; on this, I did. And I basically played dulcimer and sang or played guitar and sang, which definitely affects how you sing. Like, “She-Bop” is all live. “True Colors” was live. I guess there were overdubs, but that was all stemming from sitting in a room together and playing live. But it was usually me and the guitar player and the violin player, or me, the guitar player, and the keyboard player or, me, the guitar player and the drummer. Or me, the guitar player, and the bass player. Things like that.
BTL: Well, actually, I’m glad that you mentioned “She-Bop.” Listening to the stripped down versions of “She-Bop” and “Shine” made me wonder whether these songs were returned to their origins. For example, when I think of “Shine” and “She-Bop,” I think of synthesizers and a lot of production. Since you also wrote those songs, can you tell me if they were they created in an acoustic setting or were they originally created in that synthesizer setting and the returned to their roots on “The Body Acoustic?”
CL: (For) “Shine” we basically sat around the living room, Bill and I, and we wrote it like that and he played guitar. But it was basically written on a keyboard. “She-Bop” was written on a keyboard, too. I’ve been playing it for so long, and it always changes, and that stems out of a live performance thing. I had happened to do it at a VH1 concert, for Save the Music and the record company was there and they loved it. They wanted to make a record of these versions of these songs. It was an opportunity for me to play dulcimer. I mean, how many opportunities are you gonna get to do every song with a dulcimer? I guess if they let me play trombone and they said, “Can you do every song playing trombone?,” I would give it a shot (laughs).
BTL: You’re such a trooper. That’s what we love that about you!
CL: Yeah. I am.
BTL: Also listening to “She-Bop” again I picked up on the line the “ain’t no law against it yet.” It made me think about the way things are going, with the current political regime, that that could change at any moment?
CL: (Laughs) Ya think they would be in our personal stuff? I don’t know (laughs). How would they know? You’d have a look about you. I don’t know.
BTL: Another wonderful thing about the disc is that you’ve got some great musicians working with you.
CL: Oh, they’re fantastic.
BTL: How did you go about selecting your duet partners?
CL: I had a wish list. And a lot of people on my wish list said yes (laughs). I thought it was fantastic. Ani DiFranco is a hero of mine. I think she’s fantastic. She went out, did her own thing, and, basically, still continues to and is still a very relevant and great artist. And, it truly is not compromised. So I think that’s very heroic. And Shaggy, I think he’s fantastic. I met him in Holland and I had been listening to some of his material before he was recording his album and he played me some pre-recorded stuff. I thought he was fantastic and it was so unexpected to hear the things he was playing me. Which, if you listen to his new album you’ll hear that. Like “Gone With Angels,” the one that he wrote for his children. Songs like that show a completely different side. There’s another song called “Repent” which is pretty good and catchy. It started to remind me of the guy who fought for the rights for the Jamaican artists; for them to hold onto their copyrights. And, that’s the kind of artist he is. Even with his sense of humor, he’s a very heroic type of character.
BTL: There’s definitely a strong female presence. Sarah, Vivian…
CL: Sarah McLachlan is fantastic. She sings like an angel. But, basically her work; she just sings beautifully and how could you not love her voice? And I had met her once a while back at a songwriters convention, and she had heard “Water’s Edge” and I had been thinking about her singing on “Water’s Edge” because she always liked that song. There was a miscommunication and somebody sent her “Time After Time” and she really liked that and then when she was there I played her “Water’s Edge” and she remembered it and she wanted to sing on that. It was so much fun to work with her and hear her take on things. I felt a kinship with her. And of course the two of us are Joni Mitchell freaks.
BTL: That’s always good to hear. We love our Joni.
CL: And then Vivian (Green), who came from a completely different background, but has so much heart. I thought that having a diverse group of people on the CD was very important. And, also I wanted a very strong female presence because, I’m female.
BTL: Sisterhood is definitely powerful.
CL: And then, I had the opportunity to work with Jeff Beck and, that to me, turned out…that was one of those puzzles that came into place that was so beautiful. It just is what it is and I was very grateful that that happened.
BTL: “Above The Clouds” is absolutely stunning and gorgeous.
CL: Thank you. I don’t even know; it just happened. It’s great when those things happen.
BTL: The fiddle, the dulcimer, and the instrumentation, on “Money Changes Everything” and “All Through the Night” give the songs a blue-grass quality.
CL: Ya think? I thought it was kind of early Rolling Stones. Like, “we all need someone we can lean on” (from “Let It Bleed”). I’ve always kind of liked their acoustic work. And, ya know, just because it’s a dulcimer doesn’t mean that it can’t rock out.
BTL: Definitely, it totally rocks. But it also reminded me of the Grand Ol’ Opry. Have you ever been invited to play there, and if you haven’t, would you want to play there?
CL: I don’t know. It’s such a strong tradition and they have their own way, the way they think. I kind of play dulcimer like a gorilla. So, I don’t know how that would be embraced. I did want to capture the back-porch feel. It’s not necessarily country, but it has a spirit of Americana. I wanted to capture that. That’s why I also thought it was important to pull people from such diverse backgrounds to embrace what our country is; what it sounds like. This whole hemisphere, the whole new world in the tradition of Dvorak and Largo and the New World Symphony, this is the new world and it’s so rich in so many cultures and sounds that you want to pull in all the people that you can. All the things that you love and mix them together, like cooking. Not that I’ve been cooking much lately, but, when it comes to music I’ve been doing that.
BTL: That’s a great analogy. You included two songs, “Shine” and “Water’s Edge,” from your independently released “Shine” EP. Was that a way to expand the audience for those songs, putting them out on this album?
CL: I thought they were special songs, and I had wanted to work with Rick (Chertoff) on them and Rick loved those songs. We worked on them like that and they took a special hold and they had a life and they came alive in a different way and I think that was good. We needed songs also that lived in the same kind of house.
BTL: That makes sense. As we speak, you’re heading off to Japan for a tour, but, I’ve been seeing the commercial on VH1 for the show you’re doing. You mentioned Shaggy and he’ll be performing with you in Atlantic City at that show.
CL: It’s going to be a lot of fun. Him, Scott Weidland, Pat Mahoney from Train, and Ani DiFranco.
BTL: You’re also embarking on a tour with Jill Sobule and Sandra Bernhard. Can you say something about that?
CL: That’s going to be a riot. I try so hard to have strong women with me and just have a really great time; kind of rockin’ chicks and women who are thinkers. I just think that makes for an interesting tour.