Before Cyndi Lauper was a solo artist – before the blue eyeliner, Captain Lou and those “whoa-whoa-whoas” on “We Are the World” – she fronted- the rockabilly-tinged band Blue Angel. Lauper didn’t initially make the connection between that experience and the country classics she covers on her strong new album, Detour – which continues the roots journey she began with 2010’s Memphis Blues. (In between, she wrote music for the Broadway hit Kinky Boots.) But after struggling her way through a Nashville session that “absolutely sucked,” she tried Wanda Jackson’s 1961 track “Funnel of Love,” and experienced some déjà vu. “I said, ‘Oh, wait a minute,'” Lauper recalls. “ ’I know my way around this wheelhouse! This is what we used to do!’ And I dived right in.”
You’re trying all sorts of new musical things lately. What is that about for you?
I always felt like I missed out, because I was so busy being famous I couldn’t go and experiment on all these things that everyone else did. For God’s sake, I never even moved to New Orleans to write an album like Rickie Lee Jones did [recently].
You have an intense version of Skeeter Davis’ “The End of the World” on the new album – what were you drawing on emotionally?
I remembered what it was like to me in 1988 or 1989, when I felt my whole world fall apart. They started to let people go at my label, Epic, and you become emotionally attached to those people. And the new guy is asking, “What the fuck is the matter with you, why you gotta dress like that, can’t you dress like Katrina and the Waves?” And I broke up with my fiancé around that time – all that bullshit of having your personal life in public. That sucks.
Would you rather be an up-and-coming pop star now or in the Eighties?
It’s harder now. I would have never done well on The Voice or American Idol, because I wouldn’t want to listen to somebody telling me what the fuck to do. I needed to go out in a very tangible place like clubs and perform and see, “Oh, that doesn’t work, this works.”
All of that work led me to She’s So Unusual, where we were arranging all these songs to get a sound that was part reggae, part classic pop, with a big voice, plus this electronic drum sound that was so exciting. Nowadays, there’s a lot of other stuff to mix together, and it’s exciting too. But what is the road map to success?