Cyndi Lauper and Boy George
Wednesday, June 1
Filene Center at Wolf Trap
1551 Trap Rd., Vienna, Va.
Pop anthems “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” and “True Colors” may have skyrocketed Cyndi Lauper to the heights of stardom, but the singer has been itching to try her hand at a country album since the days she spent playing music on the back porch of her friend’s home in Nashville.
“I never was an insider. I was an outsider to Nashville and I kind of was making outsider music compared to what is done inside Nashville,” Lauper says during a phone interview. “When I was singing this record I did think, ‘Wow, why didn’t I do this before?’ but I guess 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 gotta do what you want.”
“Detour,” Lauper’s 11th studio album, is a collection of classic country songs dating back to the ‘40s from country greats like Patsy Cline, Wanda Jackson and George Jones. Recorded in Nashville, “Detour” features songs Lauper says she could relate to and believe. She brings her tour to Wolf Trap on Wednesday, June 1 where she’ll co-headline with Boy George.
“You don’t want to just do a song, you want to connect,” Lauper says.
The connection went beyond the 62-year-old singer and her music, to the many collaborators she worked with on the record including Jewel and Willie Nelson.
Jewel lent her yodeling vocals to the track “I Want To Be a Cowboy’s Sweetheart” after Lauper’s attempts to quickly learn how to yodel came up short.
“We looked for people to yodel and then it seems like it’s not really that popular, so I finally realized that Jewel yodeled and she might be living in Nashville. I texted Jewel and said, ‘This is Cyndi Lauper, is this Jewel? And if this isn’t, then just ignore it as another crazy text.’ One thing led to another and we asked Jewel to yodel on the song.”
Lauper says she had to work to stay professional while recording “Night Life” with Nelson because the experience was so surreal for her.
“It almost made me feel like I was in Bikini Bottom like in SpongeBob Land just floating in the water because it just was so magical,” Lauper says.
She promises to sing both new and old music in her show, but notes that even though “Detour” is her latest album release, it’s still “old stuff” and closely tied to pop music. Lauper says she remembers Cline and Loretta Lynn being on the radio when she was a child the same way pop songs are today.
She also says the album is not as much of a stretch from her last project — 2010’s blues album “Memphis Blues” — as it might initially seem.
“I thought the country one was going to be really hard, but once I found myself in it, I was OK. I think that all of it is the roots of the music I play. It’s a singer’s record. Of course I want to sing and I want to sing the roots of what popular music is because I love music. I really love music,” Lauper says.
She’s working on another musical, but declined to go into detail for fear of “jinxing it.” She’s hot off a 2013 Tony win for the hit musical “Kinky Boots.”
The New York City pop star’s passion for music goes beyond her own bubble of creativity. Lauper admits she keeps up with popular music today, specifically hip-hop and pop, and even incorporates new genres like the “beach-psychedelic” sound coming out of northern California on her song “Funnel of Love” on the album. She also takes time to check out international music charts to stay up to date on what people are listening to.
“Because I don’t think you should sing at people, I think you should listen back,” Lauper says.
As a long-time supporter of the LGBT community, listening is a skill Lauper, who affectionately calls herself a “friend and family member” of the community, has taken to heart in her personal life and social activism endeavors. She cites her sister Ellen, a lesbian, as a big part of why she is involved in LGBT activism.
“I grew up watching my sister struggle in times when it wasn’t so popular, in dark times. It’s started to get dark again a little bit,” Lauper says. “But I think you gotta be who you gotta be, you know? And celebrate your life triumphantly kind of like ‘Kinky Boots.’ I think my fans from the community are like my friends and family. Sometimes I used to work the clubs late at night, especially in the ‘90s, because I just needed relief from the straight world. I don’t know where I fit. But I don’t care, because I think everyone should be treated the same and your preference is your preference.”
While some musicians like Pearl Jam, Bruce Springsteen and Ringo Starr chose to protest North Carolina’s HB2 law, which prevents transgender individuals from using the bathroom corresponding to the gender with which they identify, by canceling their scheduled concerts in the state, Lauper opted for a different approach.
Lauper will continue with her June 4 performance in Raleigh, N.C., and will donate all proceeds from the concert to Equality North Carolina. She says there has always been a unisex bathroom in the studios where she has recorded and “nobody gave a hoot.”
“Fear is fear. And education is the way. Educate people on the facts and how to protect their civil rights; that there’s all kinds of people in the world and room for all of us. I lived through the civil rights period, I’m still living through the women’s rights period, because obviously all our rights are being stripped, one by one,” Lauper says. “So I felt that we could go down to North Carolina and teach people how to help themselves and each other and also at the venue where we were playing we insisted on a transgender bathroom. That’s going to be there forever.”
Lauper says she had to speak out.
“I can’t speak for anyone else. I’m a friend and family member so where I come from, you don’t allow somebody else to hurt your friend or family member. You don’t allow people to strip other people’s civil rights,” Lauper says. “In America, everyone is a freaking immigrant. Everyone, including Donald Trump. Unless he has some Native American action going on. They can try to change the facts and try to rewrite history and try to lie through their teeth, but they can’t shove that down my throat. Because I don’t have amnesia.”