Pro File Retro: Cyndi Lauper

David Holloway
22 July, 2008
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I’ve been doing Pro Files in AMW’s print edition for a number of years now and thought it’d be worth getting some of the best online in their full glory. The first comes from 2004:

It’s a shame, but most people tend to know Cyndi Lauper and her work via a few very successful songs from the mid-1980s: Girls Just Want to Have Fun, She Bop, Money Changes Everything and Time After Time. They’re all classic songs now, but are by no means all of Lauper’s best work. Since the multi-million selling She’s So Unusual, there have been eight albums, with the current tour being in support of the late 2003 release At Last. Throughout that regular output are a not insignificant number of gems, all illustrating Lauper’s musical progression and growing songwriting maturity. The band touring with Lauper also have some impressive music credentials. Guitarist Kat Dyson worked for Prince as part of the New Power Generation, and has also had steady work in the house band on talk shows such as The Donny and Marie Show (yes — the Osmonds). Bassist Will Wittman has produced, engineered or played on basically every album Lauper has released. Drummer Sammy Merendino has recorded and played with artists such as Billy Joel, The Beach Boys and Foreigner. Pianist Steve Gaboury was heavily involved in the production of At Last. And the credits go on: these are musicians with credibility and ability. They also have one other thing in common: they all use Macs, Cyndi Lauper included. I caught up with the band and then Ms Lauper prior to their second Sydney show at the State Theatre.

The band:

AMW: Can you all give me a quick rundown on the gear you use on stage?

Kat: I use the old standard Roland GR-9 guitar synth with my guitars. At Last is a very acoustic album, so I trigger strings and pan pipes etc. Steve’s an amazing player but he’s not that good that he can cover all of those parts with two hands. (laughs)

Will: Early on in the tour I was using the Roland V-Bass to trigger simulated upright bass sounds. Now that we’re playing more of a hybrid half-rock show, I’m not worrying so much about it.

Steve: I’m using a Roland A-70 controller. I used to use a (Kurzweil) K2500, but this album has a lot of piano so I just play a piano. I also use a Nord Lead, the Kurzweil K2000 rack module and the VK-8 organ module from Roland which I love. I’ve actually been working on having my whole rig exist in the virtual domain so I just go into Logic and control everything from there, using software synths. I’m not there yet but I’m working on it.

AMW: With twenty years worth of material, how do you recreate some of the distinctive sounds where needed. I imagine you’re not still lugging around 20 year old synthesisers or guitar effects.

Steve: I wasn’t working with Cyndi back then and don’t know what some of the sounds they were actually using, so I just tend to use what I have and make a good approximation. My Nord Lead covers a lot of that sort of stuff.

Will: And Cyndi’s not that interested most of the time in replicating the record. If anything she’s more likely to want to go somewhere else. She’s not looking to be a jukebox.

Kat: I’ve always used modelling amps with her because she likes guitars to have many different textures. Having all the options with a modelling amp means I can give her what she needs.

AMW: How much rehearsal did you do before going on tour?

Sammy: About an hour (laughs)

Steve: Not a whole lot, no. It was just a few days here and there.

Will: All of us have been playing together for years now. We toured for seven months together on the Cher tour (Lauper supported Cher on her 2002 farewell tour). So except for the material of the latest album, we were pretty much up to speed. And we all played to varying degrees on At Last, so it didn’t take a lot of extra rehearsal to put this together.

AMW: So you all use Macs as part of your work on tour?

Kat: Sammy and Will have been doing radio edits on the fly, using Pro Tools LE. We get to Japan and they only want the song and interview 2 minutes and 36 seconds in length so they got to shrink the song down. Or we need a new version of a song for a TV show. Having the ability to do it all on the fly makes it seem seamless.

Steve: The guy doing our monitoring is also recording our shows direct into Logic on a PowerBook.

Kat: I’m a Digital Performer person. I use the Amplitude software with it. You can have any guitar in the world and that software just makes it sound great. I also use the Mach 5 (software sampler). I have a Bosendorfer piano in my iBook: you’ve got to love that. While we’re on tour I’m working on some other projects. I use my iDisk to shuffle files back and forth wherever I can. I also use iChat AV to talk with people back in the US about a track we’re working on. It makes things so much easier.

Will: I’ve just finished producing a band, and use the iDisk and iChat as well. They’ve been able to upload an edit of a track or their album artwork. It certainly makes conferencing possible, and given the wildly different time zones we are in, other options may not be possible at all depending on the time of day.

Sammy: I use an Akai MPC-3000 to trigger samples, and I use my PowerBook to load the samples into the MPC-3000. I use Ableton Live to speed up or slow down loops. I find in the live situation it’s just quicker to use the MPC-3000. You just load it up and be done with it.

AMW: And have any of you made the jump to the G5 yet?

Will: I’m about to. My Cube has just had a major crash. It hurts me to have to give it up though. (Note: interviewer and fellow band mates very impressed at heavy duty use of a Cube for music purposes)

AMW: So are any of you Mac hoarders?

Kat: I have an old Power Mac DVD special edition somewhere still. I also have a Blue and White G3 desktop that I use in my pre-production studio. I also got the PowerBook 1400 CS and it still works great.

Will: I still have a beige G3 desktop that I still use all the time for internet and word processing.

Sammy: I have a Power Mac 9500 with a G3 card in it, though I use it pretty much as a doorstop now.

AMW: And the first Mac you ever owned?

Sammy: the 512K Mac. I go right back.

Will: I’m not long after: the Mac SE

Steve: I’ve only been using Macs for the past few years so the G4 is my first.

Kat: my 1400CS was the first.

AMW: A question I often ask is what are the things you either dislike or would like to see change in regard to the Mac and its operating system?

Will: I have some little things. I’d like better wireless range without needing to buy an external aerial. As far as the software goes, I’m kind of begrudgingly happy with OS X. I wish it behaved more like System 9 in terms of the friendly factor. The little Unix bits still bug me. It puts stuff where it wants it to go at the user level. Some people like getting into that stuff but I don’t.

Kat: I would probably want impossible things. I’ve got a G3 iBook, I love it, but I wish I could make it a G4. I wish they were more upgradeable. Apple probably don’t want that, but it’d be nice to not have to buy a whole new laptop all the time.

Sammy: I’d like them to have A/D (Analogue to Digital) converters built in to their stuff. I have to carry an Mbox, where it would be nice to be able to plug right in without the extra hardware.

Steve: My dream is that I take my laptop and stick it in my keyboard, slot it in and boom, off I go. All the sounds are there and I have my screen. The keyboard itself is just the controller.

AMW: Are there any recent software releases that have caught your attention?

Will: I’ve just started to have a play around with GarageBand, as something to toy around with if I have an idea. It’s fun to play with. I don’t know I’d make a record like that but it’s a good way to start something.

Kat: My next thing to look at is SoundTrack. I have so many friends tell me how much they love it.

AMW: On the album production side, has technology played a greater role over the years?

Will: Cyndi’s last three records, in increasing doses have become Pro Tools only recordings. The latest album was 100 percent done in Pro Tools. The last three have been Macintosh made records.

AMW: Thoughts on the iPod, iTunes and the iTunes Music Store?

Steve: We’re all iPod users.

Kat: Cyndi actually gave them to us as Christmas gifts.

Sammy: I think the iTunes Music Store is cool. What I don’t like is how everything is sold as singles. To me it messes with the concept of an album. People can change the order in which they listen to the songs. I’d want to be able to set the order because in most cases a lot of thought goes into an album’s song order.

Steve: I think they should give you a price break if you buy a whole album. It should be cheaper.

Will: I don’t know, I don’t think good records are overpriced. Records are overpriced because there’s so many records not worth buying. I think Apple did a great job implementing iTMS, it should have happened a long time ago. My take on the digital transfer of music is it’s a great thing as long as it’s consensual.

Cyndi Lauper. It’s worth noting at this stage that an interview with Cyndi Lauper is not so much a question and answer session, more a verbal jam. As soon as Cyndi sat down with AMW backstage after sound check, she started talking Macs.

Cyndi: I’ve used Macs since Day 1. I like ‘em because they think like I do. I’m a bit of a gorilla when it comes to technology stuff. I need things stupid simple. Apple make programs for regular people and I like that. I use SimpleText if I need to type something, it’s just easier.

AMW: So you own a few Macs?

Cyndi: Yeah, I have three different Macs, G3’s and G4’s and my iBook. Sammy and I do stuff all the time. We did a TV show last week where they wanted a different edit of one of my songs. Sammy and I just put it together on his iBook with Pro Tools, burnt it to CD and took it in to the show and I sang to that. I also like doing graphic stuff. I still use Quark, I did the artwork for Sisters of Avalon on Quark.

AMW: You are obviously hands-on with all aspects of your music. On the At Last DVD there’s a special feature showing you and someone else driving around Brooklyn with a video camera capturing scenes.

Cyndi: (laughs) Yeah we had some fun with that. I was really keen to get stuff that reflected where I grew up and scenes that illustrated the city life. If I’d got someone else to do it I woulda had to pay a lot of money plus I knew what I wanted. I’d rather do it myself. I don’t have to beg, I’m not needing to do that anymore. I’ve been scoring soundtracks over the past few years for some independent movies which has been great. There’s some real talent out there doing great stuff.

AMW: I saw an interview with Dave Grohl from the Foo Fighters….

Cyndi: I love Dave Grohl! The guy’s a god. He was in Nirvana for crying out loud, what else is there?

AMW: Well Dave said that when he’s on tour he finds it a real grind, but within two or three weeks of being home he’s ringing around the band talking about going out on the road again. Is it the same for you?

Cyndi: I get sick if I don’t do music,. I don’t feel well unless I’m making music, it’s what I do.

AMW: So you have plans for a follow-up to At Last?

Cyndi: Yeah I’ve started writing some stuff. We may start recording later this year. I want my work heard.

AMW: On the Mac side of things again, what application can’t you live without?

Cyndi: iChat. I use it every day to talk to my son and husband back home. It’s just so easy, which it needs to be. I don’t use a lot of other stuff on my iBook because other people install stuff on it then I can’t remember the passwords. I can’t even get my e-mail to work because of that. As I said, I’m a gorilla at these things.

AMW: Well on that note, I know you have some wrestling moves and that on the Victorian Footy Show you threw Sam Newman over your shoulder. You realise you have picked up a whole new fan base now?

Cyndi: (laughs) Yeah, Sam was asking for it. He likes to think he’s a ladies man, but I had him worked out.

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