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Kiss Me Once and She's So Unusual: Chatting with Kylie Minogue and Cyndi Lauper

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Chatting with Kylie Minogue

Mike Ragogna: Hey Kylie, how are you today?

Kylie Minogue: I'm a little husky... I've got the promo-cold. I'm doing too much to get stopped by a cold, but it is me, it's not an imposter.

MR: And as fate would have it, I'll bet you have a gig tonight.

KM: [laughs] Not tonight, but I have a Voice episode taping on the weekend. But I do have a flight to Australia, so that'll make me stop for a little bit.

MR: Kylie, hope you feel better soon. Okay, you have a new album, Kiss Me Once. It's been a little less than four years since the last one.

KM: Yeah, which people think is a long time, but I've pretty much not stopped since then. There's always such excitement around a new album though. I can do other projects like Anti Tour or the Abbey Road Sessions album, but a new album is great because there's so cmuch excitement.

MR: Yeah, you are super busy with Abbey Road.

KM: Yeah, I did that a couple of years ago, but it's been four years since a new album.

MR: What went into this album creatively that was different from Aphrodite?

KM: I want to say there was more American influence because I was in America, but I was also working with people who are not American. Sia [Furler] is the executive producer and I'm completely mad about her. She's it. But I did work with people like Pharrell and some great people whose songs didn't end up on the album and I thank them for being part of the journey that is making an album. Aside from them I worked with Cutfather who are Danish, MNEK who is very British, it was really varied, so I'm only saying "American" because now that I'm managed by Rock Nation I spend a lot of time in LA, but I'm working with global producers, yeah.

MR: Nice. What is it like hanging with the Rock Nation folks?

KM: It's cool. It's a fast ride, I'll tell you that much. They're a very dynamic company. For me it was quite a big change. I set myself up for that, it's what I wanted. It was quite thrilling, different, not without its challenges for sure because having such a big life change is going to have its challenges, but I'm really enjoying being in the Rock Nation family.

MR: Nice. When you listened back to this latest album, what did you think? How did it differ from listening to your other projects?

KM: Well I haven't been through childbirth, so I don't know, but at when you're making an album you think, "I can't go through this again, it's too much." So I listened to this album thinking, "Wow, I really know the sacrifices I made for this album," I'm very aware of the work I did for it above and beyond just the physical outlet of doing it, but then if I think back to Aphrodite I was pretty immersed in that as well, same as the next. Each time you're really trying to do it. But the difference with this album is I'd had my epiphany prior to making this album, I knew that I needed a new landscape, twenty five years of being used to one way of doing my business and being managed and then changing and not knowing where I was going, I was kind of in the wilderness a little bit, but as I listen to it I'm proud. I really am. Because I know it was an achievement for me and I'm in a brave new world. I mean, I didn't launch myself out into space but in my world it was a big change.

MR: You sound like you're really glowing about it.

KM: Thanks.

MR: You have been designated as one of the great women in music. VH1 did it officially.

KM: I don't think of myself that way. In some ways, there's still some naiveté to me. On the other hand, there's somewhere that I think I know the business really well, but in the middle is where I find myself and when people remind me that that's what I've achieved it's amazing to me, because I'm still thinking about what I have yet to achieve.

MR: There you go, do you have a plan for the next few years?

KM: From here it's all about Kiss Me Once, it's all about getting on the road and connecting with friends around the world. The ultimate part of what I do is about the live performance. Beyond that I'd always love the opportunity to do some acting, because that was a nice right hand turn from being Kylie, being someone else. I'm still Kylie when I walk down the street, so to be acting in a role as someone else is exciting, it's terrifying, but it's also liberating. But for the moment I'm looking forward to bringing these songs to life on the road, giving them visuals, and giving myself over to the album.

MR: Nice. By the way, one of the contributors to The Huffington Post said about "Into The Blue--"

KM: Oh my god, [it] gave me the best review, with humor, I loved it! It was fantastic! Thank you a million times.

MR: [laughs] It wasn't me, but we'll put this in the piece so the person who wrote it can see it. But I just wanted to say that "Into The Blue" is an awesome single. It's amazing. How do you explain your still being very relevant within pop after all these years?

KM: Because I'm curious, because I love being part of what's around me, because I work with great people who have their ear to the ground, and I'll try a little bit of everything. I tried so many different styles of song and recording for this album as I usually do, but I think I even did more on this album, and you just keep going until you strike gold, and that happened with "Into The Blue," with an American Writer and another producer Kelly Sheehan and Mike Del Rio. I was recording some other songs with Kelly Sheehan that day in Los Angeles and she said, "Oh, I want to play you this other song," and it was "Into The Blue" and I said, "Love it, let's do it today." As I was midway through singing it in the vocal room I said, "This really feels like me. It feels natural and it feels exciting and there's a tingle about this." I don't know, I guess when you feel that you hope that it is relevant. I can talk about "relevant" meaning different things as well. Is it relevant in the context of what sound is happening right now? Yes, I think it is because there's a melancholy and yet it's hopeful. Is it relevant lyrically to what's happening in my life right now? absolutely. So all I can say is, "we tried." I think you can find the magic when you have that relevance that you don't lose sight of who you are, and that was very noticeable with this album as well because like I said, I'm curious. I'll try just about anything even if I'm not sure that it's me. I'll say, "Well, you never know, let's give it a try." But I think something like "Into The Blue" just feels right, and what more can we ask for? And the response has been fantastic, so I'm happy.

MR: You do sound happy, Kylie! You've been very empowering to a lot of people, like the gay community and those surviving breast cancer. Do you feel that part of it is from being yourself and not falling into the pop icon problem of taking your own press seriously?

KM: Probably. People have known me for a long, long, time... since I was a teenager, and as a teenager you're still not really sure who you are, so people have been with me through ups and downs and they know that I can play the role of a star and yes, it's part of my life, but I'm still a normal girl, I think. At least as normal as I can be in this world. I'm just trying to get by, myself. People can relate to that. You want to present the dream, for sure. You know I'm doing The Voice in the UK and Australia and I see myself back on the show... I think I'm a good audience member because I just get into it. There are times where yes I'm the star attraction on stage, but I love being in the audience as well. That's still very fun. That was the long away around the question, sorry.

MR: No, not to worry, it was great. What's beautiful about what you just said is that being on The Voice you're not only a coach or a judge, but you're also in that mentor position.

KM: Yeah, and it's been a great experience. Again, anyone who's been on that show will tell you it's full-on, it's intense, but it's forced me to do things that I normally wouldn't do, but that's what this past year and a half have been for me, going, "You know what? I've had lots of experiences in my life, I haven't had that one!" I've been scared of doing something like The Voice and I said to myself, "Come on, it's scary doing just about everything. Making a record, going on tour, putting yourself out there, putting yourself out there to be judged, just getting by, so do it!" It's been a great experience. I haven't reached the end of either show, but I love my co-coaches. In England I have will.i.am, Sir Tom Jones and Ricky Wilson, in Australia I managed to get will.i.am to come with me and I have Joel Madden and Ricky Martin. So I kind of feel like I've got two bands right now.

MR: Beautiful. What advice do you have for new artists?

KM: We've got weeks and weeks of shows to give that advice, so it's kind of hard to pu tinto a neat sentence, but I would say be true to yourself. Sometimes finding who you are can take a while, so listen to the opinions of people you respect because lots of people have a lot to say and sometimes they have no manners, no dignity and no place to be saying what they're saying. So try and stay humble, stay true and keep dreaming. Keep going. If you're a performer you're compelled to do it, so hopefully you can find the right avenue to express yourself. It doesn't work for everyone. Just having seen people come through on The Voice, it's not everyone's path. It wasn't my path, it wasn't Sir Tom Jones' path, it wasn't will.i.am's path or Ricky Wilson's path. We all did it differently. For some people it works through these shows. You've just got to keep going.

MR: Beautiful. You mentioned Pharrell before. When Daft Punk's "Get Lucky" got lucky, you must have been happy that.

KM: Oh yeah, it's been Pharrell's year, but he's always had it. I just presented with him at the Brits and I'm thrilled that I have one of his songs on my album. Absolutely thrilled.

MR: And his new album is out as well. When you listened back to that track, I bet you were thinking, "talk about timing!"

KM: [laughs] Yeah, I got lucky.

MR: Thanks so much, Kylie. All the best with the new album.

KM: Thank you!

Transcribed By Galen Hawthorne

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Chatting with Cyndi Lauper

Mike Ragogna: Cyndi, it's an honor to talk to you.

Cyndi Lauper: Thank you!

MR: Can you believe it's thirty years since She's So Unusual was released?

CL: Yeah, can you believe it? That's a long time. A lot of different journeys since then.

MR: Why do you think the album resonated with listeners at the time, and what do you think makes it so vibrant all these years later?

CL: Well we all tried to make an album that was kind of timeless, although I wanted to make an album that was timely, too. But the ideas and the songs that we chose and what I had wanted to do was put my best foot forward and not compromise. I compromised by not writing my own songs, but I did arrange them, and I tried to create us like a band. Since everyone was from the band it was easier to work that way. I felt that it was fortuitous that we all came together at the same time. Rick had been collecting songs and he worked with these guys called The Hooters. I had the experience that I'd had, but I was very enamoured with the new music that was coming from Europe and that electronic sound and the new sound on the drums, the new gigantic gated snare sound which is very indicative of that time. I felt that if we could approach the music as modern--and he did choose modern songwriters--some of the work was... I didn't like seeing the things that I don't really do, and the things that I thought were strong and songs that I would've liked to have written myself were the songs that I was drawn to. The first song that I was completely drawn to was a song called "All Through The Night," written by Jules Shear. He had arranged it very much like a Beatles song. What was the very first song that we started to arrange? Probably that one.

Rick [Chertoff, producer] was very obsessed with "Girls Just Want To Have Fun," and it was actually written by a guy, Rob Hazard. Of course it was written in a different take, he's a guy, he's not going to write what a woman's going to sing about. I was concerned about how it would be taken, and he said, "Well, think about what it could mean." So the parts that were very masculine and didn't pertain to what I wanted to say, I cut out, and as in all the songs I wanted us to have a sound, not just, "do these songs and we'll do this and try that," I wanted a specific sound, and my idea was to use those Hooters guys and their reggae feel and this wonderful new sound of this electronic drum and use the wonderful new styles that came over from England like The Clash and how they approached their guitars. It was kind of raw. And also Andy Summers, who I felt played in a completely different way than what we were listening to, which was more blues oriented. I just felt there was a way to cross everything and use a big voice, which I had. But we worked on that. That's how I worked. I listened to songs with him and said, "Eh, nope." The Prince song was interesting because of what he was writing about. He mentioned he didn't change the sheets, and I was thinking, "That is a piece of real life put into a song," which is something you would have hoped to have done yourself.

MR: You mentioned your big voice. Would you look at your music at that time as being empowering for women? It was powerful, tough, edgy, you had your fashion unique statements, coming off as a very strong woman.

CL: Well, when we did the visuals I had worked in a vintage store and love vintage things, I do. It was like working in a giant toy store for me. It was unbelievable. I decided that I would do that, use what I knew. I just talked about the style of the cover and why it was like that, it was a study in mid-day light. Annie Leibovitz, who makes wonderful compositions just saw a really incredible-- she makes a human figure into a graphic design. It's very strong and bold all the time, what she does to me. I felt at that time that it would be an honor to work with her and it just so happened that at that point she wasn't as huge huge as she had become and I could afford her. Sony paid so we could afford her. I wanted to use color to grab people's eye, because color leaves an imprint on you and makes you have an emotion. Primary colors, you need to feel a certain way, so I basically painted myself with the help of Patrick Lucas who was also part of this. I went on the road with Patrick Lucas with a trunk full of all these clothes that we put together in the wildest way with makeup equally wild that I was told at first, "Oh, you can't do your makeup like that, that's so corny." I was like, "Really?" and then in my mind I was thinking, "You're damn right, I can, it's war paint, because thing's have got to change." So it was warpaint to me. This is what it is, it's in your face, and yes, in the video "Girls Just Want To Have Fun" I wanted every color, every nationality of girl I could get in that nine because I needed every girl to look at that video and see herself and know that she, too, was entitled to a joyful experience, that she, too, could embrace a freedom of spirit that was in her. And yes, "Girls Just Want To Have Fun" is a song about entitlement. To me. To me. I want to be the one to walk in the sun. I wanted to sing that loud and proud. The visuals were very important. They still are.

MR: Also regarding visuals, I wanted to tell you that in the "Time After Time" video when you have the RCA dog kiss the guy you're leaving goodbye, that's one of the most touching moments in the video age. Cyndi, I have to ask everybody, what advice do you have for new artists?

CL: You've gotta follow your own path. Whatever you can learn from anyone else, it's not just older artists, it's younger artists, you're in this moment in this life, write and record what is going on right now so that someone will exactly know, "This is the time that we live." There's something about the impressionists that I tried to take with me. To me, you can paint with sound. You lay out a story with sound and you use color to emphasize it, but in a song, every musician is a character that pulls against the other and in the center is you and that rhythm and the drum and the interior rhythm featuring the instruments and you, and you own the center, and you own your path. However you get there, you own your own path and sing what you know in your life to be true. If it's true to you, it's going to ring true to somebody else and they're going to feel it. But you have to only sing the truth, and you have to know--the one thing I would say that I learned from The Beatles is the simplicity with which they would present an idea and a song. John Lennon wrote that he wasn't a great singer. That was fucking wrong. Some of the greatest singers have the greatest phrasing. They don't have many notes to use, but they're more creative in their one octave range. He would simply sing a song like, "In My Life." Simply. There was no acrobatics. He just sang very simply. When Paul McCartney sang "Yesterday," he just sang very simply, "Yesterday all my troubles seemed so far away." Very simply. If you trust the song and the song's lyrics say it, you don't trust the f**king melody--you always have to pare it down to, "What's the melody, what are the words saying?" If the words are super sentimental, then make it really sparing, because the more shit you pile on top of that, the more icky and sticky that gets and it becomes changed, it's not real anymore. You want to hit somebody right between the eyes, or in the solar plexus. You want it in their heart, so that means you have to come from the purest f**king place. I was told at a young age from a great teacher when I studied in school, but I got kicked out of there because I didn't quit rock 'n' roll and they felt I was a natural jazz singer and I felt I needed a lot of Prozac if I was going to stand still for a long time. In the end, Betty Scott told me--and I have a great teacher now who I still study with--but Betty Scott told me, "When no one's there to connect to, sing to the angels, because they always hear you." I've always done that and it's always carried me through any moment.

MR: Cyndi, that's the most beautiful answer I've ever heard to that question. Thank you so much. I need to tell you, after all these years do you know who's still your biggest fan and who loves you very much? Andy McKaie, my ol' awesome boss at Universal but you would know him from his NYC days. Anyway, you're very loved and I really appreciate your time. All the best with everything.

CL: Thanks.

Transcribed By Galen Hawthorne