June 10th, 2019
By Curtis Newart
(Photos courtesy Jan Pulsford unless otherwise stated)
Through most of the 90's Jan Pulsford worked as Cyndi Lauper's co-writer, producer, keyboardist and touring musical director.
According to Pulsford's Wiki Bio she "honed her musical skills in London amidst the electronic and hair revolution of the 80s."
She has a serious side as an accomplished composer, songwriter, and producer, and she's a devotee to digital advancements in electronica music. Plus, her film music has won awards at the New York Film Festival and is in demand by film makers worldwide.
While living in the US, Pulsford founded the production company Madame la Pulse Productions, plus the indie label Collecting Dust Recordings, and started her own studio English Valley Music in the woods of Tennessee.
But she's also a (perhaps reluctant?) rockstar, having traveled the world as a musician with Lauper, and the Thompson Twins.
She describes her pursuits as "exploring the illusion of reality".
Not one to sit still for long, she also co-produces the annual Spirit of Beowulf Festival in the UK where she lives and hosts the global Ambient Music World radio show. She recently opened Mothership Studios, broadcasting live music events on radiomothership.com.
Pulsford is enigmatic in that her interests have taken her from 80s synth-pop bands to open mic poetry readings to techno brunches, and from folk festivals and cosplay to digital reality projections.
There's more. Electronic music open mic night, 24-hour "synth from a suitcase", and battery-operated pop up collectives.
So, is Pulsford a Woodstock holdover or an indie raver? Or a girl who just wants to have fun?
For someone who has played stadiums and the talk-show circuit with Top 40 acts, the question is "Why not just keep doing that?" Isn't that the dream of all musicians?
Or is the process of discovery intriguing enough to forgo screaming fans in exchange for crowd-funding, street fairs, children's albums and performance art?
Let's take a look at the work she did with Cyndi that so many have come to love, critics included.
Twelve Deadly Cyns...And Then Some (1995)
Co-writer: Come on Home
Jan Pulsford and Cyndi Lauper
CURTIS NEWART: It's widely known by fans that Cyndi had strong personal feelings about the song "The Goonies 'R' Good Enough", to the point where she did not perform it in concert for many years. Do you recall discussions about a new song ("Come on Home") to be written exclusively to replace "Goonies" on the album? Also, do you recall if "Hole in My Heart (All The Way To China)" was included on the Japanese release based purely on chart numbers?
JAN: This was the first of four songs we wrote together on the Hat Full of Stars tour. Cyndi wanted to put a new song on her greatest hits album to show she was moving forward and to act as a bridge to the future. She really believed in the song and it’s one of my favourites. As a co-writer I was not privy to any discussions about "Goonies" or "Hole in My Heart". It was an interesting experience for me recording in New York after so many years working in London and seeing how the production of the ("Come on Home") song evolved. There were a lot of versions!
The footage I saw of Cyndi and yourself outdoors recording Sisters of Avalon with essentially laptops and acoustic setups amid the trees isn't something I would've associated with a post-punk new waver who once flew over an audience in a garbage can. How did that recording setup come into being?
Well, electronic vibrations make up sound in the same way that the vibrations of guitar strings or dulcimers do, so mixing the two worlds has always made sense to me. Cyndi knew about the connection to the earth and her voice. She loved experimenting with different stringed instruments - her favourite being the dulcimer. Music makers get inspiration from sounds and vibrations - the strumming of strings amidst the trees and wind definitely took you into the mystical land of the Sisters of Avalon.
Sisters Of Avalon (1996)
Credits: producer, bass, acoustic piano, drum programming, keyboards, synthesizer, harmonium, loops, samples.
Sisters of Avalon
You Don't Know
Ballad of Cleo & Joe
Fall Into Your Dreams
Love to Hate
Unhook the Stars
Say a Prayer
Brimstone and Fire
The album Sisters of Avalon continues the serious tone set by Hat Full of Stars three years earlier, offering commentary on discrimination of minorities, gays, and women. "Love to Hate" and "You Don't Know" tackle corruption in the media and the entertainment industry, while "Say a Prayer" is about the AIDS epidemic.
It's not entirely stern material: "Ballad of Cleo & Joe" is about a drag queen taking the nightly train to the clubs, while "Brimstone and Fire" is about a couple of lesbians sharing spaghetti and cake.
The Sisters of Avalon tour was the first time I saw Cyndi in concert. "Searching" opened the set while Cyndi glided out from beneath a large fabric onstage. While the album contains several of my favorite Cyndi songs, I reacted strongest to "Love to Hate", probably because it seemed like a sequel to "Money Changes Everything". Is there any relation between the two songs?
“Searching” was the first track of mine Cyndi heard. It was on the back of a cassette we listened to in Japan as there was no music available in the hotel room. Cyndi started writing the “Searching” lyrics and by the time we were back in the States the song was finished. I was utterly delighted. Cyndi and I had the same recording set-up so we shared most of the initial recording of the songs for Sisters of Avalon between my studio in the woods of Tennessee and Cyndi’s in the woods of Connecticut.
"Love to Hate" was my least favourite song of the album (although I like the song in its own right). It just seemed a very angry song to have on what was quite an upbeat yet calm and reflective album. My brother Nigel played the main guitar solo. We also recorded the solo for "You Don’t Know" in my studio English Valley Music when he had a break from being on tour with the rock band Bush.
Merry Christmas...Have a Nice Life (1998)
Early Christmas Morning
Minnie and Santa
I understand Cyndi had one album left in her contract with Sony and she wasn't being re-signed. Did you get a giggle out of the title when you first heard the album title? It's hard not to wonder whether the "Have a Nice Life" add-on was purely a jab at label executives of the day. Also, do you recall any discussion of not doing the final album under this contract as a Christmas album?
I didn’t have a say in anything but the music so I can’t really answer that. My feeling is there are some really great songs on the Christmas album but I sensed it was recorded in an atmosphere of fulfilling a contractual obligation.
September 11th obviously had a tremendous negative impact on a huge number of people worldwide. For the sake of this discussion, I recall Cyndi stating she would never perform "Disco Inferno" again. As far as Shine was concerned, even though the album was eventually leaked and became a huge fan favorite, how disheartening was the chain of events that seemed to plague that album's release?
It wasn’t just disheartening it was heartbreaking. By the time that album came out the stress involved had taken Cyndi to a breaking point and we parted company. Eight years is a long time to share your musical life with someone - it still hurts just writing about it but I found the corporate world of music very hard to deal with.
Shine Remixes (2003)
Co-writer: Higher Plane
Shine Album (2004) (Japan)
I Miss My Baby
The tentative North American release date was September 11th, 2001 on Edel Records, but unfortunately, the company closed prior to the release date.
It never was released as a full album in North America, being released only as a 5-song EP in 2002.
It was, however, released as a (rare, and much sought-after) full album in Japan in 2004.
It is rumoured that Cyndi's label was pushing for the At Last album to be recorded, instead of allowing Cyndi to rework the Shine album with other label powerhouse singers of the time.
Do you have a favorite memory with Cyndi?
Japan was always my favourite place - so many great memories of shows, the music of Ryuichi Sakamoto and bullet trains.
Cyndi coming out wearing a tiara with an entourage of drag queens at the Royal Albert Hall in London was also pretty sensational!
Favorite song you wrote together?
I loved all 25 of them - released and unreleased.
Favorite song you played live together?
Searching - an evocative start to any show - I so wish we had a video of it.
You use the name Jana Kyomoon in some circumstances. I know that in certain Buddhist practice, the word "kyo" is a Japanese translation meaning voice, sound, rhythm or vibration. Is there any connection there? Also, I'm curious about the (seemingly) random uppercase/lowercase stylization that you use as part of your artistry. Could you elaborate?
In 2006, I started experimenting performing in virtual worlds and JaNa KYoMoon became the name of my avatar - the name KYoMooN I chose from a list, and yes, the Japanese elements plus the moon seemed a perfect combination for me. I only play about once a month now in Second Life - usually the first MooNDaY of the month - technology moves on but it’s still a really interesting place to explore the "illusion of reality" and try out new music and keep in touch with people from all over the world - both real and virtual! I’m always eager to explore the next thing - playing in virtual worlds was a pretty groundbreaking thing to do back in 2006! And as far as the case stylisation - it’s actually not random - and you’re right it was an artistic decision.
Cyndi Lauper and Jan Pulsford
As mentioned earlier, Pulsford is a co-producer of the annual Spirit of Beowulf Festival in the UK (Beowulf is an epic Old English poem celebrating the monster-slayer Beowulf who comes to the aid of the King of Danes).
The festival is held on the banks of the River Deben in the UK. It's a weekend of music and arts, Anglo-Saxon costumed historical reenactors, plus techno breakfasts, dragon image projections and African drums. Why not? Life is short.
JaN currently lives in Suffolk where she enjoys being inspired by the River Deben and the creative community. Her large collection of music, including the critically acclaimed Sisters of Avalon album with Cyndi Lauper, is available on iTunes, Amazon, CD Baby and Bandcamp.
The only rule we ask our participants to follow is to name the first answer that pops into their head for the following 12 questions.
Breakfast cereal: porridge with hemp sprinkles and local honey
Next Halloween costume: me 40 years ago!
Birthday wish present: a couple of weeks relaxing in southern Spain
Fave cartoon: anime - Grave of the Fireflies
Fave movie: Doctor Zhivago
Fave song: anything by Massive Attack
Celebrity run-in: Maya Angelou at a washington airport with Cyndi
Celebrity crush: Idris Elba
Fragrance: patchouli oil
What do you drive: I don’t - it’s bad for the environment - take public transport or car share!
Pet peeve: dog owners not picking up after their dogs!
Room service food: anything veggie