Mother's Day came and went for Cindy Lawson at Palmer's Bar this year, where she was not only surrounded by her children, but also her beloved local music family — members of which both new and old.
Lawson, a long-established and influential pioneer of the Twin Cities music scene, reveled in the delight that day by watching mother-daughter act Diane & Emy Miller.
"Seeing Diane, who's got this amazingly sweet voice...she could do everything," Lawson said. "I'm just thrilled to be around all these people."
After a decades-long hiatus, Lawson herself is back with a new record — "New Tricks" — and a fresh approach to creating and performing original music.
VIDEO PREMIERE: "The Devil's in the Details"
"I got close to being in a big band when I was up in New York, but it just didn't work out," Lawson said. "And it kind of colored how I lived my life for 30 years after."
Lawson's music career started to bloom in the mid- to late-'80s and early '90s — arguably one of the most pivotal times in local music memory and on the heels of the Minneapolis Sound-era — when local artists came together and played from bar to bar, riff by riff.
"You kind of felt like the sky's the limit," she said.
The Clams, Lawson's first band, started, in her words, "from ground zero," as the result of several ads taken out in Minneapolis' now-defunct weeklies, the City Pages and the Twin Cities Reader. Groups like legendary local femme figures Têtes Noires and The Blue Up? inspired Lawson to form her own corps of queens. According to Lawson, not long after the first ad appeared in January of 1985, drummer Karen Cusack answered the call, followed by guitar player Roxie Terry and finally, bassist Patty Jansen.
"We went everywhere together. We used to joke that we were like one egg split four ways, you know? Just so close," she said.
The quartet's days between gigs were spent practicing in Karen's parent's basement, and then by bouncing around to different rehearsal spaces, which the group would oftentimes share with other artists.
"You know, with musicians, you end up sharing rehearsal spaces with a bunch of bands," she said. "Right now, I'm lucky enough — I've got a house, so I've got practice space....it's kind of become my social life."
Same woman, new tricks:
Lawson, freshly on the other side of 60, says she recently found herself in a similar position musically as she did when she entered the scene. She recalled how The Clams essentially learned "to play our instruments on stage," and now, she's spent the last few years "noodling on the guitar and taking some lessons" in an effort to "get back up to speed."
The last original record released by Lawson was with her second Minneapolis-based band, Whoops Kitty, in the late '90s. She's roused some crowds since then, performing from time to time at events like First Avenue's Annual John Lennon Tribute with Curtiss A, and for sit-ins with local The Kinks cover band, Kinda Kinky.
Lawson says after returning to Minnesota from New York and forming Whoops Kitty, a myriad of signs in her life pointed toward the same message: "Give it a rest." She took it to heart, pulling away from making music to spend more time with her family.
“You just get to that point,” she said. “Prime kid-time is after work or after school, you know…you need to be there for them.”
But now that she's an “empty-nester,” she says she thinks the time is right to (partially) get the band back together.
"I just felt like, you know, I need to do something to fill up my time and make things worthwhile — even if it doesn't mean anything to anyone else," she said. "I'm gonna do this from my heart."
In support of "New Tricks," Lawson says she got the chance to reunite and make music with some familiar faces like Jerry Lefkowitz — the guitar player in Whoops Kitty — and newer faces, too, like her drummer Mark Devaraj, who plays in several bands, including Whiskey Rock 'n' Roll Club MPLS The three-piece outfit will join Tragic Hands in opening for Lawson at her record release show.
"I'm reacquainting myself with people that I knew from way back because there's a lot of people from back when I was playing in the '80s and '90s that are still playing. And then all the new bands — seeing Diane Miller — and it's just so great seeing all these new bands. I'm loving it. It's probably the best thing."
Lawson's aforementioned record release show takes place Sunday, May 22 at HiFi Hair and Records, playing out on the edge of the city's annual Art-A-Whirl Festival. HiFi's owner, Jon Clifford, is a long-time friend of Lawson's and a "huge booster of Minneapolis music," who extended a hearty "yes" to Lawson after she reached out about a venue for the release show.
Clifford was so on board, he appeared in Lawson's new music video for her "New Tricks" tune, "The Devil's in the Details," which was filmed in the shop and directed by Lawson’s son, Cory.
"I think that particular song is such an era," Lawson said. "I wanted to do something very funky and kind of a throwback."
Another track near to her heart, "Nope," was written by close friend and fellow artist, Lori Wray, before she died in February 2021 after a long, hard-fought battle with mental illness. Lawson released the song as a single for "New Tricks" on Bandcamp, and donated all of the proceeds to Dissonance, a Twin Cities nonprofit supporting artists who struggle with mental health issues.
"She was just a real, huge talent. And a lot of friends of mine played with her, too. She did one of those singles where she fronted the Jayhawks on one side, and then the 27 Various with Ed Ackerson on the other side. An amazingly great talent."
"Nope" and "The Devil's in the Details" join seven other tracks on "New Tricks," which was produced at Minneapolis' Dream Hog Studios, in collaboration with founding member of '90s alt-pop band Rex Daisy, and current Suburbs bassist, Steve Price.
"He's got this amazing pop sensibility, you know, and he's kind of around my age," Lawson said, adding, "You go back to the '70s AM radio stuff. You know, making music the way you need to — the way it comes out of you. I mean, it's there for everyone."
And she means it; there’s something there for everyone.
If you can't make it to HiFi Sunday, Lawson will play a show with The Heavy Sixers and Little Man on Friday, May 20 at 6 p.m., from the stage on which our story began — at the iconic Palmer's Bar on Minneapolis' West Bank.
For more details about her record release show beginning at 3 p.m. on Sunday, May 22 at HiFi Hair and Records, click here.
If you or someone you know is facing a mental health crisis, there is help available from the following resources:
Crisis Text Line – text “MN” to 741741 (standard data and text rates apply)
Crisis Phone Number in your Minnesota county
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), Talk to Someone Now
Throughout Minnesota call **CRISIS (**274747)
The Trevor Project at 866-488-7386
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