Scissor Sisters’ frontman on his second puberty, performing naked and the band’s Lady Gaga love affair
They’ve always been gorgeous, but it took a decade before the Scissor Sisters, with their third album Night Work, became full-on filthy. The romp-pop album, released last year, is done up in cheeky soft-core innuendo about “funking” someone, the late-shift grind (literally) and “big” surprises.
Our chat with frontman Jake Shears had many of them — from the conversation that united the band with Lady Gaga for the megastar’s 2011 Monster Ball Tour to the favorite gay icon he wants to meet (Tom Petty?). Shears also talked about the, well, sheer amount of clothing he wears, his wardrobe faux pas and how he defines himself … according to the Urban Dictionary.
Your Twitter page says you’ve been in the studio recently. Are the Scissor Sisters recording some new music?
Yeah, I’m in the studio as we speak. We’re writing new music. We’re back in New York for a moment, so we just thought we’d come in and play around and have fun. So yeah, we’re writing, definitely.
The wait won’t be four years like it was for Night Work then?
Well, it was just three and a half. (Laughs) But it definitely won’t be that long.
So, also in my Twitter finds, I came across a photo of you in a jockstrap.
Why are you always the naked one in the group?
I … um … just get hot on stage. That’s the main reason. (Laughs) I usually don’t get naked onstage, but I get excitable and usually it just feels better. The less I have on, the more I can move around. It’s the reason why Iggy Pop is always ripping his shirt off, so he can move and do his thing.
You’re looking beefier than ever, too. Lots of Muscle Milk, huh?
I’ve been drinking a lot of Muscle Milk. I’m preparing for my future as an exercise guru.
The music on Night Work is some of the band’s most sexual. Is it true: Does art imitate life?
The album is very much about our lives that we lead and then our fantasy lives that we lead, so a lot of it does imitate life. A lot of it is just imitating the dreams going on in my brain. But it’s a very sexy record, and I think we were feeling sexy when we were making it.
Your work, as far back as “Filthy/Gorgeous,” has always had a sexy feel to it. How do you explain those constant themes of sexual exploration and liberation in your music?
I think that this is the first record where we really explicitly explored that. So there’s a lot of celebratory stuff, but then there’s a real dark side to it; we love seeing two sides of the same coin. But it was just time for us to take the fringe and the feathers away a bit.
The other thing is I felt like I sort of crossed over the line from being a kid and a boy, which I felt like I was going to be forever, into being a grown man, which has definitely changed the way that I think about things, the way that I perform and the things that I wear. It’s been like hitting a second puberty.
When you look back at your career, going from Brooklyn clubs, kind of struggling to find an audience, and now opening for the biggest superstar in the world, how do you feel about how far you’ve come?
I really look back fondly at the last 10 years. This year, it’s going to be 10 years since our first performance, so I feel very proud but, at the same time, I also feel unfit. I feel like as a band we have a lot more to say, and I just think this band is going to constantly turn itself on its head.
Touring with Lady Gaga as her opening act should offer you the exposure that you haven’t necessarily had in the United States. You’ve always connected better outside of the States. In fact, some people still think you’re a European band.
Totally … a lot of people do.
Why do you think you’ve been able to connect better outside of America?
It’s funny: This last tour we had through America was probably the best American tour we’ve ever done. There’s something so exciting about touring America at this moment for us. I don’t know what it was about this record, but it seemed to make a connection with a real core audience — even more so than the last couple of records. With our American audience, we really found kind of a center and the shows, because of it, were super exciting. They really were some of the most exhilarating shows we’ve had in a long time. I still get really excited about playing in America. We’re so well received in Europe and in all these other places, but playing in America still feels uncharted and super exciting.
Did Lady Gaga handpick you for this tour or was it a record-label matchmaking?
Oh god, no, it wasn’t a label thing. It came about in a conversation. We were hanging out at Elton’s White Tie & Tiara Ball (in 2010), and he sat us next to each other ’cause he knew we’d get along and it was high time for us to meet. We were talking about music and she was telling me that she used to come see us play when she was younger and was just really inspired and loved our band a lot. I think she holds us very close to her heart in a lot of ways. And she said, “This might sound really weird, but I think that we’d do really well on tour together.” I just said we’d do it in a heartbeat. And it was a done deal in a week.
It’s going to be the gayest show of the year, without question.
(Laughs) It’s also just really nice to do something that comes from something real rather than something set up by record labels. This comes from a real love of one another, and it’s going to be super exciting because we’re going to be playing for tons of people who have no idea who we are. It’s a great platform for us.
Both you and Gaga wear some pretty flamboyant clothes. Would you be open to wearing a meat anything?
It depends on where it’s placed. (Long pause) I don’t know what that meant. (Laughs) God knows I’ve walked out on stage in some wonderful and horrendous and hideous things.
My husband was going through pictures recently and we came across, god, this one picture. You just look back on some shit that you wear and it doesn’t seem that long ago, but then you look at the picture and you’re like, “Oh my god, I can’t believe that I wore that horrible patchwork shirt with big bell-bottom trousers.” But I’m not a vain person, and I’m not afraid to look like a fool.
Aside from Lady Gaga, you’ve been able to hang with some cool gay icons, like Dolly Parton, Kylie Minogue and even Jane Fonda. Who are some others that you’d like to chill with?
I mean, since I was a kid Jane Fonda was really somebody I fantasized about meeting in person someday. But that’s a tough question, because I really just like so many … let me ask (band member) Baby Daddy. (Turns away from the phone and says, “Who’s left that I haven’t met that I’m obsessed with?” Baby Daddy: “That you haven’t met?” Shears: “Or that I haven’t stalked?”) He just called it: Tom Petty. Tom Petty is one of my fucking heroes. He’s not as glamorous as Jane Fonda, but …
Nor is he a gay icon.
He’s not really a gay icon, I guess. But he is for me. I just grew up listening to his music and I’ve just always been a massive fan. My tastes really run the gamut; I’ve got real obsessions and influences and inspirations that I think people couldn’t really predict.
You never liked when people would refer to the Scissor Sisters as a “gay band.” Do you feel like you’ve been able to shake that label over the years?
With this last record we sort of shook it in a way, and then figured out how to wear it. I think it was always really frustrating for me in a lot of ways just because I always felt like being called a “gay band” was a categorization that put us in a second tier, like we were a second-rate creation. But our songwriting and our performances can stand up to anybody else’s, and can stand up next to the best, and labeling it with our sexual preference above all else is demeaning.
However, on the other hand, we are a gay band and there are three gay men and a woman, who might as well be a gay man, and that’s shaped our aesthetic, it’s shaped who we are, it’s part of what we sing about, it’s part of the sexuality we express. There are two sides to it, and I think that we are less insecure about it.
In the Urban Dictionary, Jake Shears is defined as the “hot lead singer of the band Scissor Sisters … gay and fabulous … known for taking his clothes off or having them taken off … pretty and funny … his abs are very lickable.”
Oh, that’s good. I like that definition.
If you wrote your own entry, what would you write?
God. That’s a tough question. Rock music fanatic. Horror lover … not “whore” lover. Video gamer. Exuberant and sexual. Former elf.
I grew up always feeling very puckish, like A Midsummer Night’s Dream. I always felt like kind of a very energetic mischievous elf, but I don’t know if that’s really applicable anymore. But that’s how I’d describe myself. I love that I’m in the Urban Dictionary; that’s exciting!