Gloriously glam, Scissor Sisters and openly gay front man Jake Shears slash through town March 16.
By Gregg Shapiro
Ta-Dah is a fitting name for the sophomore effort by Scissor Sisters. After touring the world and taking it by storm with their Grammy-nominated eponymous debut disc, they regrouped and recorded the eagerly anticipated follow-up, unquestionably deserving of such a bravura title. Scissor Sisters (which launches a U.S. tour this month and performs in Houston at Verizon Wireless Theater on March 16) know what you want and they serve it up, shiny as cutlery. The lead track and current single “I Don’t Feel Like Dancin’ ” is a slice of ’70s-influenced pop that is bound to have the desired effect. In fact, if dancing is your game, Ta-Dah (Universal/Motown) provides ample opportunity. Not ones to shy away from musical drama, Scissor Sisters slow it down for the greatest impact on “Land of a Thousand Words.” Scissor sister Jake Shears—one of the openly gay members of the band, along with bass player Babydaddy, and guitarist Del Marquis—took time from the band’s recent whirlwind European trek to answer a few questions, transatlantic style, before the domestic release of the new album.
Gregg Shapiro: You were just in the U.K., where Scissor Sisters are huge! What’s it like to perform someplace where you are huge celebrities?
Jake Shears: It’s strange. It’s definitely not like we’re “celeb celebs” because we’ve pretty much steered clear of tabloid fodder. As far as being a big pop band, it’s amazing. It’s a little bit nerve-wracking, at first, but we’ve really been working hard this past month and it culminated in this last week. It’s just been in-sane! The record came out there on Monday [September 18], and the papers are declaring it “Scissor-mania.” We played Trafalgar Square on Saturday night, and the city’s never seen anything like that before. There’s never been an event that big in Trafalgar Square.
Is it true that Kylie Minogue introduced Scissor Sisters at your Trafalgar Square concert?
Yes. It was just fantastic. It’s so exciting that people are loving the music and they’re loving the second record. It’s just a big relief, because you just can’t count on much of anything. You can’t count on the fact that people are going to like what you choose to do, and you can’t necessarily count on having any fans left on a second record. We’ve seen that happen in the past year, with other bands that were very successful on their first records, put out the second ones and just completely tanked. The fact that it’s not tanking and in just three days it’s turning out to be one of the biggest sellers of the year is very, very exciting.
I understand that the concert was filmed and will be shown in select movie theaters. How did that come about?
Most of the big gigs, whether it’s a festival or whatever, get filmed one way or another, because, if they’re big enough, there are those screens on the sides of the stage, because the people a mile away can’t see you. A lot of times what they’re filming gets broadcast.
You’ve probably been asked this question quite a bit recently, but how would you say that Scissor Sisters have evolved in the couple of years between the debut album and Ta-dah ?
I think the band has evolved musically. I don’t think we were necessarily a very good band when we started out. I think we were fun, and Ana is super funny, and the shows were really fun. But I don’t think we were a great band. Whereas now, I think, the band itself has gotten really tight and amaz-ing, just as a live band. And the music has taken another step. The second album is kind of different. It’s a bit more nuanced and lyrically it goes different places. This album is not about the same thing. We’re writing about different things than we were on the first record.
One subtle difference I observed, for example, is going from calling the first album Scissor Sisters and then the second one is called Ta-Dah, which has a fanfare or announcement quality to it.
I always think that you have to put things out so you can move from them. Our A&R guy from when the first record came out didn’t want us to put “Filthy Gorgeous” on it. I was very adamant about having it on [there], because not only do I think it’s a nice song, but I knew we’d never write another song like it, and I don’t think we will. I don’t want to write another song like it, because we’ve already written it. It’s really important to do what you do, and then take a step from it and move on. I’m absolutely terrified of getting stuck in some kind of rut. People are always wanting to categorize and shoebox what it is you’re doing, but I want to defy that. I don’t think there is a definition, yet, of this band that properly describes it. I don’t know what the definition of this band is, and I hope that I don’t find out for a very long time.
How would you say that you have personally evolved?
I think I’ve become quite a bit more of a focused person, just in general. In terms of the things I care about. There’s a lot at stake. I love what I do and I love what this band does. Those things are very important to me, and I take them very seriously. In that way, maybe I’ve become a bit more of a workaholic than I ever have been.
As one might expect, dancing continues to play a role in the music of Scissor Sisters, and in the songs “I Don’t Feel Like Dancin'” and “Ooh,” you actually sing about dancing. When it comes to dancing and singing, does one of them play a bigger role in your life or are they given equal billing?
Dancing and singing? I love performing. I dance like crazy on stage. The problem with a lot of these new songs, and the challenge that I am personally facing right now performing them live, is that vocally they’re even more challenging than the first record was. “She’s My Man” is very hard to sing, “I Don’t Feel Like Dancing” is very difficult to sing, and so is “Land of a Thousand Words.” Especially with “I Don’t Feel Like Dancing” and “She’s My Man,” when I sing these songs, I can sing the hell out them, but I can’t move around a lot, which is driving me crazy. I’m just hoping that once we sing them over and over and over again, that I’m going to be able to use my body more when I’m singing them, because, as of now, that’s been a real challenge. I love to move around when I’m singing, but those songs are proving to be a real bitch.
The song “Paul McCartney” is the equivalent of a musical fan letter. What would you want someone to write to you in a fan letter?
I don’t know. Fan letters are very sweet, but I would feel kind of undeserving of one in the first place.
That’s very humble.
I’m always blown away when I meet a big lover of the band or what not and people are shaking or they’re really freaked out, and it makes me feel [ laughs ]…it makes me wonder what have I done to this person that they’re actually scared to approach me or they’re really nervous being around me. It’s a really weird thing for me. My mom’s a Southern lady. She’s very good at making everyone around her feel incredibly comfortable. I would hope to do the same.
You’ve met Sir Paul, and Kylie introduced you for your Trafalgar Square concert, and Elton John can be heard on Ta-dah. But how did you get Gina Gershon to play Jew’s harp on “I Can’t Decide”?
Oh, my God! God bless her, she’s really wonderful! We were both really bombed at a party and struck up a conversation and ended up becoming good friends. She’s absolutely a lovely lady. When we started talking, I found out that she plays Jew’s harp. I said, “You’ve got to come to our studio and play Jew’s harp on this record because it needs it.” And she did! It’s a very bizarre thing to see her do it, because she really can play very well. She’s also an awesome actress. She’s totally an icon.
Speaking of “I Can’t Decide,” violence also rears its head in that song, as well as in “She’s My Man.” Would you say that is a reflection of the current state of the world?
Maybe. Here we are in a world on the brink of world war, and I often ask myself what business I have writing pop songs. I don’t know what the answer to that question is. I don’t know if I have any business writing pop songs. My only excuse for it is that it makes me happy and it makes people happy.
Right. It’s a kind of escapism.
You just want to spread a little joy in the world. However, personally, I’m very fascinated by violence and always have been since I was a child. I don’t know if that’s a good or bad thing. Whether it’s in novels or movies or comic books or whatever, I do have a fascination with the macabre, the grotesque, with violence. I don’t necessarily know why or what the answer is. There are certain films that I find really fascinating—for example, a cartoony comedy in which people die. That’s something that totally gets my juices going. Ruthless People, Supervixens by Russ Meyer.
Have you seen 9 Dead Gay Guys ?
It’s that same sort of over-the-top comedy, but characters in the movie are dying.
I find that more disturbing than actual realistic violence. I’m a big fan of the animator Ralph Bakshi, who uses an abundance of violence in his work. I think it’s a part of the aesthetic that I’m fascinated by, and I can’t really come up with a why. It’s definitely in there somewhere. There’s a lot of rage in this boy. [ Laughs ]
Speaking of the grotesque, “Kiss You Off” makes reference to Lewis Carroll’s “Jabberwocky” [“Crush you like a gyre/But the gimble’s all the same”]…
Oh, my God! You’re the only person [who has mentioned that]. That’s very funny. No one has caught that at all.
Would you say that you are a big Carroll fan?
Oh, my God, yeah! Absolutely! “Jabberwocky” is one of the best poems ever. I’m a big fantasy buff. I’m a big horror fanatic. I found this amazing Lewis Carroll trove that’s about 1,500 pages long. It’s always Alice Through the Looking-Glass, ad nauseam, but I found this book that has everything he ever wrote. It’s really fantastic to read. I’m a big fan of alternate realities. Right now, I’m reading To Your Scattered Bodies Go, by Philip Jose Farmer, which is really tripping me out. So, the answer is yes!
“I Might Tell You Tonight” is a wonderful love song. Are those types of songs easier or harder to write than others?
I think that love songs or songs with heavy emotional content are actually a lot easier to write than what could be considered a more insipid pop song. Getting to a song like “I Don’t Feel Like Dancing” is much more challenging to write. To me, that’s pure inspiration, whereas going into your emotions and writing something more personal is actually a bit easier.
“Other Side” sounds like one of the more introspective songs in Scissor Sisters’ repertoire.
“Other Side” is half-based on the first novella in [gay novelist] Michael Cunningham’s Specimen Days. The piece is called “In the Machine,” and that’s what inspired “Other Side.” They just went hand-in-hand. Michael Cunningham is one of my favorite writers. He gave me an advance copy of Specimen Days , and I just devoured it. And then I wrote the song right away. It’s interesting because this album was book-ended by deaths of very close friends. So the preoccupation with death on this record was part prophecy and part punctuation.
Know your Scissor Sisters, performing in Houston on March 16:
Jake Shears (Jason Sellards, center), vocals
Babydaddy (Scott Hoffman, far right), vocals, bass guitar,
Ana Matronic (Ana Lynch, second from right), vocals,
Del Marquis (Derek Gruen, second from left), guitar
Paddy Boom (Patrick Seacor, far left), percussion
Shears and Babydaddy formed the group in 2000 when they met in Kentucky.
Need more? Check out the band website, www.scissorsisters.com.