Like The Polyphonic Spree in 2002 and the Darkness last year, the Scissor Sisters provide something above and beyond the music - a sense of grand theatre brought to brighten up the Pleasantville world of dull garage rock and faceless emo bands. Still to date very few interviews have touched deeper than a few Elton John and Bee Gees references. In an exclusive interview with Designer Magazine, Scissor Sisters frontman Jake Shears talks about his relationship with his parents, the dark cold nights of New York and how performing at the Royal Albert Hall later this year will be a dream come true.
Q: For you to be selling out shows the size of the Manchester Academy
after playing the city only twice previously is amazing. Does it surprise you
how quickly it's happened?
A: Yeah, it's a little scary. I don't quite know what to think. But it's been amazing; it's been a real trip. Yer know when you grow that quickly there are growing pains that come with it and we've definitely experienced those. It can be so satisfying and frightening...kind of everything at once. I still consider us a baby band so its tough when suddenly there's so much expectation, but I feel we've been coming out on top. We finally got the record at 10 today - the records finally a Top 10 Record so it's something to really celebrate.
Q: From just meeting you now it's obvious you're an extremely confident
guy. You must have known all this was going to happen even if you couldn't have
foresaw how quickly?
A: I don't know. You just put it out there and see what happens. There are a lot of people that still hate it, which is cool. I want people to really hate it. We just got one of our worst reviews I’ve ever seen. Kitty Empire trashed our album when it came out and the Observer sends her along to review the show after she already hates us. This morning I get the paper and she has proceeded to rip one of our best shows of the tour completely to shreds and that was a little depressing. It was a really evil piece. That's difficult, but you kind of have to take everything with a grain of salt including the articles that praise you.
Q: Going from how much you did when the Scissor Sisters first started,
maybe one or two shows a month, to yesterday when you did 5 shows in a day. How
do you physically cope with it and still keep up the energy levels for every
A: It's challenging. You've got to somehow stay grounded. Yesterday was one of the craziest days of my life, it's like being caught up in a tornado and you don't really know whether to laugh or cry. It's funny cos doing shows and touring almost every night has changed my personality a little bit. I'm normally manic all the time and hyper and crazy, but now it's like I really focus that energy into performances. I think I’ve become a little more relaxed as a person in my everyday life.
Q: When you go home do your friends go "Jake, what's wrong, you're
so quiet nowadays?"
A: I don't know. I haven't been home in so long I don't know. Maybe. That might happen.
Q: Moving on to the recent single, "Take Your Mama Out" was
about you coming out to your mum.
A: It's definitely inspired by my mum. I'm really close with my mother. The songs got very Southern influences, it's very honky tonk, and my parents live in a horse farm in West Virginia. It was written in the horse farm in the shower and that song is really for her.
Q: Is your mum your biggest influence on your life?
A: Were just so close. She's been very supportive. I wouldn't really be doing this at all if it wasn't for her, till the point of funding me for a year when I said I was going to quit my job just because I am writing the album. She's not Miss Moneybags, but both my parents really believed in what I was doing so without them none of this would be happening. It's really exciting for me to see that they're really really excited and happy.
mum comes up to New York all the time. She's really sweet, she loves coming up
to New York to see our shows. And I’ll take her out. She doesn't drink or
anything but she'll watch me get pissed and I take her to the sleaziest gay bars
imaginable. And she's always so cute, she's got blond hair and dresses really
nice. She loves being social and meeting all the drag queens and looking at the
strippers. It's really fun and she's kind of become her own New York character
- everyone knows who she is!!!
Q: I'm trying to picture the Scissor Sister family tree here. Care to
fill us in?
A: Everybody's parents are pretty different. My father is a lot older, my dads going to be 76 this year and my mums 20 years younger. My dad and I have gotten a lot closer. He's really proud and really impressed so it's really good to know that your parents are proud of you. He hates New York, he's come up and seen us once in New York, but he's been really sick so if he's better by the Fall I really hope he can come out and see us at the Royal Albert Hall.
Q: Did you always know you would move to New York?
A: I lived in LA for a year and I f**king hated it. It was horrible, just huge and sprawling. I was 18 and I just couldn't get laid for the life of me. I'd been out for years at that point. There was just nothing to do and I was like I gotta get the hell out of here. And I knew if I didn't like LA that the other option was New York, I just knew that I would like New York even though I hadn't been to it before. I moved there just a little over 5 years ago and it's been quite a trip.
Q: Did your life totally flip once you moved there?
A: Yeah. I'd been in Seattle, I grew up in the Northwest, and it was a great town for being a gay teenager just cos it's a real liberal city. I felt very comfortable there. So when I moved to New York a friend of mine got us this apartment, which was pretty much a crack house in Brooklyn. I'm not exaggerating, it was the scariest place I’ve ever f**king been in my entire life. So my life is flipped upside down. I was on payphones on street corners telling my mom I was ok when I was really really freaked out.
had a couple of years of really intense living in New York. Just the general
living situation in general. In New York unless you're rich you've got pay your
dues and it takes a while to feel comfortable. I lived in a loft for two years
without heat and every time it rained water just poured down the east wall of
this loft. I lived in a concrete box that just rained inside with no heat for a
long time. That's intense, but you have to kind of go through that, I think
it's kind of necessary.
Q: Is that why you got into stripping then - to get out of the loft
A: Yeah. I wanted to take a trip to Europe and a friend of mine suggested I just started stripping. At first I was like Noooo, then I was like yeah. And then I did and it was so much fun. I love to dance so I really got into it. The first bar I ever did it at was this little illegal bar that changed its name every 2 weeks to avoid taxes. It was about the size of this room and I would dance "on the bar". Now it's legendary, people still talk about this place...and I made good cash too, I walked out of there some nights with just wads of cash!!!
Q: Is there competition between the strippers as to who can make most
A: Yes. I made the most money every night. I was also very wholesome. Most girls or boys in New York who do it are also hookers. It's interesting when you know you're being perceived as a hooker and I never really cared if that's what people thought. People just think you're showing the goods for later on that night, but I always imagined when I was dancing that my mum was in the room and I never did anything that I thought would, yer know, upset my mother.
Q: There must have been temptation in front of you every night?
A: For being a prostitute? Oh, of course there's that temptation. I was seriously tempted. Absolutely. Totally. I've got plenty of friends who are hookers and I’ve got friends that are happy doing that so yeah, there was that temptation. I'm glad I never took it, but prostitution is the oldest profession and there's something really interesting about it.
I picked up a guy once while I was stripping and now he's a really really close friend. If I would not have picked up that guy I picked up that night, my life would be very different than it is. If that wouldn't have happened I think Scissor Sisters would be very different. He was one of Del's best friends and somebody I ended up dating off and on for years later...and then a few years later he introduced me to Del who owns this little studio.
Q: Obviously the whole New York club scene has changed since Guilliani
came in. There are two images of NY club life - the Michael Alig seedy
underbelly and the very conservative side?
A: Guilliani was still in office when I moved to New York so there was still a resistance. But after September 11th it was beautiful, it sounds sick of me to say, but post September 11th New York was a really gorgeous moment. In clubbing too, I’ve never experienced anything like it. The week after September 11th was this crazy hedonism that was really dark - like everybody was just taking drugs, having sex and freaking out. There was just this great sense of abandon in club life that was a lot of fun.
Scissor Sisters came out of September 11th, our performance was 10 days after. I think that changed a lot of things. We'd been making music, it was just Baby Daddy and myself at the time, but we'd never performed any of it. It was Ana's night, she hosted this cabaret night called Knock Off. Baby Daddy and I would perform anywhere; we'd get on the bar at The Cock in New York - literally him and his laptop and me with microphone on a bar.
those days I was even more scantily clad than I am now. I would run around in
thongs and take off my clothes. I still had a lot of stripping in me. There was
the time where I’d done go go dancing and started singing and I was almost like
a singing go go dancer at the beginning of Scissor Sisters.
Q: Where did the whole look come from for the band?
A: It took a long time. I'm not a stylish person at all, but I do love dressing up. Ana's always had her look going and it just took a while to form. I don't know whether people expect us to dress like this offstage. I don't know whether they expect us to be walking down the road in a purple suede cat suit, but it's just not going to happen. I need those things on stage because it brings out and magnifies that part of your personality. I could put on a fine show dressed like this (Ed: Jeans, T-shirt and tracksuit jacket), but I don't think it would work as much.... you’ve got to look fabulous!!!
can't think of anything more boring than fashion though. I respect fashion
designers and stuff, but fashion just bores me to sleep. There was one review
where the writer was bitching about all these industry people that were at the
show, "fat slags having a good time" and it was like 1) You're
industry and 2) Who cares what people look like. I'd rather have a whole
audience of dirty people than snotty people in nice clothes.
Q: A lot of people who haven't heard the album and have simply heard the
cover of "Comfortably Numb" and seen the way you look have written
you off as a novelty act.
A: You can only take us so seriously. That song was released as the B-side of our first single. In the context of the album it makes a lot of sense. On the album it really works. On it's own it is a novelty song, but I'm not worried about it because I think we've got so much other great stuff to back it up. It doesn't really bother me, it's not my favourite song on the record...I’m not crazy about it. Maybe it does put people off the album, it's very dangerous song in that respect, but it is a red herring.
The thing is i'm just a big Pink Floyd fan as anybody else and we did wind them (the Pink Floyd fans) up unfortunately. Roger Waters and Gilmour actually contacted us and they were really pleased with it. Since when has Pink Floyd entered the charts? It's been a long time. It makes a whole new generation aware of one of the best bands that ever existed as far as I’m concerned. I think Waters and Gilmour appreciated it, whether they liked it or not, I think they probably appreciated the fact that it was something that they had never thought of themselves. They probably never thought they'd hear that song sounding like that, so I think there was an element about it that they really like whether they enjoyed listening to it or not.
always singing songs constantly in the shower or when I’m walking through the
street and I sing them however I want. When that came out of my mouth the light
bulb went of and I was like - the meaning and lyrics of that song is really
special, but sung in a different way they could mean something completely
Q: The album is so eclectic, just so many different styles throughout
and I guess that's what makes the album so durable and moreish. In terms of
influences the obvious names are rolled out each and every review, but people
wouldn't believe you're sat here listening to John Martyn for instance
A: Oh yeah. My taste's are really all over. Isn't that John Martyn record amazing? It's really peaceful. I'm a big stoner at heart. I just want to play rock n roll shows...I don't care where they're at. Someday I’ll write a musical, but I’m not really interested in that. But a good rock show has always been theatrical. Queen. Pink Floyd. Even Beck, the Midnight Vultures tour I saw at Radio City had that crazy element to it.
I've been listening to Bette Middler records lately and just like living for it. Her stuff in the late 70s and early 80s reminds me so much of what were doing. I've really found kind of like Oh my god this came before us, but the live shows she goes from disco to "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy" to heart wrenching ballads...meanwhile in-between all the songs talking to the audience and having fun and connecting with people. It's so what we do!!!
Words: Alex McCann
Photo's: Karen McBride - www.karenmcbride.com
The single "Take Your Mama Out" is out now in all good stores
Scissor Sisters play T In The Park and V2004
The band play the Royal Albert Hall on 17th October
For more information
Check out Designer Magazine's exclusive Scissor Sisters photo gallery by clicking here
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