Just yesterday, former Scissor Sister Jake Shears told The Daily Beast, “what I love about the term “queer” is that it conveys a common mindset of personal freedom and empathy, regardless of a specific identity. It focuses on what connects us, no matter your gender or orientation. To me it’s about standing for each other.”
He also believes that their hit, “Let’s Have a Kiki” so well summed up the band’s manifesto that it left them nowhere to go — for now.
Just a few months ago, we spent some quality time with Shears, who had a very busy 2018 — appearing on Broadway in Kinky Boots, while also releasing a self-titled first solo album and a memoir called “Boys Keep Swinging.”
Here’s the original interview. To quote one of their best known lyrics: Dirty dirty.
Just for Shears Pleasure
Life looks very different for Jason Sellards at 40 than it did just a few years ago. As Jake Shears, the founder, frontman and half of the songwriting duo that propelled the group Scissor Sisters to international stardom, he was in the sweetest spot one could imagine: devilishly handsome, adored by audiences around the world and partnered to Chris Moukarbel, the documentary director behind Banksy Does New York and Gaga: Five Foot Two.
But five years ago, Shears and his bandmates put Scissor Sisters into cryostasis after a decade of breakneck touring and recording. Their sound paired au courant Electroclash influences with vocals that recall both the B-52’s and the Bee Gees, and made their debut the biggest selling album of 2004 in the UK. The hits came quickly, from their trance-dance cover of Pink Floyd’s “Comfortably Numb” and “Filthy/Gorgeous” to “I Don’t Feel Like Dancing,” their smash duet with Elton John. Through it all, they were sublimely and unmistakably queer. Three of the members — Shears, guitarist Del Marquis (Derek Gruen), and Babydaddy (Scott Hoffman) — were out of the closet before the band’s inception, and vocalist Ana Matronic (Ana Lynch) earned her showbiz stripes years before as a drag show emcee.
But with the Scissors on hold, Shears began to consider what else he might do to quell his restless urge to create, and the answer came back: Plenty. The band’s rapturous reception left his phone contacts list well stocked with a Who’s Who of the music world, and he soon found himself collaborating with Cher (on a track called “Take It Like A Man”) and re-teaming with Kylie Minogue and Chic mastermind Nile Rogers on a sizzling NERVO one-off called “The Other Boys.”
Somewhere along the way, the relationship with Mourkarbel flamed out, and Shears ultimately relocated to New Orleans, a city known for its history, vitality and appreciation of the eccentric. More than one person suggested Shears life would make a fascinating read, so he wrote a memoir while simultaneously tinkering away on his solo debut — all it under a cloak of relative secrecy.
That cocoon burst open when Shears resurfaced on multiple fronts simultaneously this past year. His book, Boys Keep Swinging, was published in February. He suddenly popped up on Broadway as in an uncharacteristically modest role as Charlie Price in Cyndi Lauper and Harvey Fierstein’s Kinky Boots. Next, his solo album, Jake Shears, hit the charts in August. No sooner did he leave the musical than he launched a solo tour. And now — having crisscrossed the states, he’s taking his act to Europe — where the Scissors first became darlings of critics and fans alike.
Running without Scissors
“It’s been a wild year,” Shears will admit as he’s packing his bags in Los Angeles. “Getting to try and do entirely new things that are super challenging has been exciting. Even touring on my own now has been a big challenge, because I was always part of a bigger thing — a unit. This has given me the chance to make a different kind of show, and it’s fun to have something to prove again and to have sole and complete control. When you’re in a band, everybody’s their own person, you know? But this time out, I’ve had to form everything and try to master it. I just finished a show here in LA, and what’s so cool is that the show becomes a sort of “Best Of…” everything I’ve been trying since August. That’s been the most satisfying thing to me; having total control and having it work. I’m really proud of that.”
Even though Shears is the one calling the shots now, he is hardly working in a vacuum. “It was always Babydaddy and I — as far as writing the music and being in charge making albums,” he says. “And he’ll always be my main songwriting and production partner. I’ll always consider him my long-term musical partner. But you know what’s funny? I think this album has the most in common with the first Scissors record because Scott (Babydaddy) and I got to make that record without anybody really looking over our shoulders the whole time.”
Some would find the pressure exhausting; not Shears. “One of the things I got kind of sick of with Scissor Sisters — and I love every single one of our albums — but I really got exhausted with feeling there were a lot of people with their fingers in the pot. For better and for worse, you know? I love those records, but it’s nice to make something that’s just where I’m not having to listen to a bunch of people, and people aren’t trying to put in their two cents everyday.”
The Sound of Solo
The contrast between Jake Shears and the best known Scissors’ output is stark. Where the band’s work tended to feel like a full-on dance party decorated with slashes of rock guitar, the new record is a potpourri of influences — including styles as eclectic as any parade down Bourbon Street.
“It’s definitely a theatrical record,” says Shears, chuckling. “A lot of these songs I co-wrote, but we wrote a lot of these just on a piano, and they were written in kind of a different way. What I learned from “Let’s Have A Kiki,” strangely enough, I applied to this record in a big way — where you create a song where things only happen once, and you just repeat the chorus. There are hooks and there are all these elements that you only hear one time. It makes the songs a little bit more complicated, but to me it keeps them interesting, too. So on this album there’s not a lot of second verses; they go into bridges after the first chorus. The song structures are kind of turned on their heads in a lot of ways with this record, and that was a very conscious thing that adds to the overall theatricality.”More Hot Stories
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The album also offers a kaleidoscope of images from throughout his life — running the gamut from childhood experiences and his 2015 breakup to the heroically hedonistic lifestyle that has practically made him a poster boy for post-PrEP sexual liberation.
“After the Scissors went on hiatus,” Shears explains,” I moved from New York to LA, which is a big transition. I tried doing some session writing, and it wasn’t for me. There was something about it that was depressing to me — not that they were all bad experiences, but it just really wasn’t my vibe writing for different movie projects. I wrote a film score with my buddy Tim, and I was just trying to figure out what it was I wanted to be doing. My personal life was kind of in turmoil. I was in a relationship that I wasn’t happy in and one that I’d been in for a long time, and I had to kind of sort through that before I was able to really make something meaningful again. And I think I just had to make decisions about my life. I just didn’t have the bandwidth, you know? I was writing the whole time, but nothing I was making was coming out that I really felt connected with.”
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Unsure where to turn when it came to the world around him, Shears decided to cast his gaze inward. That’s where his memoir Boys Keep Swinging began to reveal itself to him. “It’s strange to show the details of a certain side of you,” he can say in retrospect, “because I feel like my privacy is important.” Nevertheless he admits, “I had a really good time writing. The first draft was pretty awful, as a first draft of anything can be. But you write knowing what’s coming out is not necessarily very good. That’s how I feel about a lot of projects: You’ve gotta make a blob first, and once you start doing passes, it becomes fun. I grew up writing fiction and personal essay stuff, so once the shape started to fall into place, it really was a lot of fun. Certain parts were painful, and I would sort of underestimate how it would make me feel. I would go through a week and just be working on certain sections, then finish the week and wonder why I was so spent and emotional. And then I’d remember, ‘Oh, right: I’ve been writing about all this heavy stuff that happened.’”
As a youngster, Jason Sellards bounced back and forth between Arizona and Washington State. And as his memoir makes clear, he often felt uncomfortable in his own skin. His taste in clothes, haircuts and music set him far outside the mainstream — along with the budding realization that he was gay.
“I’d always thought I had a normal childhood,” he reflects, “but going back and writing all this stuff, I realized my life has been very unconventional. Believe it or not, that came as some kind of a surprise to me. It gave me a lot of pride to understand that, and it was also was really exciting to me. I’ve always just been a big fan of nightlife characters and rock and roll stars, and I’ve always been fascinated by moments in time and when you look at different eras in your life. I really wanted it to feel like a snapshot of my experience in New York at the Millennium.”
An Absolute Miracle
With the recording of the album nearly complete and the book already out, Shears leapt into Kinky Boots. For someone used to singing and dancing with the Scissor Sisters (not to mention performing as a stripper at an anything-goes NYC nightlife institution called The Cock) one might think the move to theater would be a natural one. Yet Shears found himself apprehensive -— in the best possible way.
“The stakes were so high. How could I resist? The opportunity to bite off something more than I can chew is something I always love to do,” Shears explains. “I love when an opportunity comes along, and I’m not quite sure whether or not I can do it. When something seems kind of scary, that’s really exciting to me. I was in way over my head. In the middle of rehearsals for that show, I can remember thinking to myself, ‘My God, if I somehow make it through opening night in one piece, it’s going to be an absolute miracle.”
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The Sweetest Thing
With a successful record, a well-received book and favorable notices on Broadway behind him, Shears has become that thing he might have expected least: a role model. For years, he’d tell the press that focusing on the Scissors’ gay members made no more sense than talking about the straight people in Blondie. These days he’s having second thoughts.
“Now I think that my queerness — the band’s queerness — was intrinsic to music and to the band itself,” Shears says. “I used to have a chip on my shoulder about that, and my thoughts have really changed.”
“I talk about this a little bit in the book,” Shears explains. “One of the special things about Scissor Sisters’ and my philosophy is that it comes from having a point of view; a certain perspective, but still drawing a line from there to what is universal.”
For an extrovert who famously likes to swing from the scaffolding of arena shows wearing next to nothing, Jake Shears turns out to be one introspective fellow.
“I’ve kind of been hiding out while making all this stuff,” he concludes. “And there are so many men, grown men and women, all adults now — who come to me now and talk about their teenage lives and what it was like to be a teenager and how my music affected them. And it’s just a really sweet, very gratifying thing. And it’s funny: that only happens when you’ve been doing it for 15 years, because people sort of have their own experiences with your music. And since I’ve been around long enough, people now share those stories with me all the time. It’s just one of the sweetest, most gratifying things about doing what I do.
“When I think about when I was a kid and a teenager and all the musicians and performers who really inspired me and sort of did that for me, I really do hope to do that in turn. Not just for young guys, but a young anybody who feels different, or wants or has the desire to be themselves and do what they want to do with their lives — without other people telling them who they should be and what they should be doing.”
Visit jakeshears.com more information about Shears’ solo album, his upcoming tour dates and his memoir, Boys Keep Swinging.
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Last modified: July 23, 2019