Jake Shears of the Scissor Sisters talks to Simon Gage about love, showbiz, and working as a go-go boy
“Never fall in love with a hooker,” says Jake Shears ? or Jason F. Sellards, depending on your relationship with him – of Scissor Sisters fame, as he runs around San Francisco in some fashion-y, saggy, low-arse sweat pants and a Mickey Mouse backpack. It’s a very Jason F. Sellards look.
No, he’s not split with his boyfriend of however many years and no, he hasn’t had his heart broken by someone who makes dollars dancing in his pants, like Jake himself used to do. He’s quoting chat show host Jay Leno on the subject of how to survive showbusiness, a lesson Jake feels he’s had to learn over the last few years.
“You can’t take any of it for granted,” he explains. “You roll with whatever punches. I’m super f**king happy. I feel very creatively inspired and happy and satisfied.” Mind you, he has quite a bit to be happy about, professionally speaking. Not only in terms of albums, the latest of which, Magic Hour, is doing swift business at the moment, but in terms of a major musical based on Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City, which he spent years creating and which came to fruition last year and garnered some great reviews when it opened in San Francisco.
“It would be so much fun to bring it to London,” he says. “Because, in a way, London now is like San Francisco in the 1970s. It definitely has some similarities.”
And the Scissor Sisters ? actually named for the lesbian practice of interlocking legs with your partner so that certain key parts of the anatomy can touch – will always have something of a connection with London and the UK in general as it was here that the whole thing blew up in the first place. While in the States they were still ? are still! – struggling with the fact that it was a band with actual real live openly gay people in it, in the UK, their debut was becoming the biggest-selling album of the year with a fan-base that straddled ages and sexualities.
And while in the States they have a healthy following and get mentions on shows such as current hot sit-com Girls, here they are already an institution, regularly headlining festivals such as Lovebox, which they did last year, and working with icons such as Kylie ? “One of the loveliest people I know. A remarkable woman” – who may be Australian but is very much a British product.
But the resistance from certain quarters in America is just something they and their record company have had to learn to live with as compromise, for the band originally known as Dead Lesbian and the Fibrillating Scissor Sisters, was simply never on the cards.
“Our record company is amazing,” says Jake, not something you’ll hear all that often these days. “Everyone’s on the same team and no one wants you to do poorly. We have an amazing relationship with them, which, I know, is rare. I love the people that we work with and I think we work with some of the smartest people in the biz.”
The Scissor Sisters thing started when Jake met Babydaddy aka Scott Hoffman through a mutual friend after Jake had been shaking his money-maker as a go-go boy in some of New York’s cooler clubs.
“But I was a wholesome guy,” he points out of his go-going days, with a laugh. “I never did anything that my mom wouldn’t like. That was like, ‘If my mom was here, what would she say?’ I’d dress up as a cowboy or a military man. I still have a lot of outfits. I like dressing up. And I used to walk out with a couple of hundred bucks.”
This was back in 2001 and Babydaddy had a home studio and Jake had always sung, mostly musical theatre like Guys ‘n’ Dolls and West Side Story, and the pair of them started to work on songs. Prior to working together, Jake had had a band in high school doing electronic music and though he and Babydaddy were producing together, Jake “didn’t want to be a knob twiddler”, leaving the more technical stuff to Babydaddy.
“One of our first songs, Electrobics, which is a really gay song [about gym culture in New York and how things shrink when you start to take steroids], we performed at a friend’s party and Ana [Mantronix] was there. And we discussed it with her and decided to ask her to join us.” They had met Ana before, when Jake was performing as Jason the Amazing Dancing Back Alley Late-Term Abortion to the theme tune to the movie Showgirls, but that’s another story.
“And then every six months we’d ask someone new to join,” says Jake, referring to guitarist Del Marquis and drummer Paddy Boom, who has since been replaced by Randy Real.
So with the first album the best-seller of 2004, spawning no fewer than five top 20 singles and earning the band three Brit awards, the second album, Ta-Dah, in 2006, had a lot to live up to. It may not have done the business of the debut but it still went to the top of the album charts while I Don’t Feel Like Dancin’ became their first number one single. Since then there have been two albums, Night Work, a much more clubby affair, and the current release Magic Hour.
Bono has called them “the best pop group in the world” and they have never allowed their success to tempt them to play it safe in any way, with performances that are just as out there as ever they were. And if they never scale the giddy heights of that debut, you get the distinct impression that Jake Shears for one won’t be losing any sleep over it: apart from side projects like Tales of the City, he’s majorly loved up with his documentary-maker boyfriend/ husband.
“After eight years, it’s more than a boyfriend,” he says, though they aren’t technically married. “Someday I’m actually going to pressure him into doing it. He’s such a punk. But it feels like we’re married anyway. It’s hard to be in a relationship with someone like me. It’s a crazy lifestyle. You’re travelling the world tons. You’ve got to be super-emotionally sophisticated and advanced to be able to handle being in a relationship like that and there aren’t too many people who could do it, so I’m very lucky.”
So with all that apart time, does that mean it’s a monogamous relationship? “Absolutely!” he goes. “We’ve had a very amazing relationship over the years and the grass will never be greener. He’s everything to me. We met very early on, just before the Scissors kind of hit it big. I always thought I would have to settle for someone not perfect but I’m very lucky to have him and we’re very much in love.”
It just goes to show that while “wholesome” pop stars like Katy Perry can bang on about love and marriage and then be filing for divorce a year later, edgier, sexier, “dangerous” pop stars like Jake ? unacceptable to whole swathes of the American music-buying and radio-listening public ? can settle down to a pretty traditional loving relationship. No wonder Lady Gaga chose the band to support her on her American tour: it was a message she’s determined to get out there.
The fact that they have been chosen to represent the US at the BT River of Music over the weekend of 21 and 22 July, the part of the Cultural Olympiad that will showcase music from all over the world, proves to the Scissor Sisters once and for all that they are accepted much more here than they are in their homeland (that debut album is one of the biggest sellers of the century in the UK after all) and even say that if the Olympiad was being held in the US, there’s no way they would ever be asked to play.
“London is one of our hometowns,” says Jake. “It’s sort of our musical home-base.”
And you couldn’t be more welcome.