When the Scissor Sisters came to an end in 2012, we lost one of the most colourful and entertaining pop acts of the 21 century. Unfairly boiled down to one or two key hit singles, the band were imperative to LGBT visibility in the cultural mainstream as it grew and evolved in the 2000s – arguably, you wouldn’t have your Troye Sivans and your Hayley Kiyokos so readily accepted were it not for the impact that Scissor Sisters made a decade prior.
It took some time for Jake Shears, the band’s erstwhile frontman, to make his way back into the spotlight. As soon as he did, however, he made every moment count. 2018 saw him release his first-ever book, a memoir entitled Boys Keep Swinging, as well as a self-titled solo debut and a performance of its single, ‘Creep City’, on Late Night with Seth Meyers that saw him literally tear his pants right off at the song’s peak.
That’s not even mentioning his bangin’ collaboration with The Presets, ‘Tools Down’, or his upcoming national tour in support of longtime friend Kylie Minogue. He’s gone from everywhere to nowhere to everywhere again – and this time, it truly feels as though Jake Shears is here to stay.
Ahead of his first trip to Australia as a solo artist – which, naturally, will include a pit stop at this year’s Mardi Gras – Shears spoke to Music Feeds about establishing himself as a solo artist, the 15-year-anniversary of Scissor Sisters’ self-titled album and what he loves about Our Kylie. Before all of that, though, Shears wants to introduce us to his dogs… no, really.
Music Feeds: Who are you there with?
Jake Shears: I’m here with Toby – he’s my Border Terrier – and a Cocker Spaniel named Judy. She belongs to Mr. Hudson, who is one of my roommates. She’s a rescue – they think she’s about six years old. Toby, meanwhile, is turning 12 this year. He’s a little old man! [laughs]
MF: There are about six years that separate the final Scissor Sisters album, Magic Hour, with your solo debut. You’ve spoken about those intervening years at length – particularly in Boys Keep Swinging – but was there ever a particular point along the way where you truly thought that you were done with making music entirely?
JS: I don’t know if I’ve got an answer to that question. There were definitely moments that I didn’t know if I was going to make a record – or even make songs – again. I mean, I was trying, but I was just feeling like I didn’t have a point of view yet – I didn’t know what it was going to be or how I was going to do it. I didn’t have it all figured out. I love making music, I love writing and I love performing, but there has to be inspiration. There’s gotta be a “why,” y’know? What’s the point of it? It wasn’t until I felt like I had something to say and I finally started writing some good songs that my perspective changed.
MF: Was the album unfolding in your head as you were writing new songs? Were you envisioning these songs as one cohesive body of work?
JS: Sometimes, I just think there are certain songs that you write and they make you realise something bigger. “Oh, this is what the album could sound like. This is what it could be about.” I wrote a song called ‘Sad Song Backwards’, which is on this record. I had moved down to New Orleans, and when I wrote that song it opened up a whole new world for me. It spurred me on. It gave me a sense of what this whole new thing could be. Sometimes, it just takes a song to do that – as soon as I was done with that, I was writing songs in that kind of style with that kind of sound that I felt were really good.
MF: How do you differentiate and draw the line between Jake Shears from Scissor Sisters and Jake Shears the solo artist? Do you feel as though this is a record you couldn’t have made under any other context?
JS: I do. It’s something I have complete control over. It took me back to the first Scissor Sisters record, in that there was no one looking over my shoulder when I was writing it. Even though I loved making the last couple of Scissors’ albums, one of the most frustrating things about making them was having everybody’s fucking fingers in the pot. [laughs] I’m not talking about the rest of the band at all. This was about management, the record label, A&R… there must have been like 15 other people, all with their noses in our music. To me, that’s not how I want to make records.
The funny thing is that there were a lot of people involved in making this record possible – there was probably like 50, in fact. They all put their time, energy and love into it. Having said that, at the same time I had complete control. Myself and Kevin, who produced it, were in charge. I didn’t compromise anything, and in that way I love making music by myself. I always sort of wondered if it would be possible to get back to this place again, and I honestly think the music is better for it. This is the album I’ve been wanting to make for a very long time.
MF: This year is the 15th anniversary of Scissor Sisters, the self-titled debut album which you just mentioned before. Its legacy is still a part of what you do to this very day – you still play songs from the record in your solo sets, and said songs are among your most famous and most beloved. How do you reflect on that album and its impact after all these years?
JS: I love that album, Sometimes it’s hard for me to hear those songs – the production makes some of them sound like absolute shit. [laughs] Anyone who knows me knows that I’m a total music nerd, so I’m obsessed with production. Some of the mixing and production choices gives me the willies a little bit, but it still holds a special place in my heart. That album represents so much to me. There’s a sweet, naïve freedom to it. Those songs were written for the pure joy of writing them. We didn’t have any massive ambitions, we were just having a good time and making stuff from the heart. That’s one of the reasons it still holds up, and that’s why it’s still special to me.
It’s that sort of feeling and sensation that I think about a lot. That’s why I went back and did what I did with this album – I wanted to feel this freedom when I’m writing music. It’s so important to make stuff to satisfy yourself first and foremost. Making this new album, I was just fucking loving it. I think it’s one of the best things I’ve ever made. When I was making Night Work, the third Scissors’ record, I had the same feeling. You have no idea how people are going to react, how they’re going to consume, what people will do with it. In the end, that doesn’t matter as much as how you feel about it yourself. Any regrets that I have in life is when that’s not necessarily the case.
MF: When you were starting out playing shows as Jake Shears, did you ever entertain the idea of not playing any Scissor Sisters songs at all?
JS: No, not at all. It was the opposite, actually. It was really important to me to be able to acknowledge it. Babydaddy [AKA Scott Hoffman, former Scissor Sisters member] and I, for the most part, wrote all of those songs. He helped me write stuff on this new album, too. I had a realisation that I didn’t want to reinvent anything. I have an aesthetic and a style and a way that I write, and I didn’t want to turn my back on that. I have this whole body of work that I’m so proud of. Even though this album is a little different, I look at it all as the same body of work.
MF: You’ll be bringing said body of work to Australia for the first time as a solo artist very soon, in support of Kylie Minogue on her national tour. Probably the biggest compliment you can pay this tour is that it’s quite possibly the gayest tour of the year.
JS: [laughs] It’s pretty gay, isn’t it!
MF: You’ve been working on and off with Kylie for over a decade now, including you co-writing her single ‘I Believe in You’. You two obviously have a bond that has kept you together this whole time – how has your relationship changed your perspective on her?
JS: She’s kind of like my sister. She’s one of my dearest friends. She’s like family to me. I’ve really treasured our friendship, our creative relationship, writing together, performing together. We love dreaming up things to do together. The idea was there to play these shows, and it just seemed to fit. We wanted to celebrate the big years that we’d just had – we both had milestone birthdays [Shears turned 40; Minogue turned 50], we both put out new albums, we both made returns after a few years of confusion and heartbreak. In their own way, both of our albums have American and southern roots. There was just a lot in common, and for us to be able to play shows together and acknowledge our history is just a really special thing.
[laughs] Does that answer your question? I hope it does.
Jake Shears kicks off his national tour supporting Kylie this week — head here for dates.