“Magic” Man: An interview with Jake Shears of Scissor Sisters
By Gregg Shapiro
“Magic Hour” (Casablanca), Scissor Sisters’ fourth studio album, has all the necessary ingredients to cast a spell on their devoted fans, and to earn them plenty of new ones. Album opener “Baby Come Home” has a comfortable familiarity, and even a touch of classic Prince. The galloping “Only The Horses” is a perfect summer single, the kind of Tea Dance anthem that is sure to fill dance-floors. The irresistible “Let’s Have A Kiki” and “Keep Your Shoes On” broaden both the horizons of Scissor Sisters and their followers. Guy Magazine’s Gregg Shapiro spoke this month with front-man Jake Shears.
Guy Magazine: I’d like to begin by talking about the cover art on “Magic Hour,” which is reminiscent of the album covers that British design team Hipgnosis did for Pink Floyd and others. Scissor Sisters covered Pink Floyd’s “Comfortably Numb” on the self-titled debut: Would it be safe to say that there is a connection?
Jake Shears: It’s definitely not a coincidence. Hipgnosis was always a huge influence for what we were doing. There’s been a running theme on all of our sleeves. The link is there’s always something happening in the middle and there’s somebody turning away from you. The fact that we changed it from a person to an animal was another thing. We like our covers to have a subtle mystery, and the color and mood that go along with it. “Night Work” was no exception. It’s totally influenced by Hipgnosis. It’s also a reference to the fact that we’re still—fortunately or unfortunately—an album band.
GM: “Magic Hour” is being released domestically on Casablanca, a record label known for its association with the seminal days of disco music. Is this significant to you and Scissor Sisters?
JS: [Laughs] We’re happy to have a label in America that wants to put us out at all! It’s super exciting to put it out on Casablanca, just because of the history. I’m happy that they revived the imprint, it is super cool. And I like our label-mates.
GM: Scissor Sisters is considered a New York band, but it sounds like California has found its way in on songs such as “San Luis Obispo” and “Year of Living Dangerously,” which includes mention of the “freeway,” something that conjures Los Angeles. Is Southern California competing with New York for your attention?
JS: I had some really amazing times in Southern California this last year, and made some great friends. I love being in L.A. I also spent some time in San Francisco last year with the musical “Tales of the City.” I have a hard time calling myself a New Yorker anymore. I live out of a suitcase, and will continue to live out of a suitcase for quite a while. I have a house down in Tennessee now. I have a house in London now. I’m a bit all over the place [laughs].
GM: Drugs make a number of appearances throughout “Magic Hour”—in songs such as “Baby Come Home,” “Keep Your Shoes On,” “Inevitable,” and “Shady Love.” Is this cause for alarm?
JS: [Laughs] It depends on who you’re asking, and about whom. No, drugs have always been a theme through the lyrics that I write. I think they’re ever present in our lives, whether it’s alcohol, or pot, or club drugs, or antidepressants, or Ambien, or whatever. Everybody’s on something, and they affect all of us in different ways. They can ruin lives, they can save lives. In American culture, especially, they’re omnipresent. Substances and chemicals are everyplace, whether it’s espresso or crystal meth, it’s everywhere.
GM: “Let’s Have a Kiki” is the kind of song that makes you smile and dance at the same time. Is the voice mail message that opens the song real or was it scripted for the song?
JS: It’s all improv. We wanted to create a setting, to set up a story for where you would have, or why anyone would have a kiki, or what would make you feel like having a kiki. Somebody’s having a bad night, but it’s all going to be better when you go with your friends. We wanted to give it the setting before the song kicked in. It was important for us to set that place, and that answering machine monologue was the device that we used to do it.
GM: “Baby Come Home” and “Self Control” are songs that reflect relationship uncertainty, while “Best In Me” is a wonderful example of musical domestic bliss. Do you prefer writing and performing songs about healthy or unhealthy relationships?
JS: It’s a lot harder to write something uplifting than it is to write something melancholic. It’s really hard to write something uplifting about subject matter that’s really a bummer. That’s my favorite thing. To write happy-sounding songs about things which aren’t necessarily that. I like writing happy-sounding songs about relationships and situations that are necessarily something to get happy about.
GM: This year has seen the loss of a number of important musical icons, including dance music legends Donna Summer, Whitney Houston, and Robin Gibb. Do you have any thoughts or comments?
JS: I think when stuff like that happens, it makes me reflect on what an artist has brought to the culture, to pop culture, to the world, and how they’ve influenced and inspired people. It’s a great moment to reflect on that, and honor those people for what they’ve done in their lifetimes. It also reminds me of everyone’s mortality. When it all comes down to it, Whitney Houston was just a person—as are all of us, as are any of the biggest legends around, who will live and die. We’re all just people, nobody’s superhuman, nobody’s immortal. It constantly reminds me, especially with Whitney’s death in particular, that we’re all just people. There are some that do incredible work, and it’s great to honor the work that they’ve done when something like that happens. But it definitely just makes me think of mortality, and the fact nobody lives forever—but the music can.
GM: Scissor Sisters is known for amazing live shows. What can fans expect from the “Magic Hour” tour?
JS: It’s so exciting, because we get to throw out a lot of songs that we played for 10 years! There are going to be some songs that people will not hear [laughs] that they might expect to, which is thrilling for the band [laughs]. Having four albums now—it’s like, “Oh my God, we don’t have to play this song anymore!” It really feels like a brand-new show, because we’ve brought in album tracks from previous albums that haven’t been heard in a long time. Likewise, there are songs that have been heard throughout our tours over the last 10 years that we have taken out of the show and replaced with really amazing stuff off of “Magic Hour.” The set list is wicked—it’s really cool! The way the songs flow into each other is really amazing, and the music direction is amazing. There’s more choreography. I think people will have a blast. It’s a fun show. I know the band has been having a blast playing these songs.