Jake Shears: Scissor Sisters singer talks new albums, being mates with Elton John, and Lytham Festival
And gratitude is something on Shears’ mind at the moment. Following the Covid pandemic and subsequent lockdown, he’s adamant that the honour of performing is something he’ll never take for granted again. “Over anything, the sorrow was knowing that I wasn’t going to be able to perform for a long time,” he says. “That’s what made me the saddest.
“I’m going to be 45 this year; I've been doing this for well over 20 years and it’s what I love,” Shears adds. “My only outlet was making music, and the one blessing during that time was it made me a little more self-sufficient in terms of music creation. I’ve always been a great backseat producer, but I’ve never been in the driver’s seat, so I had to step up.
“I learned a lot about making records,” Shears continues. “I live in New Orleans part-time and had just bought this really sweet cottage just a few blocks outside the French Quarter, but I lived there for a year without getting to have any people over. So, as soon as things opened up, I started throwing these really good house parties.
“At least once a month, there’d be an all-night rager at my house where I’d DJ and mix stuff in which I’d been working on without telling anyone, almost test-driving songs,” Shears says. “I made some of the latest album during that time so, when I look back, I can see how it influenced the record. New Orleans is one of the most special places on the planet to me.”
Due to be released in June, that record is, appropriately, titled Last Man Dancing.
The sisters are born
Sears was born in the aridity of Mesa, Arizona but raised under the whale-grey leaden skies of San Juan Island near Seattle in Washington state. Having come out as gay to his parents at the age of 15, he formed Scissor Sisters in 2000 with Scott ‘Babydaddy’ Hoffman, whom he had met in Lexington, Kentucky before the pair moved to New York later that year.
In the band’s early years whilst the act was still finding its feet, Shears would often earn extra money as a male erotic dancer at strip clubs, a job he said he loved. But they soon took off, landing a series of national and international hits such as ‘Comfortably Numb’, ‘Take Your Mama’, ‘Let’s Have A Kiki’, and the UK #1 record ‘I Don’t Feel Like Dancing’.
Scissor Sisters ended 2004 with the year’s biggest-selling album in the UK for their eponymous debut album and went on to enjoy prolific success in the charts across the world throughout the 2000s before announcing an indefinite hiatus in 2012. Other projects beckoned for Shears, who embarked on a fiction writing course at The New School.
Having gone on to pen the music for Tales of the City, a 2011 stage musical based on Armistead Maupin's best-selling book series of the same name, Shears also started life as a solo artist, releasing his eponymous debut solo album in 2018 to critical acclaim before tours of the UK, the US, and Australia alongside Kylie Minogue. He also released his memoirs, Boys Keep Swinging, and played the lead role of Charlie Price in Kinky Boots on Broadway.
“I never have nothing to work on,” says Shears, in what may be the understatement of the year. “Having so many projects can be exhausting and a little overwhelming and, while I have to make sure I’m not spreading myself too thin, I love having different stuff going on, whether it’s a musical or a record or a book, because it works different parts of your brain.
“I also don’t like to write alone, so everything I do is a collaboration, whether it’s a Scissors album or a solo record,” he adds. “Being creative is working with other people. The main difference is I fully get to call the shots and, at the end of the day, I alone have to stand behind everything. I’ve worked hard to make sure it’s something I love.
“In that way, I feel like my two solo albums are the most cohesive things I’ve ever made,” Shears continues. “They have solid visions as pieces of work because it’s coming from one person - it’s not better or worse and it’s always fun to have that back-and-forth and to fight for songs you really believe in, but the solo albums are just different in their own right.
“What’s different about this record is that it isn’t attached to a time and place - it started with a song I did with Kylie called Voices which I’d had in my back pocket for a long time, so I wanted to build a world for this song. In the end, the album was made in LA, Laguna Beach, New York, London, New Orleans, and Lisbon.”
Christmas come early and partying with Elton John
Describing the calm before the excitement storm of an album release as ‘one of my favourite moments in life’ and ‘like a Christmas which comes around once every four or five years’, Shears is on a high. And, just to top it all off, the musical for which he co-wrote the soundtrack with his good friend Elton John, Tammy Faye, has sold out its initial run at London’s Almeida Theatre.
“Elton is one of my best friends, we’ve been mates for 20 solid years, and I still have to pinch myself,” says Shears, who attended Elton’s stag party ahead of his marriage to David Furnish in 2005. “He gave me a big gift by asking me to do the musical with him - it still blows me away.
“Making a musical is one of the hardest things you can ever do, so working with him was amazing,” he adds. “There’s nothing like it. I have this body of work that I made with Elton John and I’m so proud of it. I can’t wait to see the life it has. I really hope that it gets some traction.”
The Special Relationship with the UK
Looking ahead to his upcoming UK gigs, Shears says he’s looking forward to rekindling what has always been a very special relationship with UK crowds. “I’m stoked for the UK gigs,” he says. “The UK is such a special place - it’s got its own climate and history with pop and rock music and has produced some of the greatest songs in the world.
“There’s a love for things that are left of centre and which have a bit of humour and which are different, so that’s why Scissors was a great hit here,” he adds. “Something I worry about, though, is the lack of ability for young people to create music and play in live bands and tour. That’s going and it’s becoming much more difficult because of how expensive it is.
“I really hope that live music doesn’t lose its footing, because it’s a massive part of the culture,” Shears continues. “But, personally, it’ll be sweet to go back on tour with Duran Duran - it’s 20 years since Scissors toured with them and that changed the game for us, so they’ve always been a very special band for me and their crowd are real music fans.
And, so, to Lytham. “Just to play with Jamiroquai will be an honour in itself,” says Shears. “And everyone says how special a festival Lytham is, so I couldn’t be more excited. I’m really looking forward to it.”
For tickets and more information, head to www.lythamfestival.com