This past May, after he performed his first solo single “Creep City” on The Graham Norton Show, Scissor Sisters singer Jake Shears received some unsolicited feedback on Twitter.
“Some bitchy queen was like, [in a British accent] ‘This sounds like every other Scissor Sisters song ever written,’ and I just wanted to say, ‘Yeah, because I wrote them!'” he tells Rolling Stone, while seated in the kitchen of a friend’s Upper East Side NYC townhouse. “That’s my sound, you know, and I want to keep making that sound as long as I’m alive and kicking but in different ways… That was kind of my breakthrough when I was making this record: Do what you do, what you love and what you’re good at.”
Shears is referring to his self-titled solo debut, out August 10th, his first full-length since his band went on hiatus back in 2012. In the years since, the singer has kept busy reinventing himself. He starred in an L.A. production of Bent, playing the part of Greta, which Mick Jagger embodied in the 1997 movie version (“The jury’s still out as to who made an uglier woman,” he jokes). Then, this past fall, he made his Broadway debut as Charlie Parker in Kinky Boots, and followed that milestone by publishing a memoir, Boys Keep Swinging, earlier this year. Now, he’s taking a short break as he gears up for the release of Jake Shears.
“There’s a lot at stake for me on this,” he admits. “I’m putting this record out myself. It’s a very expensive record, and the whole thing is out of my pocket – which is terrifying.”
While the funky, glammy “Creep City” stuck close to the classic Scissor Sisters sound, other tracks, however, may seem like more of a departure. For example, Shears refers to “Sad Song Backwards” – which he’s premiering today on Rolling Stone – as a “funny song that’s actually about suicide,” with lyrics that mention taking “double fistfuls of Prozac” and treatments of shock therapy.
He explains that after his relationship of 11 years ended, he felt “like an animal that gets wounded in the woods and needs to go crawl away to die somewhere.”
“I was thinking about that country music joke: If you play a country song backwards, you’d get your dog back, your wife back, your life back,” he adds of what inspired the title. “It’s dark but has a sense of humor.”
Shears wrote another album standout, “The Bruiser” – a song with a dark pulsating undercurrent – for Queens of the Stone Age’s Josh Homme, whom he calls one of his heroes.
“He’s like a brother to me and just inspires me to no end,” Shears says, adding that he also dedicated his book to Homme and his wife Brody Dalle. “I think he’s an amazing man. And musically, I think he’s one of the best alive.”
It’s clear that this album was an integral part of the singer-songwriter’s healing process. After the breakup with his partner, Shears moved to New Orleans. Soon after he arrived, jazz legend Alan Touissant died and Shears attended the memorial celebrations, which left an impression. “Just to see Dr. John play for the first time live, Cyril Neville … It was the wildest lineup of people singing at his funeral, in front of his coffin,” he says, explaining the connection to his own music. “He made so many good songs. You could see a Venn diagram from ‘Lady Marmalade’ to the music I’ve written. His funeral really inspired me to dig deep.”
He also credits Ray LaMontagne’s Ouroboros album with spurring him to create his own record. “When it came out, it was just the best thing I heard in so long and I really didn’t know his other work,” Shears says. “Emotionally, it was exactly what I wanted to listen to, and I just played the hell out of it. I loved the production, so I looked at the credits, and that’s how I found Kevin Ratterman.”
He sent the producer a couple of demos, and they hit it off. Shears ended up relocating to Ratterman’s La La Land Studios in Louisville, even camping out in the windowless piano room for a stint. Shears recorded the brass arrangements in New Orleans with the Preservation Hall Jazz Band and Sturgill Simpson’s horn section, and Ratterman recruited members of My Morning Jacket to record live sessions.
“Every song is recorded as a live take, with eight or nine musicians playing together,” Shears says. “I had never done that; it was scary. I was just panicking. I remember standing in the vocal booth – because I would sing with the band when we were doing takes – and I just remember thinking, ‘This is how all my favorite records were made.’”
But if fans persist in thinking the songs on this album sound like a continuation of his work with Scissor Sisters, Shears says he doesn’t mind and that it’s intentional, citing Bryan Ferry’s career as inspiration.
“[He] is another one of my absolute heroes. I’ve been listening to Roxy Music since I discovered it when I was 19,” he says. “It’s just been inspiring to me how he managed to basically, in a way, become Roxy Music. He can go do shows and it’s just seamless. You listen to [his recent album] Avonmore and it [feels] like a follow-up to to Roxy Music stuff.”
Ferry’s example guided him as he moved into this new chapter. “That’s where my head was at because, that way, I can build on what I’ve already done,” he says, “and give those fans that want to hear certain things what they want.”