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Q&A: Jake Shears

Scissor Sisters’ frontman on grunge, go-go dancing and why he ripped Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour

Jake Shears, Scissor Sisters, Coachella

Jake Shears of Scissor Sisters on day 2 of the 2006 Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, April 30th, 2006.

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A few years ago, before they even released an album, Scissor Sisters’ flamboyant frontman, Jake Shears, made a pact with God. “I said to him that I really wanted this band to be big — especially in the U.K.,” Shears says, adding that he told the Lord, “I don’t care what the consequences are.” When the Sisters released their debut album in 2004, Shears’ prayers were answered. Their uptempo, dis-co-y remake of Pink Floyd’s “Comfortably Numb” scored the band legions of fans (mostly Brits, including Elton John) and helped make the album the biggest-selling CD in the U.K. that year. But the fickle hand of fate was ready to pinch Shears in the ass. “When we got off the road, I was having five-minute panic attacks every five minutes,” he says. “This horrible voice in the back of my head was saying, “You’re never gonna write another good song!'” Shears shook himself off and immersed himself in Ta-Dah, the Sisters’ upcoming CD. Though Ta-Dah‘s lead single is called “I Don’t Feel Like Dancin’,” the album is another nonstop dance party, and the single has shot to Number One in the U.K. “I’m so crazy about making albums and singing and dancing,” Shears says, celebrating with eggs Benedict at a Manhattan coffee shop. “We’re stomping Justin Tim-berlake! God bless him, though — I love the Justin. He’s so sexy!”

You grew up on one of the San Juan Islands, north of Seattle. What was your lifeline to the world of rock?
I saw David Bowie in Labyrinth when I was seven or eight. I told my mom I wanted a Bowie record, so we traveled to the mainland, which was, like, a three-hour trip, and I bought Let’s Dance and Tonight. Let’s Dance blew my little mind. I became obsessed with it. I love Bowie. I could watch him do Black Eyed Peas covers, and I’d still love him.

How did you finally make your way onto the stage?
Late in high school I formed a band called My Favorite Band. We had some really obnoxious songs, like “I Had Sex With Your Sister” and “Electric Ho” — they were some good tunes. But I only knew five chords on guitar: G, A, D, C and E. Every song was the five chords, in a different order.

Who taught you how to play?
Before My Favorite Band, I had a friend in Seattle named Paul Solger. I was sixteen and he was thirty-five. He’s this old Seattle punk figure — his first band was the Fartz, with Duff McKagan — and he taught me how to play some chords. He introduced me to Iggy, the Ramones, a whole slew of stuff.

You were once employed as a go-go dancer. Was that fun?
It made me feel sexy, which is what I wanted. There was a good year in my life when all I cared about was being cute and getting laid. Maybe more than a year. Although I never pulled when I was go-go dancing — I got laid once. The one guy I picked up introduced me to our guitar player, so if I hadn’t been a slutty go-go boy, Del Marquis would not be in the Scissor Sisters.

You have a degree in fiction writing — do you still write?
I stopped writing fiction the moment I started writing songs, and I miss it. I’m still a book fanatic. I read like a fucking motherfucker – on the road we plow through books. I fill up half my suitcase with them. Recently I read The Ruins, by Scott Smith, which is one of the most important horror novels of the past decade.

You were recently quoted calling David Gilmour a bastard. How’d that happen?
I’ve been suicidal in the last month over what I’ve said to the press. He invited me to sing “Comfortably Numb” with him at Radio City. The day before the show, my manager called his to see what time I was supposed to show up for sound check, and he was like, “Oh, we’ve decided not to have any guests.” It’s not a big deal, but my mom was getting on an airplane to come see me sing at Radio City. I’m sure it wasn’t [Gilmour’s] fault, but it would’ve been fun.

What’s it like hanging out with Elton John?
He’s the best! He’s really, really funny. I have an uncle who’ll pull me aside at the family barbecue and tell me some really disgusting dirty joke, and that’s what Elton is like. He’s totally irreverent and fun, and he’s become one of my closest friends.

Your song “She’s My Man” sounds a lot like Elton’s “I’m Still Standing.”
There are only so many chords and notes in the world. But it’s funny, both choruses start on that minor note. We played the song for him and he didn’t pick up on it. Then we were like, “Listen to it one more time” [laughs].

You got in trouble recently for complaining about CD prices.
We recently played the NARM convention, which is for record retailers. Earlier that day I went into an FYE to buy the Raconteurs CD and it was twenty bucks. I said, “Why is a new CD twenty dollars? That’s absurd!” That night, in front of all the American record dealers, I was like, “FYI, FYE: Your record prices are too high. Records shouldn’t be over fifteen dollars.” I just found out FYE has demanded a public apology, which we’ve said no to.

No way!
People shouldn’t be shopping there anyway — here’s a store that cares nothing about music, or people who buy music. And they’re wondering why kids download music for free?! So FYE can go bathe in their own excrement.
[Editor’s note: An FYE spokesman denies that the company demanded an apology, and adds that the Raconteurs CD sells for less than twenty dollars.]

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