Jake Shears makes magic

  • by Gregg Shapiro
  • Tuesday June 26, 2012
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Frontman of the Scissor Sisters Jake Shears.
Frontman of the Scissor Sisters Jake Shears.

The Scissor Sisters' fourth studio album Magic Hour (Casablanca) 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 Prince to the mix. The galloping "Only the Horses" is a perfect summer single, the kind of Tea Dance anthem that's sure to fill dance-floors across the globe.

The irresistible "Let's Have a Kiki" and "Keep Your Shoes On" broaden the horizons of both the Scissor Sisters and their followers, while "Shady Love," "San Luis Obispo" and "The Secret Life of Letters" are open musical invitations to newcomers far and wide.

I had the pleasure of speaking with Scissor Sisters frontman Jake Shears earlier this month.

Gregg Shapiro: The cover art for Magic Hour is reminiscent of the album covers that the British design team Hipgnosis did for records by Pink Floyd and others. Considering that Scissor Sisters covered Pink Floyd's "Comfortably Numb" on your self-titled debut, would it be safe to say there's a connection?

Jake Shears: It's definitely not a coincidence. We've always strove for that, especially with the first two records. 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. We always wanted to keep that in line. 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 go along with it. It's totally influenced by Hipgnosis. It's also a reference to the fact that we're still, fortunately or unfortunately, an album band. We still make albums.

Magic Hour is being released domestically on Casablanca, a record label known for its association with the seminal days of disco music.

We're happy to have a label in America that wants to put us out at all! The record-label game, I don't know what it means anymore. It's super-exciting to put it out on Casablanca, just because of the history. I'm happy that they revived the imprint, it's super cool. And I like our label-mates.

Scissor Sisters are considered to be 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 a mention of the freeway, which conjures up L.A. Is Southern California competing with New York for your attention?

I think the world is competing for my attention, to be quite honest with you. And Southern California is definitely in there. 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!

Drugs make a number of appearances throughout Magic Hour. Is there cause for alarm?

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.

"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?

It's all improv. We wanted to set up a story for where you 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 were literally in the studio with a cell phone in front of the microphone, with Ana in the next room calling one of our phones and recording all that.

"Baby Come Home" and "Self Control" are a couple of 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?

I think it's always much more challenging to write a happy, positive song. It's much more challenging to write a positive song than a negative one. 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. My answer would be that I like writing happy-sounding songs about relationships and situations that aren't necessarily something to get happy about.

"The Secret Life of Letters" is another good example of your flair for the literary. Do you have a book in you?

I do. I always thought I was going to be a writer. That's what I went to school for. Ever since I could put a sentence together, I started writing stories as a little kid. I kept writing them and wrote stories all my life. I still do. I love genre fiction. I'm a huge reader, I'm a book collector. I love literature, highbrow and lowbrow. I always think about it, and I hope so. It's one of my dreams.

Scissor Sisters are known for their amazing live shows. What can fans expect from the Magic Hour tour?

There are going to be some songs that people will not hear that they might expect to, which is thrilling for the band! 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, just 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 the last 10 years that we have taken out of the show and replaced with really amazing stuff off 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.