Questions: Peter Robinson
Answers: Jake Shears (obviously)
Hello Jake — where are you?
I’m in Stuart [Price]’s studio in Acton right now. It’s a beautiful day and we’re just wrapping up for the summer, then I’m going back to New York and I’m going to write with Kylie and Calvin Harris next week. Which should be fun.
And that’s not for your album.
No, that’s for Kylie. Is that public knowledge? Well she Twittered it so I guess it’s out there. I can’t seem to get above 5000 followers on Twitter – it’s like I got there, and now I’m stuck there. Although I don’t really give away anything juicy, it’s mostly about what I’m reading. Books I think are good, and books I think are shit.
What was the last shit book you read?
Eugh! I just read this really shit book called Ravens by George Dawes Green. I really hated it. Usually I don’t get through something that I hate but I read the whole thing and I fucking hated it. But then I just read this book called Methland which is just about the crystal meth epidemic in America and it was really interesting. Very good. And really gross. It makes you never want to do crystal. Have you ever done crystal?
It’s not really on the ‘To Do’ list.
Yeah I know, me neither.
Shall we discuss your music? ALBUM THREE.
Yes. I’m super, super excited.
When we were discussing it a few months ago you were very excited indeed – you had the album title, Stuart Price was involved… Is that all still the case, or have the details changed?
A lot more has happened since then but what’s solid, and what’s still super exciting, is that there’s an album there, but then if a better song comes along then it goes in. We’ve been cutting everything down to ten or eleven songs and it’s been really difficult, which I think is a good thing. But then it’s really exciting switching songs out – I can write a new song which we can see has its head above another one. It’s going to be really, really strong – that’s what’s really exciting. No weaklings on the record. I feel like it’s hard because with our last record, it didn’t really feel like it was finished. And I eventually bent to the pressure of putting it out when I wasn’t entirely happy with it.
What was it that you weren’t happy with? Is it something that, looking back, you’re still not happy with?
There’s just songs that I didn’t really like on it. Just songs that I think, they’re just not… They’re alright, but there’s stuff on there that I love and I am really proud of the record, but there was better stuff that got left off that album that should have been switched… There’s a couple songs that I really regret. There’s songs on the album that just aren’t great.
It basically wasn’t good enough?
I think it was just good enough. Just good enough. HOWEVER – there’s tons of stuff on it that I love and wouldn’t trade back for the world. But I’ve resolved on this one, I’ve made a resolution with this record that it’s not going to be done until we’re thrilled with it. And it’s been a hard resolution to keep, I mean we could have put a record out a year ago.
The label must want the record from you.
Well people want to… I mean I want to get the songs out there and get it in action and play shows and all that stuff, and it’s really hard to stay seated and say, ‘it’s just not going to happen until it’s properly finished and really fucking good’. Now we’re towards the end of August I’m really happy that we’ve made that decision. Every day that goes by is another day the record’s not done, and it feels like a hole you keep sinking into, but now I can say that I don’t feel that hole any more. I’m perfectly confident putting a record out early next year because I know it’s going to be fucking great.
Who did you make this album for?
I made this album for the band. We made it for the band. And for the fans. That’s a very interesting question. I think we just made it for everybody, including ourselves.
The second album had a feeling that while the first one had been a surprise in such a huge and unusual way, maybe with the second one you were a bit confused about who liked you, what they liked about you, and how the two extremes of your fanbase would take to a second record. Your fans seemed like two very different types of people and that came across in a confused album, really… It was hard to get a grip on the album.
Well I think we couldn’t quite get a grip on it. It was one of those things where it was like, the edges kind of got softened a little bit. One writer pinpointed it: they described it as the morning after when you wake up with the person in bed with you and you’re like, ‘who the fuck is this?’. You know? And that’s what I feel like… You know our second album was a reaction to our first one – I mean they kind of go hand in hand. One is a call and the other is a response. But this record, the new one, is made for people who want to have a good time. It’s almost more limited and broader at the same time, I don’t know if that makes any sense.
Not really… Although when we were having a chat about this on email at the start of the year you seemed happy that there were no ‘honky tonk piano disco ballyhoos’ on the new record – is that something you’ve stuck to?
Yes! There’s no honky tonk piano! There’s no tap dancing routines. And I’m sorry to go back to our last record for a moment but there was a bitterness with the last record that I think came through. It was like a very sardonic tap dance. And if you read between the lines with those songs, there was a bitterness and a little bit of dementia. We’ve definitely gotten over that. We’ve had a lot more fun making this record. We have had a fucking blast. Once this album got going it’s been more fun making this record than I can remember. It’s like the early days when we were making music and didn’t really know what we were doing. It’s felt like that. You know? It’s just more fun. You can hear it in the music. It’s a dance record. It’s a party album. And it’s not necessarily… Well, it’s not an obvious thing either. The songs sound like nothing we’ve ever done before.
In a good way?
Yeah! There are songs on this record that are instantly going to make people have to reconsider who they think we are.
So this is not the sound of a band going a bit mental on the third album, being in the studio and making something sound different simply so that it sounds different?
No, it’s all come really naturally. But there’s not a lot of fallbacks to old tropes. There’s stuff on this record that’s really going to make people reconsider us.
And although we referred earlier to this as your third album it’s kind of your fourth, in a way, if you consider the album you pretty much had ready to go before you signed to Polydor. And that first collection of songs was a very different album to the one that eventually came out as your debut. Is it fair to wonder whether this new album has more in common with that first one than either of the others?
In a certain way I guess so, totally. I think so, yes. It’s got more in common with early stuff. Yes, I would say you’re correct on that. Although at the same time it does sound pretty grown up. It’s not child’s play either. Although it is playful. It doesn’t sound like anybody else, either. It does feel like we’re the only band that could ever make this record. Yet it’s not all unfamiliar territory. It’s still a friendly album. There are songs that are quintessentially us.
The human side is still there?
Yes, that’s not been sucked away, but it’s also really supersexual and sleazy. There’s a lot of real sexualised music. And some of the music is actually sexy. Some is sleazy but some is music you could genuinely have sex to.
Have you had sex to your new album?
(Laughs) No! No, I think that would be so embarrassing. If you made some music and you were getting it on, wouldn’t you be embarrassed to put your own music on?
You’re selling this as a record to have sex to so you need to test this out before you can legitimately tell us that about it.
Well maybe I’ve masturbated to it. That way it’s less shameful. And another exciting thing is that we’ve been producing with Stuart Price which has just been incredible. One of the barriers we hit with this album and the biggest challenge to get over was the fact that – and this is a thing that people don’t necessarily know about us, entirely – all the music we’ve made until this point has been entirely us. You know, writing it, producing it – all those fine, tiny little details. We did it all without a studio assistant! They’re completely home made records. And we hit a point with this record where we just didn’t want to do this again. We just needed another set of hands. But the problem was, whose those hands were going to be. And Scott – Babydaddy – is very particular about who he can work with. We hit a point where it was like last spring and we were burned out.
How did you react?
I woke up one morning in New York and I was like, ‘I have to do something drastically different with my life at this moment’. And I bought a plane ticket that day to Berlin. I was gone three days later and I lived there for two months. I just upped and left.
I knew it was a place that I didn’t really know. I knew maybe a couple of people there. I could be anonymous, I didn’t know the language, I needed to go have an adventure. I started up a little life for myself, taught myself some computer programs, and it was nice to get out of the studio because there was nothing I could do… Being in New York I could always fall back into the studio. Wake up in the morning, nothing to do, go to the studio. In Berlin I couldn’t do that. I had to find other things to do. I went to the zoo. I went to museums. I went dancing. I stayed up all night. I met crazy people. I heard incredible music. I ate amazing food. I saw hundreds of men getting fisted. I got to see things I’d never seen before, and it really really was inspiring. It just reset my batteries. And I was with Neil Tennant – he and Chris have a place in Berlin – and he was in town quite a lot, and we were hanging out a lot. I got to know him really well and I just think he’s an amazing guy. We had lots of philosophical conversations about music, and we just talked about music a lot, and making records, and what needed to happen. And we sat there in this outside café and he said, ‘what do you think of Stuart Price?’. And a lightbulb went off in my head. I thought about it for the rest of the day. And he was the only person I could think of who Babydaddy could not only get on with in the studio but love working with in the studio. We’ve known him forever – Zoot Woman was the first band we ever toured with, on a whole UK tour before our first album. Babydaddy loves him, he’s always calling him up for advice and we’ve always got along with him really well. So I just called Stuart out of the blue from Berlin. He was finishing the new Zoot Woman album, we talked about music a whole lot, we talked about Scissor Sisters a little bit, but he said, unprompted, ‘you know I would drop everything I’m doing at the moment to make a record with you’.
That’s a very unusual – a very forward – thing for someone to say. It’s almost like asking…
He’s a very straightforward person. I thought it was so neat that he said it, and super nice, and we finished our conversation and I spent another week thinking about it then I called Babydaddy back in the States and just mentioned it in passing, like I was treading carefully with it…. And two weeks later Babydaddy and Stuart were in Berlin with me, and we went clubbing and had an amazing time, then started working a week later. It’s been heavenly. The three of us are going to get married! It’s kind of pathetic how much we love each other.
And has Stuart changed the sound of the album, or has he helped you achieve the sound you already knew you wanted?
I think Stuart’s helped us realise what the sound of the album was. And the defining moment for that was… Well, I had a moment. I was at a sex party in Mannheim, I was on the dancefloor. It was six o’clock in the morning. I was wearing a little rubber wrestling singlet. I was having a great time. There was a cloud in the room, this cloud of man sweat, cigarettes, spilled booze, shit because people were getting fisted, and poppers. And piss! It was disgusting… The most vile place I’ve ever been. And I was dancing, and the DJs put on ‘Walk The Night’ by the Skatt Brothers. It’s one of my favourites. It was one of those revelatory moments for me when I realised what I wanted the album to sound like and how I wanted it to make me feel. Am I rambling? But that was the defining moment. My vision! My vision happened very clearly in that moment. And with Babydaddy and Stuart we challenged each other every step of this album. Stuart has a very very distinct signature sound and so do we, I think, and we’ve both had to press ourselves and challenge ourselves not to fall back on those things we’re used to doing.
Well if someone says to you, ‘Stuart Price is producing the new Scissor Sisters record’ there’s a very specific sound that’s conjured up. But in a way you’d sort of want it to sound like something else. To not sound like what you’d expect.
I hope it does that… It sounds like Scissor Sisters though. It sounds like us… But in a different and great way. I can’t wait to play you some stuff.
And the idea is that it comes out next year, but it’s pretty much finished?
Yes. I wanted it out in the New Year just because I really really didn’t want to do the Christmas shuffle. It just seems really obvious to put it out before Christmas.
Would it make sense at Christmas?
No! No, not at all. It’s a night time record. Very night time.
When we talked before you mentioned the title you had in mind for it, is that still the title you have in mind?
Yes, do you remember what I said? It’s still that title but it’s not ready to go public yet.
So let’s talk about the first single.
Well I don’t think I can tell you the title – actually there are a lot of contenders for first single – but in my mind it’s a really epic song that makes you feel really good and has a great feeling to it. The lyrics — it’s a very personal song — are about feeling like you’re sinking into a hole. It’s a song about climbing out of that hole. And being confident and knowing that you can go forth with all your guns blazing.
Which makes sense coming out of the hole of the second album.
It’s definitely… It’s a very elevating song. It’ll give you goosebumps. It actually makes me want to cry.
It’s a dance record you can cry to?
The band are regularly updating scissorsisters.com with clips, photos and bits from the studio so keep an eye on that for further movements…