Scissor Sisters: Up Close and Personal
By Matthew Breen
You met Jake Shears, Ana Matronic, Babydaddy, Del Marquis, and Paddy Boom of the Scissor Sisters in Out's August issue. Now they're on tour in the United States with the B-52's promoting their eponymous debut album. Here's a bit more from our interview with the band at Los Angeles's Chateau Marmont Hotel.
Babydaddy: We were wondering who died here.
Out: There's a rumor that Sid Vicious killed his wife here.
Ana Matronic: No, that's the Chelsea in New York. [Editor's note: Matronic is correct.]
Jake Shears: But then he took her body here?
Matronic: Put it on a plane, like in Weekend at Bernie's?
Shears: We need to get Weekend at Bernie's II for the tour bus!
Matronic: Weekend at Bernie's and Weekend at Bernie's II were the most successful movies in Italian history. They were enormous there, apparently. That's the whole reason Weekend at Bernie's II was made, basically for the foreign market.
Shears: Remember when [in Weekend at Bernie's II] they play a special song and they put a curse on the dead body, and then whenever the song comes on his body gets up and dances?
Matronic: That's really stupid.
Out: When did you get into town?
Shears: We just did a pretty intense little five days where we played Lisbon, Barcelona, Homelands in England, and Ireland, then flew back to New York City for 24 hours, then went straight to Cleveland, Detroit, Chicago, then flew here.
Out: Are you used to all this activity?
Shears: I feel pretty used to it. I enjoy it. As long as you've got eight hours' sleep, it's fine. It's when you get no sleep for a few days that you start seeing things out of the corner of your eye.
Paddy Boom: There have literally been times where I've walked out of a hotel room and gone like [furrows brow], Was it left? Right? Or now wait, 718? 1120? Ok, shit, that was last night. And just getting disoriented completely. Sleep depravation, and then in and out of airports, passports, Checkpoint Charlies, and bing-bing-bing-bing, there are definitely moments of synapse gaps.
Out: You've been compared to a young Elton John, to the Bee Gees, called "Hall and Oates on ecstasy," "Steely Dan on poppers," "a gay Joy division," "bubble-gum Talking Heads," "the Billy Joel of rave culture," "a postpunk Supertramp," and many other things. What do you make of all the comparisons?
Shears: They're all pretty interesting. But there's so many, it's like, why even bother?
Matronic: But it's really flattering, the people they've been comparing us to have all been really amazing artists.... I just read a review online, and we finally got compared to Sly and the Family Stone, which I think we're incredibly similar to if you listen to their music. So that was one that I was pleased with.
Shears: We get compared a lot to music from the '70s and I think that's because all the really good records from the'70s are kind of indefinable. There are so many artists in that period where records were a journey, and they didn't all sound like one thing. They took you to different places. There's a trend in the last 15 years for a record to sound the same from beginning to end. I think that's one of the reasons why the '70s keep coming up.
Matronic: They also had a different approach. In the '70s it was about making an album, it wasn't about, "Let's get the bitching tracks."
Out: You've been called a gay band. What do you think of that?
Matronic: We're not, entirely.
Shears: We're not all gay, so calling us a gay band is incorrect.
Boom: Number 1, we're not all gay, and number 2, you can't define that anyway.
Matronic: What does that mean? What is a gay band? What is gay music?
Shears: We had this really horrible interview article that was trying to prove us wrong by saying that a few of us were very gay, yet we don't want to talk about the gay thing and we don't want to be described as a gay band. It said we were hypocrites. It defeats the purpose: We want to be openly gay like many bands and artists are not or have not been in the past, and at the same time we don't want to have it be the focus because it's not a focus of what we do when we get in the studio or onstage.
Matronic [mockingly]: Let's make something really gay!
Shears: The music in the shows, I think, really transcends that label; I think it rises above. We're very honest and open, and we're very much ourselves and have no problem with it.
Matronic: I don't think you'd describe Elton John as making gay music, or David Bowie. Gay music to me is a really strong gospel diva singing over a house beat. That's gay music.
Boom: You talking about Creed? [They all laugh.]
Matronic: Or Junior Vasquez. Madonna is more gay music than we are.
Out: But a few songs deal with gay issues very directly.
Shears: Well, "Take Your Mama Out"--
Out: It's not about coming out?
Shears: Not--I think you really have to read between the lines. The press loves to say, "It's about this, it's about this."
Matronic: It's because it has the word out in it. That's why! We're gonna take your mama out of the closet!
Shears: You can listen to that song and read the lyrics and not necessarily get any of that.
Out: I read that you [Jake] do go out with your mom, you do take her out. It's literal that way.
Shears: I'm very inspired by my mother.
Babydaddy: She's all over that album.
Matronic: And my mom loves that song because she's from New Orleans, and it mentions New Orleans.
Out: So, do you all take your moms out, then?
Babydaddy: They're all fans.
Matronic: I got my start performing at a drag club in San Francisco, the Tranny Shack. I took my mom there a couple of times, and she loved it. For a time I was the only--what you would call a "faux queen," which is so stupid. I was the only girl performing as a girl. There were a few other women who performed, but mostly they performed in male drag. I took my mom there a couple times, and she's like, "Oh, it's like the cantina in Star Wars."
Shears: I've worked my mom up to certain levels.
[Babydady giggles.] This last time she was in New York, a couple of weeks ago, she had her graduation. I finally took her to the Cock [a gay club in Manhattan]. The air conditioning was broken in there. It was so disgusting. I had her [stand] out on the corner first, and I was like, "Mom, I'm just going to run in an scope everything out and make sure they're not, like, packed to the walls."
Matronic: And if course it was.
Shears: It was, but we brought her in anyway and took her back to the DJ booth, and you know, she loves it. She's partially horrified and scared, and the other side of her, I think, really enjoys it. Nothing can really shock her anymore. Our parents have been very supportive.
Out: I understand you came out to your parents at the MGM Grand Hotel in Las Vegas.
Shears: What was so weird is that I remember I was 16 and at the MGM Grand they have this amazing life-size Wizard of Oz diorama in one of the lobbies with the huge Emerald City with a wax Dorothy and Scarecrow and Tin Man and yellow brick and Munchkins hiding in the bushes. I do remember walking down there a lot that particular weekend and zoning out on the Wizard of Oz diorama. It's actually quite beautiful.
Out: Where else would you find those Wizard of Oz influences? In the song "Return to Oz"?
Matronic: Yes and no. I mean, it's part of it. There are a lot of movie [influences] on the album. I think the Muppets are all over it, just as much Wizard of Oz, if not more. I think Jim Henson is much more influential.
Shears: The Muppet Movie is very influential. The music to The Muppet Movie is some of my favorite music ever. Paul Williams wrote all that music. He wrote this music for this movie called Phantom of the Paradise, and it's amazing. And Bugsy Malone. He's a great writer, and now I guess he still tours.
Babydaddy: And he won't return our calls.
Shears: He won't. We've contacted his management so many times, just to send him a CD, and they've never responded. Paul Williams is so great because there's something so very queer about him--just in his voice. He's very androgynous. [Shears stops himself.] He looks androgynous, he sounds androgynous.
Out: One review read, "They are so absurdly fashionable that you could almost guarantee that any music they would make would be useless." [Stifled laughter.] The review goes on to say that's not the case and that the writer is a big fan, but still, I wonder where your stage and fashion influences come from?
Matronic: The word fashion to me is kind of a dirty word. I don't think we're a fashion band. We're into glamour, and we really enjoy participating in the fantasy of the music. The music is very transportive, and there is an element of escapism in our record and our music. To go onstage and sing a song like "Filthy/Gorgeous" in jeans and a T-shirt is a little silly, so I think we have to be'image-wise--over the top.
Shears: I have to wear something that magnifies this part of my personality when I'm onstage. Because it is me, it's inside of me somewhere that I have to pull out. Whatever I'm wearing is going to affect my performance. If I walk out onstage like this [gestures to his jeans and T-shirt], I'm going to feel very weird pulling that part of my personality out. I have to wear something is going to help me be that part of myself.
Matronic: The kinds of music I've always really responded to are the ones that really use the visual side of things. All of us grew up as the first generation of MTV kids. A few years younger than us, they grew up with image and music being absolutely one and the same.
Out: So, do you think in terms of music videos when you're performing?
Matronic: Well, I do, but that's because I'm a big drag queen and I always think of stage shows and spectacles and choreography. But I've done that since I was a little kid.
Shears: I personally don't think of that.
Del Marquis: I think about, like, Robert Smith's smeared lipstick, or Billy Duffy's [of the Cult] tour jacket from the Electric album, tokens that you grab on to, visual references that may have been--for really young fans--a way into the music, a reason to want to discover something about that band.
Matronic: I'd much rather have something made for me or wear something vintage. It's about me. So much of fashion is not the individual, it's the dress wearing the woman, and I'm not interested in that.
Out: Do you ever get stage fright?
Boom: Stepping onstage is terrifying, but luckily we have things to do when we get up there.
Shears: The more people there are, the less nervous I am. When we toured with Duran Duran, one of the first big crowds we played for was Wembley [Stadium in London]. I didn't feel a thing.
Marquis: It's a lot more awkward to play to a front row. We did a couple of U.S. shows and there were maybe 30 people there, but you don't want to look right at them. There's no one there, but you're trained to, you know, I'm not going to look at the guy who's two feet from me for the whole show.
Shears and Matronic [in unison]: I'll do it.
Babydaddy: Yeah, he stared down my own mom.
Shears: I stare people down, man. Babydaddy's mom was in the front row the other night, and I was making lewd gestures and just getting up in her face and shaking my crotch. But last night we played in Orange County [Calif.], opening up for the B-52's, and it was just a blast. I love playing for that crowd. It's very suburban, with nice normal people, and I kind of get off playing to that audience. We were fully scandalizing them, and they were loving it. I could tell there were ripples of, Oh, my God, what are we watching? But they were eating it up.
Matronic: It's like Uncle Fred likes to say--Fred Schneider [of the B-52's]--"Ruffle some feathers!"
Babydaddy: Uncle Fred!
Matronic: I'm just going to start calling him Uncle Fred now.
Shears: It's in Disney Town [Anaheim, Calif.], this House of Blues place, and I went out into Disney Town, and it was bizarre. I thought it was very weird and very spooky. I asked the audience, like, "Have you been outside? Do you realize how weird this is?" It's like a mall but they're disguising it.
Matronic: Mall theater!
Shears: I was talking about how I walked into the Disney Store, and I was really just like, This is disgusting, this is horrible, and I was walking around--the place is huge--and suddenly I'm like, That hand coming out of the wall is really kind of cool. And then I'm looking around a little more, and I'm like, Oh, my God, I really need a Roger Rabbit doll! [Everyone laughs.] And then I'm looking around for the Roger Rabbit doll, and I was like, where are the floor people? I can't find a Roger Rabbit anywhere, so I'm looking for someone to help me. And then I realized, whoa, after just a few minutes in the store I wanted to shop. And I just made myself walk out of here. It's so set up to fuck with your head.
Out: The Orange County crowd is obviously a different kind of crowd than the hipper-than-thou crowd.
Shears: We don't like playing for hipper-than-thou. It's not enjoyable. It's not a great audience to play for. Who wants to play for a bunch of hipsters? Gross! If I walk out onstage and I see more than 15 bad haircuts, I know it's going to be a crap show.
Matronic: Not bad haircuts--ironic, asymmetrical, retard mullets.
Boom: But I think it's about what you bring to the table at a show. We don't care what people look like. We've done some sick, amazing shows in some of the most twisted places, like the Cock in fucking London, where it was like man broth dripping off the ceiling.
Shears: What was dripping off the ceiling?
Boom: Man broth! People get off on any different level. You just have to give off some energy, and that's when the shows are good. We've had great crowds all over the place.
Matronic: We don't consider ourselves hipsters, and we're not making this music for any one kind of person. We're making it for everybody.
Shears: Our shows are very participatory, so we don't play well for people that have come to scope us out. Arms folded is bad.
Matronic: We don't care who comes to our shows. We just want them to have fun.
Out: Let's talk about politics for a moment. Ronald Reagan [who had died several days before this interview]--
Matronic: Kicked the bucket, finally.
Shears: A shitload of people were dying [of AIDS while Reagan was in office], and it was completely ignored. More than anything, that's why I hate him.
Matronic: I was directly affected by that because my biological father was gay, and he died of AIDS when I was 15. Is it possible if [Reagan] had actually said something, would my dad still be alive today? I don't know. He and my mother divorced when I was very young, but I'd see him about four times a year. He lived in San Francisco in the Castro with his partner.
Shears: I think something that drives me, and something I'm fascinated with--and I think you can hear it on the album--is that years after the [AIDS crisis in] New York in the '80s...I have a lot of friends who are still alive who survived that time. It blows me away. I can't imagine what was going on. I can't imagine having all your friends die. It's something that I think about all the time.
Out: Let's talk about your success. Three years as a band is hardly a long time to be [around before] playing Wembley!
Matronic: No, it's not. It's not, Jake!
Shears: People think, like, it's overnight, it's overnight. To me it doesn't feel like its overnight. We've worked so hard for a few years, and really put in the time from the beginning. It's been the focus in our lives since the very beginning.
Matronic: It's been a full-time thing for at least two years.
Out: Who are your musical idols you'd love to meet?
Matronic: We've been there! Duran Duran [whom the Scissor Sisters performed with in Britain] was my life's first obsession. For me the one person that's going to be difficult but great for me to meet someday--Siouxsie Sioux. That's going to be really difficult, but cool. To me she means the most out of all the rock stars I looked up to.
Shears: One of my three favorite things about doing what we're doing is getting to meet our heroes. So fun! Playing with the B-52's and hanging out with Fred, and Fred performs with us in New York.
Matronic: That's so cool!
Shears: I used to go to bed and pray to God that someday I'd have lunch with the B-52's. And you know, last night there we were! They seem like family now. And Elton John, with George Michael coming into our dressing room, and him throwing his arms open and embracing me and pinching my cheeks and saying these amazing things--that was incredible. To me he's Elvis! We're playing with Elton John on Friday--I mean, what the hell?
Matronic: And Peter Burns. To have him come over to our house... I'm like, I can't meet him, I can't meet him. Babydaddy brings me over and introduces me, and Pete takes me aside and tells me what a huge fan he is of me, and I'm like, "Stop! This is so crazy." Later on we're quoting lines from Female Trouble together in the kitchen. We met David Byrne too, and I'm a huge Talking Heads fan, and I nerded out in front of him; I totally dorked out.
Out: You started out playing gay clubs.
Matronic: We started playing in the Cock.
Shears: We started playing the Slipper Room in the East Village where Ana was hosting a cabaret night; the Cock; Lux in Williamsburg was the first time the three of us [original bandmembers Jake, Ana, and Babydaddy] ever got onstage together; [transgendered nightclub celebrity] Amanda Lepore's birthday party. That was a fun night. You know when you're going to Amanda Lepore's that the cr'me de la cr'me of the New York freaks will be there. Going back to New York, I used to be so fascinated and scared by the freaky New York club celebrities, and now they're so dear to my heart. I love all those people so much. Manhattan's got a great, great cast of nightlife characters.
Out: So, who are your greatest performance influences?
Shears: Tina and the Ikettes; Justin Bond ["Kiki" of Kiki and Herb]--I started going to see Kiki and Herb in New York right when I moved there. It was out of that show that I decided that this is what I want to be doing. I learned so much from watching his performances. He's very influential for my performance. There's a lot of Kiki in Jake Shears.
Matronic: John Waters's Female Trouble; Beyond the Valley of the Dolls; Ann Magnuson--she's totally underrated--she's one of the great minds of our time. She's such a genius.
Babydaddy: River Phoenix's character from My Own Private Idaho; "Al" from Home Improvement.
Boom: Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory; Mitch Mitchell; Stewart Copeland; The Tao of Pooh.
Marquis: Angus Stone; the boy from the "Open Your Heart to Me" video by Madonna; Ralph Hutter [of Kraftwerk].