“Ana was a huge fan of Duran Duran. They were her first great obsession in life.”
First Impression Into Utter Obsession
It started with a random bit from an online music retailer describing the Scissor Sisters’ “Comfortably Numb” as “a Bee Gees–style cover of the Pink Floyd classic.” After purchasing the entire available back catalog and taking a trip to Chicago’s Double Door to encounter their vibrant and colorful live show, gradually I became a fan of a band who undoubtedly admires its fans in return. Edgy and unadulterated as their work is processed, meeting the Scissor Sisters was as relaxed as talking to your friends or those coworkers that you don’t have to hide from in the workplace. Eventually, I had the great fortune of interviewing multi-instrumentalist and one of the collaborative masterminds of Scissor Sisters, affectionately and curiously known as Babydaddy. “Everyone sort of had to delve into personal inspiration for their stage personas,” he said, explaining the band’s stage names. “Babydaddy, for me, was a nickname that friends called me before I was in the band. That name came from me sort of acting and looking older than I was in my early 20s. Jake is a pet name that his mom used to call him. Ana Matronic was a stage name at times when she was performing in San Francisco as one of her characters. We all just sort of made these characters for ourselves.” The assembly of “sisters” is as diverse and playful as their sound. Ask Franz Ferdinand. The Sisters toilet-papered their dressing room at a recent festival.
The Notion Didn’t Come From Fiskars
New York City is many-a-gathering of individuals from all around the world, which makes it a breeding ground for talent from a range of innumerable backgrounds. The original lineup of the Sisters started as Babydaddy (the master of the sound…and the hairy chest), Jake Shears (a former fiction writing major with a knack for fashion and falsettos), and Ana (a sharply charismatic, tattooed shit-kicker who is rarely speechless). Eventually, the band branched out to include the gifted guitarist Del Marquis and the skillfully hyperactive Paddy Boom on drums. Through matching interests, Jake and Babydaddy created catchy songs to provoke the playfulness of popular music since it seems to have departed from radio years ago.
“Money is the obvious reason for the corruption of radio,” said Babydaddy. “It’s a mess. I was talking to someone today about the state of our career in America and what it could mean for us. We’ve been added on some hot Adult Contemporary stations here in America; it’s funny for such an edgy, out-there act like us to get away with it. By ’90s standards, we would be ‘an alternative act,’ but according to alternative radio [now], we wouldn’t. I’d rather be praised by hot AC radio stations that actually care about what we’re doing than shitty alternative stations that play angry white people screaming or really negative hip-hop and rap. There’s a place for that stuff, but there seems to be no diversity in what’s going on. There’s no joyful music or positive music or, sadly, not a lot of smart music, which is frustrating.”
In a land where most musical acts feel forced to hire their own personal economist instead of letting the record label and management do the numbers, Scissor Sisters are fed up with the lack of quality of what is shoved in our ears. The splendor of this sundry group is that they’re doing more than interrogating the worthiness of music today by creating cunning compositions of their own, coupled with batting for other talented left-of-center musicians in the industry.
There are a diminutive few whose gifts to rock ’n’ roll have been vital enough to their fans to treat the performers and songwriters as religious demigods. The Scissors knew what they were up against when they not only covered Pink Floyd’s “Comfortably Numb,” but had the gumption to make it a disco track, with BeeGees–style falsetto vocals. “We recorded it first and the permission came later on, from Roger Waters and David Gilmour. We got a lot of e-mails; some went so far as death threats, claiming that we’ve destroyed the Sistine Chapel or poured acid on the Mona Lisa, which I just laugh about, because it’s absurd. We wrote some calm e-mails in return and a lot of those people turned around. We basically would say, ‘Give it a chance,’ and ‘It’s not a joke. We are fans of Pink Floyd, too, and we write songs of our own as well, so try it out.’ Some actually wrote back with apologies after listening to our music; it was really funny. Now, we just say, ‘Pink Floyd gave us their blessing, so fuck off.’”
Fasten Those Pants for the Lap Dance
Scissor Sisters’ music is a mixture of many sounds and inspirations that seem to morph into a cheeky crew of strapping reverberations. It’s disco, it’s funk-laced rock, and it’s thought-provoking melodrama. This spinning-spectrum party is complete with the jealous love triangle and the resulting confrontation, hallucinations, seizures, curtains on fire, making out, and the morning after. The beauty of the band’s success in the U.K. was the gradual elevation to number one on the record chart, whereas most debut at their peak and descend from there.
“I’m always weary of bands that arrive at the top out of nowhere, and we definitely didn’t want to do that. It was always the plan to have it build on its own and to not shove it down people’s throats—although I’m sure it’s getting saturated now in the U.K. We were never interested to force anything on anyone that doesn’t want it. As we’ve seen the reactions, we act accordingly and keep pushing it by a lot of touring. We knew it was going to take a big presence.”
The band is hoping for a carbon copy of that success domestically. That might not happen overnight, but that’s all right with the band. “There have always been little steps with us; that’s what excites me about the way it works. Going number one was an amazing step, but before that, we were top ten, which is something we never knew would happen.
“It’s been good, but there is a lot more work to do. I’d love a top five single one of these days. I’d love to do well in America and I’d love for Europe to pick up a little bit. There’s always more that you can do. As far as I’m concerned, we did make the album we wanted to make ourselves, and I’m really proud of it. I could die happy—but I could have died happy after we finished it.”
Five Fingers for A Four-Man-and -One-Woman Show
Most debut artists stick to a schedule of touring in their home country and branch out on their second or third release. The Scissors have had the good fortune of touring the world on their first release. Live, each member is a natural entertainer without the necessity of huge video screens or computer-generated light shows. The one thing that remains constant is stage placement (or “blocking,” for those of us who were in high school marching band).
“ Someone asked us to switch it around for a TV appearance and we [refused]. It’s just something that happened organically. Everyone staked their claim as their spot on the stage and we’re very comfortable that way. You’re always going to see me, Jake, and Ana in the middle because we are the first members of the band, but everyone is important and has their own personality. It must be a comfort level thing. You get used to which way to turn and know who you’re looking at. We’re jumping around the stage a lot, but we usually end up where we start.”
When you’re part of an emerging band with a noteworthy stage act, word gets around. It can even reach the heights with the history-makers. Both the newly reunited Duran Duran and Sir Elton John sought out the services of the Scissors to open their shows. “It was really amazing; we were a little freaked out. Ana was a huge fan of Duran Duran. We all were, but they were her first great obsession in life. It really was a dream come true. The crowds were amazing and they really took to us. In some ways, it felt we were coming forward at a new generation with a similar spirit in the same way they had done.
“It was the same with Elton John. I think he sees something in us that he sees looking back at what he was doing in his early days, being fantastic and glamorous. He wrote heartfelt music that had a fun side. All these things that he created in pop music, I think he sees us carrying on that tradition. It was one of my greatest moments for me to be able to meet him and open for his shows. We heard that he hasn’t had an opening act in nine years because he doesn’t need them. He liked us enough to ask us, and it was amazing.”
Quite a coup for an act with only one album. Moments like that will be among the stepping stones for future snipping.
Scissor Sisters’ Way of Networking
In their effort to spread the love, the Scissor Sisters are branching out in the land of production for other artists. “I Believe in You” is a track they’ve written and produced for Kylie Minogue as part of her latest collection of singles. Although the album and singles will not be released in America, there is a soaring chance that this could become a lucrative option for them, judging by Minogue’s track record in Europe.
Babydaddy shared his desired collaborations for the future. “Brian Eno was one that we’ve thought would be an interesting collaboration. We’ve always wanted to do something with Dolly Parton, too. Jake has been a huge fan all his life so that would be one to check off the list, for sure. She is one of the greatest songwriters of all time, so prolific and successful. Dolly, if you’re out there, call us”. If this sort of win-win collaboration should prosper for the Scissors, I shall whimsically expect a mention in the “thank you’s.”
I should be so lucky.