Since breaking out as an ultra-camp electro-pop sensation, Scissor Sisters have grown up an awful lot. By Eddy Lawrence and Jake Newby
Commercial wisdom suggests that chart music and politics sleep in separate bedrooms. But when the two get together, they can really get red hot. The New York disco-pop quintet Scissor Sisters know this better than most, making a mark with their ultra-camp glam pop numbers since their chart-topping 2004 debut album. Their third album, 2010’s Night Work, took that bedsharing further, and ahead of their show in Hong Kong this fortnight, we talk to Jake Shears and Ana Matronic about treading the line between musician, politician and provocateur. And what better place to start than at the rear – the cover of Night Work, a striking photograph featuring surely the most politicised ass since Thomas Nast caricatured Andrew Jackson.
Let’s start with that cover. Was it meant to provoke?
Jake Shears: Everyone wants to talk about it. I think it’s fascinating for an album cover to do that these days. How many bands or performers are talking about their sleeve?
Ana Matronic: It’s a really interesting barometer of where people are with sex, culturally. We’ve gone to Italy and they’ve gone, ‘Whoa, what is this explicit cover?’ and we go to Germany and they’re like, ‘We love the cover!’
JS: I really think it fits the record. I think it sends a message out to whoever cares to notice. I think the perception of this band had possibly become that we were afraid of ourselves or something. This was our statement, saying: “Actually, we’re not afraid of ourselves. And, well, if you don’t like us… here’s an ass in your face.” [Laughs] “And if you do like us, here’s an ass in your face – enjoy!”
Having made a more sexually explicit record, do you feel it speaks more openly to your gay audience?
JS: Quite possibly. I think the sexuality in this record is sort of a response and a reaction to where we were a few years ago. It seemed kinda sex-neutral; I had felt a little bit sexless, like a Barbie doll.
AM: I think it was a little deliberate, because the material on the last album [Ta-Dah] was more emotional and not as sexual, and the themes on that record were a little more melancholy. So I don’t think it necessarily lent itself to be super sexual, and I feel like on this one, Jake especially allowed himself to express himself sexually and there is a real sense of liberation in that.
Speaking of liberation, how was touring with Lady Gaga last year?
JS: It was amazing. It was a really natural thing that happened between us – there were no record labels getting involved, there was no politics. I had dinner with her one night and it just came up in conversation and we said we’d love to. We’d never played for that many people in America before, we were playing to massive audiences that were really receptive. It’s nice to go out to an arena of adoring fans, but sometimes it’s nice to go out to an arena full of people who have no idea who you are and selling yourself. It’s a magic time and it’s really hard to capture again, so I love those moments when you feel like you can turn an audience.
How do you find being in the studio?
JS: When it’s coming like this album, I love being in the studio. When you write a great song, you can really get high on it. It’s unlike anything else. Being in the studio can also be really painful. I love being on the road too, but it’s a double-edged sword – when you’re exhausted, it’s like hell on earth, but when you have the right energy it can be totally exhilarating. Sometimes you have to pull your energy out from weird places inside you.
So where is the new album at?
JS: We’re just about finished with it, just making a few little tweaks. The album has just magically materialised out of thin air, it’s really exciting. Not since our first album have we been on such a roll with songs. It’s been nice to make something that hasn’t had any pain attached to it. We started off writing some really top drawer songs right at the start and when that happens, your confidence just builds and builds. Night Work was a lot about being underground and living in the dark and sex. This album is much more romantic and summery. There’s a lot of love songs. There’s still great party songs though and the beats are the best we’ve had on any of our music. I’m still trying to figure out what the hell to call it, but it’ll be out early this year.
Scissor Sisters play AsiaWorld Expo on Thursday January 5. Tickets: 3128 8288; hkticketing.com.