Roxy Write With Scissor Sisters - Thu 14th Sep

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Roxy Write With Scissor Sisters
14 September 2006
Article from Cutting edge
by Cameron Adams

SCISSOR Sisters' frontman Jake Shears is in the middle of talking up his band's second album, Ta-Dah.

"I'm just so excited," he says.
But it's not the usual cheesy cliche from an artist with a new album to spruik.

"I'm excited we never have to make a second album again," Shears says.

"I'm so happy it's done so that we never have to go through that again."

The Scissor Sisters started album No.2 on a high. Their self-titled debut was recorded cheaply in their home town of New York.

US record labels didn't know what to do with the band -- five flamboyant characters with fake names, real talent and songs that ranged from throbbing disco to heartfelt '70s-style ballads.

The fact three members were openly gay posed another marketing problem.

The solution: go to England. Spawning five hit singles, the album was the UK's highest seller of 2004, shipping two million copies.

The album's fifth and final single, Filthy Gorgeous, helped the band belatedly break Australia. Within months they went from intimate club shows to filling stadiums and headlining festivals, and supporting everyone from Duran Duran to U2.

In a show-stealing slot on last year's Live8, the band bravely played a new song, Everybody Wants the Same Thing, alongside signature hit Take Your Mama.

Shears and fellow Sister Babydaddy even found time to co-write a Top 5 hit for Kylie Minogue, I Believe in You.

That difficult second album looked set to be a breeze. The band went straight into the studio, but everything went a little wrong.

"We just worked constantly on this album for a year," Shears says. "The first album took longer overall, but it was more slap-dash, we'd just write songs whenever. With this album, if we weren't in the studio, we were asleep."

The rock cliche of having all your life to write your first album, then a few months to make your second, reared its ugly head.

"Those cliches are really true," Shears says.

"We'd toured for a few years and just went straight into the studio. We were in denial. We took no time off. When you're on tour, every day is mapped out, so the idea of a free afternoon is terrifying.

"Babydaddy and I turned into workaholics. I felt like we were living the rock cliches, but I don't feel like we were making them, though."

The pair, the Scissors' creative spine, wrote songs endlessly. There was pressure on the band to deliver, but the most dangerous pressure came from within.

"It was a mildly miserable process," Shears says. "It took a lot of patience to make it. We can be really self-critical. There's something kind of depressing about working on your second album.

"The innocence you had on your first is gone. It's sweet and tragic at the same time. There were lots of joyful moments, but there were some dark moments."

Shears became over-anxious as he struggled for musical inspiration.

"I put an insane amount of pressure on myself," he says. "We made the first album not realising we were making an album until we were two-thirds through. They were just songs to perform and play for your friends.

"I would be having conversations with friends and my brain wouldn't stop trying to capture it for future reference. I'd go into a store and hear a Fleetwood Mac song and think, it's so good, and it would freak me out. It was really, really crippling."

THE solution came in various guises. Shears and his boyfriend took a week-long trip to Disneyland; a CD of music used in the theme-park rides was the soundtrack to writer's block.

And a little help came from their friends. Writing with Minogue opened their eyes to new ways of working. Then came Elton John.

John loved the band's debut album and soon befriended them.

"We just get along really well as friends, we make each other laugh," Shears says.

"I love him, he's a f---ing riot. He's like family to me, he's a wonderful, loving person."

Realising Shears was stuck in a rut, John offered his songwriting help.

"We went into it with the approach 'This may suck, it may be amazing, who knows what we'll end up with'," Shears says.

"We weren't going to beat ourselves up if it sucked, we just wanted to have a good time. So we wrote a lot of stuff. Some was rotten, some was pretty good."

One of the earliest was the theatrical Intermission, which wound up having strings arranged by Van Dyke Parks.

The band loved the song, but it wasn't the pop song they still needed. They kept writing with John until I Don't Feel Like Dancin' emerged.

"I remember we were suddenly overjoyed with it, as a pop song," Shears says.

"It took us a while to get to that point. It wasn't like we were just magically writing amazing pop songs one after the other. But that one had something special. I'm a big Dolly Parton fanatic and I think Dolly made her way on to this album through that song."

Dancin' became their first UK No.1 this week, outselling No.2 by two to one.

Not all their writing sessions were as productive. Inspired by their love of the band, Roxy Music invited Shears and Babydaddy to work on songs for their reunion album.

But the album is yet to eventuate.

"That album is like Chinese Democracy," Shears says, in reference to Guns N' Roses' eternally delayed comeback album.

"I don't even know if it'll come out, but we wrote some great songs with them."

Collaboration is something Shears thrives on. Between albums he sang on dance star Tiga's hit You Gonna Want Me and Andy Bell of Erasure's solo album. Bandmate Ana Matronic guested on New Order's Jetstream.

"I hope it doesn't seem as if we're spreading ourselves thin. It doesn't feel like that," Shears says. "I think we're still doing great work.

"I just don't think people collaborate any more. If someone like Franz Ferdinand came up and said, 'We wrote this song and we think you would be great singing it', I'd love that.

"Ana, Babydaddy and I wrote a song called Don't Make a Joke of Me No More, but it wasn't really a Scissor song. It sounded like a Pet Shop Boys record. So I sent them an MP3 of it, suggesting they might like it. They never recorded it. They probably thought it was s---, but that doesn't matter.

"That's a great thing, it gets me excited. I love to think about all the different kinds of songs you can write."

Shears is busy ticking off the musical heroes on his "must-meet" list. Pet Shop Boy Neil Tennant and George Michael were recent ones.

"George and I had amazing conversations about music. I've never been disappointed by anybody other than (Pink Floyd's) David Gilmour, but that's another story."

The Scissors reworked Floyd's Comfortably Numb for their debut album, which Gilmour apparently liked. Shears remains coy.

"The Gilmour story is really long, but he seems like a nice guy. There are certain people I just don't want to meet. I'm such a big music fan. I love finding out certain heroes are just people, but some of them aren't people to me. I don't want that perspective on everybody."

THE Scissors remain in the strange position of playing to huge crowds in Britain but tiny clubs at home in the US, where their debut album peaked at No.102.

"It keeps you on your toes," Shears says.

Boy George recently said the fact that three members are gay is why the Scissors failed in the US, and blames a homophobic record industry.

Shears, who famously said the fact that the band has some gay members has as much relevance as the fact Blondie has some straight members, isn't so sure.

"George is a talented man, but I wouldn't necessarily agree with him. He may be right, I don't know," he says.

"What happened to us, in the UK and Australia, was pretty extraordinary. I think we did pretty great for our first album in the US. I think we have quite a few records in us, hopefully some sort of a lifespan."

Longevity is a theme that, as a fan of music, Shears is obsessed by -- to an almost dangerous degree.

"You can't really take anything for granted. I'm not really satisfied by anything we've ever done. I'm not satisfied with this album, but I wasn't satisfied with the first one. I think we have a long way to go, and hopefully we'll have the opportunity to go there.

"But for all I know, we could be kaput in six months. I'm so broken-hearted when I see bands and artists trying to keep going and they just hit a brick wall. It's horrible.

"The tragedy of it all is you know some day you're going to go out of fashion, you're not going to be good-looking any more, people aren't going to care and you'll still get up and do it anyway."

Shears, a former stripper, says performing live is "an insane, really potent drug".

"It's the only drug I do any more. To have that taken away is the worst thought. It's where that anxiety and depression comes in. That's the really scary part of it.

"And you know that some day it is going to be taken away. But it's the best drug I've ever taken, and I've taken a lot."

Ta-Dah (Universal) is out on Saturday.

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