They’re predominantly gay and have little faith in today’s music (or religion for that matter) but they believe that human nature is essentially good. They don’t believe they’re any less rock and roll because they dress up and put on a show. They believe you should never stop challenging yourself. They make music for the outsiders of the world – even though the world is hanging on their every word. They’ve been compared to Elton John and the Bee Gees, have been called Hall & Oates on ecstasy, Steely Dan on poppers, a gay Joy Division, a post-punk Supertramp and the Billy Joel of rave culture. While the comparisons are not far off, their rise to fame has cemented them into the collective consciousness of every discerning music lover. They are Scissor Sisters…
While attending university in Kentucky in 2000, Jason Sellards and Scott Hoffman met and decided to make music together. The duo moved to New York City and met Ana Lynch at a cabaret on Halloween (she was dressed as an Andy Warhol factory reject, and Sellards as a “late-term, back-alley abortion”), who soon joined the group at their gigs in the city. While Sellards was working as a stripper at IC-Guyz in New York, they met Derek Gruen, a guitarist who later became the fourth member in the band. That – in short – is how – respectively – Jake Shears, Babydaddy, Ana Matronic and Del Marquis became known as Scissor Sisters. (For those who are interested, only Paddy and Ana are straight).
The group signed to an independent label and recorded a single titled Electrobix, which had, as its B-side, a disco-glam cover of Pink Floyd’s classic Comfortably Numb – a song that would become a signature Scissor Sisters track. Work on their first album started, but they were forced to use a drum machine for much of its recording since they were still without a drummer. However, they placed a classified ad to fill the position, and in that way discovered Patrick Seacor who – after changing his name to Paddy Boom – became the fifth member of Scissor Sisters. Call it fate, call it destiny, but in some miraculous way their cover of Comfortably Numb reached the underground electroclub DJs in the UK. Soon The Cock in London hosted Scissor Sisters’ first gig in the UK and the rest – as they say – is history: Comfortably Numb was heard by an executive at Polydor, a record contract was signed, and their debut album was released in the UK in 2004.
Comfortably Numb charted at number 10 on the UK charts and was followed by the singles Take Your Mama (number 17), Laura (number 12), Mary (number 14) and the gay anthem Filthy/Gorgeous (which peaked at number 5). While the singles never topped the charts, the eponymous debut album, Scissor Sisters, went straight to number 1 and sold in excess of 2 million copies in the UK alone and became the top seller of 2004 (beating Keane’s Hopes & Fears). As of 2006, it ranks as the 10th biggest selling album in UK history.
After opening the 2005 Brit Awards with Take Your Mama, the band again made UK history by winning awards in all three international categories: Best International Breakthrough, Best International Group and Best International Album. The gay members of the band (Jake Shears, Babydaddy, and Del Marquis) were honoured in the Out100 (OUT magazine’s list of the 100 most intriguing gay people of the year), the band won a GLAAD Media Award for Outstanding Music Artist and later performed at Live 8. Scissor Sisters were everywhere and everyone loved them: they attended Elton John’s wedding, while demand for their talent led to Shears and Babydaddy writing and producing Kylie Minogue’s I Believe In You (for which they received their second Grammy nomination, along with Comfortably Numb).
“There have been loads of gay bands in the U.S… Just because we’re not closet cases like everyone else…” – Jake Shears
The band’s rise to the top has been a roller coaster ride indeed, but what really makes it such a noteworthy tale is that they did it all by sticking out like a sore thumb. First of all, take the name: naming your band after a lesbian sex position takes guts, especially if you’re unknown, terribly camp and – more importantly – there are actually no lesbians in your band (thank heavens they settled on the shortened Scissor Sisters and not the full-blown original ‘Dead Lesbian and the Fibrillating Scissor Sisters’). Secondly, they don’t sound like any other 21st century band that has sold more than 2 million albums in the UK. Lastly, they don’t look like any other 21st century group of significance.
As Ana Matronic told Attitude magazine’s Paul Flynn, “We’ve always been the weird people. The fact that we take our quirks and revel in them rather than apologising for them is part of what makes the band what it is.”
But it is this very uniqueness that makes them so popular: while ‘middle-of-the-road’ and ‘mainstream’ appeal to some people, Scissor Sisters is controversial and often brash – much like the 70’s disco era that influenced them in so many ways. Their unabashed celebration of queer sexuality is also remarkable in a still predominantly closeted entertainment industry. Jake has become a gay pinup worth celebrating – searingly sexy, a phenomenal live performer and happily out.
Jake brashly told The Sun newspaper that “There have been loads of gay bands in the U.S… Just because we’re not closet cases like everyone else. If you want me to name names, I will. Robbie Williams is a gay man. Just look at him.” He goes on to add that, “What I think is amazing in the U.K. is that no one cares whether we’re gay, straight or whatever. People just seem to love the music.”
So has anything changed with the new album, you might ask? Thankfully not – they’re gayer than ever. The band again looked to the psychedelia, glam and disco of the seventies for inspiration, combining all the elements into Ta-Dah. But the album didn’t come easily. The stress of being superstars, the constant attention, and the time spent touring drained the band members. In an interview with OUT Magazine’s Tom Donaghy, the band members revealed how difficult it was to produce Ta-Dah.
“We’d been touring for so long that I was still getting adrenaline rushes, which felt like panic attacks. Add to that the anxiety of having a really enormous task of writing our second album. It felt like my stomach was falling out,” said Shears. Shears subsequently fell into a severe depression that had everyone around him extremely concerned. In the same interview, Shears said that he marvels the fact that early reviews have described Ta-Dah as a dancey party album because “the process wasn’t a party. A lot of it was finding the light at the end of the tunnel.”
But the light they did find and the results are once again remarkable. Ta-Dah rocketed to number one within its first week of release in the UK, culminating in yet another historic first for Scissor Sisters: the catchy I Don’t Feel Like Dancing, the first single off the album, also entered the UK charts at number one (where it stayed for four weeks), making it a double-whammy at the top of the charts for the band.
Ironically, mainstream success continues to elude Scissor Sisters in their homeland. The hip-hop dominated US market seems confused (as they were by Madonna’s Confessions on a Dancefloor) by the disco influenced pop sounds and gay-themed antics of the band. The new CD will probably also fail to ignite the American masses. But for those in the know, it doesn’t disappoint.