Jake Shears: ‘I love showing people a good time’

The Scissor Sisters frontman wants to get the party started with his new album of hypnotic disco bangers

Jake Shears, photographed by Time Out at The Glory
Photograph: Jess Hand. Location: The Glory
Nick Levine
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‘Last Man Dancing’, the title of Jake Shears’s sparkling new solo album, isn’t just a snappy slogan for T-shirts at his merch table. It also reflects where the former Scissor Sisters frontman finds himself career-wise – ‘I’m 20 years in, which is crazy,’ he says – and his impressive stamina when he throws a house party at his Hoxton pad. ‘I’m a host. I love showing people a good time,’ he says with a wide smile when we meet at The Glory, a buzzy LGBTQ+ pub and cabaret hub in nearby Haggerston. ‘And when you are hosting and being that party archetype, you’re probably gonna be the last one up!’

‘Last Man Dancing’ is Shears’s second solo LP since Scissor Sisters announced an indefinite hiatus in October 2012. Fronted by Shears, the New York five-piece injected a welcome dash of gay abandon into the UK charts at a time when fewer LGBTQ+ artists were able to infiltrate the mainstream. Back in 2004, their catchy banger about introducing a parent to queer nightlife, ‘Take Your Mama’, felt stealthily transgressive. ’We’ll get her jacked up on some cheap champagne,’ Shears sang mischievously.

Letting the good times roll

Shears took a little time to release his first solo effort, 2018’s ‘Jake Shears’, a glossy pop-rock record that he described at the time as ‘fucking expensive’ because it featured so many live musicians. ‘My first album was super fun,’ he says today, a fair assessment of a record that contains songs called ‘Big Bushy Mustache’ and ‘Clothes Off’. ‘But in a certain way,’ Shears continues, ‘I feel like I was making people eat their vegetables.’ So, what are you feeding us with ‘Last Man Dancing’ – ice cream, maybe? ‘All the drugs!’ Shears replies with a hearty laugh.

Again, Shears’s description is spot on. ‘Last Man Dancing’ opens with a volley of dance-pop bangers including the cathartic single ‘I Used to Be in Love’ and ‘Voices’, which features luminous vocals from his old pal Kylie Minogue. ‘It’s kind of a siren song,’ he says of the latter. ‘I’ve had it in my pocket for a long time. In a way, the impetus for making this album was to give that song a home.’ Then, with the more conventional tracks ‘in the bag’, Shears lets himself ‘get a little weirder and more indulgent’ in the album’s second half. The beats deepen, the tracks bleed into one another like a DJ set, and Jane Fonda delivers a disarming spoken word cameo. ‘You will feel rebuilt and transformed; you will have access to information that will expand what you understand as reality,’ she tells us over a hypnotic disco beat.

Fonda’s part is actually a cleverly repurposed outtake from The Future of Flesh, a short film Shears made with the Hollywood icon around a decade ago. ‘I think it’s actually my favourite part of the album,’ he says. ‘I just sent her an email asking if it would be OK for me to put her on a rave track, and she replied: “Have at it!”

Jake Shears, photographed by Time Out at The Glory
Photograph: Jess Hand. Location: The Glory

A big weekend

On Sunday June 4, two days after the album drops, Shears will perform at Mighty Hoopla festival in south London’s Brockwell Park. Since 2016, this ridiculously fun weekender has been celebrating the LGBTQ+ community’s agenda-setting creativity and the galvanising power of pop music. Shears joins a stacked main stage line-up that includes Olly Alexander’s pop alchemists Years & Years, avant-disco queen Róisín Murphy, Australian party-starters Confidence Man and queer rising star Leo Kalyan. When Shears sings his ‘Last Man Dancing’ bops and a few Scissor Sisters classics – he’s got to do ‘I Don’t Feel Like Dancin’, right? – the crowd is bound to get even sweatier. Just look for the glitter – biodegradable, obviously – sliding down their faces.

Shears was asked to take part by his friend Glyn Fussell, co-founder of era-defining LGBTQ+ club night Sink the Pink and Mighty Hoopla’s festival director. ‘The opportunity to play the main stage at a festival that big – why wouldn’t I grab that?’ he says. ‘And I think the Sunday line-up is really special.’ Shears readily admits that he sets a high bar these days because he has seen so much drag, cabaret, theatre and live music over the years. ‘I wanna be on stage, I don’t wanna be watching it,’ he says matter-of-factly.

From the fringes to the mainstream

Born Jason Sellards in Arizona and raised in a religious household in Washington State, he honed his stagecraft as a go-go dancer in New York’s East Village at the turn of the millennium. It was here that he formed Scissor Sisters with multi-instrumentalist Scott ‘Babydaddy’ Hoffman, who became his songwriting partner. After the band’s line-up expanded to include drummer Paddy Boom, guitarist Del Marquis and fellow vocalist Ana Matronic – on stage, a calm and eloquent counterpoint to Shears’s infectious energy – their reputation swelled and they landed a major label record deal.

Though Scissor Sisters enjoyed cult success at home in the US, particularly with their campy 2012 house banger ‘Let’s Have a Kiki’, they became proper pop superstars across the pond. Their self-titled 2004 debut, home to the hits ‘Filthy/Gorgeous’, ‘Laura’ and ‘Take Your Mama’, is still the UK’s 40th best-selling album of all time. Along the way, the band’s playful but unapologetic brand of queerness helped to prise open the door for today’s LGBTQ+ pop stars like Sam Smith and Olly Alexander. ‘I’m happy that I’ve always been able to be myself, but I don’t stew on it,’ Shears says self-effacingly. ‘You know, being in New York in my early twenties, I was always so embedded in that kind of [progressive queer] world. So at the time, I didn’t even really think about the fact that Scissor Sisters crossing over to the mainstream meant what it did.’

Shears offers an equally modest explanation for the band’s astonishing popularity here: We just worked it – we toured and toured and played and played and played. Scissor Sisters’ first UK gig took place in 2004 at The Cock, a fondly remembered club night at Soho gay venue Ghetto, which was later demolished to make for the Elizabeth Line. Within three years, they were packing 20,000 fans from across the gender and sexuality spectrum into The O2. ‘And there’s always been a nice fit between the songs that I write and this country,’ Shears adds. ‘There’s a space for it here, and it’s been embraced on a large scale and a small scale.’

Jake Shears, photographed by Time Out at The Glory
Photograph: Jess Hand. Location: The Glory

A London journey

Given Shears’s musical affinity with the UK, moving here was a natural choice. But it was also a practical one, coming as he put the finishing touches to ‘Tammy Faye’, the ebullient stage musical about televangelist Tammy Faye Messner that he wrote with Elton John and playwright James Graham. It premiered at Islington’s Almeida Theatre last October to largely glowing reviews and sell-out houses, but Shears can only speak vaguely about its next iteration. ‘Hopefully it’s going to transfer here or there,’ he says. ‘But it’s like musical chairs with London theatres at the moment. Finding a theatre to go into [with a new production] is tough because there’s a big logjam.’

Shears says his time in London has been ‘amazing’ – he appreciates the city’s scale compared to New Orleans, which ‘feels like more of a small town’. But more recently, his stint in the capital has been laced with sadness since the passing of Toby, his beloved border terrier and ‘best friend’, who he’d take for walks in London Fields. ‘He was 15-and-a-half, so this last year was really about us spending time together,’ Shears says. ‘It’s like a new era with him gone; life feels a lot more raw for me now.’

Thankfully, after a month of ‘worrying that my personality had kind of drained away’, Shears is beginning to feel like himself again. ‘I’ve been so fucking busy with the album and live show, which has been helpful in a way,’ he says. Its driving beats should set an exuberant mood in Brockwell Park, and in flats from Clapham to Hackney all summer long. There’s a real house-party vibe to this record,’ he says. ‘And my favourite thing about house parties is the fact they’re intimate spaces with people and music you love. That’s the kind of cosy feeling I want this record to have.’

It’s one Shears has certainly achieved – though don’t try to be the ‘last man dancing’ every time you play it. Sometimes even the ‘life and soul’ needs an early night.

Jake Shears is playing Mighty Hoopla in Brockwell Park on Sunday June 4. Last Man Dancing is released on Friday June 2: video out now.

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