We “kiki” with native Arizonan and Scissor Sisters’ front man Jake Shears

By Timothy Rawles; photos by Kevin Tachman, April 2020 Issue.

Tight

pants, colorful costumes, chart-topping disco-infused bops, and dictionary

entries into the gay vernacular, Scissor Sisters front man Jake Shears has

given the world a lot of himself and it all started right here in Arizona.

Before he was rubbing elbows with Elton

John and confiding in Kyle Minogue, Shears was walking among the orchards of

Mesa, Arizona with his father.

“We had the whole huge corner of Southern

and Greenfield,” Shears tells me. You can almost hear him thinking about it

over the phone. “It was all orange groves around there. So, my dad had built

that house and he had all these fields around where we would grow stuff,

depending on what season.”

Shears’ father had some business endeavors

in Seattle which required them to move to Washington for a while. “He would

build these big fishing boats out of scrap metal and design all of this stuff,”

he says, adding that he did return to Mesa, “for junior high and some early

high school.”

Remarkably Phoenix Pride is only a year older

than the openly gay singer and he says he loved living in Arizona while

exploring that side of himself for the most part.

“When I came out — when I was there in

junior high it was fun, it was exciting because I was sort of going back and

forth from there to a very isolated island in the northwest, it was

super-beautiful.”

Fueled by his love of music, Shears, then

15, was instantly drawn to the amazing music scene which dominated Phoenix and

Mesa at the time.

“All the bands used to come through, as far

as I know.” He remembers it being a big music and concert market at

the time. “I saw so many shows at the Mesa Amphitheater. My first concert

was Siouxsie and the Banshees at the Mesa Amphitheater when I was in eighth

grade. So that was really exciting. And there was a radio station called KUKQ

that was an AM station back then that played all alternative music. And this

was pre-Nirvana so it was before grunge broke so it was a really special time

in music.”

This community of music lovers was the

first to embrace him while he tried to manage life as a gay teen in a school

that wasn’t so accepting.

“Even though I came out at school — I was

going to Mountain View — I was having a really hard time there, I still found,

in my way, I found an amazing community of people that I really could plug

into and you know, I was hanging out in Tempe a lot, and Mill Avenue was a very

different place back then. But I was able to go to Rocky Horror every

weekend and you could still find the weirdos — it was a great community of weirdos

there.”

Jake Shears. Photo by Kevin Tachman.

He was bullied in school, but he says he

got through it. One of the biggest ways he dealt with all the negativity was

using his resources, and the fact he could be mobile meant he didn’t have to

stay in one place too long. “As hard as it was in certain ways, it was also

amazing for me in other ways because at that moment I would rather have been

there than being kind of stuck on the island without much to do.”

Shears started his journey to becoming a

pop icon in 2001 after he formed the band Scissor Sisters. Three years later

they would release their groovy chart-topping cover of Pink Floyd’s

“Comfortably Numb” which would go on to become a Grammy nominee. The coveted

golden phonograph ultimately went to Britney Spears’ for “Toxic” that year, her

first-ever win.

But the Sisters were only being

half-appreciated in the United States. Over in the UK their self-titled debut

album reached number one and garnered a BRIT Award.

For many a Yankee listener, including

myself, they thought the group was actually from England. Shears understands

that. “We were working over there a whole lot. We got signed at Polydor over

there. It was kind of our initial bread and butter in a way.”

England may have been a better fit for

appreciating the sounds and style of Scissor Sisters. Shears modeled the band

after some of his favorite groups that lay on the fringe of pop. He says at the

time he was coming up with the persona of the group, music had a lot more

variation.

“What I was really obsessed with was all

those bands that I grew up with whether it was like Chili Peppers or Daft Punk

that came out when I was in college or Siouxsie and the Banshees or B-52s,” he

says. “There was one time I feel like classic alternative music was built by

artists and bands that had really singular identities. Where you just mention

the name and it’s like they’re their own genre, they got their own styles.”

He says he was fixated on making Scissor

Sisters have its own blend, a concoction of influences and a singular style.

“It was really important that we were doing our own thing.”

Whether the name of the band went over

people’s heads or fans were in on the innuendo, Shears himself didn’t know what

Scissor Sisters meant at first.

“A friend of mine in New York, and during

this moment I was having this conversation with him on the phone and he used

the term which I had never heard before and I thought it was really funny,” he

laughs. “So days later when Babydaddy and I were talking about like, ‘what do

we call ourselves,’ that name came up — we came up with the logo just like

right then. So all this happened in one moment. It just happened.”

The group went on to see great success with

songs such as “Filthy/Gorgeous,” “Take Your Mama,” and “I Don’t Feel Like

Dancin.” But after “Let’s Have a Kiki” became a big single thanks in part to

the television show Glee, Shears was beginning to think it was time

for the Sisters to take a break.

The front man says the decision was a tough

one, but he felt it was the right time for everybody.

“No one in the band had really expected for

this to become their lives,” he explains. “I was kind of the only one that like

had the big dream of doing this; this sort of vision of what it all could be,

everybody else really started it to have a good time. Everyone dedicated a good

ten years of their lives you know, it became everyone’s life and I just felt

very strongly that it was time for everybody to get their lives back and to

follow their own dreams of stuff that they had always wanted to do. I don’t

know it was my instinct.”

His first album after going solo came out

in 2018. It was called, simply, Jake Shears. It was a mild departure

from what Scissor Sisters had made previously, but it still contained a psychedelic

beat-driven flair in some spots.

“It was less about reinventing myself and

just basically taking Scissor Sisters’ sound and this sort of thing that I

helped create. I really consider my solo stuff and extension of Scissor

Sisters,” Shears says about the effort.

“There are a lot people who probably wish

my last record was more of a disco album than like a roots-y, southern boogie

record whatever it was,” he laughs. “But that was my dream album, that was

something that I always dreamed of making. I love it and I wouldn’t change a

thing. But I also after doing that, after three years, I’m ready to make pop

music again, like dance pop.”

And that brings us to his latest release

“Meltdown,” a dance-heavy, disco-infused single sung with Shears’ signature falsetto.

This is only the first song in a set of singles he hopes to release in the near

future. He’s also not opposed to getting the band back together when the time

is right. 

He’s been keeping busy beyond the studio as

well. He made his debut on Broadway in Kinky Boots and just finished a

stint on The Masked Singer UK as the unicorn.

We wind down our conversation and I’m

struck by how down-to-earth the pop star is. His energy is so enthusiastic that

you wouldn’t know he’s already a global A-list celebrity. It feels like I’m

talking to the same young guy dreaming about the success he’s already

experienced.

I ask how he feels about being called a gay

icon. His answer is modest and feels completely sincere.

“Oh, I just say that’s for them to decide,” he laughs. “I’m just a regular person and I love doing what I do and I’m proud of all the things I’ve done and I’m excited to keep doing it. I feel very inspired just to keep going and I really hope that I have a long and varied career.”


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