Jake Shears on his new album, stage fright and performing in San Francisco

Jake Shears is almost defined by creativity. And it shows: He just published a memoir and is now touring on behalf of his self-titled album Jake Shears.

Queerty asked drag queen and Shears friend/fan Juanita MORE! to chat with the talented star on the eve of his performance at legendary San Francisco Fillmore club and the after party at More’s Jones Street venue.

I have always been uncomfortable speaking on a microphone and have turned down many gigs because of the anxiety it brings me. How do you explain to someone what it’s like to be a performer – a showman?

Public speaking might be one of the hardest things I have to do. It was so much easier in that respect when I was next to Ana Matronic on stage. Connecting with the crowd is one of the things she does so well. I have a couple things working against me when I’m talking to a crowd: I’m a total crier. If I have to share something heartfelt with an audience, I get super choked up, which is just totally embarrassing. But after doing Broadway, it has taken so much of my fear of being on stage away. My speaking has become much more deliberate, movements as well.

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Dolly Parton really does it the best. It’s important to step out on stage and really attempt to connect with everyone in the room as soon as the lights on stage come up. I now consider showmanship to be something like sportsmanship. The trick to being a pro (and this can actually be a really fun game if you look at it a certain way), is when something is going terribly awry, whether it’s physical or technical, how far can you keep it from the audience? And if they can tell that something is wrong, you have to have the confidence to let them know they’re in good hands. That you’re not bothered in the slightest. The moment people see you become uncomfortable, that’s when they become uncomfortable.

Jake, Juanita, and Baby Daddy at Trannyshack at The STUD, 2002

There is a clearer source of southern rock on the new album, a very honky-swampy influence with a mostly ‘live’ band sound. How have your Southern roots shaped this record? On ‘Creep City’ you say things that I’ve always wanted to say to some of my ex-lovers.

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In everything I’ve written, there’s always been a strain of my music that has that honky-swamp vibe. Which is my favorite sound. I wanted to take that feeling and explore it further. We recorded this album all live onto tape, which is how they used to do it back in the day. It was really important for me to get that warm, vintage sound. One of the main reasons I have done this record and that I perform, is to scratch my own itch. At the moment, it’s definitely not about making money. I have been funding this entire endeavor, because if I can, then I have to. It’s my purpose in life.

Juanita and Jake, Booty Call Wednesdays, 2013

I’ve come to hate traveling. How do you cope with being on the road during a tour? What are the differences of leading a band versus being a solo artist?

Being solo after a band is a little like starting over again in certain ways. I really like being able to call all the shots, but the stakes are much higher. Seeing as I am working completely independently, without a label, I’m not playing with anyone else’s money but my own. I don’t have other people to share the loss with. So there’s potentially high risk/high reward. I like being on the road as long as I can stay healthy. It’s in my blood now, I move around like crazy.

Jake Shears by Raphael Chatelain

I see myself constantly drawing inspiration from what I know and have learned in the past. A lot of your references that inspire your work are part of pop culture.

My fascinations change over each project and they also stay the same in certain ways. I think my Broadway run in Kinky Boots really inspired a lot of what I’m doing right now, performance and look-wise. I have a theory that artists are always trying to re-create and pull from these things that obsessed us as children and teenagers. I’m still finding inspiration in The Muppet Movie, Annie, Rocky Horror, Rhinestone Country, Stephen King’s Americana, and Billy Joel. The trick for me is to always try to dig a little further and find things that I didn’t know were there before.

Jake Shears djing at Juanita MORE! Pride Party, 2014

Juanita MORE! Hosts the Unofficial Jake Shears After-Party Wednesday, November 14th / 11 PM

MORE!jones, 620 Jones, SF 94102: DJ Sammy Jo. Free with ticket stub or show stamp

Photos courtesy of Jake Shears