Part political rally, party concert, the Closing Ceremonies will include speakers, comedians, cast members of Broadway shows, and musicians—among them Jake Shears, who is not only one of America’s most innovative musical artists, but one who uses his music to speak out for equality and the power of unapologetic self-expression.
GayCities spoke with Shears while he was at his parents’ farm in Virginia, where he said he was “puttering through old boxes” filled with mementos from his childhood. We asked him about his upcoming show on that WorldPride stage in Times Square, but the conversation turned to memories of his childhood, his work with Elton John, his views on the political landscape, and why a photo of David Bowie is one of his favorite possessions.
And there was a surprise in store: he finally fessed up to what broke up his band, Scissor Sisters.
GC: Since you are visiting your parents’ farm, may I ask: how is your relationship with your parents?
JS: They’re incredible. My parents are amazing. There were lots of bumps in the road when I was a teenager. My dad is of another generation, he is 90 now so he was about 50 when I was born. So we had a massive generation gap, which took quite a while for us to iron out. But then one day I came home, and my dad had a present for me—it was a framed photo of David Bowie, from his Ziggy Stardust period, with a mic and a cigarette in his hand and feathers around his neck. It really was very moving that my father gave me that. It was a big symbol. And he and I both know what that symbol means.
What does it mean?
I idolized Bowie growing up. I discovered Bowie when I was 8 years old. If I had some sort of rock and roll deity, that’s him. I was definitely a weird kid growing up, I was really small, I was odd, y’know, and Bowie always represented that thing about me always feeling different and not fitting in anywhere. He’s always been my biggest inspiration, and that’s something my father never was able to understand, about me or the things I was into. So for him to give me this beautiful, framed photo of Bowie, that he got on his own accord…it was very moving.
When parents to do these little things, to let their children know, I see you, and appreciate them for who they are, it is really powerful.
My parents are from another time, so it means a lot for our generation to get their acceptance. Now millennials are becoming parents and it’s a different ballgame.
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If things are changing so much, what does the queer identity mean anymore?
It means a whole shitload of infighting, that’s what it means.
Who do you see fighting?
I think there’s way too much infighting in the queer world, and between LGBT people and the outer world. There’s a lot of shoeboxes that people are putting themselves into, there’s a lot of labels, there’s a lot of groupthink that goes on, there’s a correct way that we’re supposed to think about ourselves and each other, and if I feel like rebelling against anything now, it’s that. It doesn’t seem like there’s a lot of room for individual thought at the moment. It breaks my heart, it makes me so world-weary, the absence of discourse with each other. There’s something going on with the death of the individual. I don’t know what the answer is.
What are your thoughts about performing at WorldPride? There could be 1 million people in Times Square for the closing event.
I’m really stoked. I’m really looking forward to that whole weekend. It’s so special to me to think about when I came to New York when I was 20, with big dreams, and now it’s 20 years later…and I get to play the closing of WorldPride in Times Square. I feel very lucky and it holds a lot of weight for me. Especially on the anniversary of Stonewall. I’m just sad I’ll be performing on the last day (of WorldPride). That means I’ll have to live like a nun until Sunday afternoon. I can’t do that falsetto if I’ve had too many cocktails.
When you write music, who do you write it for?
In the past with Scissor Sisters, we had muses in a way. There are people who inspire you to write songs, for them. There’s someone that you’re not really writing it for, but that you’re really excited for them to hear it and excited to hear what they think of it. The muse is a real thing. But my last record, I really made it for none other than myself. It was very important to completely have full control and make all those decisions for myself.
It’s interesting that your most recent music is darker than the music that people remember from Scissor Sisters, and you said you made this music for yourself.
I don’t know, there’s definitely sadness to it, but there’s a mix. It’s the most personal thing that I’ve ever done.
Do you think your next album will be happier?
I don’t know. (pause) I don’t know. I’ve got some fun stuff up my sleeve. The next thing that I make, I think, is going to have a big left turn. I’m ready to make some dance pop again.
You’ve worked with Elton John, so everybody wants to know what it was like working with him, and if he is pleasant to work with or not.
Elton John is one of my dearest friends. He is an absolute joy to be with and work with and write with. And David (Furnish, Elton John’s husband) is like a brother to me. Elton just announced the musical that we’ve been working on together for seven years: it’s a musical about Tammy Faye Bakker, that I’m writing a score for. It’s about her and James’ ministry, and the rise and fall of it. It’s going to be a fantastic show. I think she’s a fascinating character, somebody I’ve been obsessed with since I was a kid. It’s really moving and a great story. But working on these shows takes like 10 years. It takes forever.
Why were you obsessed with Tammy Faye Bakker?
My mom is Baptist, and I grew up with quite a bit of religion around. And I loved PTL (Praise The Lord), I loved watching her, I loved the songs and the pageantry of it. And I loved her attitude. She was a television pioneer. She, in particular, brought a lot of joy to a lot of people. She was a really good woman with a really good soul.
Is musical theater something that you’ve always wanted to do?
I just love it. Being in Kinky Boots (Shears played the role of shoe designer Charlie Price, on Broadway in 2017) was one of the biggest joys of my life. I learned a lot from Kinky Boots and I really miss it a lot. I want to do more stage work. I love how difficult it is, how challenging it is, how complicated, how archaic…Bowie said, and I’m paraphrasing here, when you wade out into the ocean, and your feet are still on the sand, and suddenly the water picks you up and you’re in over your head, and you’re out there floating, that’s where you want to be. I’ve always loved biting off more than I can chew, when I’m not sure if I can do something but barreling ahead and going for it anyway. That’s my favorite spot to be in. I’ve always been into scaring myself.
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There is a fan theory that the reason Scissor Sisters broke up was because you got into a fight with Ana Matronic.
No! God knows we got into some fights. We all did. You know what it was? “Let’s Have a Kiki” broke up the band.
Because I didn’t know what the fuck to say after that song, quite honestly. When that song came out and did what it did (the song hit #1 on the Billboard dance charts), I was just like, “Well, there it is, I guess we did it.” I truly had no idea what to follow that up with. So I thought, we’ve been recording and touring for 10 years, and I felt like it was time. This wasn’t what anybody in the band had planned to do. So I thought it would be fun to end on a high note. But you know what? That’s not to say we’re never going to do anything again. The Scissor Sisters will be back.
When people love music, they form a relationship with it and it’s like it becomes part of the public domain. There is no ego in looking back after several years, and realizing how important Scissor Sisters was to people.
To me, Scissor Sisters will always feel like the core, it will always be at the center, and I’m cool with that, because I’m proud of it. I got to create that. Everything I do is always going to be kind of an extension of that. I’m really happy to have made stuff that people hold dear to their hearts, and have bonding moments with their friends, or teenagers growing up listening to this stuff, coming to terms with their own identity, it’s a really special thing. I feel very lucky.