After a four-year hiatus, glam pop act Scissor Sisters are gearing up for the release of their third album Night Work on June 29 (June 28 in the UK). The inspiration for the record’s dark, backroom disco sound resulted from a tumultuous couple of years that saw the band scrap an entire album’s worth of songs and start afresh.
Determined to shake his bout of writers block following the Sisters’ disappointing 2006 sophomore effort Ta-Dah, front man Jake Shears vanished from New York and threw himself headlong into the Berlin club scene. He emerged with an idea to team up with mega-producer Stuart Price (Madonna, Kylie) and write an album that paid tribute to the seedier side of New York’s gay nightlife in the 1980s.
To find out more about the inspiration behind Night Work and what the Sisters have been up to recently, we caught up with Trannyshack drag performer-turned-Euro pop idol Ana Matronic for a chat. Read the Q&A after the jump.
The music video for Scissor Sisters “Fire with Fire”, the lead single off Night Work.
The album is called Night Work. What is the most difficult club gig or nighttime gig you’ve ever worked?
Oh god, well one of the WORST gigs Scissor Sisters ever did ⎯ and this is before we had a record deal ⎯ we got flown over to do this club night in Florence, Italy and it was one of the worst things ever. This is before we even had a drummer and Del couldn’t fly so a friend of ours basically mimed keyboards and no one ⎯ no one in the place ⎯ could’ve cared any less that we were there. Nobody paid any attention whatsoever and they were really crazy bizarre-o Italian fashion victim people. I saw really mind-boggling fashion that night.
A really muscle-y guy in what looked like a really tight spandex shirt with a short kilt and combat boots, which on some muscle-y guys wouldn’t be so bad but he was just overly groomed with really greasy long hair. And I think he might’ve had on a headband. Or that might just be me taking it to the Xanadu degree in my imagination.
Did any of the nightlife characters you’ve met over the years inspire the songs on this album?
Oh god yeah, definitely all of them. I have several people from the nightlife circles around the world that I thank on the record, specifically a friend of mine who passed away a couple years ago who was one of the fiercest drag queens in San Francisco who was named The Steve Lady. The Steve Lady is definitely one of my idols and always will be. I definitely thought about her a lot while making this record.
Why was she one of your idols?
She was the fiercest queen I’ve ever seen on stage. I used to say that watching The Steve Lady was like looking at the most beautiful editorial in a magazine because she was so posed and so cold yet so burning hot. She did the most amazing numbers to really great songs. She’d do everything Prince to Kraftwerk to Diamanda Galas. She was incredible and Steven was a good friend of mine as well so I will miss him dearly.
You got married recently. Does this mean you becoming more domestic?
It’s funny because my husband does lights for bands and is part of a psychedelic light show called The Joshua Light Show, which I’ve just recently joined as well. We just did four nights of gigs at a place in the Lower East Side for bands like Spectrum, Dean & Britta, Silver Apples and Oneida, and it was really, really fun. I was just doing lights with him last night for a friend of ours. So that’s been really fun and I’ve been involved in a lot of cabaret here in New York City with my friend Earl Dax who did the legendary Weimar New York Cabaret shows.
What’s your role in the light show?
I just recently learned how to use the liquid effects. The Joshua Light Show, the original light show from the Fillmore in the 1960s and Josh White, who runs the light show, did the lights at Woodstock when it wasn’t rained out, and he revived the light show about five years ago. My husband has become his right-hand man and Josh just trained me how to do the liquids so all of those oil and water effects that you’ve seen in old videos from the ’60s like Jefferson Airplane and what not; I know how to do that as well now.
Will you bring that to the Scissor Sisters live show?
Perhaps! Who knows? You never know. It’s a good possibility. I know some pretty good tricks now so you never know.
Can you tell me about the album cover? I read an interview with Jake in which he said he had to fight with everyone to use the Rorbert Mapplethorpe image.
Yeah, I wasn’t so into it in the beginning because I felt like it was one thing and I’ve always felt like our album covers have been very multifaceted but I think it was a nice change ultimately for us. It did ultimately grow on me and I really do like Robert Mapplethorpe. I wasn’t so sold on that particular image but I love Robert Mapplethorpe and I love the way his story ties in a lot of the themes and concepts of the album.
How does it tie in?
This album was really inspired by New York of the late ’70s and early 1980s of which Robert Mapplethorpe is a documentarian of that era. His portrait of Deborah Harry is one of my all time favorite photographs and I love his portrait of Patti Smith as well. So he was really immersed in that culture and also documenting the seedy gay scene and the not-so-seedy gay scene and that was just really beginning to become free in New York. That imagery and that spirit have been really inspiring to us. That era was one of the reasons why I wanted to move to New York so we’re definitely paying homage to that spirit.
Jake also said in the same interview that ‘hedonism, liberation and tragedy’ were three themes on that album. Would you agree?
[pauses] Yeah, but in addition to that I would put intimacy on there too because I do think that there is a certain amount of intimacy and triumph on this record.
What are the more intimate moments?
There are two songs both ‘skin’ in the title. There’s “Skin This Cat” and “Skin Tight”. Skin Tight is basically the most straight-forward love song on the record and it’s the one song that really fulfills the role of the ballad even though there’s no slow tempo songs on the record. And the other one is “Skin This Cat”, which is a sexy song but also a song about getting to know somebody ⎯ really wanting to get in there and have this person know you and if they know you and know how to work you in the right way it could be a beautiful relationship. So yeah, there’s your intimacy.
Did you write either of those songs?
I wrote “Skin This Cat” with Babydaddy in the studio and Jake came in and helped with some of the production, as did Stuart Price. And then Jake wrote “Skin Tight” in the studio with Stuart and Babbydaddy.
How did you hook up with Stuart Price?
We’ve known him since 2003. We did our very first tour as support for his band Zoot Woman and it was our very first tour of the UK. We were all big fans of Les Rythmes Digitales and Jacques Lu Cont [Price’s alias] and were really excited to meet him and tour with him. It was a really, really great experience. This was our first tour, we had just signed our deal with Polydor and we were in a very drafty van. We had one crew member who helped us set up the drums and we were carrying in equipment ourselves and all that. So we formed a very close relationship with him and he did a lot of remixes on our first album and he produced the song I did with New Order, “Jet Stream” in 2005. It was Neil Tennant from the Pet Shop Boys who suggested we call Stuart and he was really enthusiastic about working with us. It turned out to be the best thing we could’ve possibly done.
Why did you decide to become a gay performer in the drag community?
It was just an opportunity that presented itself to me. I was living in Portland, Oregon, my hometown, and I was working at Starbucks and a friend of my coworker, Elle Superstar, who I knew was a performer and involved in the gay scene and drag-inspired performance art, came in and asked me if I wanted to be part of this burlesque troupe that was being started by a drag queen in Portland.
We started doing weekly shows at a place called the Paris Theater in downtown Portland and I became the emcee. Through that I met my friend Michael and we moved to San Francisco together and through a friend of Michael’s I discovered Trannyshack and it just was a natural extension of what I’d been doing at the Paris Theater. And it was so much fun and the people were so crazy and smart and beautiful and inspiring and everybody loves what I did on stage and didn’t give a damn that I was a woman.
Gay guys sometimes get all weird when they find out a female drag queen is not actually a man. Did you ever experience that?
Trannyshack thankfully wasn’t like that. I was one of a few regular female performers and now there’s quite a few in San Francisco. I mean I was very fortunate I feel to have been embraced very openly by the people that I did. I was embraced more or less because I was fierce and am fierce and continue to be fierce.
How do you define fierce?
In a drag situation you have one song to prove that you are worthy of these people’s applause and admiration. So you better pick the right song, you better look really good and you better own that song. I was able to do that and you have to be able to deliver that and I learned how to do that and it was really great. It just became a natural progression that brought me to New York and then into the loving arms of my fellow Scissor Sisters.
Scissor Sisters 2010 summer tour dates:
June 25 – Birmingham, UK @ O2 Academy
June 26 – Glastonbury Festival, UK
June 28 – Manchester, UK @ Apollo (w/ Saint Etienne)
June 30 – Floriana, MT @ Isle of MTV
July 1 – London, UK @ The Roundhouse (iTunes Festival)
July 3 – Skalskoven, Denmark @ Nibe Festival
July 4 – Paris, France @ Bataclan
July 5 – Amsterdam, Netherlands @ Paradiso
July 7 – Hultsfred Festival, Sweden
July 9 – Berlin, Germany – Huxleys (w/ The Hidden Cameras)
July 10 – Trencin, Slovakia @ Pohoda Festival
July 12 – Leuven, Belgium @ Wrchter Classic
July 13 – Cologne, Germany @ Live Music Hall (w/ The Hidden Cameras)
July 15 – Oslo, Norway @ Oslo Live
July 16 – Tallinn, Estonia @ Ollesummer
July 17 – Salagrīva, LV @ Positivus Festival
July 20 – Munich, Germany @ Muffahalle
July 21 – Milan, Italy @ Castello di Vigevano
July 26 – Melbourne, Australia @ Festival Hall
July 27 – Sydney, Australia @ Big Top
July 30 – Wooddford, Australia @ Splendour In The Grass
August 1 – Fuji Rock Festival, Japan