Two years after their spectacular rise, Scissors Sisters are about to re-enter planet pop’s atmosphere with a bang. Their sparkling new single, I Don’t Feel Like Dancin’, is set to contradict its title and cause dancefloor mayhem from Brooklyn to Brighton.
The song may sound like a party – but the lyrics, as the title suggests, are resolutely downbeat, telling the tale of someone who’d rather have a quiet evening in than go out and paint the town red. Surely not…
“Here’s what happened,” begins Ana Matronic. “We were on tour for nearly two years, finishing in March 2005, though things only came to a complete stop after the V festival last August. During that time, most of our really big success happened while we were 3,000 miles away [in Britain]. When we finally came home to New York and tried to pick up the threads of our daily lives, it was like an astronaut re-entering the atmosphere from space. It had been so crazy and successful and amazing and colourful and fun – it had been like New Year’s Eve every night… but we needed about 365 New Year’s days to recover!”
A quick recap: Scissor Sisters are Jake Shears (lead vox), Ana Matronic (vox), Babydaddy (bass, guitar, banjo, keyboards, technical guru), Del Marquis (guitars) and Paddy Boom (drums). They formed in New York in 2001.
Scissor Sisters began 2004 as a little-known act, and ended it as a pop phenomenon. Their eponymous debut album was the biggest-selling album in the UK that year. The album has since gone almost ten times platinum there. In the US, they were featured in countless magazines and programs including Saturday Night Live, Live with Regis and Kelly, The Tonight Show, Late Night with Conan O’Brien, and the Late Late Show. They’ve been playing to sell out crowds across the world ever since culminating with a primetime slot at Live 8 and a headlining stadium tour in Europe.
And then Scissor Sisters went home. Back to life, back to reality. Jake recalls it as the mother of all comedowns, which had a physical, as well as mental effect. “When you experience something like we’ve experienced, the constant performing, your body gets used to pumping huge amounts of adrenalin. I was still getting huge adrenalin rushes back at home, when I shouldn’t have been getting them. You’re trying to relax and suddenly you feel like you want to rip your skin off and fly away.”
As they began to turn their attention towards their sophomore album last summer, they were overwhelmed by the suddenly stifling weight of expectation and gnawing self-doubt. “The first time around we didn’t even realise we were making an album,” says Jake. “It wasn’t even our intention. We were just having fun, writing songs.” Now the stakes were higher, the pressure was on and, for the first time, they felt self-conscious, uncertain. “And because the first album was such an eclectic mix, we could have gone anywhere,” says Ana. “There were a lot of options – and sometimes you can have too many.”
The mirror ball had stopped spinning but Scissor Sisters had a plan: to record a fun and optimistic dance song because a) the planet needed cheering up (“every time we turned on the TV it seemed the political situation in the world was getting worse and worse” says Babydaddy) and b) they needed cheering up.
The solution: I Don’t Feel Like Dancin’ – possibly the happiest-sounding song ever conceived about staying in and feeling miserable. “By singing about not feeling like dancing, it was the only way to write a dance song that was fun, but still came from an honest place,” concludes Jake.
“The song is also about being in love,” adds Ana. “There is a line that goes, ‘I’d rather be home with the one in bed till dawn” – and I think that sums up a lot about what it’s like to be constantly on tour away from the person you love.”
With Dancin’… in the bag, the cloud had lifted to reveal a silver lining – the ideas started to flow again. “It gave us renewed hope in ourselves,” says Jake. “There’s a lot of anxiety and self-censorship that happens when you’re dealing with this kind of pressure. But we realised that we’re special after all, and we’ve got something amazing going on. It was extremely liberating.”
They moved their studio from Babydaddy’s front room – where they’d recorded their debut album – to a rented building a few streets away. “It was time,” he notes, “to give myself a break and walk to work, every day.” To help create the appropriate mood, they went into the studio (which says Ana “looked like a barn from Beyond The Valley of the Dolls”) repainted it in silver and blues and renamed it Discoball Jazzfest.
But they didn’t change everything. “We still live in little apartments in New York, hang out with the same friends and go to the café every morning,” says Paddy. For Jake, success means “I can go out and buy whatever DVD I want, or a bunch of CDs, or videogames.” For Ana, it means buying lots of books and the fact that “I now have a savings account.”
Scissor Sisters began to hone their myriad influences and inspirations – including, in no particular order, James Bond theme tunes, early disco (Hamilton Bohannon, Creative Source, The Blackbyrds), funk and rare groove, Fleetwood Mac, Dr John, the city of New Orleans, bluegrass, Billy Joel, Goldfrapp, Roxy Music, and Paul McCartney – more on whom in a moment.
The end result is, as ever, wildly eclectic, brilliant, life-affirming pop. The overall sound? “It’s fuller,” says Del, “and thicker. And Jake [who, with Babydaddy, forms the band’s main songwriting axis] has gotten wordy as hell.”
“It’s funny, when I write a song, I have to have some visuals in my head,” says Jake. “I also have to have a story. If the narrative or visuals aren’t in my head, I can’t write it.” Sometimes, the stories emerge from the weirdest places. “I have really vivid dreams. I had one about Paul McCartney. We were in a room by ourselves, having a conversation about songwriting. He told me some amazing things. Then, right before I woke up, he said – and it sounds a little cheesy if you just say it out of context – ‘It’s the music that connects me to you’. I felt like I’d had a visitation or something.” Which, in a nutshell, is the story behind the song Paul McCartney, co-written with a special guest, David Bowie’s guitarist Carlos Alomar. Jake met Macca shortly after writing the song, and told him about it. “He must think I’m a complete nut – but he gave me his address, said he’d love to hear it.”
Then there’s the joyous glam-rock-disco shakedown She’s My Man, which contains the intriguing line: “She strangles for a good time and she kills my self control.” The explanation? “It’s based on a woman called Annie Christmas, who was a New Orleans folk legend. She was a huge lady, a riverboat pirate, a thief and a killer who passed herself off as a man. This song is from the point of view of someone who is in love with her… I’m completely fascinated by New Orleans. It’s a city built by whores and thieves – I’m very inspired by the music that’s come out of the city. I think you can hear that on the record.”
Then there’s the blissed-out, harmony-filled I Just Might Tell You Tonight, “the only love song we’ve ever written. It’s about that weird moment when you’re falling in love and just feeling it so strongly”. And the widescreen epic Land of a Thousand Words, borne of the band’s obsession with James Bond theme songs (Nobody Does It Better, Live and Let Die et al). “I’m not even a fan of the movies – they bore me to tears!” Jake admits. “But, oh my God, the songs, the visuals, the openings… those classic songs sung by a woman that are always just out of reach. It’s that longing, you know, you’re here with me now but I know you’re going to have to roll out of bed and go kill some people.”
Ana, meanwhile, spits out a lead vocal of her own on Kiss You Off. “It’s not a love song, it’s a falling-out-of-love song,” she cackles. “It’s about knowing you’re better than how you’re being treated in a relationship, and getting the fuck out. And then telling him to kiss your ass! I think it’ll be a good break-up song for a lot of people.”
And if that raises a smile, The Other Side might just make you cry. “It’s about contemplating the end, not really wanting to let go of someone, but knowing that eventually death is… death is the end. It’s basically saying to someone that, when I go, if I’m going to go before you, I’m waiting for you. There’s definitely some melancholy going on,” says Ana.
Whether that melancholy, or the months spent grappling to find themselves again, is implicit in the album title, however, is open to debate (and it has been debated furiously on fan sites already, to Jake’s eternal amusement). The record is called, simply, Ta-dah. “It came to me in the middle of recording, and it wouldn’t leave,” says Jake. “It was just there. I kept coming back to it. I think it’s got a lot of different meanings and layers. If you just look at the word Ta-dah with no exclamation mark, no full-stop, it’s very abstract. There’s magic behind that word, illusion behind that word – you think of performance, showmanship. But Ta-dah is also about expectations. Because this is a second album, there’s an aspect of presentation…
“Ta-dah. This is what we’ve done. This is what it is.”