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Scissor Sisters On Tales of the City, Personal Theme Songs, & Lady Gaga

Photo by Kevin Berne

Any band that garners applause from Pink Floyd guitarist David Gilmour for their disco cover of “Comfortably Numb” is one worth watching. Since the release of their self-titled debut album in 2004, Scissor Sisters have been churning out glam-pop beats and satisfying dance urges across the globe with hits like “Any Which Way,” “Filthy/Gorgeous,” and “I Don’t Feel Like Dancin’,” all of which are impossible to take sitting down.

The NYC band with the Elton-John-meets-Bee-Gees sound has topped charts throughout Europe, but they’re about to make a serious mark stateside with their latest and most unexpected project yet. After five years of work, front man Jake Shears (left) and touring keyboardist John Garden completed the lyrics and score for the musical adaptation of Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City, which made its world premiere at San Francisco’s American Conservatory Theater in May. Grab your tickets before the production leaves the stage (it plays through July 31). The Scissor Sisters are about to become a household name.

What was your reaction when librettist Jeff Whitty asked you to write the music for Tales 
of the City?

Jake Shears: I was thrilled because I’ve been a huge fan of the books since I was a teenager, and Jeff is a great friend of mine. We had thrown around the idea of doing a show together for a while, so it was a no-brainer when he asked me.
John Garden: When Jake first asked me to do a musical with him, I didn’t know what it was about. I just knew that the answer was yes.

How is writing songs for a musical different from writing an album?

JS: It wasn’t that different because I write in character for a lot of Scissor Sisters songs. In some ways, it’s easier since you have a more limited set of tools.

JG: It’s almost like every song is a commissioned piece of work. You know who the music is for and what the whole story is about.

How did you make modern music for Tales while keeping a ’70s vibe?

JG: I think if Depeche Mode had been asked to write this musical, it would have been more of a challenge. But Scissor Sisters already has such a ’70s influence. It’s part of the band’s DNA. The sound palette has ’70s references, but we worked really hard to make the orchestration for the show as timeless as possible.

You have such stage presence when you perform. Any chance you’ll try your hand at acting?

JS: I’ll admit that I get jealous of the Tales’ actors every once in a while. Maybe someday I’ll be in a musical. When Judy Kaye is over it, I’ll step in.

Do you think Tales will make it to Broadway?

JG: I hope it has a long run here, and if that’s all it ever does, we’ll be so proud. It’s great to see how San Franciscans react to lyrics like “share it with the bag lady on Geary.” I’m glad it opened in the right city.

Any hot spots you’ve discovered while staying here during production?

JS: I hang out more at gyms than I do bars. I like the Equinox here. I also love Books, Inc. I probably go in there every other day. But I’ve actually been throwing house parties more than going out. The lesbians downstairs don’t love that.

JG: I like quiet bars where we can just go and be—like Minx and High Tide. Does this mean they won’t be quiet anymore?

You’ve collaborated with Elton John and Kylie Minogue, to name a few. Who else would you like to work with?
JS: I’m a huge Beck fan, and then there’s Josh Homme from Queens of the Stone Age and Dave Grohl from Foo Fighters. Also, Trent Reznor. Those are my strange rock music collaboration fantasies.

Lady Gaga: brilliant freak or soul sister?
JS: Both. We just got off tour with her, and it was such a blast. I was nervous about it because we hadn’t opened for anyone in a long time, but we ended up getting tons of new fans. And Lady Gaga is lovely. She’s effusive, funny, and warm, and she made us feel so welcome.

What are your personal theme songs?
JS: Lately, mine’s been “Cocaine Blues” by Escort. It’s the best disco music you’ve ever heard. Also, “Nightlight” by Little Dragon and Holy Ghost!’s “Wait & See.”
JG: The first track from the Tame Impala album, “It Is Not Meant To Be,” and John Grant’s “Marz.”

You’re so popular in the U.K. that you’ve become mainstream. Why hasn’t the U.S. caught on?
JS: The last year has been good for us in this country. We definitely got new fire. So many people discovered Scissor Sisters with the latest record [Night Work, June 2010].
JG: I have this hoodie from our 2007 Ta-Dah tour, and there’s a little black Scissor’s logo on the breast. I’ve never had so many people come up to me in San Francisco and say, “Cool sweater. I love that band.”

Is there any other glam-rock band today that compares to Scissor Sisters?
JS: I don’t think so. I think any band’s dream is to be its own unique entity. You say something like Nine Inch Nails, and it conjures up a singular world. I want people to say Scissor Sisters and not think of 10 other bands.