Formed in 2001, New York disco-pop quintet Scissor Sisters quickly rose to become ultra-camp sensations, with their 2004 debut hitting number one on the UK charts. Known for kicking off their gigs with the declaration ‘We are Scissor Sisters, and so are you’, the band have always had a two-way relationship with their listeners – 2010’s third album Night Work reflects that, showcasing a return to extrospective dance tunes, as well as the year’s most talked-about cover artwork, featuring Robert Mapplethorpe’s 1983 photo of a dancer’s buttocks.
That cover was meant to provoke.
AM: ‘I knew it was going to do exactly what it did. It’s a really interesting barometer of where people are with sex, culturally. Because we’ve gone to Italy and they’ve gone, “Whoa, what is this explicit album cover?” [Then] we go to Germany and they’re like, “We love the cover!” It’s funny to me, and I always bring it up, that you see much more of a woman’s body in ads than you do on our cover – but ours is [still considered] “shocking” and “explicit”. I think it’s really interesting how threatening male sexuality still is.’
JS: ‘I really think it fi ts the record. It’s a signifier for us – it sends a message out to whoever cares to notice. I think the perception of this band had possibly become that we were afraid of ourselves or something. This was our statement, saying: “Actually, we’re not afraid of ourselves. And, well, if you don’t like us… here’s an ass in your face.” [Laughs.] And if you do like us, here’s an ass in your face – enjoy!’
AM: ‘[It’s like] “Oh, you think we’re gay? You ain’t seen nothing! Here’s some gay for ya!”’
The whole album is meant to be sexual.
JS: ‘The sexuality in this record is sort of a reaction to where we were a few years ago. It seemed kinda sex-neutral, like a Barbie doll. This is the first record that we’ve made where I felt like I’ve come out of my boyhood; I just felt like a little boy for so long, and I don’t really feel like that any more; I feel like a grown man. And so I think this is the first writing from that perspective.’
AM: ‘I think it was a little deliberate, because the material on [their previous album, 2006’s Ta-Dah] was more emotional and not as sexual, and the themes on that record were a little more melancholy. So I don’t think it necessarily lent itself to being super-sexual. I feel like on this one, Jake especially allowed himself to express himself sexually, and there is a real sense of liberation in that; it’s a really positive thing.’
The band has become part of gay history.
JS: ‘It was an idea that first crossed my mind when I was in Berlin. Living there for a while, and being heavily immersed in the gay world – there was a real timeless quality to it that got me thinking a lot about gay history and those who had come before. And I really wanted to make a record that spoke to those people… Without them, I don’t think there would be this band. This record has been a major beacon for the gays. I really noticed it in America; gay people have really responded to this record and have flooded the shows. And I think that part of what they’re responding to is a sense of history on this record, and a sense that this band is part of that history – a contemporary version of that history which gay people can claim as their own. And that felt great; that felt really exciting.’
They want you to know that HIV is still a major threat.
AM: ‘There’s sort of an attitude within the gay and straight communities that HIV is treatable – like diabetes or something. And that couldn’t be further from the truth. I lost two friends to the virus a couple of years ago. It’s still taking people.’
JS: ‘It’s something that we’ve talked about on stage – it’s just something that not a lot of people are talking about these days. It’s like, I love pornography and I watch it all the time, but the stuff that sells the best is bareback porn. I find it really sad when you see guys who are really young – you just want to reach into the screen, pull them off each other and slap them hard across the face. This is something a lot of influential voices don’t want to talk about. They don’t want to be seen as squares for bringing up a message that took a huge amount of hammering into people’s heads for a generation to accept.’
AM: ‘Yeah, you don’t want to seem like you’re on a soapbox and preaching to people, but at the same time I do feel a bit of responsibility to raise awareness by being in the public eye. There should be some reason why you’re doing what you’re doing – people are listening to you, so give them something good to listen to! And I’ve lost enough people, and we have no judgments about whether people are positive or negative, it’s just: let’s be honest and try and prevent this from getting worse than it already has.’
They feel like kindred spirits with Lady Gaga, who recently selected them as the opening act for her US tour.
AM: ‘At this point – culturally – she is a gateway drug to all this other stuff, whether you’re talking about music or art or design. She is representing all these different ideas culturally and providing an avenue for people to go a little deeper, which I think is really great.’
JS: ‘It’s really exciting; it’s nice to always experience new things, and we’re playing to a s**tload of people who have no idea who we are. And it’s also an opportunity to play for a lot of people who will be very accepting and open-minded. So it’s really exciting, the idea of once again converting fans. I think we’re really good at it, and it’s a great challenge.’
Scissor Sisters play Fort Canning Park on 9 Jan 2012.