Changes: Jake Shears
The audio version of this episode is available here.
Annie [00:00:04] Hello. Welcome to Changes. My name is Annie Macmanus and I am delighted to have you here for what is to be a very fun and insightful episode, I hope. My guest is Jake Shears. Now, you'll probably know Jake Shears for being the frontman of the very big band, Scissor Sisters. They kind of came through at the start of the century, had the biggest selling debut album in the UK in 2004, sold nearly 3 million copies of that and just made a huge impression, I suppose, on pop culture and club culture for being a kind of gang of queer and brilliant, fun loving people who had broken through to the mainstream. And thus were kind of trailblazing for all of those other queer artists that we kind of take for granted in the mainstream today. Well, since fronting that huge band, Scissor Sisters, Jake Shears has been very busy. He's written for and toured with Kylie. He's duetted with Cher. He starred in Kinky Boots on Broadway, and he's moved all over the world as well. I was lucky enough to meet Jason on a trip to New York once, I mean years ago, I'm talking a decade ago. And I was doing my radio show over there. And whilst I was there, Mark Ronson had asked me to drop in on his show on EVR radio, which is short for East Village Radio. It's one of those stations that the studio kind of looks out over the street. I think it's Second Avenue or First Avenue. So you can literally kind of watch the radio station happen from the street. I loved it all. I went and saw Mark and had a nice chat with Mark on the radio. And then after that I came outside and was just hanging out on the street with my friend Rachel and this kind of big eyed man came bounding up to me and said, 'hey, I'm Jason. Do you want to come to a party tonight?'. Now, I recognised him as being Jake Shears. I was like, errr yes. We're only in New York for three days, we definitely want to come to a party with you. It turned out it was his party. And I distinctly remember walking through the streets later on that night with Rachel, very nervous and excited and hearing the party before we saw it. Just hearing the kind of booming sub base and then looking up at this block and seeing from kind of the third or fourth floor, these strobe lights flashing from a window and being like, okay, that must be it! Suffice to say, Jason, which is Jake's real name, showed us a very, very good time. And I've kept in touch with him and been lucky enough to call him my friend ever since. The good news for me is that Jason, Jake, has now moved to London. He's been very busy since he's been here. He recently wrote the lyrics for the sold out Tammy Faye musical, which premiered in London, and Elton John wrote the music. So it's kind of collaboration with Elton, who he's been friends with for a very long time. He's been working very hard on a new solo album which comes out this year, it's called Last Man Dancing. The first single, Too Much Music is doing the rounds on the radio at the moment, doing really well. So there was lots to discuss and I wanted to kind of use change, of course, as the rudder for our conversation to lead us to those most meaningful times in his life and to be able to kind of really explore those times. I really enjoyed this conversation. I learned a lot about him that I didn't know. And you will, too. Welcome to Changes, Jake Shears... Jake Shears, welcome to my home.
Jake [00:03:29] Thank you.
Annie [00:03:30] I've been listening to your memoir again, and it's just so beautifully written and it's been so nice to revisit that. 'I was born a showman'. The opening line. What does making and performing music do for you, please?
Jake [00:03:46] It makes me feel alive. It makes me- I just feel like when I'm performing, when I'm like writing something, when I make a great song, it's when I'm happiest. If I'm on a stage just sort of letting it all fly, it's just a very cathartic experience for me. It's just really fun. I can do stuff on stage that I would get arrested for on a street corner *laughs*. You know what I mean? Like, I can really, like, go wild.
Annie [00:04:16] You feel free.
Jake [00:04:17] I feel free. Yeah.
Annie [00:04:18] There's many things to talk about, but you have a new album coming very soon, of which there's music out for now. It's called Last Man Dancing. Why?
Jake [00:04:29] Because I'm usually the last person *laughs*. You know, I never want the party to end. You know, it's part of my struggle. It's like I never want to go to bed.
Annie [00:04:46] *Laugh loudly* I really feel that struggle, I really do.
Jake [00:04:48] Know what I mean?
Annie [00:04:49] I mean, it's interesting because me and you, we're friends. And some of my most golden memories of dancing and raving, you're in them. You know, we've had some incredible-
Jake [00:05:02] *Laughing* We've had some good times.
Annie [00:05:03] Nights out in Miami and Ibiza... All over the world. And you are that guy. I mean, you know when you get like, a fun sponge, someone who sucks in someones fun? You're the opposite. You're like, you just like exude it. You're so bright and you're such a light in a room in those scenarios.
Jake [00:05:20] I love the possibility of a night and of meeting new people.
Annie [00:05:23] Is there any other meanings to the last man dancing thing? Like the fact that we are both, you know, in our forties now? Is there a sense of you feeling like you've got hindsight and you're able to look back? Like, from my angle, you opened the door for a lot of people, you know, in terms of queer artists that we would now take for granted to be allowed to exist and to flourish and thrive. That always was never the case, really, you know. You guys have had to really fight through barriers when you we're in Scissor Sisters. But do you feel like a bit of an elder, I suppose at times?
Jake [00:05:56] At this point, yeah. I mean, I'm going to be 45 this year.
Annie [00:05:59] Yeah, me too.
Jake [00:06:01] Sometimes I think back to 22 years ago, and it does feel like a different world. You know, it feels like a very different time. And I do think in certain ways I even just take it for granted what sort of we have now culturally. What's going on, the additional freedom that people have. But at the time, you couldn't have nailed me down. You know what I mean? There was nothing that was going to stop me.
Annie [00:06:33] Yeah.
Jake [00:06:34] You know, like, I just didn't care.
Annie [00:06:36] Let's go back to that time. Before we go right back to childhood can we zoom in on the time when you were a Go Go dancer in New York?
Jake [00:06:44] Yeah.
Annie [00:06:45] Like, what do you remember about those times? What age were you?
Jake [00:06:49] I moved to New York and was 20, so I was 21. You know, I had this phoney I.D. that I had gotten- I was working at Bimbos Bitch and Burrito Kitchen in Seattle, and I'd found this I.D. of like, a 30 year old man named David Joseph Victorski *laughs*.
Annie [00:07:07] God bless him.
Jake [00:07:08] And I had been using it for years. He looked nothing like me. I mean, he was balding *both laugh*.
Annie [00:07:18] How did you get away with that?!
Jake [00:07:19] I don't know but I did for years. So I was going clubbing like from, you know, 18 on. And it was so weird. Right when I was turning 21, it just disappeared.
Annie [00:07:33] What do you mean, you disappeared?
Jake [00:07:35] It vanished *laughs*.
Annie [00:07:37] David Joseph.
Jake [00:07:37] David Joseph Victorski *laughing*. If you're out there, thank you. But yes, it was just kind of magical. I felt like it was sort of this little pass that I had for some years.
Annie [00:07:47] A golden ticket.
Jake [00:07:49] Yeah, I was in school studying fiction writing and a friend of mine said- you know, I really wanted to go to Europe and I wanted to go backpacking and we're sitting on the beach and he was like, why don't you dance at Icey Guys? And I was like, what?
Annie [00:08:08] So what's Icey Guys?
Jake [00:08:08] This tiny little bar that was-
Annie [00:08:09] Amazing name.
Jake [00:08:10] A fourth the size of this room. I mean, it was 15 people in there and it was packed.
Annie [00:08:14] Right.
Jake [00:08:16] And there was a bar and they serve beer and wine, they couldn't get their liquor license *laughing*. And there was like a Go-Go Cube. At one point they wanted to do a beach theme *laughs* they poured a bunch of sand on the floor. It was really ramshackle. You know, I could stand at the bar and feel the ceiling above me and there'd be wires hanging out of the ceiling. It was really a messy place, but I started dancing there and I would just make- I would dance for hours. And I wouldn't drink any booze, I would literally just have just like a jug of Gatorade and just get just covered in sweat and just like, dunk Gatorade over my head and like, just have fun. I had the best time. I was seriously just, like, in my underwear. I remember I would go to the back room and scoop out all the money.
Annie [00:09:11] All the sweaty cash.
Jake [00:09:14] The sweaty, dirty money that was like all *laughs* just it was gnarly. But yeah, I made enough money to go to- I started going to Europe, like, every summer.
Annie [00:09:22] Wow.
Jake [00:09:23] Just with my bag, backpack.
Annie [00:09:26] Wow. So you always had kind of, like, visions to travel further than America. Like, I mean, I guess you were a reader from a very young age, so you had a perspective of the world that was big.
Jake [00:09:36] I got wanderlust from my parents. You know, my parents never could really err- they were always on the move. I grew up in motorhomes, and we had a little Cessna plane that my dad flew so we'd fly on, you know, across the country to visit grandma. I remember I think I took like one commercial flight until I was- one or two until I was, you know, in my 15 or 16.
Annie [00:09:58] So your dad flew you?
Jake [00:10:00] Flew us or drove us.
Annie [00:10:01] Wow.
Jake [00:10:01] My parents would think of nothing of just like packing the car and driving for a week across the states to go somewhere.
Annie [00:10:07] So when I say to you like, what was home like as a kid, do you have one place in mind or was there too many places to kind of-?
Jake [00:10:14] There's a couple places. I think of Arizona and I think of the island, and washington State.
Annie [00:10:22] Tell me about your family then. You had brothers and sisters?
Jake [00:10:25] Two older sisters, an older brother. But I was definitely the youngest, youngest.
Annie [00:10:29] And your older brother was like 20 years older?
Jake [00:10:30] Yeah, 20 years older from my dad's first marriage. My mom was my dad's third wife. She's 20 years younger than my dad. He was 50 when I was born, he's 94 now. So we went back and forth between Arizona and this- just outside of Phoenix and this small island that had a population of like 3000 people in the wintertime. Summer got a little bit more.
Annie [00:10:53] Yeah. You say in your book, 'I haunted my house like a jazzy poltergeist' *Jake laughs*. Chef's kiss. What were you like as a child?
Jake [00:11:04] I needed attention. I needed attention. I needed people to look at me. I needed to like, make people laugh. I had an insane amount of energy. I was very demanding of everybody around me.
Annie [00:11:21] As the youngest child though, did you get away with that? Were you able to get some attention?
Jake [00:11:26] Yeah, I did get away with it. I mean, one of my nicknames was The Little Dictator *Annie laughs*, but I you know, I really was very headstrong and weird. And I had a funny sense of humour.
Annie [00:11:42] You didn't know you were weird at the time, like-
Jake [00:11:45] No, no, not that young.
Annie [00:11:47] And like, when you say weird, how?
Jake [00:11:49] I just had a really bonkers sense of humour.
Annie [00:11:51] You said, 'my imagination was wild and irrational'.
Jake [00:11:56] *Laughs* yeah. Soon as I could put words together, I started writing stories.
Annie [00:11:58] Right.
Jake [00:11:59] I think the first story I remember writing was about Garfield the Cat in a Haunted house *both laugh*, and then I wrote stories until I was done with college. Until I started writing songs.
Annie [00:12:11] Yeah. And that's how you got into doing fiction in college?
Jake [00:12:16] Yeah. Well then I realised when I started school that I was like, why don't I just do something that I like? And then it won't feel like school if I'm like doing something I enjoy doing. So I kind of- I never got a diploma because I just took what I wanted.
Annie [00:12:32] Yeah. There's another little scene that you describe in your book where you talk about going- when you discovered the library as a child and you just decided you were going to be best friends with like- whatever librarian was there, they were going to be your friend.
Jake [00:12:45] I would torture the librarians.
Annie [00:12:48] *Laughs* I've got this picture of little Jake Shears.
Jake [00:12:50] Oh my God.
Annie [00:12:52] *Sings* Hi, me again!
Jake [00:12:52] I would pull up chairs. I would bring them stories I wrote.
Annie [00:12:55] Ohh, so sweet.
Jake [00:12:56] Yeah, there was many librarians that I just loved.
Annie [00:13:02] Yeah, I bet they loved you back.
Jake [00:13:04] I'm sure I drove them a little bit crazy, but I loved hanging out in libraries.
Annie [00:13:08] Yeah.
Jake [00:13:09] Loved it. I just felt like there was always, like, something new to discover. I still love hanging out in libraries. I love haning out in bookstores. I've made up, you know, my own house has a library in it. My fantasy was always to like, have my own bookstore.
Annie [00:13:23] Wow.
Jake [00:13:24] Because I like browsing.
Annie [00:13:25] Yeah. You say your father was 50 when you were born.
Jake [00:13:27] Yeah.
Annie [00:13:28] And your mam was 20 years younger. What kind of parents were they to you?
Jake [00:13:33] My mom was very, like, on me, you know, I was a total mama's boy. And loving. And, I mean, she just did everything for me. I mean, it was just like she was maybe to my detriment, possibly. And then my dad, you know, we were close until I was about nine or ten. You know, when I stopped wanting to play any sports or anything. I didn't want to go to softball. I was just not interested in the stuff he was interested in. He's ver, you know, my dad was an aeroplane mechanic and, you know, into building things, building boats, making cars, like I was into none of that. And I think once he discovered that about me, we had nothing to talk about.
Annie [00:14:28] Got you.
Jake [00:14:29] I was a sissy at a certain point, you know. You know, I'm my dad's last kid, and I think there was just like, this feeling of disappointment from him. Maybe even unconsciously. You know, we really didn't come back together again until my twenties.
[00:14:47] *Short musical interlude*
Annie [00:14:56] Well, let's talk about then, the middle bit. The teens. Which can be horrific for so many of us. You're going through so many physiological changes, hormonal fucking rollercoasters. How was going to school? How was that part of your life in terms of growing into yourself, I suppose?
Jake [00:15:16] We were back and forth between Arizona and Seattle and my sixth, seventh grade, eighth grade, I was back in Arizona in the school years, and I was going to a Christian junior high. A really small, little Christian junior high. And something about it I think was actually probably really good for me because there's something protective about it. It wasn't like a big public school. I think if I had been in a big public school in junior high, I think I would have just been... I don't know, decimated, you know, because I was goofy and effeminate.
Annie [00:15:51] Were you performing for people at school like you were at home?
Jake [00:15:56] Yeah. Of course there's drama in junior high and whatever, and it's Christian and you get in all kinds of trouble for, you know, for whatever but it was fine. I do have fond memories of that time because, even though there's, of course, painful stuff, I still think I was protected. When I went to the following year, back to the island, this tiny little island, another small school but as a public school, it was tougher.
Annie [00:16:21] Right. How so?
Jake [00:16:23] Because then, you know, by the time I'm like 13, you know, you're really kind of getting to be sort of who you are. Yeah, I was skinny. I was dressing funny. I was discovering music. I knew I was never going to be one of these sort of jocks. Of course I thought they were gorgeous and would dream about them, you know? And every once in a while, one would be really nice to me, you know? But I was just not going to be that. So I kind of leaned into the weirdness. And it was a great time for music, you know, so I was discovering music at the same time. You know, Nirvana Nevermind had just come out basically. So there was that whole explosion.
Annie [00:17:05] Wow grand, yeah.
Jake [00:17:06] But also just with rock music in general, there was so much great stuff. You had all these bands. To go to a concert though you had to go on an hour 45 minute ferry and then an hour drive to Seattle to go see something. So my mom would take me and a friend or whatever. We'd get on the ferry, get all the way into Seattle, go see like, Faith No Nore, then turn around and go back and sleep in the ferry lane and get back at school the next morning.
Annie [00:17:38] *Whispers* Oh my God.
Jake [00:17:39] You know, I mean, God bless my mother.
Annie [00:17:41] God bless your mother.
Jake [00:17:42] *Laughs* But you know, I needed that. And I wanted more access to that. I was just feeling so isolated on the island.
Annie [00:17:53] You said 'high school soured on me like a glass of old milk'.
Jake [00:17:56] Mmm.
Annie [00:17:57] I mean, beautifully, beautifully put, but that sounds rough.
Jake [00:18:01] Well, it just got worse because it's like I- You know, I was stuck out on this island. I was like, shoplifting Playgirl magazines. I knew something was up. I was, like, getting- I couldn't be out and gay in front of my parents on this island, so I somehow convinced my mom and dad to let me move in with my art teacher from junior high.
Annie [00:18:20] You fully knew you were gay, though?
Jake [00:18:22] Yeah, I hadn't fully admitted it to myself but I knew-
Annie [00:18:26] You say that 'homosexuality was seen as the greatest of transgressions'. So, like, that's what you're fucking up against? You're literally up against-
Jake [00:18:34] You know, this is- this is '92.
Annie [00:18:38] Yeah.
Jake [00:18:39] It's a long time ago. Lke you just did not-
Annie [00:18:43] And so everywhere you go, you're being told that who you are is wrong.
Jake [00:18:46] Yeah. Or just that you've got to hide it.
Annie [00:18:49] Yeah.
Jake [00:18:50] But there was something busting out of me, you know what I mean? Like, I didn't want- I wanted to be in a bigger city, I needed to be going to concerts. That was like my main thing.
Annie [00:18:59] Like so for them, they represented more liberal views, more kind of lawlessness, more freedom.
Jake [00:19:05] Yeah. I mean, you could go to a show and, you know, suddenly there's like some weirdos running around in skirts or whatever. I was just like, it was- there was something a little more chaotic about it and hearing music, like, I just I loved it. I loved music. I loved rock and roll. I love dance music, you know, since we're like early, early nineties, you know, there was like-
Annie [00:19:27] Great time.
Jake [00:19:27] Mmmhmm.
Annie [00:19:27] So if we look back then at that period of your life, what would you say was the biggest change that you went through?
Jake [00:19:36] Coming out.
Annie [00:19:36] Mm hmm.
Jake [00:19:36] Because I left home. You know, I left home at 14.
Annie [00:19:41] Fuck.
Jake [00:19:41] Yeah. And my parents let me move in with my art teacher from junior high down in Arizona. So I went back down there and moved in with her and her husband.
Annie [00:19:52] And went back to that school?
Jake [00:19:54] No, I went to a big public high school. She had a baby. I was like living with her and her hsuband.
Annie [00:20:00] And she had like a 14 year old goth.
Jake [00:20:01] *Laughing* yes.
Annie [00:20:03] Fair do's for her.
Jake [00:20:05] But it was great because I did feel like I had more freedom. So I started going to this big public school, just 3000 kids. I mean, there was a thousand kids in each grade. It was my sophomore year, so you know, I had three years left and I started really dressing weird and being antagonistic at school like I wanted attention, but I also was just like, busting at the seams.
Annie [00:20:29] Was there a sense of like, I know I'm going to get shit so I'm going to, you know, I'm on the defensive.
Jake [00:20:34] I'm just going to go for it, you know. And then kids started asking me if I was gay and I was like, yeah. *Laughs* and then everything just went nuts, you know? It went really- it got wild and scary.
Annie [00:20:49] So nuts how? As in they gave you shit for being gay?
Jake [00:20:53] With my teachers I organised it so I could skip the last few days of that year because I just knew I was going to get creamed, you know? I knew people would be after me. It was really scary. I had like a lot of scary incidents and thinking back, I shouldn't have done that.
Annie [00:21:11] Done which bit, sorry?
Jake [00:21:12] Just put myself in danger like that. And also living this double life because I wasn't telling, you know, Jennifer who I was living with and her husband, what was going on. And then my mom and dad up in Washington State, you know, like nobody knew anything that was going on. That said, I mean, I was figuring out how to go out. I was going into these, like, gay bars. There's like a gay bar called Preston's. I can't believe thinking back that I was like, in this place, you know, as a 15 year old.
Annie [00:21:43] God. And so if you're in this public school with 3000 kids, was there any other freaks and weirdos that you could kind of, like, hang with? Or did you feel pretty alone in your deliberately trying to look like a freak? You know, because normally there's other, like, tribes.
Jake [00:21:57] Weirdos, yeah, I know. I found a couple friends at school.
Annie [00:21:59] Oh, good.
Jake [00:21:59] And then I got into this weird phone line that was like, very pre-internet.
Annie [00:22:02] What's that?
Jake [00:22:03] It was a phone line that was operated out of this house in Phoenix. And it was this weird chat line where everybody would leave these messages to each other.
Annie [00:22:11] And was that a gay thing?
Jake [00:22:13] It was an everybody thing.
Annie [00:22:13] Oh right.
Jake [00:22:14] I mean, there was all kinds of people on it. And we would all get together, you know, in Phoenix in these like different spots and like, meet each other in real life and, you know, I made some really close friends on that. But it was also like, what was I doing? I can't believe I didn't get in more trouble.
Annie [00:22:30] Yeah, yeah.
Jake [00:22:31] I really didn't. At the time, you know, I had tons of friends who were like, doing crystal meth and like, no one really offered it to me. You know, I wasn't doing drugs. I wasn't drinking.
Annie [00:22:42] And do you think back then you would have been at the point where if drugs had come along, you would have been quite vulnerable to getting stuck in?
Jake [00:22:49] I don't know. I just, I kind of knew that I wanted my freedom and to have that freedom, I had to keep it cute.
Annie [00:22:56] Yeah. Yeah.
Jake [00:22:56] I wanted to get-
Annie [00:22:58] You had to keep your head together.
Jake [00:22:59] To get away with what I was getting away with, I knew that I had to like, really have-
Annie [00:23:05] Your wits about you.
Jake [00:23:06] My wits about me, yeah.
Annie [00:23:07] Yeah. Wow. But that's a lot to be carrying, though. Like, you're not with your family. You've got your art teacher. She's got her new baby. She's preoccupied. Your family are far away. It's like a lot to be holding on your back as a teenager, you know, all of the shit you're doing and *Jake laughs* all of the shit you're going through in school, it's a lot.
Jake [00:23:26] It was. It was heavy.
Annie [00:23:27] When did you get out of there?
Jake [00:23:29] I was only down there for that year and then my mom and dad let me go to this little private school in Seattle for my junior and senior year.
Annie [00:23:38] And was that better?
Jake [00:23:39] Oh my God. It was great.
Annie [00:23:40] Oh thank God.
Jake [00:23:41] It was great. And then I was in the middle of Seattle living-
Annie [00:23:43] In that period?
Jake [00:23:44] On Capitol Hill in Seattle-
Annie [00:23:46] Wow.
Jake [00:23:46] In '94, '95, '96. And it was just an amazing time. And I was out at school. It was a small school, totally liberal, I was loved.
Annie [00:23:59] Ahh. Brilliant.
Jake [00:24:00] You know, it was great. I was living in their little boarding house and then, you know, finally came out to my parents the end of junior year.
Annie [00:24:06] How was that?
Jake [00:24:07] It was rough for a little while but then my senior year, you know, my mom and dad got an apartment near the school, and we had one last year together.
Annie [00:24:14] Oh, nice.
Jake [00:24:14] So it was good.
Annie [00:24:16] So that's a kind of statement of intent from them, that they want to be near you and-
Jake [00:24:20] Yeah, my mom was just like, I want to have one more, one more year with you.
Annie [00:24:24] Yeah.
Jake [00:24:25] So my senior year, yeah, we we lived together in Seattle. I sort of feel like from that moment of busting out, that was just a trajectory that just kept going and going and going. And I knew that I had to do something amazing. That I wanted to like, be creative. I didn't know exactly how. I mean, I was making music in high school. I knew that I wanted to do big things. And I wasn't quite sure what they were yet, but it felt like a constant-.
Annie [00:24:53] Climb.
Jake [00:24:53] Climb and just always like discovering stuff and pushing myself to go to these new places. And then, you know, then I got to New York.
[00:25:03] *Short musical interlude*
Annie [00:25:13] New York.
Jake [00:25:14] Yeah.
Annie [00:25:14] *Sings* New York. 2001. The start of the Scissor Sisters. What are your memories of that time? Of the nucleus, the beginning. Comfortably Numb. The kind of ripples starting to happen around the world.
Jake [00:25:30] At the time, it was like I just wanted to be making stuff, and I was like, trying to put together maybe party nights. I was like, obsessed with like, weird celebrities and stuff *Annie giggles* that I was like, wanted to- just weird stuff that I would kind of go on tangents about and make collages. I would throw parties. They all had different themes, and I would just like blag people to use their loft spaces and just, you know, people would sort of let me use these like big spaces to throw parties. And I loved it.
Annie [00:25:56] Yeah.
Jake [00:25:57] Yeah and then, you know, I just started making these silly songs with like a buddy of mine. It all had a lot of humour to it and we were just being goofy and then suddenly good songs started coming out. And then you know, it was just like a trajectory that just kind of kept building and building and building and then coming over here and getting signed and all that stuff.
Annie [00:26:17] When did you realise you could sing?
Jake [00:26:18] I was in New York. It was my last year of college. I worked in a mailroom at the Association of American University Presses, and I'd been singing and this woman that worked down the hall comes in and she says, 'you can really sing. You sound like the Bee Gees'. *Annie gasps*. And that was like one of the first times-
Annie [00:26:44] The match was lit.
Jake [00:26:44] *Laughs* yeah. That I remember anybody sort of telling me that that was a thing. I mean, yeah. And then there's just the trajectory of Scissors, which, you know, was a whole thing that went on for-
Annie [00:26:58] 12 years, 14 years?
Jake [00:26:59] I mean we started really in 2001, the very beginning of it, and we finished into 2013 basically.
Annie [00:27:06] Okay. Say 12 years. And I mean, looking back at that, which has been fun to do for this, obviously you guys were so extra and outrageous and fun. You were like a circus on stage. But looking at it in a more kind of political way, I suppose, there was a purpose, it felt, to what you were doing. Am I right in that or am I putting that on you? Was it all just total like hedonism and you didn't give a shit and you just happened to be fucking queer? Or was there like a, no, no, no. We need to actually change this landscape because it's not okay?
Jake [00:27:41] I mean, I just think it was more like, we, I wanted to be myself and I felt like I had every right to do that.
Annie [00:27:50] Sure.
Jake [00:27:50] And to not make any apologies for it.
Annie [00:27:52] Yeah.
Jake [00:27:52] And to not apologise for it and carve that spot. Break through whatever glass was there to, you know, get what I wanted *laughs*.
Annie [00:28:03] What's your fondest memory of the most peak years of Scissor Sisters?
Jake [00:28:12] Oh, God. There's so many. There's so many. My fondest memories are always- when I think, I just think of the shows. I think of playing in Barrowlands in Glasgow, I think of playing Glasto. I just think of shows, you know, those are the happiest times. Between the shows... *both laugh*.
Annie [00:28:32] Is it a different story?
Jake [00:28:34] It could be. I mean, it was just like we worked, we worked so hard, we worked so hard. We worked harder than one should probably. I mean, it changed me.
Annie [00:28:46] How?
Jake [00:28:48] It did something to me. I think the physicality of it. You know, I suddenly started experiencing like, extreme depression. Uh, you know, for the first time in my life. There'd be like, years where you're not drinking enough water, you're not eating enough. You know, I look back at pictures of myself, and I was just like, I look like ill.
Annie [00:29:13] Okay.
Jake [00:29:14] And I was.
Annie [00:29:15] Is that because you were kind of burning the candle at both ends? You were working hard and playing hard?
Jake [00:29:21] No, I was not playing hard at all. My twenties were, I was not a partyer or anything. No, I mean, we would just be- you know, in festival season it's just like, you know how this is. It's just like, you're playing at three in the morning in Spain and then you've got to go to the airport and get on a plane and go to your next stop and then start doing press, you know? So it's just like, I would get like, I would just be passed out on like airport floors and stuff. Just trying to, like, get get a little sleep.
Annie [00:29:52] You also, you know, all of your childhood dreams realised. You know, you were the centre stage, you were the, you know, the front man of this huge, huge operation. Huge crowds, huge record sales, you know. Did that aspect of your ambition being realised feel good? Did it feel like you had achieved something or were you even able to think at that point?
Jake [00:30:15] Yeah, Yeah, I was really, I was really happy about it. But it was just this strange thing because I would go back to New York and, you know, you expect some ticker tape parade or something and there's just like *laughs*, you know, I mean, after the first album, it's like I would go back to my tiny little apartment that I hadn't been in for a year and a half. And then not only that, part of my depression and what was happening was I was getting like adrenaline rushes because I'd been living off adrenaline for so long that like, my body would just like- I would get these like, jolts of panic and feel like I was falling down a roller coaster or something. And I think that it was like a physical thing because I'd just been living on stages and just going off of that excitement. And when there was a break, my body would just go completely out of whack.
Annie [00:31:06] And did you know that you were suffering from depression at the time? Like, would you have been conscious of what that was?
Jake [00:31:11] I took me a while to figure it out. But I mean, I was like borderline catatonic at points. Like, I just wanted to stare at walls. Like, anything gave me anxiety. I couldn't listen to music. I couldn't read anything. It was a really weird time. And I finally found a psychiatrist who got me antidepressants and I've been on them ever since.
Annie [00:31:29] Good man. And were your band mates aware of this? Were they supportive at all or?
Jake [00:31:35] Yeah. I mean, well everybody else *laughing*.
Annie [00:31:39] Going through their own shit? Everybody was fucked.
Jake [00:31:39] *Laughing* I mean we were all like, you know, everybody worked so hard. So it was just, you know, we all had our had our stuff. But God, the pressure. The pressure just got.
Annie [00:31:50] Where was the pressure coming from?
Jake [00:31:53] Just from the whole operation. You know, you've got a record label, you've got a touring operation. You know, you're suddenly employing all these people. I mean, I was too young for that, almost. I was like 26 years old, 27. And it's almost like it was a lot.
[00:32:09] *Short musical interlude*
Annie [00:32:19] You've cited the biggest change of your adulthood as when it all ended with scissors.
Jake [00:32:25] Yeah. Yeah.
Annie [00:32:25] Can you talk me through that, as much as you would like?
Jake [00:32:28] Yeah. Yeah. I had so much fun making the last Scissors album. You know, we went out again. People seemed to love it. Let's Have a Kiki came out, and-
Annie [00:32:38] That was a big deal.
Jake [00:32:39] Yeah. It was just a great moment. And I just remember being like, I don't want- I don't want to feel like we're being taken for granted. This has been a nice run. We've had four albums.
Annie [00:32:56] Over ten years.
Jake [00:32:57] Over ten years. Let's just, maybe not forever or whatever, but maybe it's time to, like, let's just go do our things now. And also the band, everybody- nobody expected scissors to like, blow up. I mean, everybody thought we were just like a little fun bar band, you know, in New York. So I wanted to let everybody go live their lives, too, you know? But yeah, it was a complete and total- my world just went upside down, you know.
Annie [00:33:31] So what was your existence at that point? Where were you, what was life like?
Jake [00:33:36] My partner, you know, I had been with a guy. Amazing guy. Chris Moukarbel since 2004.
Annie [00:33:42] Were you married?
Jake [00:33:42] We didn't actually get married but, total we were together for 11 years. So it felt like, it really felt like we were.
Annie [00:33:49] I always thought he was your husband. I don't know why.
Jake [00:33:50] Yeah. I mean, sometimes I called him my husband but. So, you know, he was making documentaries and doing film stuff, and he wanted to go to L.A. So we moved to L.A. together. Didn't have the band anymore, moved to Los Angeles.
Annie [00:34:03] And suddenly you're there all the time?
Jake [00:34:05] And I don't have New York anymore. You know, New New York was such a big part of my identity. The band was such a big part of my identity. And I was losing my relationship at the same time.
Annie [00:34:16] Okay.
Jake [00:34:17] This sort of introduction of Instagram and phones. I really do think that there is this new thing, you know, these apps and iPhones and it got between us. You know, I really do think that- and I could sense it coming on and it was really frightening and I think it just did a lot of damage. But we were just sort of unplugging from each other. And, you know, we'd been monogamous for a long time, we stopped being monogamous, which was great for a while. There's something sexy about it. But I was in L.A. and I just did not know what the fuck I was supposed to be doing.
Annie [00:35:00] Sure.
Jake [00:35:01] I didn't have anything to do. Was having to make new friends and sort of notorious for this thing that I'd been doing for the last ten years. And I just had no idea like who I was at that point. I really felt like I had lost, you know, lost a big part of just who who I am. And that was just, it was weird. I started doing steroids, you know, which going back to that kid in high school, you know, that skinny kid looking at those jocks and like, you know you're never going to be that so I'm going to lean into this other side, right? And then you sort of- being a, you know, gay guy and a grown gay guy it's like suddenly you realise, oh, with these drugs I can be that guy. Finally.
Annie [00:35:51] Yeah.
Jake [00:35:52] Yeah. So I mean, that was a whole new thing I was introducing into my body.
Annie [00:35:56] And how was that affecting your life?
Jake [00:35:58] Oh my God.
Annie [00:35:59] Is there side effects to that business?
Jake [00:36:01] Yeah.
Annie [00:36:01] Okay.
Jake [00:36:02] Yeah. I mean, part of it was, like, really fun. You look great. Feel more attractive. You know, like doing testosterone and stuff I mean like, you'd feel like a million bucks. You feel so good, you're confident you can make all the decisions, you feel sexy. You know, but then when you have to get off your cycle or whatever, like, I would fucking-
Annie [00:36:24] Yeah.
Jake [00:36:25] Crash. I would just feel like I'd fallen off a cliff.
Annie [00:36:29] Yeah.
Jake [00:36:30] Just so low. And I mean, what it was doing to my hormones. It was crazy.
Annie [00:36:37] And you're still with Chris at this point?
Jake [00:36:38] Yeah. Yeah. And I think, you know, I was trying to fill something that I wasn't getting from my relationship, you know, that we weren't necessarily giving each other at that point. And it was just really hard on my body. It's so funny, I look back during that time to it, like I thought I was so sexy *laughs*.
Annie [00:36:57] Well, I'm sure your body was buff.
Jake [00:36:59] I looked like, I looked crazy. Like my face was all big and I had a big moustache and like, I looked like I was 25 years older than I was, you know, it really aged me.
Annie [00:37:14] Right. Got you.
Jake [00:37:15] Yeah. It's just this funny temptation that you get when you're at a certain age as a gay man. You can sort of be this thing you've always wanted to be. And so I was playing with that, and yeah, I learned a lot from it.
Annie [00:37:28] When did that all crash down? When did you realise that wasn't the way you needed to go?
Jake [00:37:33] When I realised it was affecting my voice.
Annie [00:37:36] Mmm. Interesting.
Jake [00:37:37] I couldn't figure out why I was like- sometimes I'd be hoarse and it'd be like, this doesn't make any sense. Like, I'm not drinking a lot right now. I'm not doing a lot of drugs right now. Like, why? Why am I hoarse? I couldn't figure out. And finally, one day it dawned on me. I was like, oh shit. And I never touched them again. Because your vocal cords are muscle, right?
Annie [00:38:00] Yeah of course, so it makes total sense.
Jake [00:38:02] It's going to enlarge that, you know? And so the moment I, you know, and it didn't do any permanent damage, I think it probably would have if I'd have kept going.
Annie [00:38:11] Yeah.
Jake [00:38:11] Yeah. But I stopped.
Annie [00:38:14] And can I ask about your relationship with Chris?
Jake [00:38:17] Yeah.
Annie [00:38:17] At what point did that come to an end?
Jake [00:38:22] I mean, it was a long- I mean, it was probably like. It was like a year and a half.
Annie [00:38:26] I can imagine when you're non-monogamous, it's harder just to cut something off because, you know, it's like you can stay friends for so long.
Jake [00:38:34] Yeah. We were basically dating other people.
Annie [00:38:37] Yeah. Yeah.
Jake [00:38:38] You know, but it was one of those things where it's like, he kind of had a boyfriend. I remember I was sitting on the beach with this guy I had a crush on who's now a very good friend. You know, Chris was off with you know, his guy and I'm sitting on the beach with this guy that I like. And he looks at me and he's like, 'I'm not going to be your boyfriend'. Like, you're way too complicated. And it just dawned on me that I wasn't getting anything that I wanted from anyone, anywhere. Like my life. Just nothing was working. You know, I felt like that was- just there was a moment right there. And it just dawned on me that like, okay, I got to make a big change. Like, right now, something. Something's got to happen. I went home and broke up with Chris.
Annie [00:39:30] Wow.
Jake [00:39:31] I was just like, done.
[00:39:33] *Short musical interlude*
Annie [00:39:43] What happened next? How did you go about finding things that did work for you?
Jake [00:39:47] I got a one way ticket to New Orleans *laughs*.
Annie [00:39:50] Oh yeah, New Orleans *laughing*. Fucking hell, your life man *Jake laughing*. When you look at even like the last six years, isn't it? Because now you're in London.
Jake [00:39:58] My life is- Yeah, now I'm living in London.
Annie [00:39:59] So, the New Orleans years. What did they do for you?
Jake [00:40:02] It was amazing. It was like, here's this place I've always wanted to be that I've always fantasised about that. I've always loved it when I was there, where the music has always really inspired so much of what I've done. And I didn't know anybody there. I didn't know anybody there. I felt like in L.A., everyone could see what was going wrong in my life.
Annie [00:40:22] I hear you, okay.
Jake [00:40:23] Everyone could see. It was one of those things where like, I couldn't go out without somebody being like, *sad voice* 'how are you?'.
Annie [00:40:29] Oh God. I don't want your sympathy!
Jake [00:40:32] *Laughing* like, yeah, just everyone knew. And I was like, I just want to go somewhere where like, nobody knows who the fuck I am, what's going on in my life. And so I got this little place there and just started living by myself. I was able to kind of find myself again or put together whatever this new version of myself was.
Annie [00:40:58] It's like you had to get to know yourself all over again.
Jake [00:41:01] Yeah. Because I was just a different person.
Annie [00:41:03] Yeah.
Jake [00:41:03] Once I started sitting with myself.
Annie [00:41:08] Yeah.
Jake [00:41:10] Music started coming again, you know. Then I started wanting to like, write songs and songs started coming out of me.
Annie [00:41:17] And so you released your first solo album in 2018?
Jake [00:41:19] Yeah.
Annie [00:41:20] How's it been being a solo artist? I mean, I can imagine that must feel significantly different than being in a big, rowdy group of people like Scissors.
Jake [00:41:28] Yeah, it is different. I mean, it's smaller, you know, It's starting from scratch again, basically. You know, it's different, but I just want to do what I like doing.
Annie [00:41:44] But you've always done that babe.
Jake [00:41:45] *Laughing* Yeah.
Annie [00:41:45] You've always done that. Which is incredible, you know? You're strong willed enough to know what you want and to pursue it. It's great.
Jake [00:41:54] Yeah, and that's what I want to just continue to keep doing. Like I was saying earlier, for as long as I can I just want to make stuff that I love. I just want to be creative.
Annie [00:42:04] So you were in New Orleans. I know you have a home there still. What brought you to London? Why did you think, right, I'm going to give London a lash
Jake [00:42:12] You know, I bought a house in New Orleans like three years ago and made this great, great home for myself. And, you know, after COVID and everything, it's like.
Annie [00:42:22] Did you spend COVID there?
Jake [00:42:24] A lot of it, yeah, most of it. It's just a very small town. You know, I never intended on living there year round. I need to be in a big city. I also need my little place to wind down that I love. But I need things to happen. I need action. So I mean, it's like, okay, New York, I've done it. L.A., I've done it. I can't go back to L.A.. I mean, getting to London I just have great resources here. I know amazing people. There's so much to do. And I just felt like it was sort of starting, just me and my dog coming back over here. And it's been interesting, I've been here almost a year now. I thought my social life was going to, like, really like kick off or something.
Annie [00:43:04] Yeah, yeah. Ramp up.
Jake [00:43:06] But I think I've changed a little bit.
Annie [00:43:08] Yeah, well of course.
Jake [00:43:08] That may not be like, where my life's at.
Annie [00:43:14] Like looking forwards now. Is that something you do much?
Jake [00:43:17] Yes.
Annie [00:43:18] Okay. So what changes would you like to make, if any, moving forwards to your life?
Jake [00:43:23] Sometimes I have this sensation that like, there's this other life I'm supposed to be living. It feels like some parallel life that I don't have. Like, I look at you, I look at our friend Amy, and it's just like everybody's got families. You know, and a part of me is like, how do I get that? And if I don't have that, then how am I ever going to grow up?
Annie [00:43:42] Is that something you want?
Jake [00:43:43] Some semblance of that.
Annie [00:43:44] Are you sure you want children? *Jake laughs* Just think really hard about that Jason.
Jake [00:43:50] I probably won't ever have them, you know? I probably won't ever have kids.
Annie [00:43:54] Why? Why do you say that? You're a man. You're lucky, you don't have to- you don't have a biological clock.
Jake [00:44:00] Yeah. You know, my dad was 50 when I was born, so who knows? But I do have like the- there's something that I feel like. There's something that I feel like is missing.
Annie [00:44:13] Yeah. Yeah. Fair.
Jake [00:44:15] I still feel like a kid in so many ways. I do what I want to do. And I don't know if I want to feel grown up, but then I'm just like, when does that happen?
Annie [00:44:27] I totally get you. I totally get you. Like, for me, it wasn't until I got pregnant that I really had to like, stop drinking, you know? And then I had nine months not doing it, and it was like, oh, this is okay. I know I can live like this. You know, it's kind of- and then you're forced to think about other people's needs apart from your own, which is erm. Yeah, which I think is a good exercise, I suppose.
Jake [00:44:50] I've got nobody to answer to.
Annie [00:44:51] Yeah. Yeah. Nobody's going to hold you to account.
Jake [00:44:54] No one's going to hold me to account.
Annie [00:44:55] No consequences to your actions, really.
Jake [00:44:58] I'm dating great guys, but I don't have anybody to answer to. You know, I look forward to another kind of change. You know, I don't know when that's going to happen, but I feel like it will.
Annie [00:45:09] Mm hmm. Well, if you are ever going to have children, I think you'll be the most wonderful father *Jake laughs*. Honestly, you'd be great. Any child would be lucky to have you for a dad.
Jake [00:45:20] I can't envision it, but I feel like you don't need to.
Annie [00:45:23] I can see you in the playground.
Jake [00:45:26] Yeah.
Annie [00:45:26] Politely asking a child to get off the swings so your child can have a go *Jake laughs*. I can see that. *American accent* 'Hey, buddy. Can you- my little- yeah, it's his turn'.
Jake [00:45:34] It would be hilarious, I think, to be a dad.
Annie [00:45:37] And you have this album. We have to talk about this. So we talked about at the top, Last Man Dancing. I think it's interesting just to like, before you go, just to kind of go through the people and the voices that are on this album, because I think it's quite telling of who you are as a man. Kylie Minogue.
Jake [00:45:53] Yep.
Annie [00:45:53] Jane Fonda.
Jake [00:45:53] Yes.
Annie [00:45:54] The sampled voice of Iggy Pop.
Jake [00:45:56] Yes.
Annie [00:45:57] Big Freedia.
Jake [00:45:58] Big Freedia.
Annie [00:45:59] Big Freedia. So you have this incredible-
Jake [00:46:01] And I don't want to leave Amber Martin, who is one of my best friends who literally sings full lead on a song *laughs*.
Annie [00:46:08] Okay. So you have this incredible array of people, but it just kind of just goes to show, you know, you have so many friends in different places in life. I think you're able to span so many different thresholds within culture and people and humanity. You know?
Jake [00:46:23] I mean, I love people. I'm a shapeshifter in certain ways. I'm blessed with a plethora of just like so many amazing friends, you know, throughout my life. That's been the best part, really.
Annie [00:46:36] Thank you so much, Jake.
Jake [00:46:38] Thanks for having me.
Annie [00:46:40] I feel weird calling you Jake, not Jason which is your real name.
Jake [00:46:41] Yeah, I go by, you know, it confuses everybody and I go by both, so I'll answer to-
Annie [00:46:45] Yeah.
Jake [00:46:46] Jason, Jake, whatever.
Annie [00:46:48] You're going to be about, you're going to be at festivals.
Jake [00:46:49] Oh yeah.
Annie [00:46:51] You're going to be singing songs from this new album all over the place. And also we haven't even mentioned Tammy Faye the musical. That is hopefully going to run again.
Jake [00:47:02] Yeah, it's going to transfer. We had a great run at the Almeida. And yeah, I mean, I think it's going to have a life. Knock on wood, it'll have a big life.
Annie [00:47:11] Yeah. Wow. Okay, well, thank you so much.
Jake [00:47:14] Thank you for having me.
Annie [00:47:21] Thank you so much to Jake Shears. I really meant what I said to him in that conversation. He really is a kind of light. He's such a positive force of energy. Whenever you see him, you feel so uplifted. And yeah, you should definitely look out for that album. Last Man dancing, it drops in June. Totally life affirming, like he is. Celebrating clubs and pop music and yeah, he's really in his prime, I think. Thank you so much for listening to Changes as always. Rate us, review us. Hey, go crazy. Why don't you even subscribe? And we will be back next week. Changes is produced by Louise Mason through DIN Productions. Thank you and seeya!