Interview by Gert Jonkers, portraits by Hedi Slimane.
Interview as published in BUTT 24 on pages 16,17,18,19,65,66,67,68
Five years ago BUTT ran a feature on the fun-loving Jake Shears, singer of Scissor Sisters. Instead of talking to him, we asked five ex-lovers about their time and sexual escapades with Jake. That was a fun story. But we still needed to talk to the man himself – the pop star who in recent years has roller-coastered through a succession of number-one hits and million-selling albums around the world, duets with Elton John, and partying with Kylie Minogue and Dolly Parton. On a sunny day in the spring of 2008, I picked up Jake at his band’s Discoball Jazzfest studios in New York, right behind the Flat Iron building, and we had a lovely long stroll downtown to his condo in Tribeca. Jake and his ridiculously hot boyfriend Chris moved into their new condo not too long ago. It’s a wonderful place. There’s a library, a piano, two bathrooms, and they have a turtle and a dog, Toby. I completely forgot to ask Jake about the band or a possible upcoming album, but we did talk about musicals.
Gert: I heard you’re writing a musical.
Jake: Yeah! We did a read-through last Thursday, which was really eye-opening and fun. It was really awesome.
What is it? Who wrote the story?
It’s Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City. Jeff Whitty did the script and John Garden and I have written the lyrics and the score. It’s penned for Broadway. I’m really excited. It’s very different from anything I’ve ever done before. There’ve been a lot of really hectic moments.
You want it to be a really classic, beautiful Broadway musical?
I want it to sound natural and like it’s coming from the characters. I think there’s a big stigma attached to musicals. There’s this backlash against this Broadway sound and everyone’s trying to make Broadway musicals that don’t sound like Broadway musicals. And that’s ridiculous.
So it’s going to sound like a Broadway musical, period.
It is what it is. (laughs) I’m definitely not scared of certain things. I’m excited, it’s grown-up and the subject matter is awesome. There’s lots of gay stuff in it, there’s drugs and infidelity, and it’s positive for the most part and it’s funny…so those things all get me excited. I’ve been offered to do musicals in the past that I wasn’t interested in, so when Jeff approached me to do this, I was superexcited.
Will you be starring in it?
No, I’m not an actor. I can’t act at all. Not.
When did you find that out?
That I can’t act? The Scissor Sisters were on a soap opera a while ago, and I was really, really bad.
Why? Are you too camp on screen?
I am, you know. I’m really super supergay on camera.
Well, there you go! Perfect for a musical!
I don’t know, it doesn’t quite work. It’s funny: I’ve been going to lots of Broadway shows recently, and some are amazing and some are so fucking rotten. It’s interesting to see what you like and don’t like.
Is there such a big difference between one musical and the other? I mean, that’s a really stupid question, I know, but from a distance all musicals look awful to me, with really dull, cliché love-story lines.
That’s complete rubbish of course.
What else do you do at night besides hanging out on Broadway?
I love movies and I play a lot of video games. I’m holed up a lot, playing loads of games.
What do you play? Nintendo?
I’ve got Wii and PS3 and Xbox 360 and, um…
What do you play on Wii? Tennis?
Oh no! I don’t do that.
I mean, I’m a total moron. What do you play on those systems? Pong? Fairy tales?
Yeah, it depends on which system I’m playing. I mean Nintendo’s good for supercute stuff like Super Smash Bros. or Super Mario. But then on PS3 and Xbox I get into some superheavy shit. I started one last night called Condemned 2: Bloodshot. It’s the sequel to Condemned, and it’s just really, really heavy.
It’s not just gory, it’s genuinely terrifying. I can barely play it by myself, but I like to blast the surround sound and sit in a dark room and play it, and it scares the life out of me… The subject matter is really intense; you’re this alcoholic ex-police officer trying to find this serial killer, and you’re all drunk and you get the spins… It’s all about wanting booze, and you’re in all these ghettos with, like, alien junkies that have crystal-meth labs… So I was seriously blowing up crystal-meth labs this morning…
I find it so much better than a movie. It’s so much more exciting. I love dark shit, I love horror stuff.
What would the psychological explanation be for that?
Umm, I don’t know about a psychological explanation, but it’s actually fun to see the awesome level that games have gone up to in the past year. They’ve really crossed a line. I’ve been gaming since I was eight years old, if not younger, and I think that this last year there has been this huge leap. I encountered the first video game that made me cry a few months ago. I thought that was a really crazy moment. I couldn’t believe that I was so emotionally involved in a narrative that it really made me upset.
Do you get so into it that you end up playing 24 hours a day?
Oh no, I’m not that bad. I’d be bored out of my skull.
Are games sexy?
Some games can be really sexy. There’s this game that just got reissued on Xbox 360 called Bully, where you’re this teenage skater boy running around boarding school, and you are really mean and hot and you’ve got a great ass. You can change your clothes, you can run around in your underwear and you can make out with other boys if you want.
It’s sexy, and it’s really sadistic. You can abuse other kids. It’s superentertaining. I play it all the time. I actually bought it twice.
Because you wore out the first one?
I had it for the old system, and I bought a new one for the most recent system, but I’m also a completist. I’m a collector. I like to get everything and have it all, whether it’s games or books or movies. I’m very materialistic. I just like things. I like objects. I’m very fetishistic with belongings.
You like to consume?
Absolutely. I have what I call my old-lady mornings. I know the exact days when all the books are coming out, or the games are coming out, or the movies, or new music, and I tote my bag around… It’s like going to the butcher and the baker. Shopping. I go around and get everything that comes out. I like media. And I love giving things to friends. Of all my favorite books I like to keep at least two so that when I’m talking books with someone, I can just throw it their way.
What’s the book you’ve given away the most?
Um…let me think…
Let me guess: the bible?
Ha, I don’t even know if I have a bible in the house. I hope I do… My most-given-away book is called Blood and Water by Patrick McGrath. Short stories. I’m obsessed with it and I’ve been reading it for so many years. They’re these gross little gothic short stories.
Another gory thing…
Oh, they’re absolutely gross! There’s one about a post-apocalyptic family that is trapped in a bunker underground, and they’ve gone through all their canned food and the mom gets this disease where she’s a big fat lady and she totally dies, and the rest of the family ends up eating her. It’s the most revolting story ever and I love it so much!
Are you into Clive Barker?
I love Clive Barker! I’m a huge fan! I’ve got tons of his books and I’ve got a couple of his paintings and…
I didn’t know he painted.
Oh my god, his paintings are crazy! They are so awesome, they’re fucking amazing. You’ll freak out – they’re so wicked! He’s a trip, he’s really out of his mind. I think he’s amazing. Whenever I’m in LA he lets me come over and we hang out.
That’s nice. What do you think is the worst part of being a pop star?
Photographers. They can be the most vile people on earth. Sometimes it’s great to have your photo taken, and sometimes you feel like a cheap whore afterwards. It can be so embarrassing. I think that with doing this kind of thing there’s a big public-humiliation factor involved.
Isn’t that perhaps why you also enjoy it? The humiliation…
No, I don’t. It’s not my favorite thing on the planet. I even dread talking about it. It’s too douchy to talk about. But I think my absolute least favorite thing to do in public is a red carpet. I hate red carpets so much… It’s the most embarrassing thing on the planet.
What’s so awful about it?
You’re just standing there. What are you supposed to do? You don’t have anything to fall back on except the clothes that you are wearing, and who cares? It’s horrible.
Maybe you should make it really funny and show up on the red carpet in a thong.
Yeah, maybe I’d find it more fun then. A thong, high heels and a bra. But that’s douchy too. It’s all douchy.
But I’d bet you’re an exhibitionist.
Well, yes, I am. I find exhibitionism thrilling.
Have you ever run naked on the street? That used to be my childhood dream.
Really? Not mine. I don’t like to be totally naked. Even just hanging out at home… My boyfriend enjoys lounging around the house naked, and I don’t like it at all. I don’t want to sit with my naked ass on the couch, or at the breakfast table. I don’t want The New York Times touching my dick in the morning.
Really? I love it when that happens.
Some people do… I’ve always found men who are a little more covered, more sexy. When I first started masturbating at 12 or 13, my first jerk-off material was the International Male catalogue. I would tear off a piece of toilet paper and I would get the page with the two men together in swimsuits and I would cover their swimsuits up with toilet paper, so that it was blurry. So it looked like they were standing there naked together but you couldn’t really see how or what.
I love International Male. I bought some on eBay recently.
What? The clothes?
No, the old catalogues. The clothes were all disgusting.
Disgusting! So many poet shirts and horrible long coats and… Who was wearing that? I remember around that same time – I’ll never forget – I was growing up on San Juan Island, north of Seattle. It was a two-hour ferry ride and a one-hour drive, so going to the mainland was a big deal. It was a special thing. I was shopping with my mom and I decided to shoplift a Playgirl magazine. And it was one of the most terrifyingly horrible things I’ve ever experienced!
Were you caught?
No, I wasn’t. But I look back and can’t believe how much I put on the line to see a hard male dick. If I was caught with that, a 13-year-old, with his mom, caught shoplifting a Playgirl…it was intense. When I left the island the next year, I had to do something with it. I couldn’t just throw it in the garbage – my mother could have found it. So I took it down to the water and I burned it on the beach. That was a really sad moment for me. You know, by stealing the magazine I had admitted to myself I was gay anyway, and then having to burn it… It was pretty horrible.
It’s a kind of a rite of passage…
It was definitely metaphoric.
By the way, I know so many people who’ve been featured in BUTT who say that they’ve slept with you. I don’t think there’s anybody who has slept with more guys in BUTT than you.
I don’t think I’ve slept with that many people in BUTT. Really, I’d be surprised if I were the record holder. But I did meet one of the guys who was in the same issue with me. Did I tell you this story? It’s really good. His name is Calvin. He’s so handsome! This was like five years ago and I was on tour at the time. I never got laid much on tour. It was hard to meet anyone. Everything went so fast and I didn’t have time for sex. Anyway, me and this kid had started e-mailing each other, and when we played in London he came to the show. My mom was in town too. I was really excited to spend the night together but we had an after party in the dressing room and he got so wasted! He was so drunk he could barely stand up. So I’m like, Mom, meet my new friend… He was totally trashed. He threw up on the tour bus. So we get to the hotel, get to the rooms, and my mom’s room is across the hall. So when I quickly hopped over to tell my mom goodnight I realized I didn’t have my key. I was there in my pajamas, shirtless, and he had passed out on the bed and didn’t hear my banging on the door. So I went down to the lobby to get a new key when the fire alarm went off, so the hotel had to be evacuated, including my mom and the band. And everybody was, like, ‘Where’s your friend’ He was passed out and slept through the whole fire drill. I don’t know, is this story interesting?
Sure. Did he feel sorry afterwards?
He sent me an e-mail saying he had the best time. But being stinking drunk isn’t a turn-on for anyone.
Is it still hard to get laid on tour?
Well, that’s not really an issue anymore. Chris and I are monogamous.
Really? What dedication.
It’s a novel idea! Chris is very, um, old-worldly and I like that. I like that he gets jealous if he thinks I’m flirting with someone. That’s how I want my husband to be. I’d be really worried if he wasn’t like that, if he didn’t care.
(We arrive at their new condo). Wow, this place is wonderful!
Thanks. We’re superhappy here. I’d been in this closet in the East Village for eight years. It was super supersmall and it got a little depressing. The whole apartment was the size of our current bedroom. When you’re staying in nice hotels and stuff and you’re coming off the road and your own place is a total dump, it’s depressing. I feel like our lives have changed to such an extent since we moved here. We’re having loads of people over all the time. Dinner parties, impromptu parties, film nights, potlucks, we cook lasagna for twenty people…
Was it easy to find a place like this?
Absolutely not! I went under the assumption that you work hard, make money, make a living, save your money, and buy a house. But it doesn’t work like that. It doesn’t matter whether you have the money to buy it or not. I couldn’t get into a co-op at all. The minute they found out I was a musician it was all over.
They think you’re going to trash the place?
I don’t know. They want, like, hedge funders. They don’t want artist types.
So this isn’t a co-op?
No. But even with condos you really have to sell yourself. You’d think the money should speak for itself, but it doesn’t.
Anyway, I remember that one of the guys we interviewed about you years ago in BUTT said that you had the hardest prick he had ever encountered. Is that still the case?
The hardest prick? He could be right. That article was funny… The guy who said that was one of my first true loves, from when I was 21 and he was 33 or whatever. It kind of hurt my feelings a bit. I thought what he said was a bit dismissive.
To reduce the whole affair to the hardness of your cock?
Yeah, you know…he knows as well as I do that there was something more… He’s a lovely guy though. I’m still a bit crazy about him. Maybe it’s one of those unrequited-love situations.
This was in Seattle?
Were you in a band in Seattle?
We had a band in high school. We were called My Favorite Band.
That’s a good name.
It was sweet. We had sweet songs. I dated this guy Paul in high school who was 15 years older than me. He was a junkie and kind of a punk legend. He used to be in a band called the Fartz with someone from Guns ‘n’ Roses. He was a good guy. I always wonder what happened to him. I’ve searched for him but I wouldn’t be surprised if he was dead.
Isn’t it funny how some people really aren’t traceable through Google? You try to find old friends and their name has absolutely no search hits.
Yeah. Every once in a while I search like crazy for my 6th grade teacher, Sheila Deyer. She changed my life. I loved her so much. I’d love to see what she’s up to. She was so fierce – a total granola-hippy with hairy armpits. She was superinspiring.
I’ve tried to Google my first boyfriend about a thousand times, although I don’t know what I would do if I did find him. Send him an e-mail? Maybe not a good idea.
I don’t like communicating on computers. I don’t do MySpace or Facebook and I hate e-mailing. I think e-mail is a total drag. Just because a certain technology becomes the norm, you are obliged to communicate that way. I don’t like it.
But you do have a computer I presume?
Oh yeah, totally. I use it for listening to music and every morning I get on Drudge Report, Metacritic, and Pitchfork Media.
Drudge Report, that’s a conservative pile of conspiracy theories, right?
No, it’s this tabloid of a closeted gay tabloid journalist who has way too much power. He’s kind of demented but that makes him interesting. I think he’s really funny. The pictures and the headlines together are so funny. He’s really conservative, but it’s his own conservatism; it’s his own set of rules. Like, he’s totally pro-Obama.
I love your dog. He’s really jolly.
Isn’t Toby gorgeous? Last night he ate our bottle of lube. That’s why he looks a bit funny today.
Really? What flavor was it?
It was Gun Oil, so it was tasteless.
Not strawberry or vanilla flavored?
Ew no, that’s disgusting! Who wants flavored lube?
I don’t, but some people do.
I think any sort of reference to food in a sexual situation makes me want to fucking barf. You know, every once in a while you stumble upon pictures of guys throwing whipped cream on each other’s asses. Ew, it’s so gross! Whipped cream on your skin is going to curdle. It’s disgusting. Or chocolate covered strawberries for a romantic evening, couples feeding each other… It’s so gross.
Chocolate and strawberry aren’t necessarily a bad combination.
Yes, but not in a sexual context. Any fruit dipped in chocolate that you’re supposed to feed your lover. I don’t want anyone feeding me.
By the way last year I went to the burrito restaurant in Seattle where you used to work.
Bimbo’s Bitchin’ Burrito Kitchen.
Right. I had the spiciest burrito I’ve ever had. It was so spicy it hurt for two days.
Like it hurt your rear end?
Yes, isn’t it awful how a burrito can burn your ass the next day?
Yeah, that’s terrible. I hate spicy food.