Friday, April 29, 2011

Filthy Friend

Written by Jeff Katz
Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Jake Shears has been touring the world with the Scissor Sisters since last fall, promoting their fantastic latest album, Night Work, and supporting Gaga on the recent leg of her Monster Ball. One would think he’d take a breather now that the tour is over, but Jake is anything but predictable. That’s because he’s now calling San Francisco his temporary home as Tales Of The City prepares for its world stage premiere! In Instinct’s May Soapbox, Jake talks about the massive task of writing a musical version of the beloved books. But now we caught up with Mr. Shears (after frustratingly being unable to access Internet porn from his Utah hotel room, go figure) and we’re finding out if this experience has sparked a new career, who introduced him to Gaga in the first place and what our favorite glam band is cooking up for the remainder of 2011.
Now that you’re in the home stretch of the musical process, has this experience sparked a new passion for you? And if so, will you try your hands at theater again?

I love musicals. I love the stage. So I’d say definitely. But honestly, my next show is going to literally be about a frog, a girl and a ball. Something simple! [Laughs] Because this has been a complex show! It’s been like a Jenga puzzle; we’ve been seeing how many bricks we can pull out and re-stack before it all falls down.

Who do you foresee being the typical theater goer for this show?

Hopefully it will introduce a new generation to the story, but it’s just a question of who goes to theater now? Theater is an interesting animal just because it’s hard to get younger people to go to the theater because it cost money. Theater is expensive. So who knows who will show up?! [Laughs] That’s the thing about theater though, it is exclusive in a way. Especially if you look at theater in New York, it is expensive to go see shows so it holds a lot of people back. But unfortunately there’s no way around that because it costs a lot of money to make.

Have you remained involved all the way through, be it rehearsals and staging, or is it like you’ve made the baby and now you wait?

Oh, no! That’s why we jumped off the Gaga tour a couple of week’s before Monster Ball was over so I could get in there and get my hands dirty with the show.

Speaking of the Lady, how was touring with Gaga?

Amazing! It was really, really fun. We were playing for the biggest crowds we’ve ever played for in America, and they’ve been so receptive.

It seems like such the perfect pairing, how did the idea come about?

We did it on our own, actually. It came out of a conversation between the two of us. She’s always been a fan of the band and has always given us a lot of credit, which is great. From her first interview in Rolling Stone, she’s always given us shout outs. We talked on the phone quite a bit, but then we met last summer when Elton [John] introduced the two of us. And she said it be really cool for us to tour together in America and I said, “Honey, we are there!”

Do you find commonality between the Sisterhood and the Little Monsters?

Yeah, it’s great because a lot of the crowd may not have known who we are but we were going out to a crowd that was already filtered and primed to be into a band like us and the music that we make. It’s always a challenge going out and playing to people that didn’t pay money to see you, but the satisfying thing was that by the end of our sets we were playing for 10,000 people who were going ape shit and giving us tons of love. Her die-hards have been so welcoming and into us and have taken the time to discover us and get into the music. I mean, you could go out there and play to a bunch of dead fish who really don’t give a fuck, but it was such the opposite. I’ve had a great time!

You guys have always had dance elements in your music, and now we’re seeing everyone go there—Britney, Katy, all of Top 40 at the moment, really. Do you think this is a bubble that’s bound to burst?

I think we’re in an extremely creative moment right now with dance music. There are technological advances that have happened in just the last few years that are pretty mind blowing. So I think what’s happening is that we’re having a real psychedelic moment in pop music right now. Yeah, there are cookie-cutter things and go-to sounds happening, but some of the production is bonkers. Tides will always turn and there will always be dance music, but things swing back and forth. I’m a through-and-through techno head, that’s all I want to listen to. [Laughs] So I think this dance moment is a good thing, although a little variety is always nice, too.

Well, that’s why we need the Scissor Sisters!

[Laughs] Right! But I don’t think there’s a single band in the Top 40 right now in the U.K. There are no bands! Which is kinda scary; it’s a little bit unnerving. But I think we serve up a ton of different stuff. And it’s funny, playing the [Gaga] shows, these people had in their head’s that we were a rock band. I don’t know how you categorize us, I think we’ve got a little bit of everything and can be interpreted a lot of different ways.

So, after opening night of the musical are you taking a well-deserved break or is it back to the band?

[Laughs] This fucking train ain’t stopping. Scissor Sisters are actually making more music now, we’re gonna fucking break on through to the other side. Our goal, really, is to have more music out by the end of this year.

Check out Jake’s Soapbox in Instinct’s new May issue—or because we’re super cool, you can always read it here! For more on Tales Of The City, visit

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Scissor Sisters' Jake Shears Honored to Write 'Tales of the City' Musical

Singer teams with 'Avenue Q' creators to adapt Armistead Maupin's series of gay-themed novels

By Matthew Perpetua
April 27, 2011 5:05 PM ET

It didn't take much to persuade Scissor Sisters frontman Jake Shears to get involved with a musical adaptation of Armistead Maupin's Tales of the City novels. "I got an email from [librettist Jeff Whitty] wondering if I'd be interested in a musical that took place in the Seventies and had kinda fun themes that involved gays, copious drug use and trannies," he says. "I said, 'Of course – what is it?'"

When Shears discovered that Whitty had secured rights to produce a musical based on Maupin's series of books about gays, bohemians and other outsiders set in 1970s San Francisco, he jumped at the chance. "Jake grabbed me in the dressing room and said, 'Grab a keyboard, we're writing a musical,'" says John Garden, Shears' Scissor Sisters and Tales of the City writing partner. "That's when I was on board, it was that moment. We wrote a song that day that is still in the show."

Armistead Maupin's Tales of the City, a production featuring all-new music written by Shears and Garden, is set to run at the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco between May 18th and July 10th. The show, which is penned by Jeff Whitty and directed by Jason Moore, both of the Tony Award–winning Broadway musical Avenue Q, condenses plots from several of Maupin's novels into a single story. "It's a really ambitious show," says Shears. "There are 50 characters and 60 themes; it's a massive undertaking. The show is just like the books – there are very short scenes that go really fast. It's a very different kind of musical."

Though Garden was familiar only with the televised miniseries version of Tales of the City from the early Nineties, Shears had been a fan of the books since he was a teen. "When I was 13, there were these two gay guys in my hometown and I think they probably picked up on the fact that I am gay," Shears recalls. "They were really lovely, they gave me a lot of music to listen to and turned me on to new stuff. One day, Sean, one of them, gave me a copy of Tales of the City and said, 'I think you'll really like this, you should read it.' I fell in love with the characters and read the entire series. The books were, for me, a rite of passage." Shears acknowledges that the Tales series had a particular resonance for him as a young gay man, but he believes that Maupin's stories have a universal quality. "Anybody can pick them up and really get into them," he says. "There's lots of lascivious behavior, but somehow they remain really kind of beautiful and nonjudgmental and strangely wholesome."

Though Shears and Garden's music evokes the sound of the era the story is set, they made a point of avoiding outright Seventies nostalgia. "I didn't want to do a kind of Seventies pastiche, and I didn't want it to resemble, even with original songs, a jukebox musical," Shears says. "I didn't want to just go in and do Seventies-sounding music. My writing style leans in that direction anyway, so I figured if we just naturally wrote the songs, they were going to have some of that in them."

Unlike Billie Joe Armstrong, who starred in several performances of Green Day's American Idiot musical on Broadway, Shears has no plans to join the production of Tales of the City as a performer. "I couldn’t act my way out of a wet paper bag," he says. "I’m a terrible, terrible, terrible actor, and you can watch the two episodes where the Scissor Sisters were on [the soap opera] Passions for proof. I can sing my face off, but acting is not my forte, and this show requires great actors. The characters have a lot of depth and the performances are super-important. I just don’t have the skills."

As of yet, there are no plans to stage Tales of the City outside of San Francisco, though Shears and Garden are hopeful that it will open elsewhere in the future. "If this is the only time I’ll ever see this show performed, I’m super-happy just that it’s happening in San Francisco," Shears says. "For the moment, we’ve just got our blinders on and we just want it to be the best show it can be for the city that it takes place in."

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Meet the Tales of the City Creative Team: Part 2

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Scissor Sisters singer Jake Shears expands resume to upcoming "Tales of the City" musical
Posted 4/14/2011 10:42:00 AM

Thanks to interview enabler and Outwrite Books owner Philip Rafshoon, Scissor Sisters frontman Jake Shears graciously agreed to chat with us while he was in town last week.

This was between his and photographer Tim Hailand's sold-out book signing for "One Day in the Life of Jake Shears" and a Scissor Sisters show at the Tabernacle.

Shears is currently sweating the songwriting details as part of the creative team responsible for the upcoming "Armistead Maupin's Tales of the City A New Musical" currently in rehearsal with a world premiere set for May 18 at the American Conservatory Theatre in San Francisco. Shears co-wrote the music with band mate John Garden while "Avenue Q" Tony winner Jeff Whitty has written the musical's book. "Avenue Q" and "Shrek" Tony nominee Jason Moore is directing the project. The musical is based on the material in "Tales" and Maupin's first sequel, "More Tales of the City."

Was it daunting coming up with musical material for iconic literary characters beloved by generations of "Tales" fans? "It's still a daunting process!" Shears told us laughing. "Production rehearsals start in three days! I'm very involved. It's a massive undertaking but what makes me breathe a little easier is that the team is so amazing. Everyone is so good at what they do and we all get along so well."

Maupin is also involved in the latest "Tales" offspring that has already produced eight novels and three television mini series in the franchise's 35-year history. But Shears says Maupin's personality immediately put him at ease.

"There is nothing intimidating about Armistead Maupin," the singer says. "He's the friendliest guy you'll ever meet and just a lovely soul."

Scissor Sisters has always embraced the glam rock theatrics and disco dance music of the 1970s so Shears and Garden were logical go-to guys for the musical. But don't expect a strict period score, Shears says. "I recorded most of the demos for the show and it's very different to see what happens when the actors take on the songs. I of course put my own stamp on things but a Broadway veteran is going to deliver it differently. I often like that different spin a song can take when someone else sings it. But I didn't go for period directly with the songs. There's some disco in there for the club scenes but I didn't want to go out of my way with that. Stylistically, I automatically kind of write in that vein anyway. I wanted to write music that was kind of timeless instead of super pointed in the 70s."

Perhaps the most anticipated number in the musical is "Letter to Mama," where Shears took the contents of the book's central gay character Michael Tolliver's coming out letter to his parents. It's a missive that generations of gays and lesbians have cut and pasted to their own parents. The number will be performed by actor Wesley Taylor in the musical.

"I didn't really have an emotional reaction when I was writing it," Shears concedes. "But in the hands of an actor? It's the most devastating thing I've ever seen. It's an incredible number. It's a real tribute to Armistead's words. I just edited them down and turned it into a melody. It's an incredibly moving number. I've never seen it without crying. Thank God it's followed up by the funniest number in the show!"

And that is? "It's called 'Ride 'Em Hard,'" Shears previews laughing. "You're not sad for too long [after 'Letter to Mama'] let's just say!"

While the show might be a no-brainer for Broadway, Shears maintains modesty on the show's future and realizes work remains.

"Seriously, I can't even envision that right now," he says. "Sure, it would be amazing. When I saw it [in read throughs] on stage with music stands at the Eugene O'Neill [Theatre], I remember thinking, 'If I never see this performed again, I'll still be happy I was able to do this. It was such a joy to watch. Just that was worth it to me. There's still major work to do and we've got to make this show [expletive] amazing. I want to make this a great show for San Francisco. I can't allow myself to think past that right now."

Posted By: Richard Eldredge

Meet the Tales of the City Creative Team: Part I