Blade runners: Scissor Sisters spin ’70s influences into goldWritten by Michael Miller | Editor in Chief Emeritus | firstname.lastname@example.org
In a music scene dominated by mean-spirited rap, empty-headed metal and assembly-line divas, Scissor Sisters have delivered one of the most rollicking and entertaining records of the half-decade. Infused with a ’70s and ’80s aesthetic that blends the attitude and sounds of Elton John, Billy Joel, George Michael, David Bowie, Roxy Music and a can-you-guess-the-influence stream of singable, danceable music, the self-titled debut has spawned a VH-1 hit with “Take Your Mama” and has topped the Billboard Heatseaker and Electronica charts.
They have been rewarded with appearances on “Saturday Night Live” and “The Tonight Show,” and a Grammy nomination for best dance recording (they lost to Britney Spears).
The core of the band is singer/songwriter Jake Shears and multi-instrumentalist/songwriter Babydaddy. They are surrounded by top-notch musicians: drummer Paddy Boom, guitarist Del Marquis and singer/performer/den mother Ana Matronic. As studio-oriented as their music is, it is shocking to see the Sisters live and discover what a tight, powerful band they are. Jake’s frenetic singing and the Swiss-watch precise rhythm section are as powerful and dexterous as an Olympic swimmer.
From the opening cut, the piano-driven “Laura,” through the Elton-flavored “Take Your Mama,” a Bee Gees-meets-Pink Floyd cover of “Comfortably Numb,” the Toto pastiche “Mary,” and such high points as “On the Radio,” “Filthy/Gorgeous,” “Music Is the Victim,” “Better Luck,” “It Can’t Come Quickly Enough” and “Return to Oz,” the CD inspires compulsive spins, until the hooks permanently etch themselves on the brain.
Fred Bronson, editor of the weekly Chart Beat column for Billboard Magazine, told Toledo Free Press that while the Sisters have yet to make a huge impact on the mainstream Billboard Top album chart (they peaked at 101), “Hopefully they still have a chance; their music is a lot of fun,” he said. “They took a lot of retro elements and came up with a new sound. With a hit single or a song played on a soundtrack to a feature film or television show, they could still break here.”
Who’s your daddy?
During a recent break between shows, Scissor Sisters songwriter and producer Babydaddy talked with Toledo Free Press from a California beach. Openly marveling at his band’s success, he talked about the past year with amazement.
“We’re spoiled,” he said. “There has been an incredible response to the album; people really seem to enjoy it. A week after it came out, people at concerts were singing along with every song.”
Babydaddy said the band’s blender of influences is a synergy of his songwriting and production collaboration with Shears.
“We work in an organic fashion, writing and recording at same time,” he said. “We weren’t trying to emulate anyone’s sound as much as we were trying to capture their attitude.
We’d say, ‘Hey, remember that guitar sound from that Bowie track, or those snare drums from that Ace of Base record?’ We were just throwing in all the sounds we love.”
The band has often cited Elton John and Billy Joel as influences.
“I love Billy Joel, and his sound is there, an appreciation of his sound and ethos,” he said.
“I used to sit at a piano with a songbook and play his songs.”
Now, major artists are flocking to see and work with the Sisters. They have produced remixes for Pet Shop Boys, Blondie and Kylie Minogue, and Elton John and U2’s Bono have publicly professed their love for the Sisters. There were late summer reports that the Sisters might open for U2 on their fall tour.
“That’s a complete fabrication,” Babydaddy said. “Bono came to two of our shows, and the rumors started. It’s been surreal; we’ll play a show and then we’ll find Elton John or George Michael or Bono waiting for us backstage, the musicians we worship, coming to see us. It’s surreal to hear Bono saying he is a fan of ours.”
The Sisters have also heard from Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters and David Gilmour, who responded to the group’s dance-crazed version of “Comfortably Numb.”
Babydaddy said trying to emulate the band’s chart-topping U.K. success in America is daunting, but he believes their music stands out.
“We want to inspire people to live every emotion in life, to enjoy themselves,” he said. “In America, there aren’t many fun, light-hearted artists right now. Americans are in love with art that makes them angry for an hour or so.”
The Sisters won’t be in the studio to create a new album until next month, but to tide fans over, a concert DVD (“We Are Scissor Sisters, and So Are You”) and a remix album (“Scissor Sisters Remixed!”) have been released.
As the sounds of the beach called him away from the phone, Babydaddy sounded optimistic about the band’s future. “We’re going to keep plugging away here and do everything we can,” he said. “We’ll make every show and cheesy TV appearance we can, and hope to be in the right place at the right time.”