In just over a decade, Scissor Sisters gained the respect of some of music's biggest figures. Bono said it was "the best pop group in the world." Elton John played piano on one of the band's songs. David Bowie wrote the band a fan letter.
Scissor Sisters first developed a huge following with LGBT crowds, then the United Kingdom fell in love with the New York City-based band. In its live shows, Scissor Sisters brought the spirit of underground New York clubs everywhere it went with singer and songwriter Jake Shears at the helm.
The group first garnered attention with its disco-pop cover of Pink Floyd's "Comfortably Numb." "We were just in the studio messing around, and we really didn't know what we were doing," Shears says.
But the band wanted to be known for more than just a cover, he says, so they put out an album — then three more. But in 2012, the party came to an end. Shears parted ways with Babydaddy, Ana Matronic, Del Marquis and Randy Real.
"I never thought that I would make a solo record," Shears says. "I don't know why, it just seemed to be a very kind of narcissistic thing to do."
In the time since, he's written and published a memoir and performed in the musical Kinky Boots on Broadway. Now, he's finally taking time to release his eponymous solo album, out Aug. 10.
Shears worked on the album between New Orleans and Louisville, Ky., resulting in a distinct Southern influence in the new music. Shears still writes big, audacious songs that should appeal to his Scissor Sisters fans, but his new work is also a departure — a more personal album with sometimes painfully-revealing lyrics.
Shears spoke with NPR's Noel King about his formative time writing music in New Orleans and Scissor Sisters' legacy (including if the band will ever get back together.) Hear the full conversation at the audio link and read an edited transcript below.
Noel King: I've read interviews with you where you talk about feeling a little bit "ghettoized" by mainstream press as a gay band. Does time make you feel better about that? Do you now look back and be like, "Who cares? I was famous."
Jake Shears: It wasn't like, "Who cares? I was famous." It's more like I'm glad that in certain ways, in entertainment, I feel like we're sort of through that.
Back then, it was like everything was about me and Babydaddy and Del being gay. That was the first thing any press wanted to talk about. It was frustrating, but I knew if we just kept moving ahead, it was going to make it easier for people that came after us.
I was listening to your new song "Sad Song Backwards," and I was doing that thing you do where you don't quite pay attention to the lyrics. And I was just bopping up and down, and all of a sudden I heard you say "Taking double fistfuls of Prozac," and I was like, "Oh God, I got to go back to the beginning and figure out what he's saying." What is this about?
It's really dark. I had just broken up with my partner of 11 years when I went to New Orleans, and I was just devastated by myself, and I knew I sort of had to write my way out of it. The concept, though, when I had the idea for it I thought about that joke: What do you get when you play a country song backwards? You get your wife back, your dog back, your car back, your truck back, whatever.
It sounds like you love the South. The song "Mississippi Delta (I'm Your Man)" seems like a love letter to the Mississippi Delta.
New Orleans changed my life. I'd always dreamed of moving there, and I just hit this crossroads in my life where I knew I needed to go somewhere, I needed to do something, and so, I was like, "I'm going to New Orleans." I just went by myself and just started living there and taking it all in and writing songs. All of these songs really go back directly to my own heart and my life and experiences the last couple years.
I think of the South as a place where you can't quite be as outrageous as you were in New York in your early years. You guys were known for really bringing down the house. I'm just wondering, when you're living in the South, do you feel like you become a different person? Do you present differently publicly? How do you change?
It still can get pretty wild. I mean, New Orleans is the most flamboyant, eccentric — there's no place like it in this country. I can walk down the street, like, in a naughty nurse's uniform and go to a bar at three in the afternoon, and no one is going to look at me twice.
And I can tell you've done it.
I've been known to do stuff like that [Laughs]. And Louisville is a very liberal city, and what I love about Louisville is that in a lot of bigger cities you can go to a gay bar, and it's just gay men, but down there, you can go out and it's ... Everybody's kind of out. And that's also something I experience a lot in New Orleans.
It sounds like evolving is important to you.
I go on this cycle, like every five years or so, there's just a transformation I kind of need to constantly be going under. I just love being creative, and if I'm not making something, if I'm not getting my hands dirty, I'm just not happy.
Do you mind if I ask — because there are members of our listening audience who will kill me if I don't — what happened with Scissor Sisters?
We just called it a hiatus. There's no plans to do anything. When we started Scissor Sisters, we were just doing performance art in bars, and I think that's all we ever thought it was going to be. We had such a great run. We did four albums. But my instinct was everyone needs to go be able to live their own lives now. I would never write off doing another Scissors record — I think we probably will someday. But that's why it stopped, because I felt like it was time to give everybody time to find their own way.
Web intern Emily Abshire contributed to this story.