The queer soundtrack of the summer has arrived. Former Scissor Sisters frontman Jake Shears’ stunning sophomore solo album, Last Man Dancing, is an aural pleasuredome that takes you a sexy thrill ride, from pure dance pop euphoria that progresses into darker, more menacing delights. Shears himself has never sounded better and has invited some of his best friends to party with him, with rich production by the likes of Boys Noize and Vaughn Oliver, while Kylie Minogue stuns on the seductive disco-infused “Voices”, Big Freedia lends an alluring growl to the infectious deep dance track “Doses”, and NYC nightlife diva Amber Martin burns down the house with her electrifying vocals on “Devil Came Down the Dancefloor”. Listen out for the voices of Jane Fonda, on the chilling sci-fi epic “Radio Eyes”, as well as Iggy Pop on the album closer with big Bond theme energy, “Diamonds Don’t Burn”.
Ahead of the album launch on Friday, June 2nd, The Queer Review’s editor James Kleinmann had an exclusive conversation with Jake Shears as he was about to take to the stage in Glasgow on the first night of his UK tour, which will see him play two of the summer’s hottest festivals, Mighty Hoopla and Glastonbury. Shears discusses the track that was the seed of this new record, balancing the feel-good with the sinister, being inspired by 1980s kids’ movies, the kind of dance music he likes to listen to, where he likes to dance these days, and the piece of queer culture that’s had the biggest impact on him.
James Kleinmann, The Queer Review: I loved the experience of listening to Last Man Dancing track by track in its entirety and I really encourage everyone to do that. Could you give me an insight into creating that musical journey that you take us on with the album?
Jake Shears: “This album started bit by bit. Once I realized it was going to be a dance record through and through, I started thinking about front-loading it with the more accessible stuff that’s easier; the pop songs. Then I wanted to indulge myself and make something connected, something that took you on a ride. I’ve always wanted to make an instrumental, so it was about starting at that instrumental, “8 Ball”, and then going on this trip. I knew it was going to be a little strange and not necessarily what people expected. I’d never done anything like that before. The second half of Night Work is connected, but this record goes into places I’ve never been before. I sort of disappear off it for a while. It was fun for me to subvert expectations and also make myself happy. I’m very much a prog rock guy in certain ways: I love really long songs; I love stuff that takes you on a trip; I like really cinematic music and cinematic feelings. So I incorporated all of those elements into the record and hopefully it’s successful. I really love it a lot. I spent a lot of time on it. It was painstakingly made.”
How consciously do you balance the joy and the upbeat on the record with darker themes and how important is it to you to have both there, lyrically and musically?
“It’s super important to me. I have a really sinister, menacing side. It always has to be there in my music and I’ve got to balance that out. That’s why I love albums because these songs are all in conversation with one another, but there’s always going to be a dark side. I think menacing is a great way to put it. It’s in my personality. I love reading and writing fiction. I love telling stories. I love taking people on a journey and there’s some creepy stuff on this record. I love doing that. I love making feel-good music and lifting people’s spirits. I love positive music, but it’s also really fun to have a little bit of adventure in there too. I was born in 1978, so I grew up in a golden age of storytelling in the early and mid-80s that had kids’ movies that were scary. There was always this dark side to the entertainment that I grew up on. Even though it was a family movie, there would still be this dark, sinister energy to a lot of that stuff and I feel like I’ve incorporated that into what I do.”
It’s fun to go back and watch some of those 80s movies and think, ‘this was a kid’s movie?!’
“I’ve never stopped watching them.”
Jane Fonda’s voice on “Radio Eyes” very much captures that blend, because she sounds very inviting, but actually it’s kind of sinister too. There’s an epic, cinematic, sci fi vibe that song which I love.
“Yeah, it gets weird! I wrote it in Lisbon with Boys Noize and we were just having fun. I remember starting to tell this story about aliens. There’s very much a sci fi vibe there. There’s something a little bit Bryan Ferry about that song as well, there’s a strange little drip of Roxy Music influence in there that just sort of popped out.”
The range of vocalists that you have joining you on the album feels like the ultimate house party guest list.
“I think so. Including, by the way, all the producers on this record, like Vaughn Oliver, Le Chev (whose real name is Michael Cheever), and Boys Noize. These are all dear friends of mine and when I tell you that we had fun making this, we really did have a good time. The best part of finishing music is the memories that you’re left with of making it. I love making music with friends, it’s important to me.”
Speaking of your friends, Kylie Minogue is having a bit of a moment right now with “Padam Padam” isn’t she?
“Yes! I’m so happy about it. It’s so fun. It’s fucking great. It’s definitely going to be a song of the summer.”
Well, I think Last Man Dancing is going to be the album of the summer. Her album isn’t out until September, so she can have the single of the summer and you can have the album of the summer.
“Great! I’ve always been an album guy anyway.”
What kind of vibe did you want to create with “Voices”, your track with Kylie on Last Man Dancing, and what were some of the influences?
“It’s the oldest song on the record. We made it a long time ago. It’s funny, I always felt that there was something really special about it. I always really loved it. I don’t know if she ever really did. I think she was always kind of like, ‘alright, if you say so’. I don’t think she really ever got it. But I really wanted to put that song out and thankfully she humored me and let me put it out. When we recorded it, I was doing my last solo record at the time, which is a completely different sound, and Kylie was doing Golden, which was a completely different sound. So it wasn’t really what either of us were doing at the time. The inception of Last Man Dancing was to start building some scaffolding around “Voices” and to see what could sound good next to it. So that track with Kylie was the seed for this album in a lot of ways. There is a lot of feel-good stuff and fun stuff, but “Voices” has something moody and a little mysterious about it and so I think that that was a seed for those elements on this record as well. It was the same thing with “Do the Television”. That song never really had a chorus. Scissors had concepted it out a long time ago, but I did a lot more work on it. I really wanted to make a home for those two songs.”
Big Freedia sounds a little different to how I’ve heard her before on “Doses”, she’s using her voice in a different way.
“Yeah, I thought it would be really interesting to do something very different with Freedia. I wanted to make Freedia sound surprising. I think Freedia is one of the most incredible people on the planet and it’s an honor to have her on this record and also to have that New Orleans connection. I’m glad that this record still has some New Orleans on it because I feel like it’s my hometown now.”
If you need to get a party started invite Big Freedia.
“She is the ultimate party. My God, she’s a force to be reckoned with. Until you’re in a room with Freedia recording vocals you don’t realize it, but her voice is unlike anything else. It doesn’t come out of her mouth, it emanates from her body. It’s amazing.”
I live in New York and I see a lot of Amber Martin. I go to Mattachine, the night she DJs at with John Cameron Mitchell at Julius Bar, and I love her Bette Midler Continental Baths tribute show, Bette Bathhouse and Beyond.
“She’s fabulous. She’s so great. She’s here with me now in the UK and I’m so excited to do this show with her. It’s going be an absolute hoot.”
Was Devil Came Down the Dancefloor written with her in mind?
“No, I had already written it and it was just sitting there. I liked the song and we worked hard on it and on the chord progressions, but I just wasn’t feeling me singing it. It felt redundant. Then Amber was at my house in New Orleans and I remember her saying, ‘you need to write me a song’. I sat that there for a second and then I was like, ‘I think I might have one!’ We recorded the vocals in my living room down there and the song just came alive. It’s a real highlight on the record.”
You’re on tour now around the UK, with Mighty Hoopla and Glastonbury coming up. Are you enjoying performing these songs live?
“We did a tour with Duran Duran around the UK which was so much fun, it was such a blast. Tonight’s our first show of my solo stuff and I feel like it’s a bit ambitious. Hopefully there won’t be any snags or anything. There are six people on stage at certain points. There are a few costume changes. I do play a lot of Scissors songs. The show will be an hour and a half tonight. I don’t think I’ve ever played a solid hour and a half as a solo artist before. So I’m just going to go for it and and see how it goes. My first look is based on the album cover. I’ve never run out on stage in such a casual look before. I’m just running out there in shorts and a t-shirt, but I do glam up a bit later in the show. So it’ll be interesting. I just need to remember to have fun.”
Where do you like to dance these days? Do you like a big club vibe or would you rather be at home or at an intimate club?
“I’ve had it with big clubs. Once a season or something I’ll go to a big queer party, but they’re just too big. I want to make new friends and make out with people and stuff. I feel like in smaller environments it’s a little sexier. With more intimate spaces, whether it’s a house party or a smaller club or a smaller dance floor, there are more chances for connection with people. Sometimes when you end up at these giant parties and there are all these hot guys, everybody sort of cancels each other out. It’s just overload. I turn 45 this year and I think I’ve hit the ceiling on certain environments. I’m like, what else are you going to find in there? But I do still love a dancefloor. I still love whooping it up, that’s for sure!”
Is there one track that, even if you were not in a dancing mood, if it was playing you’d have to hit the dancefloor?
“Oh God, there are a bunch. Does it have to be a famous one?”
“Well, I’ve been obsessed with this track by Jennifer Cardini and David Shaw that some friends sent me recently titled “Pepper Labejia”. I love that track. I love stuff that’s a little bit darker. I like pretty minimal vocals. I like it sexy. I like it a little sleazy. I like devil voices coming in. I definitely have very specific tastes with my dance music.”
What’s your favorite piece of LGBTQ+ culture or a person who identifies as LGBTQ+; someone or something that’s had an impact on you and resonated with you over the years?
“The Rocky Horror Picture Show. It’s one of the best pieces of art ever created. It changed the world and it changed queer life. I credit it in so many ways for what it woke up inside me. When I first saw it, I must’ve been 13 years old. I was the perfect age. I wrote about it in my book, and I just said that it felt like getting a message in a bottle from your future. That’s what it felt like to me. They weren’t making It Gets Better videos back at that time and so Rocky Horror was my It Gets Better. In certain ways, it’s sort of like my Rosetta Stone. Like we were talking about before, it’s another work where it’s really fun and it’s very feel good, but it’s also very fucking dark and menacing and weird and creepy too.”
I loved your book, Boys Keep Swinging. You’re currently working on part two of your memoirs aren’t you?
“Yeah, though I think it’s going to be a novel. It’ll be couched in fiction, so it’ll be different, but there’ll be a lot of real life in it.”
By James Kleinmann
Jake Shears 2023 Live dates & singings:
5/30/2023 || Glasgow || SWG3 Warehouse
6/1/2023 || Brighton || Concorde 2
6/2/2023 || London || Village Underground – SOLD OUT
6/4/2023 || London || Mighty Hoopla
6/5/20223 || London || Rough Trade East (In conversation & signing)
6/8/2023 || New York || Barnes & Noble (Signing)
6/18/2023 || Florence || Firenze Rocks
6/24/2023 || Glastonbury || Glastonbury Festival
6/28/2023 || Lytham || Lytham Festival
7/8/2023 || Bristol || Pride
7/23/2023 || Nottingham || Splendour Festival
8/25/2023 || Lincolnshire || Lost Village Festival (DJ Set)
8/27/2023 || Manchester || Pride
For updates on Jake Shears’ live shows head here.