Although the rock band Scissor Sisters is based in New York City; it is in the United Kingdom that the group is most famous. In 2004 the band's self-titled debut was the biggest selling record in the United Kingdom, with four Top 20 singles. The quintet gained attention for its flamboyant onstage performances, quirky stage names like Ana Matronic and Babydaddy, and infectious music that the Washington Post's Richard Harrington described as "'70s singer-songwriter craftsmanship mixing with disco camp and stadium rock, punk attitude melding with new romantic couture, transatlantic influences revisited with sincerity and authority rather than kitsch coyness." Scissor Sisters earned a dear friend and collaborator in music legend Elton John, and with the group's three openly gay members, the band's decadent and liberating music found itself more at home in the United Kingdom than in their home country. "They are the most enjoyable pop group to emerge in recent memory," proclaimed Time.
The Scissor Sisters began as a duo in New York City, with Jake Shears (Jason Sellards) and Babydaddy (Scott Hoffman) writing and performing electronic dance songs in their apartment. Shears was studying to be a journalist while working as a go-go dancer at a gay club to earn money. The duo of Shears and Babbydaddy were performing shows around town when they met performance artist Ana Matronic (Ana Lynch). The duo asked Matronic, who was hosting a cabaret night at a Lower East Side club, to join their band as a second vocalist.
Caught up in the short-lived electroclash music trend, the trio pumped out energizing songs with Shears and Matronic on vocals and Babydaddy manning keyboards and bass. The group signed to A Touch of Class Recordings and released their first single, "Electrobix," in 2002. The single's b-side was a disco takeoff of Pink Floyd's classic rock song "Comfortably Numb." After adding guitarist Del Marquis (Derek Gruen) and drummer Paddy Boom (Patrick Seacor) to fill out the Scissor Sisters' live sound, the group slowly built a fan base at gay and dance clubs in the United Kingdom. Things picked up in 2004 and the band signed a U.K. deal with Polydor. The group also began to expand their sound by reaching back to the best of 1970s pop and disco and 1980s electronic music and glam-rock choruses. Taking advantage of the buzz on "Comfortably Numb," the Scissor Sisters headed to the United Kingdom in 2004, where they toured as a headlining act as well as an opening act with Duran Duran.
The Scissor Sisters' music caught the public's interest, with its nods to Elton John and the Bee Gees' finest 1970s moments; but it was their live shows that began to create a frenzy overseas. The band, which signed with Universal Records in the United States, returned there to promote the release of Scissor Sisters. Tracks like "Take Your Mama," "Filthy Gorgeous," and "Comfortably Numb," (re-recorded for the album) pushed the group's fan base beyond their cult following. "Combining classic seventies rock, singer-songwriter pop, vintage disco and recent electroclash," declared Rolling Stone, "Scissor Sisters' debut bridges stylistic and historic gaps with effortless grace and unexpected depth."
The larger-than-life musical style of the band took hold on the U.K. radio charts, but barely touched those in the United States. The Scissor Sisters began to play to larger and larger audiences overseas after their album spawned four Top 20 singles. While Scissor Sisters eventually sold close to 300,000 copies in the United States, it sold over 2.6 million in the United Kingdom and was the biggest selling record there in 2004. Shears told Harrington, the music can be enjoyed by anyone. "I'm not interested in just singing about gay things," he said. "I like to have that mask on it where it can be interpreted in multiple ways. … I could sing about heterosexual romance just as easily as anything else and it would still be interesting to me."
The Scissor Sisters treated their concerts like a theatrical production, with disco nightlife clothing and outrageous stage acts. "What we do is about people displaying their fantasies on the outside, trying to break out of the everyday, and look like their dreams," Matronic stated in the band's official biography. Their over-the-top shows brought all walks of life together. "The music is very transportive, and there is an element of escapism in our record and our music," Matronic told Out's Matthew Breen. "To go onstage and sing a song like ‘Filthy/Gorgeous’ in jeans and a T-shirt is a little silly, so I think we have to be—image-wise-over the top." As Shears told Harrington, the Scissor Sisters' stage outfits are fulfilling a longstanding rock 'n' roll tradition made famous by artist like Queen, David Bowie, and Elton John. "Dressing up and wearing crazy stuff and going for it … that's what rock 'n' roll is all about and what it's always been about," said Shears. "And I think that somewhere in the past 10 or 12 years, that's gotten lost a little bit, it's gotten a bit more casual, pedestrian."
For the Record …
Members include Babydaddy , bass, keyboards, vocals, guitar; Paddy Boom , drums; Del Marquis , guitar; Ana Matronic , vocals; Jake Shears , vocals.
Group formed in New York, NY, c. 2001; released singles "Electrobix" and "Comfortably Numb," 2002; signed to Universal Records, released Scissor Sisters, 2004; released Ta-Dah, 2006.
Awards: Brit Awards, Best International Group, Best International Album and Best International Newcomer, 2005.
Addresses: Record company—Universal, 2220 Colorado Ave., Santa Monica, CA 90404.Website—Scissor Sisters Official Website: http://www.scissorsisters.com.
The band closed out the summer playing dates with Elton John and the year with Grammy nominations for Best Dance Record for "Comfortably Numb." At the end of 2005 the quintet took home Brit Awards for Best International Group, Best International Album, and Best International Newcomer. When the Scissor Sisters finally returned home to New York, exhausted and drained, they began to feel pressure to make a sophomore album that could stand up to their debut. But once primary songwriters Shears and Babydaddy went back to everyday life, they found it wasn't easy to write happy, danceable songs. "We'd been touring for so long that I was still getting adrenaline rushes, which felt like panic attacks," Shears admitted to Out's Tom Donaghy. In response to his feelings, they wrote the peppy disco track "I Don't Feel Like Dancin'." "By singing about not feeling like dancing, it was the only way to write a dance song that was fun, but still came from an honest place," Shears said in the group's bio. The song gave the band a push to write more new songs.
Moving out of Babydaddy's home studio and into a rented building, the band began work on their sophomore record for Universal. Sir Elton John came in to co-write "Intermission" and "I Don't Feel Like Dancin'," also playing piano on the latter. David Bowie's band mate Carlos Alomar added some guitar and Matronic played a bit of piano for the first time. The new collection included songs with a mellower tone. Personal losses, career fulfillment and letdowns all fueled new tracks. "Somehow, we found moments of forgetting and something positive in the struggle. The process wasn't a party," Babydaddy told Donaghy. "A lot of it was finding the light at the end of the tunnel."
In September of 2006 the Scissor Sisters released their sophomore record Ta-Dah. In its first week, the record sold more than 288,000 copies in the United Kingdom, proving the band's international success. "I Don't Feel Like Dancin'" became the band's first number one song. To promote the new record in the United States, the band played to crowds of between one and three thousand, while overseas they packed England's famous Wembley Stadium with more than 11,000 screaming fans. The band's popularity may never reach mass proportions in the United States, but the disparity in their fan bases keeps them humble and happy with what they've chosen to do. "I don't think we're afraid to play anything. Pop should be meaningful again—it shouldn't be a dirty word," Shears proclaimed in their bio. "We're not making fun of anything we do, and there's no way we're going to sound manufactured. Our songs are accessible enough to break through barriers."
Scissor Sisters, Universal, 2004.
Ta-Dah, Universal, 2006.
Time, August 2, 2004.
Washington Post, January 7, 2005.
"Scissor Sisters," All Music Guide,http://www.allmusic.com/ (February 15, 2007).
"Scissor Sisters," Rolling Stone,http://www.rollingstone.com/news/story/6769149/scissor_sisters (February 15, 2007).
"Scissor Sisters: Up Close and Personal"; "They're Gorgeous, You're Filthy," Out,http://www.out.com (February 15, 2007).
Additional information was provided by Girlie Action Media and Universal Records publicity materials, 2007.