The title of Jake Shears’s new album makes more sense when you’re aware of his reputation as a bit of a party animal. There was one bash he threw in his New York loft apartment a few years ago, with German producer Boys Noize on DJing duty, that proved particularly memorable after it was raided by police.
“It really all went down in flames, there was about 30 cops in my house – it was mayhem,” Shears recalls, laughing. “But it was really probably the best party I’ve ever thrown.” In New Orleans, where he still owns a home despite relocating to London during the pandemic, they’re a bit more chilled out. “There’s not enough cops to raid a house party, really,” he says. “And my neighbours don’t mind so much when I’m whooping it up.”
Last Man Dancing is the Scissor Sisters frontman’s second solo outing and is a very different proposition to his excellent acclaimed eponymous debut. That 2018 album was written off the back of his soul-baring memoir, Boys Keep Swinging, published the same year, and the end of a long-term relationship.
Speaking over Zoom from his London apartment, Shears is an effervescent presence: friendly, upbeat and open, his shock of newly dyed bright orange hair tucked under a baseball cap. Behind him is a bank of keyboards and his turntables – the two elements that sum up his new album, which fuses his appreciation of pop music with his love of club culture.
Shears, born Jason Sellards in Mesa, Arizona, in 1978, enjoyed global success as a member of Scissor Sisters, thanks to their forward-thinking, trailblazing approach to contemporary pop. However, it’s now more than a decade since the New York-based band went on an indefinite hiatus, and although he keeps in touch with his former bandmates – some more sporadically than others – he says there is no desire yet to regroup.
“Bands are complicated, but we’ve all been through a lot together, and we’ve been on quite a ride together,” he says. “So I think it’s important to try and stay in each other’s lives, as much as possible. I would love [a reunion], I would be super-down; hopefully maybe it’ll happen someday. I just want everyone to be on board, y’know? In the meantime, I can’t stop. I’m a workaholic, so I just gotta keep going.”
He’s not wrong on that front. There were what he calls a few “lost years” after moving to Los Angeles immediately following the band’s hiatus, but Shears has proven a prolific creator in recent years. Aside from his solo output and the memoir, there has been a stint in Broadway musical Kinky Boots, while he has also collaborated with Elton John on the music for Tammy Faye, a musical based on the life of famed American evangelist Tammy Faye Messner. The show debuted to positive reviews in London last year, and the plan is to hopefully move it to either the West End or Broadway. “I really think that show could have an amazing life,” he says. “It’s really fun and I’m really proud of it.”
The musical was one of the reasons for Shears’s relocation to London, although he has been on the move for much of his life. He originally left Los Angeles for New Orleans after he realised that the West Coast was not good for his creativity; although he reignited his spark in NOLA, London has been a good base to write and record because of its “great resources”. His social life, however, took a hit as he moved with his elderly dog Toby, who recently died at the age of 15 and is immortalised on the sleeve of Last Man Dancing.
“So it feels like a new chapter right now, as far as a new album campaign, Toby’s not with me any more…” He sighs. “Nothing ever stays the same, y’know.”
That goes for his evolving musical style, too. It was a “challenging proposition” to find his feet as a solo artist, he says, but while the first album is undoubtedly “the most personal thing” that he’s ever made, “I feel like this one has more potential, probably, as far as being a ‘crowd-pleaser’ goes, in certain ways. There’s more pop songs on it,” he says. “[The debut] was very much like a New Orleans, honky-tonk, southern, Kentucky-fed, sort of grassroots-y record,” he says. “So they’re different albums. I just didn’t want to do something that was a repeat of my first album. And I think I’ve been in a better place, probably. I don’t write that well if I’m down, or if I’m sad, or depressed, or I’ve been going through something. So I think I made sure, for the most part on this record, that all these songs were written when I was in a good mood.”
The new album is deliberately front-loaded with pop songs, while he says there is “some sci-fi sh*t” and prog-rock influences in there, too. The latter half is more influenced by his love of DJing, dance music and club gigs.
“I was thinking of Confessions on a Dance Floor with this,” he says, referencing Madonna’s 2005 album. “I think my first solo record was sort of indulgent in certain ways, and I think the second half of this album is indulgent in certain ways,” he says. “It may not be for everybody, I don’t know. But I love writing pop songs. I love making very accessible stuff and putting that out in the world. But with this album, I did it in a way where I can have that be its own thing, and then let myself go off the rails a little bit, and get dreamy and psychedelic and intense.”
Guests on the album include Kylie Minogue, New Orleans rapper Big Freedia and New York musical/cabaret star Amber Martin, while he samples the voices of Iggy Pop and Jane Fonda on other tracks – the latter’s voice was taken from a 2013 short film they worked on together. At this stage, he has an impressive list of contacts. Elton John is another good friend and has been a collaborator long before they worked on the Tammy Faye musical, having co-written the likes of Scissor Sisters’s mammoth hit, I Don’t Feel Like Dancing, in the past. Shears is open to working with the legendary musician in a more traditional way now that he’s almost finished touring.
“I feel like, yeah, it would be on the cards,” he says. “We talk almost every day. I’m very excited for him to get done touring, because it’s going to give him a lot more leeway to do stuff like that, and I think he’s gonna be so busy. His creativity is always exploding but he’s gonna be able to work every day, if he wants.”
Shears hasn’t quite attained the level of success of his legendary pal yet, but he has nonetheless proven himself to be one of the most interesting and resourceful pop stars of the past 20 years.
“I’m really proud of my career. I feel like ... I dunno,” he says, shaking his head. There’s a long pause as he considers his past. “My wish is just for everything to just be steady. I think it must have been 15 years ago, I asked Sharon Osbourne, randomly, I said, ‘Give me your secret, in a nutshell – Ozzy, you, everything you do: what’s your philosophy?’ And she said, ‘You never wanna get too small, and you never wanna get too big; you just stay right down the middle, and keep it steady’. And I think there’s something to be said for that. I think back on early Scissors days, and just how crazy it got, and how intense and huge; it was amazing and I’d never take it back. But I would also never want to be in that situation again. God, I’m 45 years old now, I don’t think I could handle it again,” he says.
“I don’t know; I’m a very normal guy, and I don’t think of myself in those kinds of terms. I look at people like Iggy, for instance, and Nick Cave, and Elton – who is, of course, one of the biggest stars in the world – but they’re people who’ve just kept going. Those people are massive inspirations to me now, because in another 20 years I still wanna be making stuff.”
If his debut album saw him exorcise some demons, Last Man Dancing has a much simpler manifesto.
“What do I want this album to say about me?” He sighs softly, mulling over the question, before answering decisively. “That the best thing I do is showing people a good time. That’s the bottom line of what I do; I really do like to show people a great time.” He grins, nodding enthusiastically. “I’m the ultimate Libra host – I just want you to have fun.”
Last Man Dancing is out now