Jake Shears is confidently entering his 40s, and why shouldn’t he? The former Scissor Sisters frontman with the big bushy mustache and falsetto voice, who turned the Big 4-0 on Oct. 3, has hit three major career milestones over the past couple years. He’s made his Broadway debut in the Tony-winning musical Kinky Boots, released his first memoir, Boys Keep Swinging, and issued his debut solo album simply titled Jake Shears.
“I am super happy to turn 40,” he tells SF Weekly. “I feel like I’m in a really good spot and couldn’t be any more happy with how I’m going into it. The only thing I think about is that I would really love to be in a relationship with somebody. But I’m a pretty hard person to date and be with. That’s one of my biggest frustrations now.”
Shears entered his mid-30s in a far darker headspace. His multi-platinum-selling disco-rock band, Scissor Sisters, known for such dance chart toppers as “Filthy/Gorgeous,” “Fire with Fire,” “Only the Horses,” and “Let’s Have a Kiki” had just broken up. His 11-year relationship with director-producer Chris Moukarbel dissolved not long after. Another one-year relationship ended not long after that. Shears found himself single and rudderless, unsure of what to do next.
But with nothing left to lose, he moved to New Orleans, the city he had dreamed of relocating to since the early Scissor Sisters days, to find inspiration. Working with producer Kevin Ratterman (Ray LaMontagne) and a six-piece band in The Big Easy, he regained his rhythm, pouring his personal pain into song and turning his troubles into triumph with the highly personal 12-track Jake Shears album. Inspired by Lou Reed and the Bee Gees, the record will sound familiar to Scissor Sisters fans, while also giving them a clearer window into Shears’ psyche than ever before.
Ahead of his show at the Fillmore on Wednesday, Nov. 14 — with an after party hosted by Juanita More at MORE!jones to follow — Shears spoke to SF Weekly about his solo debut, how he overcame the breakups and breakdowns, and why, although he says he feels sexier than ever before, he doesn’t consider himself dating material right now.
Listening to your solo album, I was expecting to hear a whole new Jake Shears sound, but instead heard a sound that’s distinct yet sits nicely with your Scissor Sisters catalog. Did you ever contemplate going in an entirely new direction for Jake Shears?
After the Scissor Sisters, I felt like I had lost my voice. I didn’t feel comfortable singing. I was so confused for a while. I wanted to get back onstage, but I didn’t know what I was going to do. But I had a realization that I wasn’t interested in reinventing. I have an aesthetic, songwriting style, and musical vocabulary of all my influences that I’ve developed over the years and love and do well. So I decided to embrace my style and take it further than I’ve taken it before. I think that’s why this album is as good as it is.
One of the more painful songs on the album, “Sad Song Backwards,” is about a spurned lover who’s self-medicating with alcohol and drugs to get through. How much of that is autobiographical and how much is fiction?
Some songs on the album are full-on fiction, but all of that stuff that hits close to the bone is very real. But, you know, with something like “Sad Song Backwards,” there’s a sense of humor about it, too.
But this record comes from a very true place inside of me, and because I was more on my own and not having to deal with a band dynamic or think about what everyone was going to think or how they were going to represent something when recording it or onstage, that allowed me to get more personal.
How would you describe the headspace you were in when you recorded Jake Shears?
Going into this record, I was in a lot of pain. When this record started being created, it made me very happy. The record wasn’t created in despair. Writing a song that I adore and love and connect with and want to listen to constantly is the best medicine. It makes me feel so good. And in that way, this album really changed my life. It made me very happy making this music.
So this is more of a breakthrough record than a breakup record?
Some people have called it a “breakup record,” but it really isn’t to me. It definitely talks about that stuff and has emotion to it, but I think it’s super fun in a lot of ways. Yes, there’s lots of different angles to it and it’s sad at times, but overall it’s a really positive and upbeat album.
You’ve gone through an immense transition in your life over the last handful of years: the dissolution of your band, two relationship breakups, and several moves around the country. Why have there been so many major shifts?
I have always struggled with depression and melancholy, and that’s something that I will probably always. One of the things I’ve learned is that if I’ve painted myself into a corner, that can really bring me down, and the only thing that can get me out of it is really switching things up and making huge life decisions.
That’s what I’ve done, just really trying to follow my heart and do whatever is right for me and what’s going to make my life better and me more creative. I’ve learned to do that more and more over the years. It doesn’t mean it’s not always painful.
But yeah, I always want to be on a road to creativity. That’s where my heart is, so if I veer off that road, I get stuck and can’t make anything or do anything till I make decisions in my life to steer the car back on the road.
Did you feel stuck in the Scissor Sisters?
I think there have been moments of feeling stuck, but in the long term, no. But if I was really honest with myself and looked into my crystal ball, I could see myself getting stuck in the future, which is one of the reasons I decided that we needed to hang it up.
I had really been on a streak that was great, and I felt that I had said everything I needed to say. After “Let’s Have a Kiki” came out, what can you say after that? Especially that song and what happened with it, I didn’t know how to follow that success up, and I wasn’t going to sit around and bang my head on a desk and try.
Is that why you called the band quits?
There was that, but the other main reasons were just the fact that no one in this band had expected to be in a big rock band, especially Babydaddy.
When we were starting out, we were just a funny little club act. And, of course, I had major dreams for it. I felt that there was a lot of potential there, but I don’t think anybody expected it, and I felt an immense amount of guilt for that. For 10 years, we were all working for this entity and that entity had the last word over everyone’s life, and I felt like everyone deserved to be set free. So that’s the other reason.
You’ve gone through two difficult romantic breakups in the last three years and in at least three songs on the new album — “S.O.B.,” “Creep City,” and “Palace in the Sky” — you make me question whether you’re ready to be in a new relationship.
I think, at the moment, it’s unfair for me to date anybody. I really want that. I’m a very generous, thoughtful, and kind person, and I think I make a great boyfriend. But I’m also completely self-absorbed, and there are certain things about my life that are just my main priority. Making music and creating stuff, that’s my main thing, and I think that’s really hard for others to deal with, to know they’re number two as far as my passions. But things ebb and flow, so that will probably change.
In 2010, you took part in Dan Savage’s It Gets Better Project. Looking back now, do you feel that it does get better?
I think it can. I can’t make a blatant statement and say it does, but, in general, I think when you’re a teenager, things can seem very overwhelming. But years lived make everybody a little bit wiser and able to put their life into more perspective.
Do you feel as sexy in your 40s as you did in your 20s?
A year ago, I had a boyfriend for a year. I was the most out-of-shape I had ever been, and he was crazy about me. That made me feel really good because he was loving me for who I was and not necessarily the fact that I was totally in shape. So those realizations, I’ve been getting them as I’ve been getting older, and it’s a nice feeling to be loved for who you are and not necessarily for what you look like.
Also, as you get older, the way you feel sexier is that you end up giving less of a fuck. So I feel sexier now than I’ve ever felt. I’m not saying I don’t care. Of course, I have all these issues that we all have, but I have them a little bit less. That makes me feel sexier.
Jake Shears Official Concert After-Party hosted by Juanita MORE!, Wednesday, Nov. 14, 11 p.m. – 1 a.m., at MORE!jones, 620 Jones St. Free with ticket stub.