MEN: (from left) Ginger Brooks Takahashi, JD Samson and Michael O'Neill
Issues of body and gender have always been tangled up in JD Samson's music. An androgynous woman known for her activism in the gay and lesbian community, Samson was one third of the band Le Tigre and a member of the touring band for Peaches. When Le Tigre went on hiatus in 2007, Samson started MEN as a remix project. Like the band's lineage and genesis suggest, many of the songs on its debut album, Talk About Body, are designed for dance floors, and many are freighted with ideas about politics and sexuality.
When we asked Samson about her favorite song on the album, she picked "If You Want Something," and explained that even though the lyrics are vague, it's no less political.
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What do you like about "If You Want Something?"
I like a lot of things about it. To me one of the things that's really exciting is that it was kind of like the last song we wrote for the record. This record took like three years from beginning to end because we kept touring all the time in between so I think that actually we kind of got sick of a lot of the songs that we like picked at and perfected to this crazy extent. And I think that this song was truly kind of like this outburst.
Where did that lyric come from? It's just the one lyric ("If you want something / Then you've got something / If you want something / Right now you're gonna get it") repeated through the whole song, right?
Yeah, there's one part where it changes a little bit, that says, "we can have just what we want, it's all up to you." I guess it just came out of this spiritual Deepak [Chopra] moment that I was having in realizing that you really can have whatever you want, you just have to make it happen. And it was just one of those moments in writing music where you have a chord progression and you have a rhythm and that's what comes out of you.
It's a phrase that could mean a lot of things, political or sexual, but it could also be meta, self-referential, as in: "If you want this song right now, you're gonna get it." Was there a specific thing you were thinking about when you sang it?
It came out a conversation that was kind of about life and decisions that you make. More sentimental self-appreciation confidence-building workshop with a friend where I was like, "I can be as happy as I want to be." For a long time the song was actually called "The Path That Brings The Greatest Fulfillment," which is actually a Deepak quote, but then we lost that and we just decided to go for the obvious choice of "If You Want Something."
Do you like that aspect of it being vague, that different audiences are going to take something different from the song?
Of course. I think that's what makes a good song in general. And I think that's what people really like about music is relating to it in whatever way they can. And I think that's what's really cool about it is you can listen to it as a conceptual explanation of what the music is doing in the song, or you can take it to whatever you want. It can be about love. It can be about money. It can be about your career. Whatever. And it doesn't' really matter to me what it means to other people.
It feels very much like a dance song from its opening seconds – did you originally hear it, in your head, as a dance song?
Yeah, I guess so. I had this drum pattern and an arpeggiating bass part that's pretty bouncy. So it always kind of had this bouncy dancey feel and the BPM is pretty high, so it was always felt of as a dance track but once there was guitar on it and it became this funky punk guitar, I think that was a moment at which it turned for me into this ultimate jam. And that's when I had the idea to not make it verse/chorus, you know?
The part about it to me that's really awesome is that it is so monotonous – that sample running through, that conga loop that's continuous, the bass line that's continuous, and the vocal is monotonous and continuous – and then there's this guitar that keeps coming at you from different angles and trying to take you to all these different lands. And synths that do that too. But there's no pattern in that. And the moment at which everything changes – it's kind of like: "Right now you're gonna get it" – the bass gets synth-y and it becomes this total filtered drum moment and everything takes this turn. That is the exact conceptual reason I make music.
On a record that has some songs that make explicit political statements, this one is much more open-ended. We've talked with some other people recently about the politics inherent in dance music even when the music itself doesn't have a political message. Is that part of your feelings about dance music as a whole?
The reason I make dance music is that it's so directly connected to your body and ways you can move it and take up that space and enjoy taking up that space with other pelple that you relate to and that you enjoy being around. And I think that's the main reason that dance music is political to me, is that the kind of attention put on your own physical being is political to me, probably because of the body that I'm in but also because I think that paying attention to identity politics is really important. So in this case, yeah, I think that it being a dance song does make it more political even though it's not speaking to anything specific.