SCOTT SIMON, host:
It's Saturday - what a nice time to take your mother out.
(Soundbite of song, "Take Your Mama")
SCISSOR SISTERS (Music Group): (Singing) Gonna take your mama out all night. Yeah, we'll show her what it's all about. We'll get her jacked up on cheap champagne. We'll let the good times roll all out...
SIMON: That's Scissor Sisters' hit song from the 2004 "Take Your Mama." The band slashed their way onto the U.K. music charts with the biggest selling album of the year - not bad for a debut - and since gone on to sell more than seven million albums, won numerous music awards, collected an array of fans around the world and have been called one of the most enjoyable pop groups in recent memory by Time magazine.
It's been four years since the band's last album. They're back, dazzling as ever, with "Night Work."
(Soundbite of song, "Night Work")
SCISSOR SISTERS: (Singing) And I sleep all day and wake myself in the shadows, time to get up, time to get up. I gotta catch that train about midnight for the night work, time to do the night work. Punch that clock and break all the numbers...
SIMON: Jake Shears and Babydaddy of the Scissor Sisters join us from the Village Studios in Los Angeles. Thanks very much for being with us.
BABYDADDY (Scissor Sisters): Thank you for having us.
SIMON: How are you guys sisters?
BABBYDADDY: We go way back, don't we.
Mr. JAKE SHEARS (Scissor Sisters): We do. We've known each other for a long time. Babydaddy and I met when we were both still in college through a mutual friend and then we ended up in New York at the same time. So we were friends for a - for years before we started making music together.
BABYDADDY: Jake was a go-go dancer in New York and I started helping him make background music for his go-go routine.
Mr. SHEARS: I got kind of bored. I mean, I really enjoyed dancing in clubs, like, you know, in my underwear - it was really fun. And I had a good time but I think I had this realization that I could do a little bit more with that. And then when we started performing together on stage, we became Scissor Sisters.
SIMON: The cover is arresting, while we're talking about underwear. It's a black and white photo of a man's well-proportioned derriere.
Mr. SHEARS: It's a Robert Mapplethorpe photograph and it's a ballet dancer named Peter Reed. I knew it was the cover for this album. It just summed everything up about this album. It's just a really playful, sexy, hot cover.
BABYDADDY: Maybe you could say that the album cover is a good metaphor for us as a band. I think on the surface it may be fun, it may be even frivolous at times and not look like there's maybe much under the surface to some people. But what this photo, I think, represents, especially to Jake, is a lost time, a time that was lost to AIDS, a time that was lost to people taking real risks in nightlife.
Mr. SHEARS: It's a shout-out to that whole - you know, there's a whole generation that died. And a lot of creative people passed away and a lot of people that were in their prime.
SIMON: Robert Mapplethorpe included, we should say.
Mr. SHEARS: Being one of them, and that's why it was real - and...
BABYDADDY: And Peter Reed himself.
Mr. SHEARS: ...and Peter Reed, who's the model in the photo.
SIMON: Let's listen to your song, "Invisible Light."
(Soundbite of song, "Invisible Light")
SCISSOR SISTERS: (Singing) At the doors of Babylon, you are my Zion. Pacing tiger, the keeper's cage. Invisible light shoots from your eyes. A sign I can see from my high rise. Another castle crumbles, another monkey falls, just open up your joy and let the sailors climb the walls. I thought I saw you laughing 10 feet in the air. It doesn't matter if they touch you where because you can give me, an invisible light...
SIMON: What's the invisible light?
Mr. SHEARS: The invisible light is that moment of euphoria on the dance floor, when just the music is perfect and you're feeling good and you're in an amazing club with a great sound system. And, you know, when all those elements are lined up, you can really get lost in yourself. And it's just one of the best feelings in the world.
And I always find a lot of inspiration from that. I can take a snapshot of that moment and pull songs out of that. That may sound crazy. Does that sound bananas?
BABYDADDY: A little bit. No. I think it's funny. I think it's harder for maybe American culture to grasp because we didn't discover it until we went overseas. It's like a tribal ritual over there, to get together and dance all night.
Mr. SHEARS: It can be, yeah.
SIMON: I mean, we should explain for your millions of fans in the United States, although Scissor Sisters is popular all over the world - you have essentially been adopted in the U.K.
Mr. SHEARS: When we were starting out, there weren't any American record labels that wanted to sign us. So we, you know, it was a British record label, Polydor, that signed us initially. So it's kind of - that's where our sort of musical base is.
SIMON: Which brings in a guest appearance you have on this CD. Toward the end of "Invisible Light" you hear this familiar voice.
(Soundbite of song, "Invisible Light")
Sir IAN MCKELLEN (Actor): Whose laser gaze penetrates the sparkling theater of excess and strobed lights. Painted whores, sexual gladiators, fiercely old party children, all wake from their slumber to debut the bacchanal. Come to the light. Into the light...
SIMON: That's Sir Ian McKellen.
Mr. SHEARS: Yes.
SIMON: How did you get Sir Ian McKellen to do this?
BABYDADDY: We just called him up.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. SHEARS: He's a fan. You know, he's come to our shows and he's, you know, we've met him many times. And he was performing "Waiting for Godot" with Patrick Stewart in the West End. And we showed up at the theater with digital recording equipment and recorded him right there.
BABYDADDY: It was amazing. I'll never forget it. It was hard not to burst into laughter 'cause he sounds like God.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. SHEARS: We did think about the voice of God and his name was the first one that came up.
SIMON: You mentioned that you met when you were in college, right?
Mr. SHEARS: We were really a band born out of September 11th.
SIMON: I have heard this story, that in fact your first performance, was it even just 10 days after...
Mr. SHEARS: Ten days later. It was...
BABYDADDY: September 21.
Mr. SHEARS: ...September 21. It was such a strange time and we had been, you know, we had just been playing around in the studio and making these funny little songs. And I just remember sitting there saying to Scott, Babydaddy here, I was just like, why don't we find a place to perform one of these? The feeling that night, it was very it was almost very urgent. It felt like there was a reason for everyone to be there, everyone entertaining each other.
BABYDADDY: And the nightlife at that moment was really wild. People were just happy to be with each other and it was an amazing moment.
SIMON: Let's listen, if we could, to your song "Fire with Fire."
(Soundbite of song, "Fire with Fire")
SCISSOR SISTERS: (Singing) You can see that you're being surrounded every direction. Love was just something you found to add to your collection. It used to seem we were number one, but now it sounds so far away. I had a dream we were running from, some blazing arrows yesterday. You say fight fire with fire, fire with fire, fire with fire...
SIMON: We're speaking with Jay Shears and Babydaddy of Scissor Sisters. What can you tell us about this song?
Mr. SHEARS: That song was one of the last songs that we wrote for this album, and it took us a while to get this record started. We'd been writing for a long time. We were working on a record for about 18 months that we essentially scrapped, and that was a really hard decision to make. And...
SIMON: Now, is this - does this story in any way relate to Elton John? 'Cause I've heard a story.
Mr. SHEARS: It does in a way. I mean, he's one of our best friends and he's almost like a member of the band himself. He's very spiritually invested in what we do. And there came a point where Babydaddy went down to Atlanta to visit and took some semblance of a record with him.
SIMON: That's where...
BABYDADDY: It was...
SIMON: That's where Sir Elton has one of his homes (unintelligible)...
Mr. SHEARS: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
BABYDADDY: His main home. He called me up and said, do you want me to be honest with you? And I said, of course. And he just said, this isn't it. This isn't this isn't the record.
Mr. SHEARS: I think we knew that. The real truth to it is that we write a lot of music and I think there was a lot of music that wasn't pointing us in the right direction yet. We didn't go into a fancy studio somewhere and scrap a million dollars' worth of recording sessions. We write in our little studio in New York and we have maybe too much of a classic style in terms of how we sit down and work at something instead of, oh, let's hire some great songwriters to fix this for us or let's have the record label find us a solution.
We just work at it and it wasn't - clearly wasn't working.
BABYDADDY: To go roundabout back to "Fire with Fire" - it was pretty much the last song we wrote for this record, and it's a song about seeing the light at the end of that tunnel and realizing that we were going to go on. I mean, I didn't know, you know, a year and a half ago if we were ever going to make another record again or if we were ever going to be onstage again. And, you know, that's really like our greatest passion, is performing and making music.
SIMON: Gentlemen, been a real pleasure talking to the Scissor Sisters.
Mr. SHEARS: Same here.
BABYDADDY: Thank you so much.
Mr. SHEARS: Thank you very much.
SIMON: Jake Shears, Babydaddy of Scissor Sisters. "Night Work" is the Scissor Sisters' latest album. It's out now. Jake Shears and Babydaddy joined us from the Village Studios in Los Angeles. Is there a song you want to recommend that we go out on?
BABYDADDY: (Unintelligible) say that we're promoting.
Mr. SHEARS: We're going to promote our new album, "Night Work," and let's play "Running Out."
(Soundbite of song, "Running Out")
SCISSOR SISTERS: (Singing) One, two, three, four, give me more. 'Cause I think we're going down. What you need it for? (Unintelligible)...
SIMON: You can hear more Scissor Sisters without me talking over it at our website, NPRMusic.org.
This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.
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