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BOOKS Shears' genius, musician on memoir 'Boys Keep Swinging'
by Owen Keehnen
2018-04-04

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These days, Jake Shears is busier than ever.

In addition to starring as Charlie Price in Kinky Boots on Broadway, he has an upcoming album in the works, and also recently released the frank, sexy, and very engrossing memoir, Boys Keep Swinging. In the new book, Shears chronicles his youth and life as an outsider, his struggle as an artist in New York City circa the millennium and his eventual success as frontman of the glam-rock band Scissor Sisters.

Windy City Times: Congrats on Kinky Boots on Broadway, your upcoming album and the new memoir, Boys Keep Swinging.

Jake Shears: Thank you!

WCT: What made it the right time to write your book?

JS: The idea came at a perfect time, when I was headed to New Orleans for awhile, and needed something to do to keep me busy. Also, the main period that the book covers is the early 2000's in NYC, which is something that I felt hadn't been written about that much yet.

WCT: In the book you discuss being bullied and coming to terms with your sexuality. What do you consider the most crucial element in your transformation from Arizona kid Jason Sellards to glam rocker/Broadway star Jake Shears?

JS: The most crucial element was New York City itself. I had been searching for a long time for a place that gave me the freedom that I really longed for. I landed here when I was 20, which was the perfect time. New York is always a little hard going, but my appetites were being satiated in a new way.

WCT: In your memoir you talk about being mentored by Dan Savage and Terry Miller after moving to Seattle for school. What was the most important thing they taught you in that role?

JS: I think the best thing about Dan and Terry coming into my life when they did, was that it made me feel like I had an intellectual value. That the stuff I cared about was important. They made me feel like I was actually a special person, and that one day, I could be as interesting as I found they were.

WCT: You also dated Anderson Cooper for a couple months back in the early 2000s. Do you have a favorite AC story?

JS: Neither of us will ever forget when he told me that I was definitely going to have to face reality and get a real job. We still laugh about it.

WCT: In Boys Keep Swinging you talk a lot about your early years in New York City—working as a go-go dancer, the clubs, starting to perform, etc. What was it about the city and the era that made it the perfect time and place for you?

JS: It was still possible to get by in NYC on not a lot of money. I think that's important for anybody who is creative, starting out. I think certain young people nowadays might even be better off in other cities seeing as how cost prohibitive NYC has gotten. The city still had some grit to it, and I loved the feeling that the possibilities were endless.

WCT: Is there a band or artist your fans would be surprised to hear was a musical inspiration to you?

JS: Queens of the Stone Age remains one of my favorite bands of all time. I actually dedicated my book to Josh Homme and his wife, Brody Dalle. Their records are so gorgeous and glam and heavy. One of the new songs on my record, The Bruiser, is definitely influenced.

WCT: Boys Keep Swinging is so well-written. I'm curious as to what book or books have influenced you the most as a person and an artist?

JS: I am a massive reader and a book collector. Favorite writers are Jennifer Egan, Jeff Vandermeer, Haruki Murakami, Nick Cutter, Joe Hill, Nicholson Baker, Patrick McGrath, Sarah Waters, Tom Spanbauer, Donald Ray Pollack, Patrick DeWitt [and] Kelly Link, to name a handful.

WCT: As someone who has been described as an exhibitionist, was there any part of your life that you were especially hesitant to share in the book?

JS: The whole thing. I had a huge amount of anxiety when this book was turned in and as it has come out. Now that people are reading it and liking it, I feel a lot more calmed, but I felt a little vulnerable putting that much personal information into the world.

WCT: With your upcoming solo album, how did the the autonomy of being able to do what you wanted compare to the collaborative energy of working with the band?

JS: It was still a very collaborative experience. But it was extremely liberating knowing that it's only my name on it, and knowing that I'm the only person I really needed to please making it. I think it's going to prove to be one of my best pieces of music work in a long time.

WCT: Do you think your role as an out musician and artist has changed in the Trump era?

JS: I feel that my role as a musician is the same that it always has been, making music that everyone can relate to, that has the ability to bring people together, and to change people's minds.

WCT: How did your Broadway debut as Charlie Price in Kinky Boots come about?

JS: Just with a phone call! That one moment definitely changed the course of my year. Doing this has been one of the great joys of my life. I've learned so much, and I know I'm going to miss it so much when it is over.

WCT: Often, writing a memoir is a way of purging something and learning from the past. What was the biggest thing you realized about your life with writing this installment of your life story?

JS: I realized how much of an era that that time was. It was a completely different time, and though it doesn't feel like that long ago, it actually was. It gave me a lot of confidence, in a way, and made me realize as well, that my story is far from over. There's a hell of a lot more for me to do in this world. It now feels like an entirely new chapter, and that's exciting to me.


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