The cutting edge

Scissor Sisters’ Scott Hoffman is proud of the US band’s gay appeal and its massive following in Ireland and Britain, Ed Power reports

SCISSOR Sisters’ Scott Hoffman is pleading ignorance. “Oh, the power,” he says, shrugging. “I don’t know anything about the power. Maybe we blew everybody away.”

In the corner of a cavernous hotel banqueting hall, the guitarist (stage-name Babydaddy) is doing his best not to answer questions about the band’s controversial appearance, the previous weekend, on the UK version of The Voice.

He has his work cut out. Breathless accounts of Scissor Sisters’ light show overloading the studio rigging, plunging everything into darkness as The Voice was about to go live, are all over the morning tabloids.

“I don’t think there were any problems,” Hoffman deadpans. “Maybe it was people turning off their televisions ’cos they couldn’t take anymore.”

Conversation turns to the New York disco quintet’s fantastic new LP, Magic Hour. In contrast to 2010’s angst bedeviled Night Work, it’s brash and bubbly — the sound of a group falling in love with music all over again. We made the album quickly relative to how we have done things in the past,” says Hoffman. “We decided we would keep it lively by getting some help. We rolled right into it after touring Night Work. It’s funny. Even without a break, it takes a band like us two years to do a record. If you’re Rihanna that’s not an issue. You can have other people create your album for you. It’s crazy.”

By ‘help’ he means cameos from some of Scissor Sisters’ favourite artists. Dance producer Calvin Harris worked on epic lead single ‘Only The Horses’. Elsewhere, The Neptunes’ Pharrell Williams contributes vocals, as does potty-mouthed rapper of the moment Azealia Banks. Inviting outsiders into the studio is a departure for the Sisters.

“I’m sure it was difficult for then to come in,” says Hoffman. “Scissor Sisters have a long history together. We have a specific way of working. It must have been a change for other people. But that’s cool. Having new voices helps push the project along. We gained from the energy of someone else being in the room.”

The cliche about Scissor Sisters is that they’re huge in Ireland and Britain but, at best, a cult affair in America.

“The UK in particular is a phenomenon,” agrees Hoffman. “We’ve had great success there and in Ireland. In the rest of the world we’re kind of an alternative outfit that’s doing well. In America it’s particularly tough because of radio formats — and because we are seen as a ‘gay’ band. In terms of our career we’re really a UK and Ireland act. That’s where we have found our home.”

He is relieved the new record has been well received. Making Night Work, there was a lot of inter-band strife. At one point, singer Jake Shears, lacking inspiration, vanished to Berlin for a month. The rest of Scissor Sisters wondered if he’d be back.

“There have been tensions, absolutely,” says Hoffman. “But never a moment of ‘oh, this band shouldn’t go on’. It’s going to end when we decide it’s right for it to end. This is our passion.”

He started Scissor Sisters with Shears after moving to New York to study at Columbia university. It has always been a chalk and cheese arrangement. Shears is outgoing and attention seeking, Hoffman thoughtful and content to operate behind the scenes. “In terms of our creative relationship, Jake and I could not be more different. I’m not the lead singer, he isn’t the guy at the computer putting together production. He doesn’t have the patience for that. It’s a balance that works.”

In a recent interview the Sisters bemoaned the ‘Disneyfication’ of Manhattan, which has become progressively less sketchy and more tourist friendly over the past decade. Today, Hoffman appears to have softened his opinion.

“I’m the wrong person to ask. Maybe New York has lost some of its charm for me. Perhaps I’m the wrong generation. If you’re young, I’m sure there’s trouble to be found. New York is an ever evolving city. Right now, it’s a tough place to live financially. It’s pushed artists and the struggling youth away. It is still inspiring. What it lacks in nightlife, in decadent culture, it makes up for in wider culture. In theatre, film, dance, the arts — in New York, whatever you want to see, you can see it.”

He has strong thoughts on trends in modern pop. As songwriters and musicians, The Scissor Sisters stand apart from the mainstream. Nowadays, the balance of power is with producers, such as David Guetta, The Neptunes and Rihanna songwriters like The-Dream and Tricky Stewart.

“Producer culture has become a kind of celebrity culture,” says Hoffman. “That’s why it is difficult for us in this world.”

Would they work with a big name producer? “I’m not interested in taking attention away from us. We enjoy collaboration. Ultimately Scissor Sisters is about Scissor Sisters, however. That’s why we’ve always co-produced. We love having a new energy in the room. In the final analysis, though, it has to be about the group.”

Scissor Sisters started out as a fixture on the Manhattan queer scene. They’re okay with the ‘gay band’ label so long as they aren’t caricatured as a latter-day Village People.

“We don’t want to be seen as a novelty,” says Hoffman. “There are plenty of bands that don’t want to be regarded as ‘black bands’, they want to be seen as bands that make music. At the same time, a black band may have a lot of soul. And maybe we, as a ‘gay band’, are a bit flamboyant. People say to us, ‘oh, you don’t want to be a gay band — yet you’re so flamboyant.’ And yeah, there’s a sexual element to what we do that is honest.”

He’s proud of Scissor Sisters’ queer credentials. On hits such as ‘Take Your Mama’ and ‘I Don’t Feel Like Dancing’, they put gayness at the centre of their identity. How many other successful groups can you say that about? “What we have achieved has put us in a unique category,” he says. “We are the first band in the world that is openly gay and successful. Can you think of anyone else? I can’t. Maybe that’s the reason people respect us. Because we’ve always stayed true to who we are.”

Magic Hour is released tomorrow.


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