With Scissor Sisters and as a solo artist, Jake Shears excels at revitalizing classic sounds and bringing queer culture into the mainstream. As Scissor Sisters' charismatic, proudly gay frontman, Shears and company crafts a dynamic combination of '70s-style glitter rock, house music, and electroclash on albums including their self-titled 2004 debut and 2006's Ta-Dah, which won a strong following with the LGBTQ community and in the U.K., where they topped the pop charts. On his own, Shears wrote his memoir and took on stage work that spanned co-writing the music for a musical adaptation of Armistead Maupin's Tales of the City and making his Broadway debut in Kinky Boots. All of these aspects — as well as the creative rebirth he experienced in New Orleans — were reflected in his 2018 self-titled debut album, which cast him as an enduring persona in the vein of his idol Bryan Ferry.
Born Jason Sellards in Mesa, Arizona in 1978, Shears grew up in the Phoenix suburbs, and also spent time living on San Juan Island, Washington, a community just north of Seattle. As a child, his mother took him to see the fantasy film Labyrinth, where he first became fascinated with David Bowie. He discovered Rocky Horror Picture Show, and by his teens was taking guitar lessons with longtime Seattle punk rocker Paul Solger, who introduced him to the Ramones and Iggy and the Stooges. He formed his first band, and at age 15 came out as gay to his parents. After high school, he moved to New York City, where he studied fiction writing at The New School's Eugene Lang College of Liberal Arts, worked as a go-go dancer at a gay bar, and interned at Paper magazine.
Around 2001, inspired by the burgeoning electroclash scene, he adopted the stage name Jake Shears, and paired with longtime friend, keyboardist Scott Hoffman (aka Babydaddy) to form the arty pop outfit Scissor Sisters (a name inspired by a cheeky term for lesbian sex). They attracted audiences by performing in wild costumes, singing along to a pre-recorded synth track. Soon, they expanded to a full lineup featuring singer Ana Lynch (aka Ana Matronic), guitarist Derek Gruen (aka Del Marquis), and drummer Patrick Seacor (aka Paddy Boom). The band's debut album, Scissor Sisters, was a breakthrough, showcasing their combination of '70s-style glitter rock, house music, synthy electroclash sounds, and singer/songwriter pop. It was a breakthrough success, especially in the U.K., where it peaked at number one on the albums chart. Over the next eight years, Shears toured and recorded with Scissor Sisters, releasing a handful of well-received albums that culminated in 2012's Magic Hour.
Around this time, the band went on hiatus and Shears moved with his then-boyfriend, director Chris Moukarbel, to Los Angeles. Separated from longtime Scissor Sisters collaborator Hoffman, he endured several years of creative limbo before returning to the spotlight. After breaking up with Moukarbel in 2015, he struck out on his own, splitting his time between New Orleans and Los Angeles. Shears resumed the theater work he began in 2011 when he co-wrote the music for a stage adaptation of Armistead Maupin's book series Tales of the City, appeared in a staging of the Martin Sherman play Bent, and made his Broadway debut as the star of the musical Kinky Boots. In 2018, he also authored his memoir, Boys Keep Swinging. That year also saw the release of his self-titled debut album. Recorded with collaborators that included the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, Sturgill Simpson's horn section, and members of My Morning Jacket, Jake Shears reflected the creative renaissance Shears experienced during his time in New Orleans. ~ Matt Collar