Mark your calendars, because 2018 will be the year of Jake Shears. The Scissor Sisters frontman is not only taking Broadway by storm in a lead role in Kinky Boots, but he’s also finished an upcoming memoir called Boys Keep Swinging and his first solo album. It’s not surprising to see the multi-talented Shears showcasing his skills across so many projects. What’s more unexpected is the place fueling this creative boon: New Orleans.
For an artist whose career has been closely associated with the New York scene and the Scissor Sisters’ early success across the pond, Shears says the Big Easy has been a huge influence on his work. Shears has spent recent years in the Crescent City and spoke with us about what makes New Orleans so special.
Find out how NOLA factors into his recent work and his favorite places around town in our interview below!
What inspired your initial move to New Orleans?
I was at this crossroads in my life, and I always wanted to be there. When Scissor Sisters would perform down there, it was my favorite place to play. I would get off the bus in the morning and spend as much time as I could just hanging out and walking around. It was just a huge fantasy of mine — as I think it is for a lot of people who visit — to move there. It was two years ago that I just had this moment where I saw the opportunity to just go. So I bought a one-way ticket, I didn’t know anybody, and I left. I rented a place for a few months from a buddy of mine and then just stayed. It felt like home to me. It feels like home to me more than anywhere else.
What is it about the city that resonates with you so much?
Do you have three hours? (Laughs) I could talk and talk and talk about it! First of all, there are no other people on Earth that are as wonderful as New Orleanians. I love the locals. The people down there are the most important thing about this city. It’s such a brilliant town, because one of the biggest industries is tourism. So, there’s this constant influx of new people. But with the locals, there’s this love for visitors, for tourists. I’ve never heard a local grouse about people visiting the city. I think there’s just an incredible welcoming nature within the people of New Orleans that is unbeatable.
Also, the people are funny down there. Everyone’s got such a great sense of humor. You can be anywhere from a streetcar stop to a Rite Aid, and people are just constantly making each other laugh. People talk to each other in public that don’t know each other more than any other place I’ve ever seen. It’s just a lot of fun walking out your front door.
The people of the city are my favorite thing about it, and the second thing that I really love about town is that it’s a music city. The city is built on music, it’s built on jazz, and theres’s music everywhere. I live in the Marigny, I’m right near Frenchmen Street. I just love that I can walk out of my apartment at any time of day and go hear some of the best musicians in the world. Being down there, the more you’re there, the more you can tune into it. I highly recommend one of the great things about New Orleans, the local radio station WWOZ. I highly recommend everyone tune into whenever, they’ve got an app. It’s the local station there. It’s mostly just New Orleans music, jazz and local music just 24 hours a day. It’s pretty awesome.
The third thing that I really love about the city, and this kind of goes along with the people and its welcoming atmosphere, but it’s a place where you’re just allowed to be whoever you are. And you’re encouraged to just be yourself. It’s a very live and let live city in that way. It’s funny, because when I’m down there, I’ve got a bunch of clothes in my apartment and whatnot, but it’s one of the places where I can just throw on whatever’s in front of me and just walk out my door, whether it’s a pair of shorts and T-shirt or whether it’s a naughty nurses uniform or whatever. I can put on anything. I could wear my pajamas and go down to Phoenix Bar and just hang out. It’s place where your self-consciousness can just fall away.
How has the city influenced the music you’re making now?
I’ve always been super inspired by New Orleans music. I’ve always been referencing it in my songs and albums since I’ve started making music. But actually being there, it was such a great place to get work done, strangely enough. Since I’ve moved down there I’ve written and recorded an album, and I’ve written a whole book. There’s something about it where if you want to live your wildest life, that’s there.
But also it’s a great place to turn off and squirrel yourself away and get work done. It’s a great place to get work done. People don’t believe me when I say that, but I get more work done down there than anywhere. It’s because the surroundings are so beautiful, everything is so easy, everything’s walkable. You can be really lazy down there, and it’s the kind of place where you can get up and get everything done by 2 and then be having a cocktail at the Country Club by 2:30.
There’s a studio right near my apartment called Marigny Studios that’s where a ton of people record. Solange is always there recording. It’s a great studio, and it’s two blocks away from my place. So it was kind of the perfect set up where I could just schedule days there, have friends fly in to write and work with me, and also everyone wants to come to New Orleans. It’s an easy way to get friends to come visit you.
Also, on Sundays all the second line parades happen. I recommend anybody going down to try to experience the big Sunday second line parade. They’re just life affirming. They just get this massive community together that plays music and marches down the street for hours. It’s exquisite.
What has your writing process been like on your book?
I started two years ago. When I went down to New Orleans is when I really just started writing it. It’s a memoir. I just went down there and really started from scratch, just kind of vomiting pages and pages and pages. It’s the first book I’ve ever written, so, it was tougher than I thought it would be, but at the same time I’m really happy that I’ve had the kind of free space to do it in…
Once I had a full draft of the book I was really able to start having a good time with it, making connections in it, linking things and creating a kind of arc for it. At first it was really messy. It was a really tough process … It’s just been so exciting to finish it. I just got the galleys last night, and to actually finish something like that just felt really good. It made me realize that it’s something I want to do again. With a book, it’s something you just chip and chip and chip away at it, and then suddenly you have a book. It doesn’t really happen overnight, but one day you just realize that it’s all there.
What are your favorite places in New Orleans to write?
As far as the book goes, in the mornings I would take my laptop and go to Press Street Station, which is in Marigny, it’s right by the train tracks. It’s an awesome place for breakfast. It’s connected to the art school there. Their breakfast is flippin’ amazing. My other place to write is Cafe Who Dat, which is right around the corner from my place. They have some insane corn cakes. I get a chicken fried steak there that’s really scary good. It’s dangerous, though. Finally, I got my kitchen set up and a truck so I could go buy groceries, which really helps the waistline, because I definitely gained a lot of weight.
Just for hangs, my favorite bar there is the Phoenix. It’s right down the street from my place, it’s open 24 hours. It’s the kind of place that they don’t make ‘em like that anymore. It’s like a neighborhood bar from the ‘70s or something, it’s just amazing. I love the balcony at Good Friends, that’s one of my favorite spots. I love 700 Club, as far as a gay bar there that has a lot of locals. It’s not sort of in the middle of the Bourbon Street gay area, it’s a little bit removed from that, which is nice.