Jake Shears could be a Bee Gee in drag. Or maybe he’s more Electric Light Orchestra in platform heels.
No matter whom you compare him to, you’re unlikely to encompass his musical talent that has been earning fans over the last decade.
You may know him from his leading role in the performance art show-turned international mega-hit, the Scissor Sisters. Or maybe you caught him in “Kinky Boots” on Broadway earlier this year. His debut, self-titled solo record dropped earlier this month and already is racking up hundreds of thousands of video views online.
And Richmonders will get a chance to see him perform when he takes the stage to headline Virginia PrideFest on Saturday, Sept. 22 at Browns Island.
“I like to think about people who are at Pride for their first time,” says Shears in a recent phone interview with Style Weekly. He points out that Pride festivals always make for a unique crowd and he knows plenty of folks will be wide-eyed and excited and maybe even unsure about what to do next.
“I’ve been out since I was 15 and you can get used to it, or take it for granted,” he says. “I really try and think of all those people who are experiencing it for the first time. And that includes straight allies as well.”
Growing up on the Pacific coast, Shears was one of those weirdo art kids that ended up floundering in New York looking for ways to express himself. He worked gay bars and the club scene under the Scissor Sisters moniker with fellow performers Ana Matronic, Babydaddy and other creatively named individuals.
Before long their throwback rock sound, mixed with gaudy stage performances, led to international fame. Their debut record, 2004’s self-titled “Scissor Sisters,” became an international number one hit and earned them legions of fans - but the members kept the focus on the music.
When Scissors went on hiatus in 2012, Shears looked inward to craft his first solo record, “Jake Shears.” The album returns to his love of southern rock and theatrical musicals, offering epic hooks as well as heavy hitting, funky bass lines. Each song was recorded with a full live band in a single take and it shows on the beautifully produced, spontaneous-sounding final product.
Standout tracks include “Big Bushy Mustache” which Shears says started like many other songs he’s written: while humming a tune walking into his house. He’d just gotten out of an 11-year relationship and moved to New Orleans to start his next phase in life.
“When you go through life changes like that, you want to look different,” he says. “So I grew this big mustache and I look down on my keys and there’s a mustache printed on them.”
From there he started humming what would become the song’s hook. But the lyrical meat of the song came from his experiences in the outside world, mustachioed and free.
“All these guys would see my mustache and approach me and tell me they loved it and wished they could grow one but their wives or girlfriends or whoever wouldn’t let them,” he says. “So the song is my call to everyone: If you feel like growing a mustache, just grow it out or stick one on.”
“It makes life more fun,” he says. “I mean, it ages me 10 years, but that’s the price you pay I guess.”
Jake Shears performs at Brown’s Island on Saturday, Sept 22 for free as part of Virginia Pride’s annual PrideFest.