To even the most fickle sets of industry eyes, the Scissor Sisters are an unlikely proposition. Swept up out of New York performance-art anonymity and thrown onto European arena stages with Elton John and Duran Duran, before being driven by some unknown force into your British great-aunt's iPod and her granddaughter's boom box, the overseas ubiquity of the Sisters has reached near universal proportions, with no less than four hit singles from their chart-topping debut. That their introduction was a novel Saturday Night Fever-style recasting of dusty old Pink Floyd's "Comfortably Numb" only emphasized the fact that this isn't supposed to happen.
But here in America, it still hasn't. While the winsome "Take Your Mama," a romping honky chateau detailing the art of coming out of the closet, did receive some VH1 airplay, the band is still a relatively low-key phenomenon here, which may explain why Ana Matronic, the lone girl singer, is stuck in a subway between 42nd and 23rd streets, only returning my phone call after an hour and a half of glamorous queuing.
"Very glamorous, indeed," she laughs.
But the backward take on marketing ("Universal in America didn't really want to do anything with us until they saw how in panned out in the U.K., whether it flew or not. And it did, remarkably," she says) may be working. Already a favorite among those pernicious programmers of MTV's background-music beds and gradually becoming an omnipresent fixture on the network, more and more people in the United States do know of them ... they just aren't quite sure what to know yet.
"I was doing a cabaret show on the Lower East Side called 'Knock Off,'" she says of the Sisters' origins. "Ten days [after Sept. 11], we decided we had to keep going, had to keep doing something. The theme [of 'Knock Off'] that week was Origami Orgy, and Scissor Sisters came and performed. Jake [Shears] was wearing a kimono. I thought they were sexy, smart and ridiculous, which are basically my three favorite things. Then about a month later, they asked me join."
Shortly after her arrival, the band began to realize that it wanted to make the move from New York hipster-kitsch novelty into the realm of "real" band, and accordingly fleshed out to its current quintet roster of Ana Matronic and Shears (who handle the vocals), guitarists Derek G and Del Marquis and bassist/keyboardist Babydaddy. Although the inclusion of "real" musicians legitimizes some aspects of what the Sisters do, it's clear from the first listen that the group is still playing up the more ridiculous aspects of disco, dance and rock music in their songs, resulting in tracks that are extreme in their playful poppiness. However, that wink of irony doesn't do much to dispel the all-out fun to be had when the Sisters are playing.
"At the time [we started], electroclash was out," says Ana, "and it was apparent to us, as it was to many people, that that kind of music wasn't built to last. It was too exclusive of a scene to really go anywhere."
And in a fairly short time, as legend would have it, the Scissor Sisters appear to have gone almost everywhere, even into the mainstream.
"I think that is the true definition of pop: It's something that someone who's 7 and someone who's 77 can pick up and get something out of. And hooray, we found something that does," says Matronic. "In the U.K. it's kind of uniting people, people who never would have found themselves in the same room."
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