Scissor Sisters are certified superstars who sell millions of records and fill massive arenas with their funky mix of retro disco pop -- well, at least in England and the rest of Europe.
There, the quintet is an international hit. But in the United States, their home country, the New York-based band has yet to break through the "cult" barrier -- critically acclaimed but commercially on mainstream's bubble.
Still, Ana Matronic, the group's lone female member, doesn't seem too vexed about the group's inability to pop that bubble stateside.
"I'm not interested in any of what is successful in America right now," says the vocalist. "The last thing I want to be is fodder for American tabloids. That's not the kind of success I want."
In 2000, when vocalist Jake Shears and multi-instrumentalist Babydaddy met Matronic at a Halloween party and formed the band (adding drummer Paddy Boom and guitarist Del Marquis shortly after), success was far from inevitable. Recording a single for independent label A Touch of Class, it was the B-side, a quirky dance cover of Pink Floyd's "Comfortably Numb," that in Britain propelled the band from an underground sensation to a massive crossover act.
When their self-titled debut album -- glammy mix of disco and unabashed pop -- was released in 2004, it sold over 2.5 million copies and became the biggest-selling album of the year.
However, while the group drew raves from critics in the United States, the album sold just 300,000 copies here, making it only a moderate success.
"People think that you have huge success in one country that that must translate everywhere else," says Babydaddy. "But look at David Hasselhoff."
Now, weeks after the release of "Ta-Dah," the band's sophomore effort, the group is seeing a similar sales trajectory, with the album debuting at No. 1 in the United Kingdom, yet peaking at No. 19 domestically. To different audiences, it's the band's campy, playful sound that is both their greatest asset and biggest liability.
"They started out making weird, electronic records and then went full-pelt for the wedding disco thing," says Alex Needham, deputy editor for British music magazine NME. "In America, rock authenticity is a really important thing, whereas in Britain, there aren't so many hang-ups like 'Is it cool to like this?' "
Figuring it out
Matronic, for one, thinks the Scissor Sisters are cool enough just the way they are.
"All my favorite bands ... had the same kinds of success that we are experiencing now in the United States," she says, citing groups like The Cure and The Pixies. "These bands all sold out their tours and didn't sell a great deal of albums. Our first album had a very ordinary success in the States and a very extraordinary success outside the States. But for a band like us who had to go through a more underground way for people to hear our music, we're doing pretty well."
After 18 months of nonstop touring (where therapists and body alignment specialists were called in to re-adjust the band after life on the road), the group settled down in October of last year to begin work on "Ta-Dah." Although the recording location may have changed since the last album -- from multi-instrumentalist Babydaddy's Manhattan apartment to a more professional studio -- the equipment practically stayed the same.
"We basically have our little home studio in a real big 'adult' studio," explains Babydaddy. "We just said, 'We deserve a proper place to go where I'm not waking up in the same place we work.' "
One person who visited the studio was Sir Elton John, who showed up to contribute on the band's first single "I Don't Feel Like Dancin' " and "Intermission." An early champion of the band, the feeling is clearly mutual.
So does he get addressed properly?
"Well, I'll call him 'Sir,' but only sarcastically after I start making fun of all his diamonds," says Matronic, laughing.
Recorded over a span of eight months, "Ta-Dah" expands on the disco-pop sound of the debut with strands of Bee Gees and John mixing with cabaret, funk and rock. While sonically similar to the debut, lyrically, the group takes on more diverse subject matter, including dealing with the ups and downs of success.
"I think a lot of the sentiment on this album has to do with the idea of being in this business and that you are damned to critical hell no matter what you do," says Babydaddy.
"Coming off the road and having the success that we did, we were never gonna be that 'underdog' band again. We have succeeded in a lot of peoples' eyes and from there, there's the people that truly like what you do and the people that don't want you to have too long a ride."
Shears, for one, relishes any newfound pressure.
"When we recorded the first album, we didn't even know what we were doing. We weren't even really a proper band yet. So much has changed. The more that's going on, the more pressures are added and it's exciting. Without it, I wouldn't know what to do with myself."
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