The best damn party band in the world, Scissor Sisters, are heading back to Oz for the Pyramid Rock Festival and Summadayze. It seems like yesterday (actually it was just over a year ago) that they were last here, memorably bringing out Kylie Minogue to perform her single All The Loverswith the band at Festival Hall. The Scissor Sisters have a great relationship with Australia, and they can't wait to get back. "I'm sitting in my house, it's dark and it's cold outside," says guitarist Del Marquis. "Talking to you is a bright spot because I'm thinking about Australia in the middle of my winter." Aww.
"I just pulled up our schedule in case someone quizzed me," Marquis says. "We have the New Year's show at Phillip Island. Then we've got the Summerdaze festival in Melbourne, the Gold Coast and Perth. That's it, those four shows. Festivals are always a blast, and we get to see so many different bands in a way that when we're on tour we don't get to see. It's usually an excuse to find something new or to see a band you haven't seen in a while." So does the guitarist in one of the funkiest bands since funk was ever funked get much of a chance to wander around at festivals, or does he get mobbed by an adoring public? "Oh no, I don't get mobbed. It's nice to be the guitar player because I can walk around, and if someone recognises you it's just a glance or a polite hello. But I don't really get bothered."
Whether it's a festival or the band's own tour, there are certain challenges that come with being the guitarist in Scissor Sisters, but they're not exactly unpleasant. On the last tour for Night Work Marquis had a world class rack of guitar amplification and effects equipment built ("I asked for it for Christmas") and brought in a veritable music stores' worth of guitars. "I got a few new guitars and I switch guitars for every song. It's really obnoxious, I have to say. It's every sixteen-year-old's fantasy. Every song has a new amazing guitar, and I've never been so lucky! Before this tour I was just playing a Line 6 [a digital amplifier that models the sounds of classic amps] and I had just two guitars. But ask and you shall receive!" Marquis justifies the army of axes on purely practical terms, but with a trace of pure guitaristic joy in his voice too. "I need a lot of versatility because there are so many different styles going on. Especially live, I get to play a bit more in the songs that I would on the record. And some things are pretty heavy, some things are rock, some things are borderline metal - something like Harder You Get - I have an Ibanez Iceman [a simultaneously curvaceous and pointy axe popularised by KISS's Paul Stanley] just for that one song. It's such a fuck-off moment. And I have things that are really light, almost country-style, so I have a couple of Fender Telecasters, a Gibson ES-335… the versatility might seem like a challenge but it's actually really liberating. I never get bored."
Yet for all the musical demands of being a Scissor Sister, Marquis doesn't actively study different musical styles so he can call on them if they happen to ever be needed. "No. If we're working on something and it's dare I say lifted or referencing - that's better - referencing something, usually we'll pull up some classic tracks. We might be referencing an album or a style and I'll just listen to it and kind of emulate it as best you can." He started playing guitar when he was 16, taking formal lessons with a teacher for about six months. His early inspirations included The Cure, Jane's Addiction, The Cult, Ozzy Osbourne, U2. As soon as he could teach himself songs by ear he fired the teacher and instead devoted his musical energy to jamming along with his favourite records. He had no interest in music theory - he just wanted to play music in his basement and "pretend I was in a famous band. And so one day I was!"
It didn't quite happen exactly like that though. "A few years before I joined the band I stopped listening to guitar music altogether and was really just listening to the electronic music of the time, like Aphex Twin, and I probably didn't even play my guitar. Once I joined the band I realised I needed to get excited about the guitar again, and I really did, by virtue of how strong the songwriting was and how exciting it was to play over things that stylistically were so different. So I became excited by the guitar again when the band asked me to join them."
Next up for Marquis is a solo album recorded in Minneapolis with members of the original New Power Generation, Prince's old backing band. "I'm really happy with it," he says. "It's a huge leap for me from the first EPs that I put out. I've been doing the production, tweaking it, and now I'm sending the mixes out." The album may not be released under Marquis's name - he's not sure yet how he'll handle that side of things. "One thing I've realised is I really hate being the centre of attention," he says. "I really hate having to explain anything. I almost want to just drop it into the internet ocean. It's just really exciting and fun for me to make, and it's a chance for me to really write more, in a way. I don't really write the songs in the band that I play in. I play guitar over arrangements that are written. But it's what I do, and in the time between albums it's just another way for me to exercise my skills as a guitar player, as an arranger. Even if I'm writing on piano or on another instrument, I know that it's going to enhance whatever I do in the Scissor Sisters." But don't expect a solo tour any time soon. "I'm so spoiled I could never carry my own shit any more. I could never do it! The worry that comes along with it, the burden of being your own tour manager, carting your own equipment, calling the promoter to make sure that everything is there… I did it on a couple of shows and it broke me, man! I'm absolutely incapable of doing it. And I know my limits. I don't want to! I just want to make a nice little pop album in my home studio, and I absolutely do not want to see the inside of a club!"
BY PETER HODGSON
Scissor Sisters play the Pyramid Rock Festival on December 31, and Summadayze on January 1.