ARTICLE JAKE SHEARS
PHOTOGRAPHY RICHARD AVEDON
Cher is a tough woman to get ahold of. Meaning that after almost 50 years in the business, if she doesn’t feel like speaking to you, card-carrying member of the press, well, honey, she’s not gonna. But V had the good fortune to catch up with the mononymous pop deity during her recent spate of television appearances and performances in New York. She was pleased as punch to get on the phone with Jake Shears (whom she affectionately calls by his given name, Jason) of the Scissor Sisters, and we were equally thrilled to listen in. SARAH CRISTOBAL
JAKE SHEARS Let’s talk about the new record, which I’ve gotten to hear a lot of and absolutely love. You sound amazing. What were the biggest challenges of making it?
CHER Getting into the studio. I haven’t made a record in 11 years. But I think my record company was just about to blow me off, ’cause you know, I would have. They just said do it or don’t. So the first thing we did was “Woman’s World” and they seemed to like that. Then I pretty much over-recorded. I’m really enjoying this, but I have to say that it’s a little bit different. I’m singing higher notes and I’m singing better, which is kind of freaky, because I should be having to bring down my keys, but these are the highest songs I’ve sung.
JS It seems like you don’t know what an incredible singer you are. Do you still feel insecurity about your voice?
CHER Of course I do, you know that.
JS I used to get nervous before I went on stage and I thought to myself, When I stop getting nervous is the day that I need to hang it up.
CHER I have to tell myself that too. The other night before I went on The Voice, I thought, Oh, this is too crazy. Get yourself to a home. This is insane. I was really nervous. The song [“Woman’s World”] is hard because there’s no place to take a breath. It’s some sort of zealous thing—there are literally five breaths in the whole song. Plus, I haven’t sung in front of anybody. I haven’t been on television to sing live since, I don’t know, McKinley was president.
JS What do you notice in an audience when you’re performing?
CHER I see them all. I’m really lucky [with my concerts]. It seems like the party has started before I even get there and everyone is having a really good time. Another thing, when I walk on the stage, I make sure that the music and my foot get there at the same time. I don’t do well with extra time. Once I was doing the MTV Video Music Awards and we got out of the car, walked onto the stage, the guys plugged in, and we were on. And that’s the way I like to do it.
JS I saw you opening night when you did Vegas at Caesars Palace. I had so much fun. What did you take away from nearly three years in Vegas?
CHER Vegas was never a place that I liked. It was always hard on my voice, and I always ended up in the hospital. The people were kind of sedated and older, so it took me a long time to decide to let those people enjoy their show the way they wanted to and not the way I wanted them to. When I kind of made peace with that, I was a lot better. And then I changed the whole first part of the show, ’cause I just got so bored. I wish we had recorded it, but we didn’t. I just came out as a pimp and created this horrible old 42nd Street pimps-and-hookers scenario. We had this old yellow cab and this long limousine and I did two Bob Seger songs. Then I came out in this amazing pimp outfit. And then I disappeared, I went into the cab as the guy, and I came out of the cab looking like Jessica Rabbit. It got to be more fun. I can’t work unless it’s fun. I’m too immature.
JS I’m the same way. How would you compare playing a really intense concert to filming a really emotional scene?
CHER That’s a hard one, because you’re really worn out either way. In one you’ve done a great job and everyone’s had a really great time, the other is that you’ve been crying for three days and you just want to stick needles in your eyes. Meryl [Streep] and I once had a scene, in Silkwood, that took a long time to shoot. We started fighting in the kitchen and then in the living room, then on the porch. Then we sat on the swing and we were crying. It takes a while to do that. It’s a different thing. One is being really exhausted from fun and the other is being exhausted from being so emotional that you want to rip up your whole house.
JS I love that answer.
CHER I relate to singing as going to a party that someone else is giving and acting as going to a party that you are giving. It’s just emotionally different.
JS This issue of V is about icons. Which people have really been your idols?
CHER Elvis and, well, there have been different people at different times, but it’s really weird because mostly they’ve been men. When Joni [Mitchell] was making Court and Spark I was with David [Geffen], so every night when she would come in we would hang out and talk. I think Joni’s a genius. And there are great performers. I love K.D. Lang. It’s hard, you put me on the spot, and if I walk away from this telephone, hang up, I’m going to think of 50 people.
JS I think K.D. Lang and Elvis are pretty amazing.
CHER They’re the same person, right?
JS When you called me to sing on “Take It Like a Man,” I was so excited. When all your dreams come true, is it hard to create new goals to work toward?
CHER I don’t think that we are born with a finite number of dreams. One thing about dreams is that they can be whatever you want them to be, you don’t have to put a limit on them, you don’t even have to know them. You might have a dream that you don’t even know yet, you know? When I got a chance to direct If These Walls Could Talk, I didn’t really know that that was a dream. My sister said, “Tell them you want to do it, tell them you want to act in it but you don’t want to do the second one and you want to direct the third one.” And I was like, Okay, that sounds good. I didn’t even know it was a dream, and then it was.
JS Let’s talk about technology for just a second.
CHER I hope you grade on a curve.
JS You’re very outspoken on Twitter. I love how you say what you want. Do you feel like it gives you a different kind of voice?
CHER Yeah, and sometimes I think that I shouldn’t do it as much. When you’re by yourself, it seems so familiar, and you can get into so much trouble. God knows I have. I either sound like Einstein or some sort of Cro-Magnon man. It’s dangerous for me, but I end up saying what I want and I’m not so sure that certain people can do that. And sometimes even I have to go, Nah, Cher, you can’t.
JS I find myself deleting stuff all the time.
CHER I’ll wake up in the middle of the night and have something that I’ll want to say. My mother wanted to tweet and I went, “No, the absolute answer to that, Mother, is no.” I’d have to leave the universe if my 87-year-old mother got to tweet.
JS She’s so beautiful, by the way.
CHER I know, isn’t she amazing? She just finished two days on RuPaul’s show. My mother is just so with it and swears like a sailor, except she won’t admit it. She always is surprised if I say “fuck.” Like, Oh my god, shut my mouth. She’s crazy smart, and my sister is too. I’m the one with the least pencils in the box.
JS You seem like you’re close with your family, with your kids. We have mutual friends you’re very close to, it’s almost like you’ve built a whole familial environment.
CHER I love my family, and God knows we’ve had our differences and we fight big and we love big. I have my extended family—the Starks, the Rodkins. Some of my friends I’ve had my whole life. And I have so many little friends too, because everyone has children and children just love me, so I just get along with everybody. Sometimes I can be a bitch to my family, so it’s hard. I’m kind of the little girl with the curl. I mean, I’m fabulous, but I can be cranky. But mostly I’m good with my family and everybody comes to me with their problems, and I go to my mom when I’m desperate.
JS Well, I’ve got two more little dumb questions for you now.
CHER Dumber than these? Have you been listening, Jason? [laughs]
JS I just got a tattoo and it’s a bloody mess. What should I do?
CHER Go to any good tattoo parlor, because you want to catch that. You don’t want to get sick, but you also don’t want your tattoo ruined. Was that one of your questions?
JS ’Cause I know you’re a tattoo lady. You know what you’re doing.
CHER They started making tattoos so much cooler and every girl and every preschooler has a tattoo and I just wish I didn’t have mine. I’d like to start over. I would like to take off my tattoos, and especially the one on my butt, but how would I sleep? I’d have to sleep on my stomach and I don’t like that. When I got tattooed, nobody was tattooed. It was me, Janis Joplin, and I don’t even know.
JS Is there anything else that you want to say about your new record?
CHER I hope it’s good. I think some of the songs are good, and I’m proud of it, I think, on the whole. I’m not embarrassed, and that’s always a good thing. I think if you’re a Cher fan you’ll definitely be happy and not disappointed.
JS I love the stuff I’ve heard. “Sirens” is great. And I love the one that I sing on, “Take It Like a Man.” I hope you make it a single.
CHER I hope I do too. There are two obvious singles, and that’s one. I think it will be a dance record for sure. “Take It Like a Man” and “Dressed to Kill” are most like “Woman’s World.” “Sirens” is more like U2, wouldn’t you think? The Pink song, “I Walk Alone,” is kind of bittersweet in a way that only Pink can write. The other one that she wrote, “Lie to Me,” is kind of really bizarre and has a banjo in it. One song [“Lovers Forever”] I wrote with my friend, for Interview with the Vampire. We got turned down and I just kept it in the back of my mind for the longest time. There are a few dance songs, like four or five, and some that are kind of disco-sounding. “Take It Like a Man” is a great balls-to-the-wall dance. There’s no disguising it, it is what it is, and I can only wait till the boys hear it. I can’t wait.
JS I can’t wait to hear the finished version. It was just about done when I listened to it.
CHER It’s not mixed yet, but when it is I’ll be happy to play it for you. But it’s a lot harder now. And also we used Auto-Tune on it, which is really fun.
JS Yeah? Cool.
CHER So, you know every secret now?
JS Yes! I’ve pretty much gone through all of my questions.
CHER I like your interviewing technique, it didn’t hurt at all. It’s fun to be interviewed by someone who knows you. I’m not sure if it would work with everybody, but it was fun today.
JS I had a good time too.
Closer to the Truth is out on September 24