JD Samson :: From Le Tigre to MEN
For many queer music aficionado, there is perhaps no act as universally recognized as "awesome" than Le Tigre. Formed in 1998 and best known for bangers like "Deceptacon" and "On the Verge," Le Tigre quickly rose to royalty within a burgeoning electroclash scene that also included and inspired acts like Peaches, Ladytron the Scissor Sisters and the Gossip, just to name a few.
But perhaps no face -- along with its accompanying facial hair -- from that scene has earned as impactful of a legacy as JD Samson. Since Le Tigre went on hiatus in 2007, Samson has continued to tour the world while also working on a new project titled MEN alongside friends Michael O'Neill and Ginger Brooks Takahashi with some input from her fellow Le Tigre kin.
Last month, Samson released her first release under the MEN moniker, a work titled Talk About Body. The album, for the most part, picks up where the Le Tigre party left off, featuring music that inspires both extensive physical and mental exercise through its catchy, poppy dance beats backing up lyrics about gay couples having children and the "wartime economics." It has been met with a mixed critical reaction, but is sure to be embraced in their traditionally euphoric live shows.
Just before Samson kicked off the U.S. leg of MEN's tour promoting her new release, she checked in with a very starstruck EDGE correspondent and offered a glimpse into the unique political and artistic lens that has inspired and influenced so many other artists and activists alike.
Live shows = blind dates?
EDGE: How is life on the road going? What has the response been like for the new album?
JD Samson: It’s been really great so far. We haven’t started this tour in the States yet -- it starts tomorrow in New York, which we’re really excited about -- but we just came back from Europe last Monday. We had a really great time and the record seems to be getting a good reception, even though I don’t really like to read the reviews very much.
EDGE: Throughout your music career, dating back to the Le Tigre days, it seems like you’ve played pretty much everywhere in a wide variety of settings. Do your live shows ever feel like a blind date -- like you can’t ever really anticipate what you’re getting yourself into?
JS: It’s always really interesting. It’s like an energy exchange or hopefully that’s the idea, I think, that mostly we just try to share the moment with the audience. I think that’s the most important thing: To give as much energy as you can so that the audience can give that back to you. That’s why you’re really doing it and that’s something we really look forward to all the time... You play that first song and at the end of it, you’re gauging how interested they are that night. I think it’s really cool to actually not be really able to know what you’re getting yourself into.
EDGE: It sounds like a lot of the songs on your new release were developed while you were on the road. How did playing the songs live inform how they were ultimately fleshed out?
JS: We had a lot of the songs written before we started touring, but they did shape themselves a lot over the course of the tour. Some of them had a totally different drum pattern from when we were playing them live and when we went to the studio, we just started to build them up even more.
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Watch MEN’s video of "Off Our Backs:
Sexual politics in song
EDGE: The songs on this album, perhaps expectantly, touch on a number of political themes. How do you feel about the role that art -- and music specifically -- plays in this current political atmosphere where LGBT people, women and minorities are so often thrown under the political bus?
JS: I think for us, we just kind of move through this world and we’re politically active and aware and I think it’s important for us to write about things that are both beautiful, staggering and also frustrating for us. I think that this is what all musicians do. They write about the things that give them emotion. That just happens to be political issues for us.
There’s always a political environment to discuss and shape your music and I think for us we’re one of those bands that pays attention to that more than just holding hands with someone romantically. I think a lot of people think we’re trying to be didactic and creating this mantra or something, but I think the reality is we’re just kind of telling the world what’s happening. We’re basically saying, "Open your eyes, this is where we are," and whatever people want to do with that information is left up to them.
EDGE: You mentioned in a recent interview that, while playing with Le Tigre, you really prioritized the role your live shows played in offering a safe and welcoming environment for LGBT, queer and/or gender nonconforming kids. How is that priority different (or the same) for you given the affect social networking and the advent of Internet organizing has had on queer communities?
JS: I think that it’s been really interesting for me to put a record out along with this social networking revolution because Le Tigre never did that actually. We weren’t really a part of the Internet because it wasn’t this big before and I think that it was really scary and weird that people could just, like, write reviews and put them online in five seconds and buy the record immediately and comment on things. It was totally weird for me, too.
At the same time, I think it’s really great in terms of opening up the playing field a lot for the queer community. It gives people an opportunity to find their specific community and niche within this huge queer community. But also, I think it’s really problematic because it also separates us. I miss the days of Pride where everyone went, but now there’s Trans Pride and Gay Pride and Lesbian Pride and all this tuff and it throws me off a little bit. I miss when it was just this huge space to celebrate being queer and different. The Internet has changed that in a way that has been uncomfortable, but I think that it’s also been really instrumental in kind of bringing a lot of justice to queer people.
EDGE: What is it like for you to play a queer-specific event, performing alongside other queer-identified performers in front of a mostly gay audience, compared to any other random gig?
JS: It really depends. People ask all the time what’s our favorite festival or city, and it’s kind of interesting because we don’t really have a favorite place we’ve been to. It depends so much on the promoter and the audience who ends up showing up. I think as much as I could say that it’s awesome to play with queer bands and share that stage in front of people who want queer energy and politics, it’s also really great to show up in a straight bar and kind of give out our queerness and open up peoples’ minds.
EDGE: If you could trade places with any one other artist for a week, who would you pick and why?
JS: My old friend from high school Jim Drain is an amazing artist who does a lot of woven art with a lot of color and he can really do anything. He’s in Miami now and I would love to be inside his brain for a week.
EDGE: You were really fantastic in your cameo in the John Cameron Mitchell film Shortbus. Do you aspire to further film endeavors in the future?
JS: There’s actually a Swedish film in the works right now that’s asked me to be in it. I’m always up for whatever. I’m also going to be in a show in May with Emily Roysdon, a collaborator of mine with MEN and some other projects, at the Kitchen in new York -- it’s not film but it’s a theater piece.
EDGE: You also recently mentioned that you’ll be involved in an upcoming project in India. Can you tell me anything more about that?
JS: We’re just kind of starting that conversation right now, but hopefully I’ll know more soon.
EDGE: Besides communication devices and clothes, can you let us in on any of your must-have items that you pack when you’re heading out for a tour?
JS: I am really into this stuff called Lucas’ Papaw Ointment from Australia. It’s great for dry skin or lips or really anything if you get a cut. I’m really into that and sometimes we bring a Shake Weight on tour. I don’t know, I think that’s about it!
EDGE: What else is coming up for you beyond this upcoming tour, which comes to an end at Coachella next month?
JS: We’re really looking forward to playing Michigan Womyn’s Festival again this summer and we’re also going to write a new record, so that’s kind of the big chunk of what we’ll be doing the rest of this year.
JD Samson’s MEN tour includes the following dates in March: Friday, 3/11, Montreal, PQ Il Motore; Saturday, 3/12, Toronto, ONT Sneaky Dee’s; Sunday, 3/13, Cleveland, OH Grog Shop; Monday, 3/14, Chicago, IL Subterranean; Tuesday, 3/15, Madison, WI, Frequency; Wednesday, 3/16, Minneapolis, MN, Triple Rock; Friday, 3/18, Denver, CO Hi Dive; Saturday, 3/19, Salt Lake City, UT, Urban Lounge; Monday, 3/21, Seattle, WA Crocodile; Monday, 3/22 Vancouver, BC, Biltmore Theater; Wednesday, 3/23, Portland, OR, Rotture; Friday, 3/25, San Francisco, CA, Rickshaw Stop; Saturday, 3/26, Los Angeles, CA, Echo Plex; Sunday, 3/27, San Diego, CA, Casbah; Monday, 3/28, Phoenix, AZ, Rhythm Room; Tuesday, 3/29, Albuquerque, NM, Launch Pad; Wednesday, 3/30, El Paso, TX. Lips; Thursday, 3/31, Austin, TX, Beauty Bar. For upcoming dates in April visit the Men Make Music website.
Watch this interview with JD Samson during her Australian tour: