In Europe, the Scissor Sisters are full-fledged pop stars, with No. 1 albums and sold-out tours. But in the United States, the brassy and bold five-piece hasn't managed to break through.
The Sisters' 2004 self-titled debut album spent 113 weeks on the U.K. chart, four of them at No. 1, and was the best-selling album of that year, with 2.7 million copies sold; follow-up "Ta-Dah" hit No. 1 and spent 50 weeks on the chart, selling 1.4 million, according to the Official Charts Co. But in the States, "Ta-Dah" topped out at No. 19 on the Billboard 200, "Scissor Sisters" never reached the top 100, and the two albums have sold about 500,000 copies combined, according to Nielsen SoundScan.
But as they prepare to release album No. 3, "Night Work" (Downtown, June 29), the band and its team aren't focused on closing the international gap.
"They blew up in a way that very few acts ever do in the U.K., and trying to replicate that here would not be a logical approach," manager Dave Holmes says.
Instead, they're leveraging the cutting-edge cred and longer-term marketing strategy of their new label, Downtown Music (they were previously on Universal Motown), to reintroduce them to America with what might be their most accessible album yet.
"We're approaching them like a new artist," says Josh Deutsch, chairman/CEO of Downtown, home to Gnarls Barkley and Justice. " 'Night Work' has the kind of energy associated with both their first records."
Produced by dance-pop specialist Stuart Price (Madonna, Seal), the album takes its inspiration from late '70s/late '80s New York, when disco was morphing into house and AIDS was ravaging the nightclub subculture. But the mood isn't bleak: Tracks like "Whole New Way" and "Any Which Way" twitch with a sexy charge, straddling bass-heavy grooves and staccato electro in dance-ready under-four-minute nuggets, with singer Jake Shears' glam rock warble.
But even with a first single like "Fire With Fire"-a go-get-'em power anthem that channels Elton John-the Sisters, with their campy stage show and queer-positive vibe, aren't the easiest band to take wide, something they themselves recognize.
"We do not necessarily plan to break Middle America just yet," says guitarist/co-songwriter Babydaddy, aka Scott Hoffman. "We're a sensitive band to market and we can easily be misunderstood. We see ourselves as career artists: The goal has always been to keep doing what we're doing with enough success to keep it going."
Deutsch's plan is to start by "super-serving" their "rabid following in the dance community," but also to make a run at the mainstream. "We're starting from a small pocket, but their potential fan base is wide open-this record is so well-written and -performed and -produced." He reports that early response at mainstream radio to "Fire" has been "fantastic."
But what happens around the release date is only the beginning: Downtown will potentially be promoting "Night Work" until 2012, which is one of the reasons it was awarded the project. The long-term strategy is a Downtown best practice; the label worked Santigold's "Santogold" for almost two years.
"Most of our records aren't giant instant successes and come from a long, tremendous amount of work and a variety of different revenue streams," Deutsch says. "For the Scissors, we put together a plan that has a very long cycle: A robust licensing effort, lots of online marketing, servicing individual bloggers, plus all the networks and video channels."
The band is launching an international tour in June, hitting Europe first, then Japan, Australia and finally the United States in September. But while it's gone, the wheels will still be turning back home.
"The Scissors have a singular point of view," Deutsch says. "We don't take it for granted that everybody's going to get it the way we get it on day one. But we'll keep grinding away until we reach the largest possible audience."