JD Samson was a part of the dance punk group Le Tigre with Johanna Fateman and feminist icon Kathleen Hanna. (Don’t you remember dancing to their song “Deceptacon”?? I know every time it came on in the clubs I used to frequent, about 80-90% of the bar would literally squeeeeal with delight and run to the dance floor). Then sadly, Le Tigre went on hiatus, BUT lucky for us, JD went on to keep making thought-provoking and fun music with her new band MEN.
MEN has already been touring for years. They have opened for amazing artists like The Gossip and Peaches and have ferociously kept pace with them by playing these crazy, high-energy shows, complete with background art installations, such as giant prideful fists and banners proclaiming “SILENCE = DEATH”. They finally settled down from a busy touring schedule and created an album which they released last week on IAMSOUND.
The album is called Talk About Body, and it is a dance revolution that is lyrically provocative. Both smart and political, the album talks about not only body, but gay baby makin’, government profiteering in regards to war, feminism, gender politics, and simply how it feels to be getting too old for the club scene. Last week I got a chance to chat with MEN about the album. We met up in a little parking lot in Silver Lake where got to I climb up into their van and have a conversation with JD, Michael O’Neill, and newest band member, Tami Hart.
Congratulations on your debut album! I just bought it the other day and I love it!! So I understand that MEN started with you and Johanna Fateman (Le Tigre) as like a DJ/ production team, but how did you guys come together with Michael and Ginger?
JD: Well MEN under that name started as like a DJ remix production thing with me and Jo and then we were like “Let’s make some original music.” At the same time I was in a band called Hirsute with Michael, Ginger, and our friend Emily Royston. Basically Emily and Johanna both left the project because they were like “We can’t tour all the time and stuff” for different reasons. So we kind of mixed the two projects together. We took some songs from me and Jo’s time working together and Hirsute, Jo, and Emily were both kinda helping us out and so it became me and Ginger and Michael. And then Ginger recently left actually to do her art, so now Tammy’s with us. It’s kind of cool because people come in and out…
Do Johanna Fateman and Emily Royston still collaborate with you guys at all?
JD: Yeah, Jo helps a lot with consulting and production and stuff. She’ll be like, “Ooh that guitar part is weird” or “I love that thing, you should do that again.” That type of song or something, and Emily is really helpful with lyrics.
I love how positive and happy your music is. It’s fun to listen and dance to, yet it maintains your political sensibilities. Do you think that by putting issues to an infectious dance beat, you are opening more people’s minds that way? Or is it more to create a positive, personal headspace for your listeners, such as queer people, to stand strong themselves?
JD: I think we just really like pop music and dance music and that’s just something we’ve all listened to our whole lives, so I think that just ended up being the kind of music that we make. Obviously for me in Le Tigre, I kind of have this whole thing about making dance music and having people dancing in a crowd. I’m kind of addicted to that feeling.
With your song “Who Am I to Feel So Free,” for me as a gay person, when I’m listening to that song, I kind of feel like I can face anything that the world throws at me. I read on your blog that you’re making a video for it, and I was wondering what it was going to look like.
JD: We just watched it, for the first time like five minutes ago!
So it’s all finished?
JD: Yeah. It’s really crazy. Does anyone else want to talk about it, because I was there…
Michael: Well I only saw the video like five minutes ago, [LAUGHS] and it was really awesome. They shot it in Australia when JD was there over the holidays. I don’t want to give it away, but it’s really awesome. It’s just really surprising.
When is it going to come out? When can people see it?
Michael: I think like the fourteenth of February.
OK, so the same day as when the single comes out.
That’s awesome. I’ll definitely look for it! My favorite song on the album is “Credit Card Babies,” and I love that it’s a dance song about gay people trying to have kids. o what prompted you to write that? Was it something you were thinking about or just an issue that is interesting to you?
JD: Yeah that was probably the one song on the record that was like, “I. Want. There. To. Be. A. Song. About. This.” or something. So I had been working on words, but it ended up being totally different. I think originally the idea for the song was that it was going to be depressing and sad, but then Michael and I had been working on this track…what was it called? “Major MP3”?
JD and Michael in unison: “JD Michael 1”! [LAUGHS]
JD: And so we were working on that track and it was like dance fun time, and I was like, “Whoa what if there was this cool juxtaposition of this kind of depressing idea and this happy song and that would then kind of create this anthem of our frustration?” So yeah it became this totally other thing.
There seems to be a lot of resurgence of interest in riotgrrrl lately, for example with there being a Kathleen Hannah documentary in the works and the Sara Marcus book out, Girls to the Front: The True Story of the Riotgrrrl Revolution. And I saw that you performed Bikini Kill’s “Double Dare Ya” at that benefit show in NYC for the documentary, which was awesome! Do you think that women and queers need a movement like that again or do you think that there is something kind of going on now? Are you guys coming together a little bit?
JD: I think that honestly, it’s kind of like this nostalgic, ya know, retro thing. Like everything always comes back and I think the ’90s are really cool again. So I think that’s why riotgrrrl is back. I don’t think it has that much to do with feminism actually unfortunately. But that is my honest feeling.
I think like it’s really cool to remember a time when feminism was making it into the mainstream and in this particular way and the skill-sharing of riotgrrrl and all these memories. I think that’s cool to see where that’s taken us now, like LadyFest and all kinds of stuff and the Trans Revolution. Of course it’s always cool to look back and see how far we’ve come and the steps along the way. For sure. But um, I do think it’s kind of more of like a fashion thing…Doc Martens. [LAUGHS]
So you guys are going to be on tour until April and then its culminating at Coachella? Is that right? Have you played or gone to Coachella before? Are you excited about that?
JD: Yeah I’ve played Coachella two times, once with Le Tigre, and once with Peaches and I’ve also been there as an audience member or well you know as a…
JD: As a guest [LAUGHS] And I love it. It’s really fun. But it’s like…you know…hot. [LAUGHS] It’s a big deal for us. I was really kind of proud to be invited this year and we’re really, really excited.
JD: Yeah, and it’s always really fun to hang out with other bands. You have this comradery that you don’t really have to talk about anything, because you just know everybody is always touring all the time and you are these transient people who kind of just meet up in random places all over the world. I really enjoy being around other musicians.
Is there anybody out there right now that you would recommend people listen to? That maybe they’re not that well known. For instance, I saw that you posted Light Asylum’s “Dark Allies” video on your blog.
Michael: We love Light Asylum.
JD: Yeah I think they’re like the perfect band. They’re so talented and incredible. Also Creep is really great and really awesome. What else do we like right now?
Michael: There’s a really cool band called Making Friendz from Brooklyn. [LAUGHS]
JD: Tammy’s band! [LAUGHS]
Oh yeah? Are you with them now also?
Tammy: No I’m pouring my energy into touring with MEN and learning to play my parts well. [LAUGHS] But I really like KIT, which is Vice Cooler’s band. They just put out an album, and it’s really rad.
Michael: And Will has a new band; what is it called?
JD: Yeah, Will Schwartz has a new project with Patty Schemel called Psychic Friend. It’s really good, and I really liked the songs I heard on Myspace.
Umm, we really want to go on tour with this person called Liz Bobo. [LAUGHS]
I like that name already!
JD: Yeah I know. Molly, our booking agent, was like, “Are you serious??” I was like, “Yeah I’m serious! Liz Bobo.” So yeah… [LAUGHS]
So I know you did the in-store at Ameoba Records and you’re playing another in store in Long Beach tonight. Are you coming back to LA at all soon?
JD: We’re going to come on March 26th. We’re playing with Jeppe (Laursen) from Junior Senior. He has a new solo project. This is going to be the first time he’s playing live, and he’s going to open our shows in San Francisco, LA, and San Diego.
Thanks very much to MEN for taking the time to interview with me! Like JD said, they will be back in Los Angeles on March 26th. You’ll be able to catch them at the Echoplex! I’ve seen them live before, and I highly recommend it. I mean, so long as you are the sort of person who likes to dance and smile and feel good. Goons and goobers can stay home.
You can also order MEN’s album Talk About Body in your usual spots like iTunes and Amazon.com, or on IAMSOUND.
For more information:
MEN Tour Dates
2/10/11 – Aarhus, Denmark @ Vox Hall
2/11/11 – Amsterdam, The Netherlands @ Trouw
2/12/11 – Utrecht, The Netherlands @ Tivoli
2/14/11 – London UK @ Heaven NME Brat Awards Show w/ Sleigh Bells
2/17/11 – Paris, France @ Nouveau Casino
2/18/11 – St Gallen, Switzerland @ Theatre Palace
2/19/11 – Schaffhausen, Switzerland @ Tap Tab
2/22/11 – Brussels, Belgium @ Botanique
2/24/11 – Vienna, Austria @ Flex club
3/09/11 – New York, NY @ Bowery Ballroom
3/10/11 – Boston, MA @ TT The Bears
3/11/11 – Montreal, PQ @ Il Motore
3/12/11 – Toronto, ONT @ Wrong Bar
3/13/11 – Cleveland, OH @ Grog Shop
3/14/11 – Chicago, IL @ Subterenean
3/15/11 – Madison, WI @ Frequency
3/16/11 – Minneapolis, MN @ Triple Rock
3/18/11 – Denver, CO @ Hi Dive
3/19/11 – Salt Lake City, UT @ Urban Lounge
3/21/11 – Seattle, WA @ Crocodile
3/22/11 – Vancouver, BC @ Biltmore Theater
3/23/11 – Portland, OR @ Rotture
3/25/11 – San Francisco, CA @ Rickshaw Stop
3/26/11 – Los Angeles, CA @ Echoplex
3/27/11 – San Diego, CA @ Casbah
3/28/11 – Phoenix, AZ @ Rhythm Room
3/29/11 – Albuquerque, NM @ Launch Pad
3/30/11 – El Paso, TX @ Lips
3/31/11 – Austin, TX @ Beauty Bar
4/01/11 – Dallas, TX @ Loft
4/02/11 – New Orleans, LA @ Republik
4/03/11 – Atlanta, GA @ EARL
4/04/11 – Chapel Hill, NC @ Local 506
4/05/11 – Washington, DC @ R and R
4/06/11 – Philadelphia, PA @ Kung Fu Necktie
4/07/11 – Brooklyn, NY @ Music Hall of Williamsburg
4/17/11 – COACHELLA