Jimmy Somerville, best known for his incredible falsetto, was thrust into fame in 1984 as co-founder of the group the “Bronski Beat,” where he released his intriguing hit single “Smalltown Boy.” Reaching #3 on the U.K. charts, the song addresses the topic of gay life and homophobic violence. Somerville had the courage to openly talk about his sexuality and about AIDS when other pop stars such as Boy George, Freddy Mercury and Elton John still danced around the issue.
Back with a disco vengeance, Jimmy is about to release his brand new album “Homage,” and his new track off the record “Back to Me” is already making waves on the U.K. charts. For all of you disco fans who have been hoping to bring disco back, “Homage” fulfills your every wish. His debut single “Travesty” will be released in the U.S. on October 28. The single was written by Jimmy and pays “homage” to the disco era in which he grew up and loved.
I had the best time speaking with Jimmy. He was amazingly funny and expressive, and his Scottish accent was sexy and animated – even when he cursed the words sounded eloquent. Make sure to pick up his single “Travesty” when it releases as it correctly defines what disco is about!
You have a fabulous, brand new album about to be released, and the debut single coming out on October 28. Jimmy, why disco?
You know how strange it was. I was working on a little EP, and the data was going to be a little interesting, electronic kind of, just an EP for fun. And then John, my friend who I work with, said it would be so great to do a disco album. I guess I was feeling that the time was right. It’s always been in my head, always been there waiting for the right moment. So I dragged my disco ball out of the closet and I haven’t looked back.
Your new single “Travesty,” it’s incredible.
I’m really pleased with it, you know. Actually, this is the most excited I’ve been about a body of work in a long time. It’s fun, I think it’s clever and I wanted to make something really the genuine article. It’s all about my youth.
And you loved disco?
Absolutely, I absolutely do. Just like Sandra Bernhard said in the film: She was dancing to “Sylvester” and suddenly the smoke machine came on, and she said, “Someone pass me a tambourine.” Basically that’s in my head, “somebody pass me a tambourine,” and that was a green light to go disco.
You wrote all the songs on the album?
Yes, all of the songs.
Was it more difficult to write disco than the other types of genre you are used to writing?
It just all came so easy. Absolutely just came so easy. I’ve also listened to disco, especially when I was a kid and a teenager. I was absolutely obsessed. It was all just sitting there in my head, and suddenly it was just like a party popper and went “POP,” and everything I’ve ever loved. I just put it all into this album.
In a time when artists skirted gay issues, a little ways back in time, you openly wrote songs such as “Smalltown Boy” that addressed gay issues and homophobic issues. What prompted you to have the courage to speak so openly about your sexuality when people like Freddy Mercury, Boy George and Elton John just skirted the topic?
I think it’s because before I signed the record deal, before we were in like a pop band, we were doing little gigs, and we were involved in some gay underground political projects. We were singing about and playing in gay venues and being very visibly gay. It just happened naturally. Then we started to get some recognition, and when we started to get some interest from the media, it just didn’t seem like an issue for us. It was an issue for everyone else.
You’re from Scotland, but you consider yourself a Londoner, correct?
Oh yes, definitely!
What are your favorite London gay bars? Mine is G-A-Y.
You know, I don’t go to bars anymore. I just hang with friends and do other things. I haven’t been in a gay bar for three years. But the thing is, when you kind of stop drinking and you’re standing in a gay bar, everything looks a bit pristine.
So you’ve been in and out of the music industry through the years. When you aren’t writing or performing, do you sense a void in your life?
For a long time after my contract with London Records, for a good number of years – at least 5 or 6 years – my relationship with them was so toxic that I was kind of beaten down creatively. So it took a long time for me to believe in what I was doing and to actually get into what I was doing. To be honest, this is kind of near the first time that I’ve 100% believed in what I was doing. When I listen back to the album, it’s like I’ve made an album that I would have bought when I was 15. I would have went home and been excited to put it on my turntable, and I think to myself, that’s GOOD! It means I’m pleased with what I’ve done. It means I’m happy.
Do you plan any tours to accompany the album?
I’d like to, but because it’s acoustic and all live – there’s no electronic on this album at all, there’s no computers – it’s all pure live, so I would have to have a band. It would be great, but these things cost money, Budgets, budgets would be the thing to stop it. Hopefully something will happen. It will be some big, rich queen: “Hey Jimmy, I’ll give you lots of money ‘cause I want a DISCO EXTRAVAGANZA!” A queen in Fort Lauderdale who’s rich says, “I can’t take my money with me, let’s go disco!”
Now with all the social media around us, how do you think that that’s caused music to change in the last 30 years?
The music industry has become so controlling. I think you have something there called “Pop Idol” [“American Idol”], and we have all these shows and stuff, and basically these are so controlled by a few people. So I think social media has allowed young, interesting musicians, writers and singers to have a platform, because the industry is so controlled by so few. I think that social media is a really great outlet.
If you could choose two celebrities to be your parents, who would they be?
Oh my goodness! OK, well, this is so difficult because there are so many. I’d have to have somebody who had complete genius, that had some grace. I would have a big old family.
That’s a lot of parents! Just pick two.
I would have a lot of foster parents.
OK, so you’re a new addition to a crayon box . What color are you?
That depends really on where I am, what I’m doing. It would be blue or orange. Orange because there’s a poppy and it’s an orange poppy and it’s my favorite color, and my favorite flower. Maybe orange.
Who inspired you growing up?
The people who inspired me were the people with integrity, people who were brave.
What’s your favorite quality about yourself?
Oh my goodness, that’s a really difficult one, ‘cause first of all I’m an artist, which means I’m completely self obsessed – I’m fucked in the head. I think I’m actually a kind person. My awareness of who I am is probably the greatest gift of them all.
If you were a porn star what would your name be?
Well, I kind of – this will make you laugh. I was kinda into the drag stuff – but if I was a porn star it would be Ginga Lynn.
That’s a real good name. Here’s one for you, if you could pick a celebrity to go to bed with, who would it be?
I would want to go to bed with someone really beautiful, really sexy, sensual, big, hunky man, and then part of me would want to lie in bed with someone like PeeWee Herman. It would be somebody I could have great sex with, I could really laugh with.
What is the one thing you would want me to know about you.
That basically most of my life I’ve lied about my height. I’ve always said I’m 5’5”. I’m actually 5’4”.
I’m actually 5’0”, so no comment!
We have a lot of leg room on airplanes.
Yes, we do.
We have so much space.
Besides the album, anything else you’d like to tell us about?
Just that there’s more to come really. There’s some great stuff that we’re working on, working with the same people and to keep the fun coming basically.
You’re a superhero. Name your powers.
The power I would love more then anything: to stay in the moment. Life would be so much easier.