EVER SINCE rock'n'roll began more than 50 years ago, it hasn't been uncommon for British and American bands to successfully cross the 'pond' and become transatlantic superstars.
From the Beatles to Coldplay one way and from Elvis to Eminem the other, there are many performers who've found a place in the hearts of audiences on both shores. Many more have failed. And then there are the few who have found more affection 5,600km away than they can ever conjure at home: the Fall and Bush from Britain, the White Stripes and the Strokes from the US.
The latest name to add to this list is Scissor Sisters, the retro-glam popsters from New York who scratched a nostalgic itch among Brits for the music of the 80s, a decade that hitherto had been considered too appalling, superficial and decadent to bother mining for its musical commodities. But in the same way padded shoulders and conspicuous consumption are making a comeback, so too are the sounds of Elton John, U2 and Duran Duran.
'We found a soft spot in people's hearts,' says the band's drummer Paddy Boom, speaking by phone from Tokyo, where the quintet's world tour has rolled. He puts their British appeal down to the fact that the band had a sound 'that just wasn't around at that moment'.
Scissor Sisters first raced to the top of the charts with an audacious (some would say sacrilegious) disco reworking of Pink Floyd's Comfortably Numb. Their eponymous debut album was Britain's biggest seller of 2004 and spawned the hit singles Take Your Mama Out and Filthy/Gorgeous. And among their many celebrity fans were the relics they had unearthed - Elton John, Bono and Simon le Bon.
'We are a unique band. We drew upon influences that have always done well,' Boom says of the Sisters' mixture of glam, rock and 80s pop. He cites the 'glammed-up rock'n'roll' of T-Rex and David Bowie as more accurate inspirations. 'We delved into the ages, not for the sake of it, but because we're into it. It just happens nobody else has been doing that.'
The band's second album, Ta-Dah, also topped the British charts when released last year and confirmed them as more than a passing sensation. Their big single, I Don't Feel Like Dancin' - co-written and performed with Elton John - ingrained itself in the national psyche. Although many younger fans have been won over, a large proportion of their following is handbag-waving mums keen to relive their white mini-skirted youth.
Boom has heard and seen it all the first time around. Born Patrick Seacor in 1968 in Boston, he's the oldest of the band, the straight guy to the flamboyant front duo Ana Matronic and Jake Shears, whose camp style isn't just for show. After years drumming for bands around New York, including seminal indie art-rockers the Sloane Rangers, he was a veteran of the local scene on the cusp of slipping into obscurity. Then he saw an online ad by Scissor Sisters looking for a drummer.
'The band had a little buzz, so I'd heard of them,' he says. 'Their website was cool. There was a sense of style that I liked. I considered myself having a good ear and their demo was catchy.'
He joined singers Shears and Matronic, guitarist Del Marquis and keyboard player Babydaddy with little to lose.
Even in New York's eccentric gay party scene Shears and Matronic were standouts. But Boom hit it off with them straight away. 'We get along well,' he says.
'Bands are very complicated. It's like going on a date, everyone's judgmental right away. But the music has always been first. We're like a family so you have ups and downs.'
With U2 drummer Larry Mullen among his heroes as a boy, as well as Stewart Copeland from the Police, Scissor Sisters' style was a hand-in-glove fit for Boom. The Sisters are known for their gender-defying, drag-party persona, but Boom had no problems adapting.
'I am who you see up on stage,' says the energetic drummer. 'I've always been kind of eccentric. This band is very much an extension of my personality. Someone once wrote that I drummed like I was playing in Metallica. I do play really hard, with a lot of feeling. That provides a lot of the brawn in the band. I don't putz through it. I'm seen as the straight man of the band, but I've grown up around a lot of different kinds of people I appreciate.'
Boom says that the first single he bought as a teenager was the Human League's (Keep Feeling) Fascination. 'It was hard not to be into 80s music at the time because that's what was on the radio and it was all around you,' says Boom, whose early heroes included Naked Eyes, Queen, AC/DC, U2 and American punk rockers such as the Dead Kennedys. 'I still have a side of me that's never going to give in. I'm still a punk rocker.'
Despite the success, the band is irked that they're hardly known outside New York in the US. Shears has had several run-ins with record companies - one chain store refused to stock the band's releases in its 1,100 shops across 26 states, and Wal-Mart banned their debut album because of its coarse language.
'American music fans are just as musically open-minded as their British counterparts,' Shears told music trade magazine Billboard at the time. 'But the powers-that-be in the US may not be as open-minded ... Tons of Americans would love our music, but they don't know we exist.'
Boom says he's happy to have a successful career, regardless of where it is. 'We've toured America - it's just that our success in Britain has been so extensive,' he says, referring to the many musical highlights since they found fame, such as playing Glastonbury and meeting his heroes.
'As a youngster I slept outside for tickets to see U2 ... and out of left field Bono wanders into the dressing room one night. I was tongue-tied, made no sense and probably seemed like a moron,' he says. The Sisters later opened for U2 on their 2004 Vertigo tour.
Despite working with 80s stars, Boom says he's always aware that the limelight can be fleeting. 'People are always saying to me, 'Now that you're famous ...', but there's not many moments that I feel famous. We've had Bono backstage singing our praises. And for me a big moment was when Dave Grohl [of Nirvana and Foo Fighters fame] came to see us in LA. But it can be a momentary glow.'
Fame also brings pressure, especially after the triumph of their debut album. But the critical and commercial success of Ta-Dah has confirmed the band as more than one-hit wonders. Many of the tracks were written while they were touring in 2005, and Boom likes the result because 'there was a little more complexity musically'.
Although the album was recorded as a single disc, the band also put out a bonus disc with six extra tracks. 'Some of those are my favourites,' says Boom, citing the electronic number Transistor, because it's 'space rocky, open-ended and one of those where we cut loose'.
Some say the track signals a future direction for the band, but Boom says there's 'no premeditated direction where the band is going to go', although they'll always be shifting styles. 'If you tried to make the same record over and over again you'd be bankrupt creatively. We've always been a band that has genre-jumped,' he says. 'I've always applauded artists that move on, even if it means a dud album now and then. The real artists have taken risks.'
Then he pauses to reflect on his bravado, and laughs. 'We'll see where we are in 10 years.'
Ta-Dah is out now