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Kevin Ritchie
"There is another chapter, and this record is like the definitive line in the sand."
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Solo Sister

Derek Gruen recruits Prince's band for his new solo project


When Fab phones Scissor Sisters guitarist Derek Gruen (aka Del Marquis), he is holed up in a gallery on New York’s Lower East Side installing a friend’s video art show. The 35-year-old is in his element. Before becoming the pop group’s ax-man, he worked in furniture design. “I have some very butch skills,” he says. “I’m in here using a cross-saw, spackle, nail gun and all that kind of shit. I’m looking very un-glamorous.”

During the show’s four-week run, Gruen will stage a series of performances to mark the release of his debut album, Cosmos, under the moniker Slow Knights. When the Sisters decided to take an indefinite hiatus after their European tour last fall, Gruen shifted his attention to the solo project.

He recruited The New Power Generation — Prince’s former backing band — and singers Rod Thomas (aka Bright Light Bright Light), Xavier, Chrissi Poland, Bridget Barkan and Mykal Kilgore to help him realize a glistening funk-pop sound that reflects the slower tempo he hopes to maintain now that the Sisters are hibernating.

“We’ve been dragging our carcasses across the world for a decade, which may not seem like a lot of time for some bands but for us felt like just the right amount,” he says. “I would really like to do something outside of music — like return to design. There is another chapter, and this record is like the definitive line in the sand.”

What is it like going back to playing do-it-yourself shows after touring arenas?
It’s very different. Any young artist is doing so much behind-the-scenes work that people aren’t aware of. Everyone’s presenting the bedroom records with amazing production, and nobody knows if you spent nothing or you spent $20,000 in a fancy studio because the technology is so democratic now.

You still, obviously, have access to an insane number of guitars.
It’s true, but if I’m putting a couple shows together I’m probably not going to have that person that connects my equipment and breaks it down. And no, I don’t need to borrow any guitars!

I’m sure when Prince does a club show he’s not setting up his own equipment.
I have such a good story about Prince. When he was doing that 360 tour where the stage was set up in the middle of the arenas, in order to get him there unnoticed the roadies would hide him in an ATA case — what you would normally put amps in — and roll him through the audience like a fucking vampire. I don’t know if I can call that kind of shot, but it’s something to strive for.

There is a song on the album called “Legendary Children.” What inspired it?
There’s been this recognition of gay history among the younger generation, and there have been documentaries out this year like How To Survive a Plague. There is finally a reflection that there is a history to being queer that you should be proud of. This song is not “We’re fierce and let’s dance,” which is great, but what I’m saying is know your history, share your stories and lament the fact that so many people who fought for gay rights and HIV medication died before they realized their potential.

What’s your greatest guitar moment?
I used to watch a lot of Prince and even Beyoncé performances to figure out how to move and play complicated guitar parts at the same time. There were moments on the Night Work tour where I would choreograph different moments in the songs — especially during solos. Someone watching would say, “Is he actually playing that guitar, because he’s spinning around and I don’t hear any notes being missed?”

When that synthesis came together, that was the most fun for me. I want to be Beyoncé with a guitar. Basically, that’s all I want to do, but now I’m too old. I’m gonna be 36 at the end of the summer, and I don’t want to have a double hip replacement in 10 years. I needed to stop pounding the stage in heels. It’s unnatural.

Cosmos is an independent reliease and is out now on iTunes. Click here for the official website.

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