“She’s the genius,” J.D. Samson says of her girlfriend, singer-songwriter Sia Furler. “I’m clueless.” Samson, a respected musician behind pioneering electroclash band Le Tigre and the new group Men, is referring to her surprising need to frequently ask for Sia’s help in finding the right word to finish her sentences. The busy couple is indulging in a favorite pastime, thrift-store shopping, while on a rare day off together visiting Samson’s hometown, Cleveland.
Besides self-deprecation, the mustachioed, gender-blurring Samson, 32, is full of other surprises. Charismatic, magnetic, and forceful onstage and in video, she is unexpectedly gentle and soft-spoken away from the spotlight. Perhaps it shouldn’t be a surprise to hear her say she relates to another androgynous pop star.
“I totally agree with Michael Jackson, who said he felt more like himself onstage,” she says. “I feel safe and comfortable and strong, even if I’m not playing anything; there’s something about being that close to music being played that’s great for me.”
Out since high school, where she learned to play classical guitar, Samson left the Midwest to attend Sarah Lawrence College, just outside New York City, partly to be near a larger gay population. While studying experimental film, she fell in with the city’s vast feminist punk scene. Soon she met members of Le Tigre and started working with the band as a video projectionist before being asked to join as a musician. The band’s radical political lyrics and urgent dance beats made it one of the most popular and influential of the electro movement of the early 2000s, and Samson became the focus of a lot of press attention. The band is now on hiatus.
Lately, though, Samson’s focus is on Men, a two-piece synth-punk band she fronts alongside guitarist Michael O’Neill (a third member, Ginger Brooks Takahashi, recently left the band to pursue a solo project). The band’s name, taken from a discussion about being more aggressive after a promoter questioned its mainstream appeal and canceled a show (“What would men do?” Samson asked), is emblematic of the band’s softer politics. “Just the nature of who we are and being queer people makes us political,” says O’Neill, 30.
Men’s first album, Talk About Body (released this month on IAmSound Records), is a postmodern collection of danceable anthems, reminiscent of the Talking Heads, a primary influence on the band, though Men is more concerned with queer lifestyle issues. “It’s mostly about money and bodies,” Samson says of the album’s pervasive theme. O’Neill agrees, adding, “We think a lot about our gender and bodies and how that makes people perceive us in the world.”