For some, work is a chore. For JD Samson & Men, music is a labor of love. Nowhere is that more apparent than on the electronic outfit's new, aptly titled album, "Labor." The LP's 13 tracks tackle heavy, highly personal topics suited for a therapy session -- gender identity, relationships, the challenges of making it in today's musical landscape -- yet listeners will likely experience a post-confessional lightness, buoyed by Men's synth-driven dance sound. I recently spoke to JD Samson about "Labor," the tour, gender identity, ex-bandmate Kathleen Hanna, and her favorite apps.
How would you describe a Men show to the uninitiated?
A Men show is always different. Sometimes it's dreamy, smoky, and soft. Sometimes it's hard, punk, and quirky. But what I aspire to do is always create a different experience for the audience. The show is real life. It's what we are feeling. It's who we are. It's how we move.
Check out Men's "Who Am I to Feel So Free":
Your music is both provocative and danceable. But when sociopolitical lyrics are layered atop dance music, are audiences getting the messages?
I don't really care if they are listening to the lyrics or not. Throughout the history of my work, some people are there to appreciate the context and the content, and some people are there because they enjoy the genre of music or the songwriting. To be honest, that juxtaposition of the crowd is what makes our community fit together. There are all kinds of people feeling all kinds of things, and we are happy to be creating the space. We aren't trying to preach; we are just trying to be real.
You recently posted the cover of your "Deconstruct Me" single on your Web site. For those who don't know, it's a photo of a peeled banana protruding from a crotch. Will gender always play such a strong role in your music and imagery?
Photographer Daphne Fitzpatrick commissioned the cover of the single. I played her the song and let her choose the photo of hers that she felt most defined the track. To her, the song felt like a butch narrative, and she wanted to portray that with the image. When collaborating with visual artists on cover images, it's important to me that they feel like their work is showcasing the music. So I was happy to let her have a significant amount of control over the imagery.
In terms of gender playing such a large role in my work, I'm not sure I know how to answer that. Gender expression is a large part of my life. It's what defines me in public and the way I relate to many situations. In some ways I'm sure it will always be there. But with this last record, I think it was less literal than in the past. So perhaps my private voice is leaking out.
On another track, you focus on Olympic athlete Caster Semenya, who was the subject of much gender debate back in 2010. Do you feel a connection to her?
I felt an emotional connection when I heard the story of Caster Semenya. That developed even further when I saw images of her face during the controversy over her sex. I chose to write a song from a first-person perspective, as I thought it would be an interesting way to find the ways that I felt we connected -- through the embarrassment of being wrongly identified and to be a "gender outlaw" in a very public way. I'm sure we have different experiences for a lot of reasons, but I saw a community hold Caster Semenya up and protect her. I saw a woman that was only willing to be herself. And I saw a woman who people tried their best to tear down, but she would never let them succeed.
You've spoken at length about the difficulties of surviving in today's music industry. How do you personally survive as an indie artist?
I work my hardest and try to diversify my career by doing all kinds of work in music. I DJ quite often, internationally. I help produce music for performance art and dance events. I create sound installations, I do remixes, I produce music, and I write music for other artists. I also promote parties. A little here and a little there is what pays my rent.
Why did your previous band Le Tigre break up?
Le Tigre disbanded because it was time, and we were all supportive of the changes.
Were you surprised to hear about Kathleen Hanna's struggle with Lyme disease? Are you still close?
I have known about Kathleen's health struggles since they began. We are a family.
In light of your Le Tigre album of the same name, if you won a feminist sweepstakes, what would the prize be?
100,000 meaningful hugs from 100,000 women.
It occurred to me, when I saw the movie "Her," that if we were in relationships with our operating systems, then the importance of gender in relationships would be minimized. If that's in fact the direction that we're heading, what are the implications of this advancement on transgender or gender-neutral individuals?
I did not see the film. I don't think much about technology and love and/or sex, to be honest. I'm a pretty practical person, so what helps me, I use; and what doesn't, I ignore. I think the general technological revolution thus far has both helped and hurt us as a culture, and I think it's pretty much inevitable that advancements will continue. It's up to people to decide how they relate to it. For myself, I am very careful.
What are your top five apps and why?
1. TripIt: It keeps me and everyone who cares about my schedule up-to-date on all my flights and where the f**k I am on any given day.
2. Couple: It helps me stay in touch with my girlfriend when we are far away from each other. It's meant to be an app for long-distance relationships, I think. But we love it, because you can draw pics for each other, and you can tag your location -- and it's all compiled into a group of memories.
3. Yelp: I travel a lot, and this app helps me find amazing food, great coffee, and the comforts of home wherever I am.
4. Epicurious: I cook a lot, and I love to be perusing recipes while I walk the streets, so I can get the right ingredients and come home to a great cooking plan.
5. Voice Recorder: This is how I write most of my vocal melodies while walking down the street or flying on a plane. I just record myself on my Galaxy Voice Recorder and come back to them later. It also helps create really great samples of everyday life: trains, footsteps, street noise, etc.
Catch Men on tour:
Thursday, March 6 -- Bar Pink, San Diego, CA
Friday, March 7 -- Bootleg, LA, CA
Saturday, March 8 -- The Chapel, SF, CA
Monday, March 10 -- Holocene, Portland, OR
Tuesday, March 11 -- The Cobalt, Vancouver, BC
Wednesday, March 12 -- Chop Suey, Seattle, WA