Luscious Jackson by Lynn Geller

BOMB 50 Winter 1995
050 Wintter 1995
Jackson 01 Body

Luscious Jackson. From L to R: Gabby Glazer, Vivian Trimble, Kate Shellenbach, Jill Cunniff. Photo © Danny Clinch. Courtesy of Capitol Records.

The genesis of the band Luscious Jackson actually took place a decade ago when Lower Manhattan streetkids Gabby Glazer, Jill Cunniff and Kate Schellenbach were sneaking out to clubs and absorbing the eclectic music of the early 1980s. Fellow street urchins were future members of the Beastie Boys, for whom Kate played drums before joining up with Gabby, Jill and European-bred Vivian Trimble on two live cuts of Luscious Jackson’s first EP, In Search of Manny, (named for a 17-year-old boyfriend of Gabby’s mother). This acclaimed first album, mostly demos, recorded in friend and producer Tony Mangurian’s basement, was released by the Beastie Boys’ own label, Grand Royale. The foursome has stayed together, touring as openers for such acts as the Breeders and Urge Overkill, and recording a second album, Natural Ingredients, now on the charts. A dense and spicy melange of influences, including jazz, hip-hop, punk, dance, overheard conversations, and street sounds, Luscious Jackson’s deep grooves and urban, post-feminist, mythical lyrics make their music impossible to categorize. Just back from the Lollapolooza tour and about to embark on promotional tours across America and Europe, they began lunch at Whole Wheat ’N Wild Berry with a discussion of the dreams each had the night before.

Gabby Glazer I dreamt that my boyfriend was massaging Vivian’s shoulders.

Lynn Geller How did you feel about that?

GG I was watching it all from across the street and I didn’t really feel anything. But then I went over and pulled Vivien’s arm out of its socket.

Vivian Trimble I dreamt that Mick Jagger insisted I come meet him after his performance. A car service comes to take me there and on the way I asked if we could stop because I needed to get some money. And then I kept stopping for money, accumulating more and more on my way to meet Mick Jagger. Finally we stopped one more time and when I came out of the bank, the driver had left. I saw him driving away with someone else in the car.

LG Fear of success dream, I’d say.

VT I kept saying, I have to get there and people would say, Where? And I’d say, I don’t know. And then my teeth started falling out.

LG Vulnerability … Shattered …

Kate Schellenbach I dreamt that all my equipment got stolen out of my apartment. From a window that I never knew opened. You know how dreams just change. I’d go out and come back and the sampler’s gone and the drums are gone. I was thinking, did I buy any of this stuff on Visa, can I get reimbursed?

VT Having that dream about being in a car and not knowing where I was going, not having directions—it’s being out of control, which is something that exists on tour.

Jill Cunniff I had dreams like that for five nights after we got back from tour: In a vehicle, I couldn’t find the hotel, was pouring rain. These other hotels, Days Inn, Comfort Inn, (laughter) were across the highway and I couldn’t get across the highway.

LG Maybe since you all dreamt about touring, we should talk about Lollapolooza. (collective groans) Was it fun touring with other bands?

KS Yeah, we made friends with the people from Flaming Lips and hung out with the Beastie Boys, who we already knew.

VT Socially it was great even though we were rushing around. Everyone would share lunch and dinner hours. And there were these Tibetan monks. There was an opening prayer every day and they’d do a chant for it, and then do a closing chant and prayer—to try to help further the Tibetan cause. At first I was really worried about the monks and how they were going to deal with all these crowds circulating. What could be more alienating to them? But they dealt with it really well. There was a basketball hoop and the monks took over and became really good players.

LG Now that you’re done with that, what?

KS This fall we have promo stuff to do for our record. An East Coast, Midwest tour; Europe for two months and then the West Coast.

JC The whole thing is filled with anxiety, the whole career.

LG Except for Vivian, who grew up in Europe, the rest of you grew up in downtown Manhattan. You kids were hanging out on St. Mark’s place?

JC Begging. (laughter) We started that.

LG Hanging out in clubs, seeing bands, how did you get out of your houses?

KS My best friend in high school had a strict mother so she had to sleep over, at my house. Often her mom would call, “Where’s Michelle?” and it would be really touchy because we’d be out. My mom cared, but she never really expressed that to me. She was involved with her own life and felt she couldn’t control me. We had another friend and we’d all say we were sleeping at her house and we’d sneak out after her parents went to bed. She lived in a loft and there was a certain way to walk in and out so the floorboards didn’t creak.

JC The loft had two entrances. One night I came home and the back door was locked. We knew we’d blown it when we snuck in the other way and heard coughing …

LG At that point they were probably just glad to know you were home.

KS We were totally unaware that they were really worried. They’re losing control of you and the city is dangerous. Teenagers do think they’re indestructible.

GG We weren’t so bad. I don’t think any of us were drinkers or taking drugs back then, we were just going out and seeing bands.

JC Well, none of us were dealing drugs. (laughter)

LG In the beginning, when you were going to see the music, what bands did you admire?

GG The Slits, Student Teachers, Buzzcocks, English bands that came over.

KS Rap bands were playing then. Remember Sam and Dave used to play all the time? New York bands like Konk and Liquid Liquid. Someone was asking us the other day who came out of that scene and I thought of so many people—Debbi Mazur, Ann Magnuson …

JC A lot of people in the business now. The keyboard player from Blondie is an A&R person in California.

LG Not Jimmy Destri? His girlfriend was in the Student Teachers, did you know her?

KS Laura, her sister was in the same choir I was for about a year. When I first saw her play drums, it inspired me to play.

LG I remember being in awe of the women in bands at the time. What was it about those women like Poly Styrene, Chrissy Hynde, Tina Weymouth that seemed different from women in bands before?

JC They were speaking their own minds, writing their own lyrics.

KS They were being themselves, really. The last wave of women musicians was in the ’60s and they were packaged, dressed the same … The new wave had a lot of mixed bands, men and women. And those women had their own personalities shining through, like Poly Styrene.

JC and LG Genius.

LG I’ll tell you something, even today when I’m depressed, I put on, “Oh Bondage, Up Yours,” just to cheer myself up. And the Slits.

KS Yeah, and the Raincoats, Delta Five.

LG So, as kids going out to listen to bands, did you have any ideas about trying to play music yourselves?

KS I met people on the scene four or five years older than me who were starting bands so I’d jam with them. I’d just picked up sticks for the first time … You felt you could do it because everyone else was doing it.

GG There wasn’t as much sexism at the time. I remember playing drums with some friends and my boyfriend was so excited. I was about 15. He’d play the tape for friends and say, “Listen, it’s Gabby.”

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Luscious Jackson.

LG On the first record Gabby and Jill wrote most of the lyrics and on the second it was mostly Jill. How does that work? Do you divide up all the different elements in putting your songs together?

JC It just naturally falls into place. I don’t know why I wrote most of the lyrics this time. I wrote them mostly at home. We spent more time writing them together last time. I had a lot of written material ready so it just worked out. It could go back the other way too.

LG Your band seems very democratic.

JC Gabby and I actually produce it, but definitely the live band is very democratic.

LG How does it start out?

GG It depends if it’s a live song or if we’re using samples. We usually come in with some sounds or come in with a riff or a sample on a loop, or a sample Kate played on drums and then build on it. Jill will come up with a melody line.

JC It’s a lot of taking it home and bringing it back. It takes lots of different layers.

KS Once we have all the basic stuff, Gabby and Jill spend a lot of time arranging.

GG We do a lot with a keyboard too, with a sampler. You put a sound into the keyboard and with that you can write a sax line, a drumbeat … or the keyboard. You just sit and listen to it and anything that comes up is great. You can take a verse out and move it to the end or add a certain sound …

JC I like things to be fast paced. What’s great about this situation is that with the technology you can really go.

LG But in the beginning how did you start out, just you and Gabby?

JC We had some experience with Tony, our co-producer, previously and we wanted to give producing a try ourselves. So we hired him as an engineer and brought in all our records and picked out samples we wanted and worked our arrangements.

GG We wanted to try producing because as good as people were up to then, it wasn’t coming out the way we wanted.

LG How did you add Kate and Vivian?

KS The Beastie Boys offered them an opening slot at their comeback show at The Building. And I guess Jill and Gabby realized they needed to put together a band.

LG Jill, why are you laughing?

JC We’d brought a DAT player and before we went on the tape went on.

VT I saw their anxiety stricken faces looking up at me and I yelled, “It’s not me.”

GG Someone was playing the tape. But it was a really fun show, really chaotic.

LG Was there ever a point where you were putting this all together and got scared?

JC Our dreams would indicate yes.

GG It’s just wild to play an instrument in front of people for the first time. You don’t know what’s going to happen. I went into this automatic, numb, calm mode. It was fun, weird.

VT It was okay for me because I’ve performed a lot, for years. But I remember the first time. It was a weird piece and I got out there and I froze. I literally couldn’t move. And I thought, “I want to go pee right now.” My muscles abandoned me—I couldn’t do anything. I just sat there. There were three other girls doing an amoeba dance. It was horrifying. I have no idea how I got through it and how I got offstage. And now I rarely, rarely get nervous.

LG You must support each other while playing live, like if someone jumps onstage, have you had any of that?

VT Jill had to be rescued once, or was it Gabby? It was Gabby in England. Some guy was humping her like a dog.

JC Kim Deal, from the Breeders, came out and grabbed him.

KS She said she was crouching by the side of the stage going, “What should I do, what should I do? He can’t do that.”

GG I was playing and singing and there was nothing I could do about it. I kicked him in the ass, I think.

KS When I played with the Lunachicks it was a much more aggressive atmosphere. You’d end up bopping people on the head with your mike stand. It would really get out of control sometimes.

JC I had a fight with a guy in the audience in France over a t-shirt. I held up our goddess t-shirt and said, “And for the more daring …” And this huge guy came up and grabbed it. I said, “What are you doing?” and he said, “Well, you said for the more daring.”

LG I know last time we talked, we were talking about the lyrics and some of the underlying themes, losing yourself in love.

JC We talked about “Deep Shag” where one person gets sucked in by the other person.

LG And feels obliterated in the process, but it’s also kind of exciting. That’s the volunteer part. Then there’s “Energy Suckers” where you just end up feeling resentful. We were seeing it as a male/female thing, whereas Kate was saying that the same dynamic exists in lesbian relationships.

KS We want to think of women as perfect creatures, but toxic people are toxic people.

LG Yeah, and romance is romance. Sex changes things and once you get into that kind of relationship it goes beyond gender and it’s really about vulnerability. So, “Deep Shag” is getting the sexual fix, like “Take me, I’m yours” and “Energy Sucker” is when you wake up, like “Take this job and shove it.”

KS Yeah, after that three month endorphin thing wears off.

LG When the love object is going, “So, what’s for breakfast?” Back to business here. How did you get your name?

JC From a basketball player.

LG Are you fans?

JC Yes, but that’s not why we picked it. It spoke to us.

GG I used to tell people our name was Toil and they’d say, “Oh yeah, that sounds like a winner.” Now it’s (sexy voice) “Oh, Luscious Jackson.”

Lynn Geller is a music supervisor on films and a screenwriter who lives and works in New York City.

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Originally published in

BOMB 50, Winter 1995

Featuring interviews with Eric Fischl, Billy Sullivan, Luscious Jackson, George C. Wolfe, Tina Barney, Sigrid Nunez, Victoria Williams, Abbas Kiarostami, Ariel Dorfman, and James Carter.

Read the issue
050 Wintter 1995