During the latel 960s, when Luscious Jackson’s name sake—Lucius Jackson—played for the Philadelphia 76ers in the National Basketball League, members of the all-female band were just coming into the world. Although they were born too late to notice the basketball star’s greatness on the court then, they were impressed later when viewing memorable footage of his moves on the court, especially taking delight in an announcer’s mispronunciation of Lucius’s name as “luscious.” As basketball fans—loyal season-ticket holders for the WNBA’s New York Liberty—born during Jackson’s time of greatness, the women thought it appropriate to call themselves “Luscious Jackson” when it came time to think of a name for the band they put together in the early 1990s. The funk-pop music group blends many different influences and elements into its sound, from 1970s disco and bossa nova to 1980s punk and rap. Sara Sherr of the Village described their generation and brand of song this way: “Too young to wear a Disco Sucks button or sequined tube top, they’d come of age as cool club kids or wide-eyed suburban new wavers who understand the Jammin’ Gold segue from ‘Good Times to
Members include Jill Cunniff, bass, vocals, song writer; Gabby Glaser, guitar, vocals, songwriter; Kate Schellenbach, drums; and Vivien Trimble (left band in 1998), keyboards.
Group formed in New York City in 1991; signed with Grand Royal 1992; released debut album In Search of Manny, on Grand Royal, 1992; contributed to Clueless soundtrack with “Here,” 1995; appeared on Saturday Night Live, 1995; hit the mainstream music charts with “Naked Eye,” 1997; earned rave reviews for Electric Honey EP, 1999.
Awards: Best EP award in the Village Voice “Pazz & Jop” poll for In the Search of Manny, 1992.
Addresses: Record company —Grand Royal Records, P.O. Box26689, Los Angeles, CA 90039, (213) 663-3000, fax (213) 663-5726. Website— Official Luscious Jackson website, http://www.lusciousjackson.com; Grand Royal website, http://www.grandroyal.com.
‘Heart of Glass….’ Luscious Jackson [lives] inside that segue too, making grown-up records for the kids who grew up eating to the beat indiscriminately. “They’ve developed their image in their own way, even stamping to-become a prescription for hipness as they’ve come of age in their music. Billy Altman, in Stereo Review’s Sound & Vision, applauded the band for its uniqueness in style, commenting,” From riot to Spice, girls with guitars who make it big in rock and pop tend to do so primarily by flaunting image and attitude. Luscious Jackson, like the old NBA hoopster the band is named after, has always approached its game stylishly but straight, choosing to chuck the tired—and ultimately regressive—gender issue in order to simply get to the heart of the matter—namely, making good music.”
The band members, Kate Schellenbach, drums; Jill Cunniff, bass, vocals, songwriter; and Gabby Glaser, guitar, vocals, songwriter, met in their teens while frequenting Manhattan’s punk clubs, including CBGB, where Glaser reportedly spent her thirteenth birthday, Hurrah, Tier 3, and Max’s Kansas City. They bonded over their affinity for the acts at those venues, such as the Funky Four Plus One More, Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, Slits, ESG, and Bad Brains. Moreover, they shared tremendous adoration and respect for the punk diva of the early 1980s, Blondie’s Deborah Harry, as was common among American women of that generation. Meanwhile, Glaser bought her first guitar and began teaching some covers and Schellenbach started playing drums for a popular local band, the then-hardcore Beastie Boys, whom she dubbed years later as “the Daytona Spring Break Sideshow,” as well as the Lunachicks and Wench. Glaser, who was known to be a chum of the Clash’s Joe Strumer, reminisced on those teen years at the clubs in a 1999 Spin article, stating,“We really packed a lot into those years. We were exposed to so much stimuli that by the time we were 17, we were jaded.”
When the trio reconvened in Manhattan after finishing their college studies, they pulled together money to put out a demo tape, which landed them opening gigs for the Beastie Boys and Cypress Hill in 1991. Vivien Trimble, who had worked with dance companies in the New York City music scene, joined the band as a keyboardist. When the Beastie Boys launched their recordlabel, Grand Royal, they invited Luscious Jackson to be their first client. In 1992 the band released its debut album, In Search of Manny, on Grand Royal, which included three tracks from the band’s original demo and won the Best EP award in the Village Voice “Pazz & Jop” poll. They promoted their album by touring as the opening act for bands like Urge Overkill and the Breeders in 1992-93 and by playing second stage in 1994’s Lollapalooza.
In late 1994, Luscious Jackson released its sophomore EP, Natural Ingredients, which was co-produced by the band members and Tony Magurian. Cunniff recalled in a 1999 Spin article that the album sounded “fun but sloppy,” which she blamed on the band not relinquishing enough control of production over to the label’s production experts. They then promoted the album with its own headlining tour in the United States and abroad. The track “Here” was marketed as a single and chosen for a video release and to be included on the soundtrack for Clueless. In 1995, Lucious Jackson appeared on Saturday Night Live and toured as the opening act for R.E.M. and Live.
In 1996 Luscious Jackson recorded and released Fever In Fever Out, produced by Daniel Lanois, who had done work for U2 and Bob Dylan. Written by Cunniff during a rocky period in her relationship with her boyfriend, Scott,“Naked Eye” was the take-off release for that album and became a hit in early 1997. The single put Luscious Jackson’s name on the relatively more mainstream music charts. Accompanied by a smooth, even, funky harmony, the song’s lyrics tell of the benefits and healing power of bold and clear communication with the people in your life. Billboards Bradley Bambarger quoted Cunniff as describing the song as an expression of the “sense of relief” that comes from “emotional nudity—the feeling of not wearing all these layers….” She expressed further,“Even though it takes a lot of courage to be open. It’s much easier to hide behind fences and wish the world understood.” Luscious Jackson having yielded production control on Fever In Fever Out; Mike Kates, the new G rand Royal president, was disappointed with the album, because he felt that “it was more Daniel Lanois than [Luscious Jackson],” according to the same Spinarticle. By mid-1997 Fever In Fever Outachieved gold status. A fixture in American pop culture now, Luscious Jackson was featured in a colorful commercial for the GAP in late 1997, which gained distinction as TV Guide’s Most Popular Ad that year.
Ready to get off the road and eager to pursue other musical projects, Trimble retired from the band, leaving the original trio. Glaserand Cunniff worked on developing their voices through voice lessons, studying in Miami and New York, respectively. Cunniff also spent time writing new songs. The band began recording it next release in 1998, which was released as Electric Honey in June of 1999. Spinapplauded the release as Luscious Jackson’s best, calling it “the most seamless fusion yet of the group’s influences—punk, pop, New Wave, and funk… more personal, less obsessed with unapologetic lust than it is with the benefits of hard-won maturity.” The band members themselves called the album their first “top-to-bottom great record.” They worked with four producers, including Tony Visconti, known for his work with David Bowie, and Mickey Petralia, who has worked with Beck, and accepted the advice of Kates and Mike D. The album features guest contributions by celebrities. Emmylou Harris, who also sang on Fever In Fever Out, sings on Electric Honey’s first single release,“Ladyfingers.” Ex-Brand New Heavies N’Dea Davenport contributes to “Christine.” Kym Hampton of the New York Libertysings backup on “Friends.” Deborah Harry sings on “Fantastic Fabulous.” Ex-Breeder Josephine Wiggs contributes cello and Petra Haden violin to the track “Space Diva.”
Harry, a fan of the band’s, has been deeply admired by the women of Luscious Jackson since they were girls. Harry invited Schellenbach to replace drummer Clem Burke for a short time during a Blondie reunion tour in 1998, which was a dream come true for the longtime Blondie fan, who was even a member of the Blondie fanclub as a child. In an interview with the San Francisco Gate, Schellenbach called Harry “a sweet, generous, badass woman with an incredible voice.” Schellenbach also had the opportunity to play drums for the Indigo Girls’ latest EP release and tour in 1999.
The success of Electric Honey, however, frightened Luscious Jackson. Perhaps wide acceptance in the industry is a sign that they have lost their status of setting trends in the music industry from the fringe. Achieving biographical coverage in the popular media could mean that they have outgrown their celebrity in the NYC in die music science as music industry mavericks who are always way before their time. It is too soon to survey whether audiences have hastened towards their style or whether their style has slowed down to keep pace with the mainstream. Cunniff even expressed concern that her happiness in her marriage and in domestic life could put her in danger of not being able to write the great songs that can only be born of sadness. However, she admitted to Spin that the success of Electric Honey is likely a product of her being “better at life.”
In 1999, Luscious Jackson’s members, well into their thirties, confessed in Spinto a softening, maturing, and slowing down in setting the latest trends in popular American youth culture. Schellenbach noted that her “record collection peaks at ’83.” Cunniff admitted to preferring a score on a good bargain on slipcovers than to hitting the latest club. The band, however, set the tone for immensely popular genre-blending artists in the late 1990s like Beck and the up-and-coming Cibo Matto. Beastie Boys’ Mike D surveyed in the same Spin article that had In Search of Manny come out pre-Beck, or, in other words, during the high time of genre fusing rock with surreal or goofy lyrics, it would have been their biggest selling album. Schellenbach remarked regarding the Beastie Boys’ confidence in Luscious Jackson’s style and art when they were just starting out,“I don’t think anyone else could have understood what Jill and Gabby were doing back then.”
Daughters of the Kaos (demo), Grand Royal, 1992; released on Capitol, 1993.
In Search of Manny, Grand Royal, 1992; released on Capitol, 1993.
Citysong, Grand Royal/Capitol, 1994.
Natural Ingredients, Grand Royal/Capitol, 1994.
Deep Shag, Grand Royal/Capitol 1994.
Here, Grand Royal/Capitol, 1995.
Naked Eye, Grand Royal, 1996.
Fever In Fever Out, Grand Royal/Capitol, 1996.
Electric Honey, Grand Royal/Capitol, 1999.
Billboard, February 15, 1997; July 17, 1999.
Esquire, June 1999.
Rolling Stone, July 8, 1999.
San Francisco Gate, July 14, 1999.
Spin, June 8, 1999.
Stereo Review’s Sound & Vision, July/August 1999.
Vibe, June/July 1999.
Village Voice, August 24, 1999.
Billboard website, http://www.billboard.com/daily/feature/luscious.html (November 18, 1999).
Grand Royal website, http://www.grandroyal.com, (November 27, 1999).
“The Luscious Jackson Source,” http://www.homepages.go.com/~luscious77/(November 27, 1999).
“The Official Luscious Jackson Website,” http://www.lusciousjackson.com (November 27, 1999).
Rolling Stone website, http://www.rollingstone.com (November 18, 1999).
—Melissa Walsh Doig
Jill Cunniff told the Detroit Free Press of her band, Luscious Jackson, “People are always telling us, ‘I don’t know how to describe it and where to put it,… We’re just making this music, y’know—it’s just about liking music and being able to dance to it and having a great time.” The group, which began when bassist-singer Cunniff and guitarist-singer Gabby Glaser created some homemade recordings, has evolved into a foursome that melds alternative rock, hip hop, soul and virtually every other genre into an unclassifiable stew. “I like the fact that people can’t really label us,” Glaser confirmed in the online magazine Intune.
Glaser, Cunniff and drummer Kate Schellenbach grew up in New York City, absorbing everything from punk rock to rap with equal voraciousness. Glaser and Cunniff were pals from adolescence on. “We wanted to attract attention,” Cunniff told Chris Heath of Details. “We made a spectacle of ourselves—the way we dressed, the way we danced, the music we liked.” Eventually they met Schellenbach, and the three got more and more involved in the developing punk rock scene. “We saw a lot of great bands [together], but we also dug early hip hop,” Schellenbach said in a Grand Royal records publicity interview. “It was very connected to growing up in the public school system; party music without a lot of meaning, that played with words and breakbeats. The cool kids in high school were into hip hop, and we’d learn all the rhymes. There was great dancing, and graffiti art. It was very New York.”
By her teens, Schellenbach was playing drums for a punkish New York rap/rock band called The Beastie Boys. Yet when the group hooked up with rising record maven Rick Rubin, they fired her; Rubin disliked the idea of a female rapper. “I was mad but I really repressed it,” she recalled. Glaser and Cunniff knew members of the band, too, from the New York scene, and had played with Beastie Mike D. in a group called the Young Aboriginies; relations with the Beastie Boys would be patched up later on—in grand style.
Cunniff went to school in California, while Glaser went abroad. When they returned to New York, they began playing music together. Their mutual love of sampled instruments, funky grooves and underground rock led to the EP In Search of Manny, which was released on the Grand Royal label, run by Beastie Boy Mike D. Schellenbach and Cunniff’s keyboardist friend Vivian Trimble joined up just before the disc was completed. Billboard compared the EP to “a radio tuned to several stations at once.” A substantial buzz was generated by Manny—
For the Record…
Members include Jill Cunniff , bass, vocals; Gabby Glascr , guitar, vocals; Kate Schellenbach , drums; Vivian Trimble , keyboards.
Band formed early 1990s in New York, NY. Released debut EP, In Search of Manny, on Grand Royal/Capitol label, 1992; released full-length debut, Natural Ingredients, 1994; played Lollapalooza rock festival, 1994; contributed songs to soundtracks of films Clueles. (1995) and Girlstow. (1996); contributed tracks to compilations Ain’t Nuthin’ but a She Thing (1995) and O Come All Ye Faithful: Rock for Choice (1996); Cunniff and Trimble released album as the Kostars, 1996; Schellenbach performed in duo Ladies Who Lunch.
including a good spot on the prestigious Jazz& pop poll of Village Voice critics —and the group set to work on their first full-length album, Natural Ingredients. Released in 1994, that album made good on the promise of the debut EP and showed an expanded range. Enthused Spin’s Terri Sutton, “Natural Ingredients is defiantly catchy, the sensual soup of pop and soul, musicianship and sampling, that LJ’s debut EP, In Search of Manny, struggled to stir up.”
One track from the album, “City Song,” appeared on the soundtrack of the hit film Clueless, and soon Luscious Jackson was on tour with the Beastie Boys and megastars R.E.M. Perhaps more exciting, however, was their spot on the 1994 Lollapalooza tour, alternative rock’s high-profile traveling festival. “Oh, it was great exposure —and a lot of fun,” Cunniff recalled in the Detroit Free Press. “We’d play to so many kids every day, huge crowds of people. I don’t know if they all knew who we were or not, but it certainly helped us on the tour we’re doing now [fall of 1994]; we’re selling lots of tickets in the cities we played during Lollapalooza.” 1994 also saw the band performing original music to accompany Easy, a Dance Theater Workshop production choreographed by Vivian Trimble, the group’s keyboard player.
Luscious Jackson returned to the studio in 1996 with producer Daniel Lanois, best known for his work with U2, Peter Gabriel and other rock luminaries. Lanois’ gift for finding the emotional core of groove-based music had made him a hot property, and he told Rolling Stone what drew him to Luscious Jackson. “What attracted me was that I thought they were smart lyricists,” he explained to the magazine’s Keith Spera. “And secondly, I thought they had a fresh angle, and selfish me would like to be associated with something new.” Cunniff, meanwhile, compared Lanois to “a long-lost brother,” and gave her impressions of the producer’s New Orleans studio/home: “It’s like your rich aunt’s house that you never had.”
Lanois and the band placed the emphasis this time on a more live feel. “We really wanted to look at arrangements and think about arrangements from a completely different place,” Trimble explained in Gavin. “Starting with a simple song and then building from there as opposed to the kind of building process that had happened more often in the past, which was in the studio with looping.” The result of this collaboration was the album Fever in, Fever Out, a more expansive collection of material that showed a newfound maturity and confidence. The single “Naked Eye” enjoyed substantial rotation on radio and MTV.
Fever in, Fever Out didn’. bowl over the critics, however. “Unfortunately, the group seems to have lost some of its bounce,” ventured People reviewer Peter Castro, who bemoaned the presence on Fever of “slow, edgeless departures from the funky formula that made [the band] so entertaining in the past.” Sara Scribner of the Los Angeles Times, meanwhile, found the album little more than “palatable,” placing much of the blame on Lanois. “He layers and layers their sounds,” she wrote, “until each beat, every loop, feels muffled and twice removed.” The San Francisco Bay Guardia. disagreed, crediting Lanois with “drawing the band out of their creative shell and lending a luxuriant denseness to the barest of dance loops.” The members of Luscious Jackson, meanwhile, paid little heed to reviews. Cunniff explained in Gavin that Fever “is not about abrasive sounds. It’s about appealing, inviting sounds. We tried to make an effort to keep it smooth and nice to listen to.” She elaborated on the issues informing this decision: “A lot of it is our time,” she reflected. “People in the 70s were living fast and dying young, and most of those lyrics came from rockers who were hanging out in the studios doing coke all night. I think times now are really rough, and death is so around us with AIDS and violence. It seems like life is so precious, you know?”
On Grand Royal, except where noted
In Search of Manny, 1992.
Natural Ingredients (includes “City Song”), 1994.
“Here,”Clueles. (soundtrack), Capitol, 1995.
“69 Annee Erotique,”Ain’t Nuthin’ but a She Thing, London, 1995.
“Strong Man,”Girlstow. soundtrack, Mercury, 1996.
“Queen of Bliss,”O Come All Ye Faithful: Rock for Choice, Columbia, 1996.
Fever in Fever Out (includes “Naked Eye”), 1996.
Billboard, July 16, 1994.
B-Side, August 1994.
Details, October 1994.
Detroit Free Press, October 7, 1994.
Entertainment Weekly, August 26, 1994.
Gavin, November 1, 1996.
Intune, May 1995.
Los Angeles Times, November 9, 1996.
Musician, September 1994; April 1996.
People, November 18, 1996.
Pulse!, June 1994.
Rolling Stone, September 22, 1994; May 30, 1996.
San Francisco Bay Guardian, October 16, 1996.
Spin, September 1993; February 1994; September 1994.
Vibe, June 1994; September 1994.
Additional information was provided by the Grand Royal site on the World Wide Web.
Members: Jill Cunniff, bass, vocals, songwriter (born New York, New York, 17 August 1966); Gabby Glaser, guitar, vocals, songwriter (born New York, New York, 12 December 1965); Kate Schellenbach, drums (born New York, New York, 5 January 1966). Former member: Vivien Trimble, keyboards (born New York, New York, 24 May 1963).
Best-selling album since 1990: Fever in Fever Out (1996)
Hit songs since 1990: "Naked Eye," "Under Your Skin," "Nervous Breakthrough"
Luscious Jackson, the funky all-female foursome, derives its name from the athlete Luscious Jackson, who played basketball for the Philadelphia 76ers in the 1970s. The music group Luscious Jackson, which emerged in the early 1990s, takes its inspiration from the funk and soul of the 1970s, and mixes it with the rhymes, rhythms, and samples found in hip-hop and rap. Streetwise, stylish, and sassy, the New York–based band often earns comparisons to the Beastie Boys, a similar all-white, all-male, rap-inspired trio based in New York City; the press initially dubbed them "the Beastie Girls." The band enjoyed a few successful albums, most notably their second release, Fever in Fever Out (1996), but eventually disbanded amicably in March 2000 to pursue other interests, both personal and professional.
The future band mates met at various punk clubs when they were teens. Kate Schellenbach, a friend of Mike D from the Beastie Boys, was the original drummer for his then-hardcore band. The threesome went off to college, with Schellenbach remaining in New York and Jill Cunniff and Gabby Glaser heading to San Francisco for art school. They officially reconvened in 1991, recruited Cunniff's classically trained friend Vivien Trimble, and started off by playing opening gigs for the Beastie Boys around the New York City area, an association that landed them an EP, In Search of Manny (1992), on the Boys' label Grand Royal. In 1994 they released Natural Ingredients, which brought them to the attention of many college students immersed in indie rock and in search of female role models. The album explores a young woman's coming of age. Natural Ingredients is a dance album, uneven at times and generous in its use of different genres, but the band's third effort, Fever in Fever Out (1996), moved them out of indie rock and into the mainstream.
Primarily produced by Daniel Lanois, noted for his esteemed work with U2 and Bob Dylan, and largely written by Cunniff, Fever in Fever Out has a smooth sound. It marks a clear advance in the band's songwriting, performing, and producing skills; the songs are fully developed, offering clearly defined choruses and melodies rather than a smattering of disjointed samples and loops. With the smash radio hit "Naked Eye," which peaked at number twenty-four on the Billboard Top 40 chart, the album was propelled to gold status in 1997, within a year of its release. Cunniff sings in the first chorus with rapid-fire, articulate delivery: "Wearing nothing is divine / Naked is a state of mind / I take things off to clear my head / To say the things I haven't said."
In 1998 keyboardist Trimble quit the band to pursue other interests. The remaining trio released what proved to be their final and most critically acclaimed work, Electric Honey (1999). On this recording the band is at its most accomplished and mature, having assumed greater production and mixing duties. The songs explore themes of self-acceptance and satisfaction. Nevertheless, the album did not sell as well as Fever in Fever Out.
In Search of Manny (EP; Grand Royal, 1992); Natural Ingredients (Grand Royal/Capitol 1994); Fever in Fever Out (Grand Royal/Capitol, 1996); Electric Honey (Grand Royal/Capitol, 1999).