Action Jackson

By Christina Schmitt
University of MN SoundEffects
November 13 – November 21, 1996

There’s no denying it: With sampled beats and sexy melodies, Luscious Jackson put the “hip” back in hip hop.

Luscious Jackson (named after ’60s Philadelphia 76ers star Lucious “Luscious” Jackson) comes from the ’80s New York scene — not the bubblegum, happy-that-Reagan-is-alive ’80s, but rather the underground comprised of CBGB punk remnants and rap beginnings. Guitarist Gabrielle Glaser first met Jill Cunniff (vocals/guitar) while both were club-hopping teenagers. They later asked Vivian Trimble to join with her keyboard sounds.

During that same time, the trio met three white homeys who would be a major influence on them — the Beastie Boys. Little did Cunniff know that when she interviewed the Beasties for her fanzine Decline of Art, her band would later grace the Beastie’s label, Grand Royal. “Once Jill, Vivian and I hooked up as a band, we had a demo tape,” Glaser says. “We were like ‘Who should we give this tape to? Let’s give it to Mike (D.). He might know who might be interested.’ And he said, ‘I might be interested in making my own label. How ’bout that?’ and we’re like, ‘Cool.'”

Meanwhile, future Luscious drummer Kate Schellenbach was playing with the Beastie Boys. Luscious Jackson asked her to join the group because they needed her bombastic skills for live performances. “She wasn’t in the band yet when we signed with Grand Royal, which is funny because a lot of people think that we got signed because of her,” Glaser says.

After two previous releases on Grand Royal (In Search of Manny and Natural Ingredients ), Luscious Jackson is back with a third, Fever In Fever Out.

The album begins with the infectious single “Naked Eye.” Don’t be surprised to find yourself standing at the soda machine singing, “With my naked e-e-eyes I saw the falling rain / coming down on me.” The song title “Under Your Skin” probably best describes this album’s erotic vibe with lyrics like “Can’t cool down when you’re down with me.”

The music behind the soothing melodies ranges from jazz to blues to hip hop. Luscious even throws in wah guitars and bongos on “One Thing” to evoke a ’70s rock feel. “Wahs are fun,” Glaser says. “I love the Rolling Stones vibe, like ‘Beggar’s Banquet’ and ‘Sympathy for the Devil’ — that song is just so powerful with the percussion.” The country-folk songstress Emmylou Harris, another genre-crossing woman, lends vocals on “Why Do I Lie.”

“(Harris) sang on a few tracks, and it was a blast,” Glaser says. “She’s so open to anything. We tend to bring a lot of things into this music, so I think anything goes when it comes right down to it.”

Luscious Jackson is on tour with labelmates Buffalo Daughter and Josephine Wiggs. Buffalo Daughter’s success comes in the wake of the Japanamerican invasion started by Cibo Matto. Not surprisingly, Buffalo probably found its home on Grand Royal in a large part because Cibo Matto’s side project, Butter 08, is also on the label. Josephine Wiggs plays indie rock, but stuff that’s not as compelling as her previous material with the Breeders.

Grand Royal seems to be the home for pioneering women in music, including the side project for Luscious ladies Cunniff and Trimble, the Kostars. So why didn’t Grand Royal get caught up in the riot grrl movement of the early ’90s? For Luscious Jackson, at least, the riot grrl movement is an anachronism; the Luscious women had already exorcised their punk angst when the Seattle/Hole scene was in full grunge. Instead, Luscious chooses to remain one step ahead of the music in vogue.

“We went through that (riot grrl) stage so long ago,” Glaser says. “To do that now didn’t make any sense, you know. Catch us when we were 17. I was into drums — I was betting on the drums. What you listen to and what comes out of you doesn’t necessarily have to be that similar — it could be just the way you go about it. Punk was a very, like, ‘Just do it. Don’t feel like you need three years of lessons before you even come out. Just play what sounds good to you, and just try to get good at it.’ So that’s incorporated in hip hop, that’s incorporated in everything we do.”

Being pioneers comes at a price — Luscious Jackson is forever dodging the “white women playing black music” label. “I’ve never associated myself as being white in all my growing up,” Glaser says. “It wasn’t until we joined this band that we were kind of perceived as white because we’re doing black-influenced music. But it’s been done for years, and I don’t know if Janis Joplin got shit, maybe she did, but I really don’t know.

“Black-influenced music doesn’t necessarily mean they’re trying to emulate what a black person is. I don’t think we’re out there doing the hip hop thing with the hat, and the clothes, and the gold chains and the moves. We’re not doing that. We’re definitely just doing our own thing.” Right on, sister!

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©1996-2007 The Luscious Jackson Source