Luscious Jackson Take New Tack On Electric Honey For first time, songwriters Gabby Glaser and Jill Cunniff worked apart to compose LP
by Teri vanHorn
A “crack-hotel kind of place” might not be most musicians’ ideal spot for writing songs, but Luscious Jackson guitarist Gabby Glaser said that was just what she needed before returning home to New York to record the band’s third full-length album, Electric Honey.
After a year and a half on the road for its predecessor, Fever In Fever Out (1996), Glaser said she needed time to clear her head, so she packed up her equipment and retreated to the Miami digs.
“Everyone who lived there was out of their minds, but once I got into my room I was fine,” she said from New York on Monday. “They were harmless, but it was a little out of control.”
Electric Honey marks the first time Glaser and singer/bassist Jill Cunniff have written a full album independently of each other.
“Before we made the record, Jill said, ‘This is the way I’d like to do this: I’ll write some songs and you write some songs,’ whereas earlier we’d collaborated,” Glaser said. “Now I think she’s a lot happier writing by herself.”
And Glaser said she’s pleased with the results. The new album, which opens with the infectious “Nervous Breakthrough” (RealAudio excerpt), accentuates Luscious Jackson’s pop leanings while continuing to pull in threads of rock, hip-hop, jazz, soul and funk.
If the album sounds lighter than past Luscious Jackson discs, Glaser said it’s “a result of being happy while we were making the record.” During a recent SonicNet chat, Cunniff also hinted that her recent marriage played a role, citing the love song “Devotion.”
While Cunniff holds the sole writing credit for most tracks, including the single “Ladyfingers” (RealAudio excerpt), Glaser penned a third of the songs, each of which showcases her foxy R&B vocals. Her contributions include “Friends,” a sing-along ode to friendship, and the soulful “Summer Daze” (RealAudio excerpt).
“[‘Summer Daze’] was actually originally about a hermaphrodite named Mangina,” Glaser said. “It was a joke song. I would have loved to put it out as ‘Mangina’ but the girls thought that it was a little too out of control. It’s like a salute to hermaphrodites. It wasn’t like putting them down; it was like hermaphrodite pride” (RealAudio excerpt of interview).
The band — Glaser, Cunniff and drummer Kate Schellenbach — began recording the album in New York last summer, a few months after keyboardist Vivian Trimble left the group to pursue her own projects. The newly established threesome worked with a mix of producers, including Tony Visconti (who has produced glam-rockers David Bowie and T. Rex), Tony Mangurian and Mickey Petralia.
“We kind of killed two birds with one stone often,” Glaser said. “One of us would be uptown recording with Mangurian, [and another one of us] would be recording downtown with Visconti. It was pretty time-efficient.” (RealAudio excerpt of interview)
The band also brought in a couple of notable guest vocalists. Blondie singer Deborah Harry can be heard on “Fantastic Fabulous” (RealAudio excerpt), and country songstress Emmylou Harris croons on “Ladyfingers.” Harris sang harmonies on several tracks of Fever In Fever Out, as well.
Glaser said she sees Electric Honey as the logical next step after Fever In Fever Out, which featured the top-40 single “Naked Eye.” But one longtime fan had some harsh criticism about the new album, saying it lacks the streetwise vitality of Luscious Jackson’s first two recordings, the EP In Search of Manny (1992) and Natural Ingredients (1994).
“I really wish they would get back to their roots,” 18-year-old Shyna Gill, who runs the Luscious Jackson fansite “LJ: Life of Leisure,” wrote in an e-mail. “It’s just a bit too pop for my tastes … I love the old songs of theirs, I loved the whole vibe they had back then. When I listened to In Search of Manny and Natural Ingredients, I felt like I was in New York City. Now I listen to Electric Honey and it just seems like any other pop-rock band that has come out in the past five years. I loved their originality, but it seems to be lacking now.”
Nonetheless, Gill declared Electric Honey “a cool album.”
Cunniff, Schellenbach and Glaser met in the early ’80s while frequenting shows at downtown New York haunts such as CBGB and Max’s Kansas City. Around that time, Cunniff and Glaser each began plunking around on guitars, while Schellenbach was the drummer in the original hardcore punk incarnation of the Beastie Boys.
A decade later, in 1991, Glaser and Cunniff made the first Luscious Jackson demo, taking their name from ’60s basketball player Lucious Jackson. They played their first show later that year, opening for rappers the Beastie Boys and Cypress Hill. Their first recording, In Search of Manny, was released on the Beasties’ Grand Royal label and featured thee songs from the original demo and four new tracks.
Having returned from a short European jaunt early this month, Luscious Jackson will play a few live dates over the next week, including a free show Sunday in New York’s Central Park with the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion and Mix Master Mike. On July 8, the trio will begin touring on the first leg of the female-centric Lilith Fair in Vancouver, British Columbia. Then they’re scheduled to team up with fellow New Yorkers Cibo Matto for a three-week outing beginning July 23.
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