Luscious Jackson Saves The Planet Southern Comfort
by Robin Eisgrau
How do you talk to people about their music when it makes you shed tears of joy? You wing it-which isn’t that hard to do with the women in Luscious Jackson: Kate Schellenbach, Jill Cunniff, Gabby Glaser and Vivian Trimble. They all grew up and live in New York and exude the sort of street-smart sensibility that you don’t find anyplace else.
If the toxic lemonade stand that is this planet is about to blow up, the perfect way to get off it would be to scrounge as much scrap metal, spray paint and solar parts as you can find and start building a rocket, like those smart kids in that Smashing Pumpkins video. Once inside, the only thing you’d need to listen to would be Luscious Jackson’s new album, Fever In Fever Out (Grand Royal). As Tom Robbins put it in Jitterbug Perfume, the only things necessary for long life are proper breathing, flowers and hot baths. Looking for a sonic equivalent? You’ll find it on Fever In Fever Out. “It’s nice to put on a record that sort of takes you away,” says Schellenbach. “There are some records that are good to do dishes to, some that are good to drive to, some that are good to have sex to, some that are just relaxing, backgroundy dinner music or others that just relax you and take you somewhere.”
It’s ironic, then, that New Orleans, where Jitterbug Perfume unfolds, is also where Luscious Jackson chose to record part of their third Grand Royal release (following their 1992 debut, In Search of Manny, and 1994’s Natural Ingredients). “That city is like a freak magnet because it’s so legendary,” says Schellenbach. “Somebody was saying that the reason why everyone is so freaky there is because it’s below sea level and people can’t deal with the gravity.”
“And you’re tipsy,” says Cunniff.
“And drinking is such a big part of it,” adds Schellenbach. “It’s another one of those cities where you can walk out the door and be energized.”
“This record has a lot of the New Orleans vibe to it,” says Cunniff. “Even though we only recorded three things and some mixes there, the vibe seeped in. It’s a real ghosty, voodoo center and it has a great sense of history. I think we got a little of that on there”
In New Orleans, the Luscious ladies recorded with Daniel Lanois, who has produced numerous sonic milestones, including U2’s The Joshua Tree. “What’s nice about Daniel is that he’s and ambient producer. He gets what he calls ‘inviting sound.’ He doesn’t like things to be annoying and abrasive,” says Schellenbach. “We made a real effort to minimize irritation in sounds, which might be why you think it’s such a relaxing record. Every song should make you want to hear it. That goes down to the basic recording. We got the sound we wanted before we recorded it instead of futzing around later. That doesn’t work. You have to get it before. We spent a lot of time mixing and listening. I think Daniel’s brought that richness to the record. We were heading in a new direction, and he just fit right in. He kind of brought a-I don’t want to use the word ‘mystical,’ because [Beastie Boy/Grand Royal owner] Mike D. hates it…”
“But it fits!” I interject.
“What’s another word for mystical?” Cunniff asks.
“Celestial? No…that’s too science-y. Astral?”
“Astral…,” Cunniff pauses. “That’s nice.”
Fever In Fever Out is a great healing record, perfect for when your boiling point hits 1,000. Cunniff concurs: “it’s about introspection. That’s different than our other records. It’s less about you, it’s more about me. A lot of the songs were written simply on a guitar. I think that makes them a little more direct, may be a little more honest, because they came from this simple emotion. It’s different from the way we used to do it, which was based on sampled grooves that we’d take home.”
Another new approach for Luscious Jackson was working with Emmylou Harris. She lends her legendary honey soprano to “Soothe Yourself” and “One Thing” (as does Brand New Heavies diva N’Dea Davenport). “She’s a friend of Dan’s” explains Cunniff of the collaboration with Harris.
“This is probably the most democratic record we’ve made because everyone played on it,” says Cunniff. “In the past, it was almost all samples done with just me and Gabby and Tony Mangurian [the group’s longtime producer]. So it was in response to a year of all of us working really hard and Vivian wanting to play more. She was sugaring a lot of samples before, so she wanted to write music; she wasn’t satisfied. People were saying, ‘You’re not using Vivian enough.’ I think this record will be a lot more fun to play.”
She continues, “I think this record will be the one where people say,’ I did my yoga breathing to it.'” She quickly leans into the tape recorder and corrects herself: “It’s not that mellow!”
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