License To Chill: On their latest, Luscious Jackson serves it up Stirred not Shaken by Libby Callaway
“I had a strange day yesterday,” Gabby Glaser says, seemingly out of nowhere. It’s Friday afternoon the day after last month’s stellar Thursday night lunar eclipse, and Glaser, Luscious Jackson’s guitarist, has suddenly decided that the planets have been aligned against her for the last few days.
“Wasn’t there just a weird vibe about this whole week” Glaser asks her bandmate, drummer Kate Schellenbach, who’s sitting next to her in a conference room at the band’s PR agency in Soho.
Schellenbach agree. From across the room, bassist Jill Cunniff and keyboardist Vivian Trimble shake their heads in agreement. Yes, the four women concur, the last week has been rather odd.
Perhaps the band shouldn’t be so quick to blame the heavens. After all, Luscious Jackson are still in the first few days of promotion for their latest album, Fever In Fever Out. After two years of touring in extended support of Natural Ingredients (their first full-length record on Grand Royal, following the buzz-making release of their 1992 EP In Search of Manny on the same label), the Luscious girls are stretching to get back into that photoshoot-and-interview groove.
Of course, that shouldn’t be too hard. Getting into a groove is something they’re used to, as the band could easily be credited with bringing white-girl hip-hop into the selective CD racks of many mainstream music connoisseurs. With the heavy rotation of songs like Natural Ingredients’
“City Song” and “Deep Shag” on college radio stations, music television and well beyond, as well as their highly publicized friendship with off-kilter rap/funksters the Beastie Boys, Luscious was quickly regarded as the progenitors of a new kind of groovy, electric, downtown New York swing with a feminist spin.
Boarding the Lollaplaooza bandwagon in 1994 and opening an REM arena tour helped cement their popularity among the trendy record-hungry alt crows; their own successful headlining tours around the globe assured Luscious Jackson a place in the world of modern popular music.
All this touring and life-altering on-the-road experience seems to have made Luscious Jackson technically closer and lyrically more focused this go ’round. Fever lacks Natural’s jivey and jumpy quality. It’s a smoother, mellower cocktail: slow dinner-party tunes to contrast their earlier kegger brouhaha.
“A dinner party album?” Schellenbach mentally applies this tag to the new album for a moment. “Yeah. There you go. It’s like I’ve heard a lot of people say that they exercise to Natural Ingredients. ‘Oh, I run to that album,’ or ‘I clean my house to that record.'”
“Well, you know, when we were recording this time, we listened to a lot of tracks in the garden at night with candles,” says Cunniff, who splits the vocals and much of the songwriting with Glaser. “It was a very nice soundtrack. We would be outside and the record would be playing inside where they had speakers set up for use to hear the mixes. I really appreciated it in that setting.”
The setting Cunniff describes is that of Fever’s second recording “phase,” held this spring at a New Orleans mansion owned by producer Daniel Lanois (known for his work with U2, Peter Gabriel and Bob Dylan; Luscious’ old friend Tony Mangurian also produced).
“It’s in the French Quarter and it’s just the most beautiful place” Schellenbach says “Every room is just gorgeous. It wasn’t anything like a traditional studio where you have a sound booth. It was just this house where you set up your stuff where ever you wanted it to be.”
“But it wasn’t just a house,” Cunniff muses aloud. “It’s a mansion that belonged to some New Orleans socialite who just used it as a place to throw parties. Then the whole town watched her decline. It’s all very tragic…”
“Very Great Gatsby,” Trimble agrees.
“Rotting curtains in the windows,” Cunniff adds. “Most studios are all the same” bland, not much personality, no light, no air,” Schellenbach says. “But this place had atmosphere.”
The genteel drawl of New Orleans was quite a change from the album’s Phase One recording process in Schellenbach’s 14th Street apartment. “‘When we first met Daniel, he came over to my house where we rehearse,” the drummer recalls, “and I think he just really liked the vibe there-he’s a big ‘vibe’ guy. So he asked if we wanted to record some of it there.”
“We did just the minimal amount of stuff to make it sound good, just took a bunch of equipment and jammed it in this little room. But the lights were low and there was incense burning. We got the bulk of the recording done there.”
Band members agree that Lanois’ influence truly helped make Fever the heartfelt production that it is. “We met with various producers and he just fit the bill,” Cunniff says. “He’s a great guy, too.”
“He’s really into atmosphere,” Glaser observes. “He really tries to capture the moment,” Trimble agrees. “Some of the songs we’d only played three times together and we’d pick the best versions. [Lanois] didn’t want anything being overdone.”
“We’d do the vocals right after recording the songs when we’d be really excited about them,’ Cunniff explains. “Even if they were a little off-key, those vocals were always better than the re-dos. Like, if you try to redo a vocal a month later, after the moment is over, it totally changes it. You can just tell the person’s not into it.”
“Dan never erases vocals,” she adds. “You might think it’s right when you do it, but then the old vocals are better.”
“He’d be, like, ‘Great song, but the vocals are weak,'” Glaser remembers. “And then you try [to do it again] and it just sucks-”
“You’re not there anymore” Cunniff interjects. “You’re not in the mood-”
“-but the vibe will be in that old track,” Glaser concludes. “Even if something else is a little off.”
“We thought [the recording process] was going to go real fast, but it didn’t,” Cunniff admits. “I guess the record was done In about three months, but then the whole thing just straggled on.”
“Better Than Ezra was supposed to come in right after us,” Glaser says, “and we wrote them this note begging them to postpone. We didn’t want to leave!”
Luscious headed back to Manhattan to complete “phase three” at Baby Monster Studios. Here, they brought Fever down and were joined by the Blues Explosion’s Russell Simins, 25 Ton, Lanois and Mangurian to spit out a teaser of sorts. The Naked Eye EP includes four remixes of the album’s first single and two bonus tracks.
As of late September, Luscious Jackson was less than a month away from their release date and had performed the Fever songs in public only twice: once at a sneak show at Coney Island High’s Wednesday night Fraggle Rock dance party and again for the College Music Journal’s Grand Royal label showcase at Irving Plaza.
“It was hard,” Trimble says, laughing. “We packed in as many rehearsals as we could because it came down to the wire and we had very little time to make some kind of decent showing at CMJ. But we succeeded. We dipped our toes in, but now we can rehearse at a slightly more leisurely pace.”
“We really had to re-learn the songs from the studio,” Schellenbach admits. “But it was cool: Emmylou Harris came and sang [the country diva sings back-up on several Fever songs] and Dan and Tony played percussion.”
Luscious Jackson will have many more days of rehearsal, not to mention endless dates with camera lenses and reporter’s hand-held tape recorders before the fever over Fever breaks. With its smooth bass and keyboard undercurrents shot with uneven jolts of hip whooka-whooka guitar jumps and idiosyncratic far Eastern twists and twangs (the album could be their Sgt. Pepper in several ways), the music here is a creamy ear delicacy.
However, there’s a certain bittersweet aftertaste that comes from Cunniff and Glaser’s scarred-but-smarter lyrics.
These are the breathy, murmured diaries of women who’ve finally gotten the upper hand in the relationship, who’ve traded eyeing bike messengers from a perch on their front stoop for running their hands through the earth of gingerly tended spiritual gardens. Still, this doesn’t mean that the Luscious girls have given up on fun. There are moments here that you just know were written after getting their friends together to dance, dance, dance.
With Fever about to be released, Luscious side projects have been put on hold. Schellenbach and Breeder buddy Josephine Wiggs’ Ladies Who Lunch (“They’re going to rename it Bitches Who Brunch” Glaser jokes) are only toying with the idea of doing a follow-up to last winter’s blizzard inspired seven-inch “Kims We Love” (covers of Kim Deal and Kim Gordon tunes). Glaser is having fun composing “horrible,” “hilarious”songs dedicated to ex- boyfriends with Mangurian, as well as working up keyboard melodies that she thinks” little children might like.” Cunniff and Trimble who as Kostars released Klassics with a K on Grand Royal this spring, are also on hiatus.
“Everything will be put aside: Out main project is Luscious Jackson,” Cunniff says emphatically. “Nothing gets in the way of this band. Luscious Jackson is a steamroller.”
This article repeatedly spelled Glaser as Glazier, I took the liberty of correcting it.
Reprinted without permission, if you want something taken down, just ask and i’ll oblige
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