Luscious Jackson The female funk quartet releases its first full-length album and finds its groove
by Alan Light
“This woman who makes female-oriented pornography sent us a tape,” says Vivian Trimble, who plays keyboards for Luscious Jackson. “She showed her art at porn theaters, crazy videos of herself nude, rolling around in a crib. And the DJ in the theater happened to be playing a Luscious Jackson song, and it was the greatest soundtrack. I was, like, Oh, now I see why this song exists.”
Maybe the four women of Luscious (the band’s name is the slightly altered moniker of a former NBA player) have finally found a way to describe their music. At least the sleaziness conjured up by Trimble’s story is closer to the group’s spirit than Time magazine’s recent reference to Luscious as “a quartet of white female rappers” (says drummer Kate Schellenbach, “They’ve got to hear me rap, then they’ll take that back”).
Defining the group’s sound has been a popular, mostly unsuccessful music-biz game for some time now. Last year’s In Search of Manny EP, released on Capitol Records, set off a serious bidding war for their services and recently won the Village Voice’s 1993 critics poll, but it only hints at the depth and range of Luscious’s atmospheric, jazzy funk. Manny is mostly composed of demos recorded by bassist Jill Cunniff and guitarist Gabby Glaser with a sampler before Trimble and Schellenbach joined the group.
The forthcoming Luscious album, tentatively titled Deep Shag, captures the loose, sexy grooves the group’s been perfecting in clubs and on international tours opening for the likes of Urge Overkill and the Breeders (though, sadly, the album doesn’t include the track that started out as a song about a hermaphrodite and ended up being about the Knicks). And they may soon turn up at some Lollapalooza shows and open for the Beastie Boys with an expanded band, including a DJ and sax player.
Oh, about those Beastie Boys: Glaser and Cunniff grew up in Lower Manhattan punk and hip hop clubs, running around with the teenage Beastie Boys, and Schellenbach was in fact the Beasties’ original drummer. Luscious are even signed to the Boy’s Grand Royal label. Trouble is, Luscious Jackson really don’t sound all that much like the Beasties. For Luscious, hip hp is more a structural than a sonic influence–their songs are built on samples and break beats, but nobody ever stars rhymin’ and freestylin’. “We take the way that technology has influenced music and put it back in the band,” Cunniff says.
In the age of the riot grrrl and the gangsta bitch, perhaps the most radical thing about Luscious Jackson is that these women want to be noticed as musicians first; rather than making their gender the primary issue, they think that being females who rock hard speaks for itself. The band has come under some fire for not being sufficiently political, but, as Schellenbach asks, “why can’t playing drums be seen as political?”
In the video for “Life of Leisure” (which you’ll never see because Capitol decided it would confuse people), the Luscious girls pose on rooftops and cruise New York streets and basketball courts, scoping and chatting with local hip hop kids. “They thought people would say, ‘Why are these kids dancing hip hop style, and then they show these people playing instruments?'” Glaser explains. “But, you know, that’s what we are.”
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