The Undeniable Luscious Jackson

2013 has been a big year for getting-back-together… Kathleen Hanna and Kathi Wilcox, Girls Against Boys, My Bloody Valentine, Mazzy Star… but Luscious Jackson have held a monopoly over...

2013 has been a big year for getting-back-together… Kathleen Hanna and Kathi Wilcox, Girls Against Boys, My Bloody Valentine, Mazzy Star… but Luscious Jackson have held a monopoly over my excitement for reunions… The alt rock outfit that existed from 1991 to 2000, releasing four albums that embraced traditions of jazz, hip-hop, punk, and even folk were my favorite band of my most awkward, adolescent years… They were (and are) probably the most legitimately funky white girls of the 20th century, who churned out tunes that were both credibly transgressive and casually and danceably refreshing.  The New York City girls broke up in 2000, when they were at the top of their craft, but struggling to balance the practicalities of not-quite being international pop sensations with having personal lives and families.

When I first delved into the world of Luscious Jackson in middle-school, I was not a fan of contemporary sounds.  I was very into The Velvet Underground, Bob Dylan, Joy Division, The Smiths… and Luscious Jackson… They didn’t seem to have a particular place in musical history, yet managed to make their way onto pop culture’s radar with numerous noteworthy and charting singles.  Because of my age, I wasn’t able to attend their average local gigs in DC at the 9:30 Club, but I did first manage to see them at 1998’s Tibetan Freedom Concert, curated by their good buddies in The Beastie Boys, where they appeared in front of 90,000 people… And in an afternoon spent with the likes of Sonic Youth, Pearl Jam, Red Hot Chili Peppers, and The Beastie Boys themselves, Luscious Jackson were the highlight… The last time I saw the girls of Luscious Jackson was in 2000, supporting their final effort (Electric Honey, which included collaborations with Deborah Harry and Emmylou Harris) at the Naval Academy in Annapolis, MD, where the show concluded with a rendition of “Citysong” that had myself dancing onstage with the band, alongside a number of midshipmen…. That was half my life ago.


However, Jill Cunniff, Gabby Glaser, and Kate Schellenbach are back together.  Earlier this month they released Magic Hour, their first album since 1999, which would seem to pick up with the same brand of punky, funky indie pop that they were churning out more than a decade ago, showing no signs of ever being apart.  They played Letterman earlier this week and this Saturday, November 23rd, Luscious Jackson will be playing their first show in nearly a decade and a half at Union Transfer. Drummer Kate Schellenbach, who has spent recent years living in LA and working as a producer on Lopez Tonight and The Ellen DeGeneres Show, was kind enough to take some time to talk to me about the reformation of the band.

Luscious Jackson’s reunion has actually been a relatively long and slow process, which has been in the works for about half a decade.  “It came in stages,” Kate tells me, before going on to tell me the whole story: “One of the things that we shared at the time is that we all had kids.  And kids seemed to like Luscious Jackson, for some reason.  And kids music is generally pretty crappy, so we thought maybe this was something we could try, but it didn’t really take off [at the time… LJ’s children’s album, Baby DJ, was recently released], but Jill and Gabby reconnected and re-established their creative connection and it was fun again.”  Practicality also apparently played a role in the length of time Luscious Jackson’s reunion took to finally come to be. “The music industry has changed, where there’s less support and we were burnt out with the whole industry,” Kate explains.  She tells me that it really all got started when Jill met with PledgeMusic in order to create a project that would have fans directly funding the band’s latest album.

I ask Kate about the biggest difference in Luscious Jackson in 2000 and Luscious Jackson in 2013 and she tells me, “The differences between Luscious Jackson then and Luscious Jackson now are just between us getting older and being in different places in our lives, having kids and different careers.  But over the summer we got together for the first time in fourteen years to rehearse and it was just great.”  And when I ask her about Magic Hour and the fluidity of its transition from Electric Honey, she explains, “We were trying to recapture classic Luscious Jackson, like all of the fun sounds you think of when you’re with friends.  I think this album really references that.  I mean, we knew we definitely didn’t want to do a ‘mid-life crisis album’.”


Apparently Philly holds quite a special place in Luscious Jackson’s heart (and not simply because of their namesake, 76ers’ power forward, Lucious Jackson), but apparently they also played a number of their most noteworthy shows in the City of Brotherly Love and Sisterly Affection: “We’ve actually had some of our best and rowdiest audiences in Philly; we definitely coined the phrase “disco diving” in Philly.  Disco diving is where people would come up onstage and dance then dive back into the audience.  We hope to continue our tradition of disco diving.”  And what I ask what can be expected of their reunion show at Union Transfer on Saturday, she says, “We hope that we have some dancing going on.  I mean that’s the ultimate goal, to get people to, ‘dance, dance, dance…’”  After their Union Transfer date, the girls of Luscious Jackson will be playing a hometown show at Webster Hall on December 7th.  And, after that, well… according to Kate, is kind of up in the air.

“We hope these New York and Philly show go really well and we get a lot of positive reviews and then I think we’re gonna see where it takes us.  I mean, we all have jobs and family life, but we’d love to keep going as a band, but it can be really hard.  I mean, we’re not on a label and we certainly don’t have tour support.  The logistics are the most difficult part, just doing things like paperwork, because the playing is great.  When we got back together rehearsal was great.  We just totally clicked again and pretty much laughed until we cried.  And we’re really proud of this record and the response has been really positive.  I think people will enjoy it.  We’re not setting out to reinvent the wheel, but we didn’t want to sound dated. But I think Luscious Jackson’s sound was always kind of undateable.”

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During the day Izzy Cihak teaches transgression, subversion, and revolution at Temple University. At night he haunts Philthy's best venues to cover worthwhile acts for Philthy Mag. Morrissey is everything to him and, in their own heads, all of his friends see themselves as Zooey Deschanel.