Jill Cunniff talks about the return of her ‘90s group, their new album, and not being tethered to the music industry.
BY ROBERT FULTON
Let’s take a minute to reintroduce the world to Luscious Jackson: all-girl alt-rock group formed in New York in the early ‘90s; discovered by the Beastie Boys; signed to the Beastie’s Grand Royal label; had a mega-hit with 1996’s “Naked Eye”; broke up at the turn of the century after four albums.
Not much had been heard from Luscious Jackson since. Now the trio of Jill Cunniff (lead vocals, bass), Gabby Glaser (vocals, guitar), and Kate Schellenbach (drums) are back with a new album and a handful of appearances. (Keyboardist Vivian Trimble left the band in the late ’90s and is not participating in the reunion. Below, the band as it looked in the ’90s.)
The group’s Magic Hour dropped November 5, and was funded through PledgeMusic, a Kickstarter-type website designed for bands to crowd-fund projects. The 10 danceable songs tackle topics from the 2012 passing of Beastie Boy Adam Yauch (“We Go Back”) to more lighthearted fare in the derrière-inspired “#1 Bum.” At the time of this interview the band only has two dates announced in New York (Dec. 7, including an appearance on the Letterman show)) and Philadelphia (Nov. 23) but more should follow.
Jill Cunniff, 47, took a few minutes to speak with BLURT from her home in New York about the new album, the band regrouping, and making it all work.
BLURT: I imagine you’ve been pretty busy with everything going on.
JILL CUNNIFF: Unbelievably busy. I think more busy than I’ve ever been in my whole life.
Really? That’s interesting. Even busier than when your career was starting out?
Yes. Now we have families and kids and jobs. All I do is the band and my kids. Kate has a job. Gabby has a part-time thing. We all have full lives. Then we’re attempting to launch our band again, so we’re working around the clock.
I saw an Instagram of Ikea bags filled with envelopes.
That was my week.
You had to mail all those out?
Basically, we did the pledge drive, and one of the items is the CD.
You got an intern to do it?
No. Easier said than done, right? When you have an intern you have to provide them an educational experience. It’s not that simple. So we didn’t get an intern. I had several—I call them my packing parties. And friends came over and we did labels and we did packing. The worst was the international shipments. I had no idea what that was. That was like four hours in the post office. We had to fill out each single shipment, right? And then they have to fill it out again. You can imagine how that was.
What country did you mail to that surprised you the most, or what was the most far-flung you had to mail something to?
It’s all places we’ve been. The only place I noticed that had a lot that we’ve never been was Brazil. I’ve also noticed a lot of Brazil comments on Facebook. There’s this whole Brazilian interest there for us. We’ve never been there. Of course we’d love to go there. It’s not on the agenda yet, but I did notice that.
In creating Magic Hour, why did you decide to go the PledgeMusic route?
It’s an appealing route because you don’t have to go and try and get a record deal. You don’t have to sign a bad record deal, which most of them are now. A 360 deal. We’re not a mainstream product right now. We’re older. We’re not touring around the clock. We’re not available on the level that an artist needs to be for that.
It’s been really perfect for us. We did this at my home. I engineered and recorded at my home for the last year with Gabby, and Kate would send us stuff from L.A. We really enjoyed ourselves. There was no pressure because we already received the funding and basically, the fans who pledged, they just want a good record. That’s all we had to think about. Let’s make a great record. Let’s just make this how we want to make it. There’s no one sniffing around telling us how to do this. You can imagine how much fun that was and how great that felt. For our band, this is like a perfect storm of opportunities to self release.
It looks like on the PledgeMusic site you had overwhelming support. You went way beyond your fund raising goal. What was your reaction to that?
It was really wonderful, and I think that enthusiasm infused the album. It’s a very positive album. It’s very fun and young. We really felt like we connected that youthful energy that we had. Not that we’re so old or anything. When we got back together, we reconnected with that energy that we had even as teenagers. I guess that’s the magic part of it. We’re like goofy kids.
You touched upon this: Kate lives in L.A., and you and Gabby are in New York. What was the recording process like?
We basically had to work with the drums that she recorded. Either we would send her material, and she would play to it and send it back. Or she’d send us a lot of stuff that she played and we worked off of that, so that’s how that worked.
What were some of the inspirations in writing Magic Hour?
They came out of left field. New York City’s still a big inspiration. “#1 Bum” was a song Gabby thought of about butts. That was just a total surprise to me. We had this great music sitting there. She comes up with butts. The song ended up being a really funny song.
Adam Yauch passing away, we did a song called “We Go Back,” about our very old friendship with Adam from when we were teens. We’ve all known each other since like 13 years old. Adam Horowitz contributed a musical track called “So Rock On.” That’s one of my favorites.
Those are good songs.
We were all so devastated for a good chunk of time there and shocked. We weren’t really expecting it. There wasn’t a lot of news about his health. So when it came, it was very shocking. We’ve known him so long that I don’t associate him with later years of life. I associate him with the earlier years of life.
I notice you only have a couple of dates announced or lined up. Can we expect a tour?
What we’re going to do is isolated shows, special events, so that’s why we haven’t announced a tour. We’ll do specific cities that can work out. That kind of thing. It’s a little more complicated than a regular tour. We’re really focusing, we really need to get our name back out there and reintroduce ourselves.
Like you mentioned earlier, with families and jobs, it’s a little harder to put it all together.
We’re still figuring out how to schedule things to make it work. Most important we need to get our name out there and tell people we’re doing it.
Why get back together? What inspired this?
Gabby and I live near each other. We were making kids’ music, and we’re going to make some more kids’ music. The pledge drive came along. We realized we suddenly had all these opportunities. I was kind of like, I don’t know if I want to do any music. I was very cynical about the music business. I love making music. I’ve been songwriting for many years. I just was feeling cynical about the way it is right now. You can put in a ton of work, and you can lose money. You don’t really want to invest your own money into the music business. But when you have the opportunity to have a pledge drive, it’s not coming out your savings. We’re suddenly like, oh, there is a way to do this. That’s the big difference. I was not interested in record companies and record deals. They’re just very constricting now. It’s not appealing for us.
Is the children’s album coming out?
That’s coming out November 12. A lot of our fans do have kids. [Baby D.J. is currently available at iTunes—see video, below.]
Why is Vivian not part of this project?
She’s moved to New Hampshire, very happy, so it’s not really her thing.
This whole thing, is this a temporary thing, or are you back together for the long haul?
We’d like to be back together for the long haul. We hope it’s the beginning of a whole new series for us. I think that would be amazing.
Photo credit: Doug Seymour