Music News

Cosmo Poppers

It's October 26, and the four women of Luscious Jackson have hopped into a limo in Greenwich Village bound for La Guardia Airport and a flight to Las Vegas, where they will open for R.E.M. the next night at the 12,000-seat Thomas & Mack Center.

Cruising down Fifth Avenue, guitarist Jill Cunniff looks out the window and double-takes. "Hey, isn't that Adam?"

Just ahead on the sidewalk, Beastie Boy Adam Horovitz is skateboarding like a man with hellhounds on his trail, dodging pedestrians and furiously pumping his right leg to build up momentum. The ladies power down the window. "Yo, Adam, what's up!"

Horovitz glances over. "Oh, hey, can I catch a ride?" Turns out he'd snoozed until 4p.m.--well past when he was supposed to meet his bandmates at an uptown recording studio. "It was funny," says Cunniff. "He was so manic. It reminded me a lot of when he was 14."

You read that right. Luscious Jackson and the Beastie Boys go way back. The bands have been hangin' together since before they were bands--friends for more than a decade before the Beastie Boys founded their Grand Royal recording label (a division of Capitol) in 1992 with the release of Jackson's debut EP, In Search of Manny.

"We've known those guys since 1980," says Cunniff. "We all had the same influences, we all grew up in the New York club scene, with all that funk/rap/hard-core music."

Luscious Jackson doesn't have an old-school punk number on either Manny or the 1994 full-length Natural Ingredients. There's nothing to match the Beasties' hard-core tribute tracks "Tough Guy" and "Heart Attack" off 1994's Ill Communication.

However, the same urban influences that inform the music of Horovitz and crew can be heard on both recordings bythe Jackson four in the guise of homemade tape loops, fuzzy funk bass, exotic percussion, early hip-hop and sultry soul vocal stylings, jazzy backbeats, low-fi ethos ... oh, hell, just think of Manhattan and Brooklyn.

Think stickball and subways and the block-by-block musical smorgasbord of New York City. Think about white kids frequenting the first hip-hop clubs, checking out some funk one night and punk the next, chillin' with the jazz musicians in Central Park, the bongo players in Washington Square--soaking up influence wherever they find it in an era when influence is everywhere to be found.

Think of all the modern forms found in New York City since 1980, including house music, then slam them together into a gritty but groovy mix that sounds like hip-hop more than anything else, but, in truth, doesn't really sound like anything except being young in New York City.

Don't take this wrong--Luscious Jackson isn't merely a female version of the Beastie Boys. Its music runs in a deeper groove and sparkles with a discotheque quality that would lead the average Beastie Boys fan to chug his 40 ounces and get on the floor.

Cunniff says the biggest misconception about her band "is that we were created by the Beastie Boys, that they put us together and told us how to sound, when really we were an organic happening."

The source of that confusion may stem, in part, from Luscious Jackson and the BBoys' shared passion for vintage instruments and recording equipment. Included among Jackson's archaic arsenal are Moog and Arp keyboards, circa 1970, and a practically Paleolithic Univox drum machine that sports settings like "Merengue" and "Bossa Nova."

"Newer synthesizers sound cheesy," says Cunniff. "Everybody knows that."
Luscious Jackson also chooses samples via painstaking perusal of each member's personal collection of vinyl records. Rarely, however, does it take a sound bite big enough to recognize the source material--preferring instead to splice beats, guitar licks and bursts of sax into a whirring, funky montage in the background.

"Sampling is a dying art because so many of the original artists are starting to charge big money to use pieces of their music," Cunniff says. "The rule is, if you can recognize it, you have to pay for it, so we usually don't use enough that you would recognize anything."

The guitarist deflects a request to name a few artists the band favors. "Let's not get into too deep a discussion on this."

This summer, Cunniff and keyboardist Vivian Trimble formed a side project called the Ko-Stars and cut an album with Breeders bassist Josephine Wiggs running the 16track show as producer. "We were on tour so much last year that I taught Viv to play guitar and we would just sit outside together and write songs," Cunniff says. "We figured we should do something with [the songs]."

The Ko-Stars recording, Klassics With a K, is due out this month. Like Luscious Jackson's two recordings, Klassics was cut in a home studio--Jackson drummer Kate Schellenbach's, in this case.

Cunniff says she can't stand the typical recording-studio environment. "It's this alternate reality where there's no light, no air, nobody's sleeping or eating right, they just order in food and sit on their ass.

"It's not the kind of scene where I can be creative. I prefer things to be a little more healthy and a lot more intimate."

Luscious Jackson is scheduled to perform on Saturday, November 4, at Desert Sky Pavilion, with R.E.M. Sold out.

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David Holthouse
Contact: David Holthouse