Originally published on Swizzle-Stick.com (August 1999)
It’s one of the hottest July days that anybody in the capital city of Ohio can remember. Sneakers are sticking to asphalt. Cars are overheating on every main thoroughfare throughout town. A glass of ice water is worth more than exclusive photos from JFK Jr.’s autopsy.
On the street outside of the Newport Music Hall, three gargantuan tour buses are sitting – evidence that Luscious Jackson and Cibo Matto are in town and set to cool things down later in the evening with a night full of cool music.
Since their inception in New York in the early ‘90s, Luscious Jackson has created the kind of cool music that is made to be listened to on hot summer nights, while sitting on a front porch and sipping smooth liquid out of a brown paper bag. A string of successful releases, as well as appearances on soundtracks and in a Gap commercial, has propelled the marvelous three (drummer Kate Schellenbach, guitarist/vocalist Gabby Glaser, bassist/vocalist Jill Cunniff) to the status of bona fide rock stars.
The band is currently on the road supporting the 1999 release Electric Honey with both headlining dates and a few choice supporting dates on the Lilith Fair tour. Swizzlestick caught up with Gabby Glaser on the (thank God) air-conditioned Luscious Jackson tour bus prior to LJ’s sold-out performance later that night to ask a few burning questions.
It’s Friday night in New York, fifteen years ago. What would you have been doing?
I just went out every single night fifteen years ago. So I might be at this bar called the Park Inn. ’84 . . . Ohhh, I didn’t like ’84. I remember ’84 very well. I was underage drinking, but I did anyway. We used to hang out at this bar, the Park Inn, every night, which had a great jukebox. There was an awesome bartender named Ade McSpade and this bouncer, Ike the Dyke – he recently passed away, he was a wonderful, really funny guy. It was pretty seedy-ish kind of bar on Avenue A, which now is like a big mall. Back then, most people didn’t go to Avenue A – it was considered pretty dangerous. Nobody came to the bars on Avenue A. That is probably where I would be, hanging out with my friends every night.
But I remember the summer of ’84 because it was really violent. I felt so complacent. I remember that one summer just going, “Wow, maybe George Orwell was right about his ’84 thing.” I think I grew up so fast from ’80 to ’83. Those years were so chock full of experiences with people of all different ages. Especially a lot of the people that were fifteen years my senior.
Even the club scene was all different ages. You were really exposed to a certain culture that if I had only hung out with kids my own age, I wouldn’t have been exposed to. So by ’84 I was a little like, “God, everything is boring. All these kids are coming to Avenue A and getting real violent. There are fights every other hour.” It just became kind of brutish. Now it’s just a big mall so I wouldn’t go drinking over there.
If you had $2 in quarters, what would you play on the jukebox?
I can tell you about this jukebox at the Park Inn. I haven’t thought about it in so long. A friend of mine opened a restaurant in New York, this place called Kate’s Joint. I helped her out a bit, about three years ago. She came into the Park Inn record collection, because we’re friends with the bartender from there. He gave Kate all the old records. There is a Girlschool/Motorhead single on it. There was Bunny Wailer doing rap. He’s a reggae dude but he did a rap song. It was great, like 1981, 1982. What else was on there? That song “Israelites.” It’s an old ska song. So I guess I hung out in bars a lot until I was 16 or 17. I haven’t in ages, but around that age I was always hanging out in bars, playing pool, and playing stuff on the jukebox. That song “Under Pressure” by David Bowie and Freddie Mercury was on a lot. I don’t know if those are songs I would pick right now, but those are all I can recall from these jukeboxes.
Do you think that if you were a 15 or 16 year old now you would listen to the same kind of music that you did then?
It’s so different now. Even saying “Avenue A” just fosters a “yeech” with everybody now. Tons of suburban kids go to New York and Avenue A and they dress down and beg for money. That’s really tiring. They are asking families that live in the neighborhood for money. It’s like, “Look, do you think this family with their five kids has money to spare for you young suburban guy?” It’s just ridiculous. It gets kind of infuriating. I’m not against people moving to New York or checking it out, that’s great. I’ve lived a ton of different places.
When our group was that age, we had so much great music at our fingertips. Living in New York you get all the great English bands coming through – the Slits, The Clash, Public Image. Then early hip-hop was happening too with Kurtis Blow, Grandmaster Flash, Sugarhill Gang, Run D.M.C. And there were some great reggae clubs. Even the local bands . . . like, the Bad Brains, they moved from D.C. to New York and they really became a New York band. I got to see them in really small places.
MTV is a phenomenon. You can really like a song and then once you see the video you’re like, “What a bunch of assholes.” Maybe the same thing happens when our video is on, who knows? And vice versa. You can hear a song that you can’t stand and you can see the video 50 times you’re going to get used to it. It’s a weird thing. I don’t know how much it has to do with me at that age being so open to new experiences and new music and really being excited about it. Maybe there is really great stuff out there. Unfortunately, I don’t know about it.
Is it safe to say that you wouldn’t be a Backstreet Boys fan if you were 15?
I might like them as well as other stuff too. I like a couple of their songs. I don’t know many of them, but the couple I’ve heard, I’ve liked.
Everybody has a “I saw ______ at a small club and there were only ______ people there.” What band is that for you?
I would definitely say the Bad Brains. There was this club called 171 and there would be like 40 people there. That was before moshing hit. You could actually watch them. All the girls would be up front too and banging into each other with the boys. Eventually hardcore got big and basically took over. It was like, “I’m not going to go into a pit.” There were dudes with no shirts, flailing their elbows. That kind of sucked. I know that it meant so much to so many people – hardcore. I know a lot of guys that that was their ticket out of their misery and stuff. I respect that. It’s fun to see a show and have some sort of physical contact with other people. There used to be a really great way of watching bands perform.
Do you feel that when you walk into a room all the eyes turn towards you?
No. It’s funny. At our shows, I always come out and watch the bands. As far as these huge shows like Lilith Fair, for a while the band was only watching from the side. I was like, “It’s so much better out front.” You get the whole concert experience.
As far as being recognized, I think if you want to be recognized, you’re going to be recognized. If you don’t want to be recognized, you’re not going to be recognized. When I’m running around doing my thing, if it comes up that I’m in the band, most people don’t believe it. They are like, “You’re in that band? Really?” We’re pretty casual girls. Unless we’re all together, or two of us are together. Then we might get noticed.
I think Kate gets noticed a lot in New York. I really don’t. Every now and then you see people who acknowledge you in a way that is more than just a “hi.” That’s cool. In New York people are just not that impressed by people who are somewhat well known.
When I was a kid, I used to torture people. We used to torture Richard Hell. We’d yell “RICHARD!” And he’d turn around and we would turn around too. We don’t get that. I’m surprised we don’t get all the bad karma that we’ve bestowed upon people in the past. I speak for myself, I don’t know about Kate or Jill.
You’ve done the late night talk show circuit. Which show is the best? The worst?
That is the easiest question — the best is Conan. I watch that show every night. It’s so goddamn funny. To me, he’s so funny, I’m surprised that people don’t think he’s funny. His shit is side-splitting. The worst? I don’t know. They are all pretty nice. Letterman’s pretty aloof actually. Leno’s very nice.
When did you realize that you had “made it”?
We’ve certainly had times that we’ve met, I guess you can call them our peers. But I probably wouldn’t because these are people that we’ve always loved. When they are really cool and say they like your stuff, it’s incredible. I don’t know if it’s like we made it, but there are those times that we are like “Oh, maybe we’re doing something right if Chrissie Hynde called us a great band.”