The songs recorded by the talented quartet called Luscious Jackson feature some of the freshest, least categorizable music heard during the past several years. But because the four bandmembers are all women, they're finding that getting respect from the male-dominated rock press isn't easy. They've gotten great reviews for their debut EP, 1992's In Search of Manny, but too many of the articles about the group actually are glorified fashion spreads--and guitarist/ vocalist Gabby Glaser isn't too happy about it.
"We need to put our foot down about that," Glaser says. "Let's say a magazine wants to do their own photos of you. They bring in a stylist and try to dress you up like little dolls and put their own kind of makeup on you. Since we're new to this, we go in and let them do it. And then the magazine comes out and we see the pictures, and we're like, `Fuck this. This is not what we look like at all. This makes us look like a bunch of asswipes.'"
Accurate musical portraits of Glaser and cohorts (bassist/vocalist Jill Cunniff, keyboardist Vivian Trimble and drummer Kate Schellenbach) are equally hard to come by. Because some of the band's vocals are spoken or chanted rather than sung, for example, various critics have dubbed Luscious Jackson a rap band. Glaser calls this description "irritating, because it's always mixed in with this white-girl thing. It's like, `Wow, she's a girl. And she's white. And she raps. She's in a white-girl rap band.' It's that or they call us the female Beastie Boys, which isn't true, either."
The Beastie comparisons are impossible to avoid. The Luscious Jackson players have been friends with the Boys for years, having grown up together in the same New York-area neighborhood. Schellenbach even served as the Beasties' first percussionist during the days when the band was more into punk than funk. More recently, Luscious Jackson signed to the Grand Royal imprint, overseen by, yes, the Beastie Boys. "It's a good thing, being on their label," Glaser admits. "They give us a lot of creative freedom and trust us to do what we want to do."
For the most part, the connection ends there. In Search of Manny is no clone of the Beasties' raucous, wild, spacy style; rather, it's a casual amalgam of sounds that touches plenty of bases without staying on any of them for long. The disc's lead track, "Let Yourself Get Down," sports a handful of samples and spoken/rapped vocals, but strangely melodic singing also drifts in and out of the sonic stew. "Life of Leisure" is even weirder, an atmospheric jazz/funk mood piece, while "Bam-Bam" and "Satellite" (the only cuts on the EP featuring Schellenbach's live drumming) catch a rock-pop groove that's seductive but never capitulates to girl-group stereotypes.
The result of this aggregation of influences is varied and ambitious. Glaser, however, insists that the group achieved this musical success mostly by accident. "I don't know if we ever thought consciously that we were doing something new," she says. "We were just happy how it came out. We experimented with a lot of samples--that was really exciting--and then we'd play live over it. It was amazing to us that you could take sounds from five different records, tiny snippets, and make something totally different out of them."
The rough, unpolished quality of the EP is no studio trick: The majority of the tunes on Manny are demo recordings that Glaser says she and Cunniff doubted would ever be heard outside their apartments. "The first three songs, especially, we never thought would be on a record," she notes. "But [Beastie Boy] Mike D listened to them and said, `Cool. Let's put that out. It's good enough.'"
Indeed it was. The independently pressed and issued EP quickly gained enough attention from fans and the media to convince Capitol Records, the Beasties' distributor, to rerelease Manny nationally in 1993. It proved to be a good decision; the disc was named best EP of last year in the annual Pazz and Jop poll conducted by the Village Voice. Clearly, Luscious Jackson needed to hit the road to capitalize on this kind of attention, even though it had never been a band in the strictest sense. On the original recording, Trimble and Schellenbach were sidewomen, rather than bandmembers, and, Glaser adds, "I started playing guitar when I was really young, but I never thought I'd have the guts to play in front of people."
She found a way. The quartet wound up on tours with Bettie Seveert, Urge Overkill and the Breeders, charming audiences with an ultra-relaxed stage demeanor and goofy cheerleader-rejects choreography. And this summer Luscious is part of the Lollapalooza festival's second stage. Glaser says she doesn't feel slighted by this assignment: "We're just happy to be there. I guess you can't play the main stage until you've arrived, and if arriving means you've sold a whole lot of records, we haven't yet."
In the meantime Luscious is preparing for the August 23 release of Natural Ingredients, its first full-length album. A pre-release three-song sampler of the recording finds the group taking a logical step forward lyrically and musically. "City Song" is a slinky, insinuating conglomeration of rap, jazz and who knows what built around Cunniff's lazy, cogent observations; "Deep Shag" is a catchy number that's as close to radio-friendly as this act has yet come; and "Energy Sucker" is a spare, surprisingly nasty soul track. Slick it's not. "We like things to seem a little more immediate," Glaser concedes. "We like the sounds of records--actual vinyl records--over any completely clean, CD-like precision. We like a little grime."
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Nevertheless, Glaser realizes that there's more pressure on Luscious Jackson. "Now that we're on a major label, we do have certain responsibilities," she says. "They're investing time and money in us. It's not like the first record. People will be paying attention to us this time."
Which means, of course, that the professional image-shapers will be out in force, trying to portray Luscious Jackson as fashion plates first and innovative musicians second. Having fallen victim to similar makeover attempts in the past, an older and wiser Glaser says she now knows how to prevent anyone from turning her into a Barbie doll.
"I'll just put on some dark glasses," she says. "When I do that, with my dark hair, I look exactly like Joey Ramone."
Lollapalooza '94: The Second Stage, with the Flaming Lips, Verve, the Souls of Mischief, Rollerskate Skinny, the Frogs and Luscious Jackson. 1 p.m. Saturday, July 9, Fiddler's Green, $36, 290-