Luscious Jackson’s back, echoing its groovy pastiche of rock, hip-hop and dance music that peaked in the mid-’90s with the Daniel Lanois-produced hit “Naked Eye.” The all-female group, playfully named after a retired NBA player, dissolved in 2000 when singer/bassist Jill Cunniff became the first member to want to shelve her music career and have kids. Finally, a few years ago, the band went for the rebound.
“Now it’s a fun thing for us, and that liberates us,” Cunniff says from her Brooklyn home/studio, where the group recorded its November 2013 release, Magic Hour.
The era that Luscious Jackson really tapped to make the album wasn’t the ’90s though. It was the dawn of the ’80s, when Cunniff and guitar/vocal foil Gabby Glaser romped through their early teens on the New York club scene.
“We experienced something at a time that you could call crazy or magical,” says Cunniff, 47. “My kids are coming to that age, and there’s nothing like that… It was almost like a mass-culture thing, where all the high school kids were out all night.”
Her schools were more dangerous than the street, she adds. “That was the great irony, the sense of respect and freedom going on at night. We’d see hip-hop and punk and incredible generations of music, because all the old funk bands would come and play. The club scene was so varied. It had a huge range, and that’s what influenced our music and put us in a specific place that doesn’t have a genre.”
That continues on Magic Hour, which flows with the same funky, frisky touch. Cunniff produced it all digitally on ProTools while drummer Kate Schellenbach added parts from Los Angeles, where she’s a producer for daytime talk shows. Keyboardist Vivian Trimble, who left the group for other projects in 1998 and lives in New Hampshire, passed on the reformation.
“Whatever we brought in, we just built on it,” Cunniff says of the writing and recording process. “It was literally piece by piece, from scratch. And that’s how we used to do it, so that’s why it sounds like us.”
That sound still hinges on the seductive contrast between Cunniff’s melodic vocal hooks and Glaser’s dusky spoken-word style over a melange of alt-pop, hip-hop, funk and reggae. And lyrically, there’s that nod to the longtime bond between Cunniff and Glaser, starting with lead track “You and Me,” where they sing “We’re better together.” In “We Go Back,” they also pay tribute to the late Adam Yauch of the Beastie Boys, singing, “We can’t go back, but we can go on.” The connection with the Beasties runs deep. Schellenbach played with that band during its early punk days, and Luscious Jackson signed to the Beasties’ Grand Royal label. Adam Horovitz also contributed to Magic Hour’s hypnotic, dub-based “So Rock On.”
On the other hand, there’s silliness like Glaser’s “#1 Bum,” a jam about admiring people’s butts. “At first I thought it was ridiculous, and I realized it was hilarious,” Cunniff says. “A lot of themes on the album are that we reconnected to this bold childhood, this crackle when you’re teenagers and you’re out there and adventuring.”
Luscious Jackson financed the album through crowdfunding on online platform PledgeMusic. As an incentive package, Cunniff and Glaser even led tours of their old East Village haunts, and the band reached its goal in two days. PledgeMusic also helped build a mailing list. “I think it’s our [old] crowd, now in their 30s,” Cunniff says. “That was really rewarding, just to be in contact with everyone.”
Seeing fans on tour has proven more difficult, given the band members’ young children and bicoastal logistics with Schellenbach, who has worked on both Ellen DeGeneres’ and Chelsea Handler’s TV shows. The group’s June 7 date at the Paradise Rock Club, with a six-piece touring line-up that includes old DJ friend AWD Young, is a one-off among limited weekend gigs.
Cunniff calls this an “experiment year” for Luscious Jackson, but she expresses hope for the future, when their kids won’t need child care. “It gets a lot easier when they’re teenagers,” she says. That is, if they’re not lost in the nightclubs.
Luscious Jackson plays the Paradise Rock Club on June 7.