An interview with Luscious Jackson vocalist and bassist Jill Cunniff (conducted 12/97)
What do you think of Lilith Fair?
“I think it’s a really great idea. I’m sorry we missed this last one. We did something else and we weren’t sure if we made the right choice, but…. [laughs] We’re doing this and hopefully we’ll do another one, a full tour in the future.”
The number of artists performing means that everyone gets relatively short sets. Since you have a lot of material, how will you determine which songs to perform?
“I think we have 45 minutes. That’s more like an opening length set. So we know how to do that. We do certain songs that people have to hear, definitely the singles from both records, we have three records, but… certain things we just have to include, like ‘Naked Eye,’ obviously, and ‘City Song’ from the first record, ‘Why Do I Lie?’ from this one. That’s between eight and ten songs, a 45 minute set.”
Your first EP, “In Search Of Manny,” seemed to have a more raw, sometimes spontaneous sound to it. What do you think led to the more polished sound of “Natural Ingredients”?
“I don’t think we were even conscious of anything changing. We just made the music. I guess the first one was made with lunch money basically , on less expensive equipment, and we thought it sounded really slick. But people were like, ‘oh, it’s really lo-fi’ but we thought it sounded really slick! So we never knew we were doing anything lo-fi. We just chose the sounds that we liked. We did the same thing for the second record, and for the third one we really tried to get a live band. So if anything’s spontaneous, I would say it was some of the live performances.”
Since sampling was used so heavily in the studio, did playing live pose any problems?
“The second record probably has as much sampling as the first, and that one was like, we didn’t really have our live show together until we toured for a while. We figured it out. We had to take those songs that were all sampled from “Natural Ingredients” and learn them. They were not written live, they were written on samplers mostly, except for maybe two or three songs. So that was a whole process to learn. Vivian was learning the sampled parts on the keyboard and playing them in time and we all had to re-create something that was not written by us as a band. So that was interesting.”
Did that influence the way you wrote the most recent album, “Fever In, Fever Out”?
“Yeah, I think the touring did. We played together so much as a group touring that we decided to pursue that side of it for “Fever In, Fever Out.” We just wanted to record the live band as it was. I’d been getting very into song writing, returning to basic song writing on acoustic and then translating it. Instead of going in with samples. There’s a lot of different ways to write, a lot of what we’d done was taking samples and writing over that. And I started to go back to the other way, which is to go in with a piece music, lyrics and vocals, and translate that into something with samples.”
Emmylou Harris appears on the album. How did that come about?
“She’s a friend of Daniel Lanois. He had produced her record “Wrecking Ball”. So one night he said ‘oh, Emmy’s in town, let’s call her and see if she wants to sing.’ And of course that’s an unbelievable honour. She has such a great voice. She was such a good sport too. She came over and we did harmonies and it really brought the track up a lot.”
You recently appeared on the TV show “Clueless” – what was that experience like?
“That was fun. The director was ‘Potsie’ from “Happy Days,” Anson Williams. He was very excited and fun. They can make it fun, or it can be a drag. It depends on the show. There’s a lot of sitting around.”
Do you see those things as a way of promoting yourselves, or just something different to do for fun?
“It’s for both. The “Pete And Pete” show [a Nickelodeon series where they appeared as a band playing at a school dance] – so many people have seen the show. They must have re-run it 15 times. These kids – we got a whole other audience from that. Young kids, who watch “Pete And Pete,” they just know us now from that. That’s something about television shows, people really see them. So it’s a good thing to do.”
What made you decide to do the Gap commercial?
“We look at the style of it. Those commercials are really nice. LL Cool J, Aerosmith, they did Lena Horne, Dave Navarro did one. It’s an interesting group of people doing the commercials. That’s usually the criteria. We’d never done a commercial, and we hadn’t really considered it but we thought they were really cool and we did it.”
How did the Kostars side project come about?
“That was during touring on “Natural Ingredients.” Basically, the end of the tour, we were opening for R.E.M. Me and Vivian just went out back and started messing around. Soon enough we had a full album of a certain style of acoustic songs that all seemed to connect together. They had kind of like a summer feel to them.”
Are the projects kept completely separate? Did you come up with anything as the Kostars that ended up being used for Luscious Jackson?
“Well, ‘Save Yourself’ was written as a Kostars song. It was very much changed to be a Luscious Jackson song. It was made into more of a bass and percussive thing.
If you do the next Lilith Fair tour, you could always perform as The Kostars on the third stage.
“That’s an idea. It’s hard to say yet. I don’t plan like that, I don’t like to make promises I can’t keep.”
Do you have any plans at all for future Kostars performances?
“It’s always been more of a recorded thing. We only did a two week tour. When you have another band, and touring as much as Luscious Jackson does, it’s hard to fit in a whole tour.”
How extensively did you tour for “Fever In Fever Out?”
“That finished in the beginning of October. We’ve been home a little over a month. We have a third single out now called ‘Why Do I Lie’ and they’re just getting it on the radio now. So if that does well we will do another tour for this album, and in the meantime we’re all writing.”
Do you have a preference between performing live and writing and recording?
“My favourite thing is writing and recording. I’ve come to very much enjoy performing. But if I had to chose, I’d rather spend my time recording. Just because I like it so much.”
How would you describe your live show for someone who hasn’t seen you yet?
“If someone hasn’t seen us, there’s a lot of audience participation in the show. We have one new song, it’s called ‘Love It’s Real’ and that’s like a punk song that’s fun to play live. A pogo-ing kind of thing. I don’t know if Lilith is into pogo-ing, we’ve got to get those girls jumping, girls and boys.”
Musically, how would you compare your live and studio work?
“It’s fairly close in a lot of ways. Kate is playing live drums, there’s maybe one song where she doesn’t. She plays on top of the ‘Naked Eye’ loop. For the most part, it’s all live. We play all the instruments, guitar, bass, drum, keys, and we have a DJ.”
Do you have additional live band members?
“We’ve had the DJ, Alex, for a long time. We just started bringing someone else to play when I’m singing. Sometimes I don’t like to play bass, on certain songs I like to just dance around.