It was motherhood that led to the demise of New York's Luscious Jackson. Now, six years later, motherhood is fueling the all-female, hip-hop-inflected act's comeback album.
However, fans expecting a characteristic collection of gritty urban beats and sultry melodies might be surprised to learn that the album consists of songs written expressly for children.
Let's just say the Luscious ladies have grown up.
Frontwoman Jill Cunniff — who, weary of touring and wanting to start a family, dissolved the band in 2000 — is now the mother of two daughters and a Parent Teacher Association member. Over the last six years, she's been pursuing a more mom-friendly musical career (writing songs and producing for artists including Emmylou Harris, the Cooler Kids and others) and recently finished her first solo LP. Guitarist/co-founder Gabby Glaser and drummer Kate Schellenbach have similarly moved on professionally since the band split (see "Luscious Jackson Hangs It Up").
"We [broke up] with the understanding that we'd all be friends," Cunniff said. The three kept in touch, and last year Cunniff e-mailed Glaser, "Hey! Wanna do a kids' record?" The rest is history: With Kate in tow, the group recorded 11 tracks for the album. Keyboardist Vivian Trimble — who left before the recording of 1999's Electric Honey, the original band's swan song, and is a new mother herself — has also offered to play on the record (see "Vivian Trimble Quits Luscious Jackson").
"We've made a lot of music so far, but it's fun because adults will be able to enjoy this too," explained Cunniff. "It's like Luscious Jackson with a kids' angle. It's not goofy kids' music — it's dance-y and has Luscious Jackson beats, but the [lyrical] content is pretty silly. It's been so much fun and so easy to do: That's when you know things are going in the right direction.
"I wouldn't cancel out [LJ doing] other things in the future," she continued, "but that's what we're doing at the moment. I miss the band, I miss playing live — and I never thought that would happen."
Luscious Jackson's LP has not been titled yet (although Cunniff likes It's All Goo) and the band is seeking a label to put out the album, which currently has no release date. But the band will be performing in the near future, doing "family concerts where parents can come with their kids, because a lot of our fans have kids now."
Cunniff also plans to play some limited live engagements around the release of City Beach, which is slated for release in February and was indirectly inspired by the events of September 11.
"I was working inside a studio that was a block away [from Ground Zero] when September 11 happened," the New York native recalled. "My daughter was three weeks old at the time, and Luscious Jackson had been broken up for a year. When that happened, I decided [my family] needed to move to Martha's Vineyard for a year. We looked on the Internet for a place we could drive to that would never, ever be a target of terrorism."
Cunniff, who self-produced much of City Beach, rented a house on the popular island resort off the coast of Massachusetts and gradually carted all of her home-studio equipment there. The album, she said, is somewhat dichotomous, with half of its songs reflecting city life and the rest inspired by the tranquility of the Vineyard's lifestyle (Cunniff and her family have long since moved back to New York).
"I was with my first daughter, listening to a lot of lullabies and quiet music, and I really wanted to make like a lullaby/beachy record," she said. "I wanted to make a record you could put on and feel a mood change. The city stuff started filtering into the album over the last few years, because I couldn't just leave that part out — it's a big part of me."
City Beach boasts a dozen tracks, including "Happy Warriors," "Apartment 3," "Kaleidoscope" and "Disconnection," which features Emmylou Harris. Cunniff recorded the album without any label backing (she has pacted with the Militia Group for its release). That, she said, afforded her the time she needed to make the LP the best it could be.
"I did what I wanted," she said, "which is really amazing, because I just handed it in and they were like, 'Great.' There was no pressure from a label. It was comfortable and creative. I tried to make the songs all link, so that they work together as a whole. There are a lot of storytelling songs on the album, and some of them deal with relationships. That's always the theme for me — understanding human relations."