Alt-rockers Luscious Jackson quietly reunited last year after more than a decade apart to begin work on their first album of new material since Electric Honey was released in 1999. The band – Jill Cunniff, Gabby Glaser and Kate Schellenbach – have opted to skip the traditional label route this time around in favor of funding their new project with PledgeMusic, a site that helps bands connect with their audience and offers unconventional rewards for donations from fans. They’re still in the process of recording new music, but you can stream “Are You Ready?,” their first new song, right now.
Rolling Stone caught up with singer and bassist Jill Cunniff to discuss how the group got back together, their plans to raise money for the new record, and why the band split in the first place.
How did you get the ball rolling for the reunion? How did you know the time was right?
Gabby had come to me. We had started a kids album a few years ago, and we couldn’t figure out what to do with it – should we put it out, do we want to do it as a TV show? We just kind of put it on the shelf and then she ended up playing it for some of the kids in her son’s classes and they just started going crazy for it. So she had just come to me and said, let’s finish this thing, people are bananas for this thing. At the same time a friend of mine called me about PledgeMusic and doing a pledge drive, so we just kind of started talking about it, and lo and behold! It’s been really fun, and we just started making a whole new album.
How does the pledge drive project work? Is it like Kickstarter?
It’s like Kickstarter, but designed by musicians, and basically they take a percentage of what you raise. They work with you to build your social media, but there’s no strings attached. You know, it’s a modern thing, you know? They’re not taking any ownership or anything, it’s sort of like, they’ll help you get your fan base back, use social media, and then launch a drive with a lot of items people can pledge for. In our case, we have a “walk around lower Manhattan with Jill and Gabby” thing, in which we would show our fans all the music places, all the clubs we used to go to that might not be there anymore, and all our favorite stuff. There’s concerts, we have artwork, we have instruments, we have a really big variety. And we have some cheaper items like CDs and stuff like that.
I think it’s one of those things that we put our first list up and we’ll see, you know? What are people into? Are they into the art? Are they into the archives? Are they into the signed things? A lot of people like signed things, autographed things. So I think we have to see what people are responding to and we’ll add, we’ll add on. I mean, stuff like Google+ chats and Skype mentoring sessions. We’ll write a song for you if you give us your name and all your personal information.
Was there anyone who did a project like this who inspired you to give it a shot?
Juliana Hatfield was really great, and she was sort of our generation and she did a pledge drive and did really well with it. She was really active with it and did a lot of updating and that’s what we’re going to do. I think we were a band that was really close to our fans, so it’s not strange for me to go on Facebook and seek out our fans. I think for some people it might be weird but I actually really like all of our fans. They’re a great bunch of people that I would have a party with, so it’s been really, really fun to actually put names and faces on people and talk to them online.
Was it easy to get back on the same page as a band after all those years apart?
Amazingly, yes. Gabby lives in Brooklyn, Kate is in L.A., so we have that distance issue, but we’ve know each other so long it just sort of fell back into place. We’ve known each other since high school, we met on the music scene in New York as young teens, like 14, 15, going to clubs and hanging out at Backstage Records with the Beastie Boys. So we have this really long shared history and our influences are still the same. No one’s really changed their musical vision that much, so it was really easy and it was really fresh and fun. If it wasn’t, I don’t think we would be bothering.
It’s nice to have no big, huge labels pressures and all that stuff. It’s something that we see as a cottage industry, that we can build. We will be doing some concerts when we’re ready. We’re going to finish this album – and try to finish it in six months – and then figure out when we can do some concerts. It’s not going to be everything we used to do, but we’re going to see what we can do.
Was trying to make time for touring part of why you initially disbanded?
It was like okay, we’re in our early thirties and now we want to have kids and normal lives. And it didn’t make sense to go and make albums and tour. Some people have done it, I think the Dixie Chicks have probably brought their kids, and a lot of male musicians seem to just go and leave the kids at home, that’s how it’s done. Kim Gordon and Thurston Moore in Sonic Youth were probably the ultimate example of “Wow, this can be done.” And I actually remember talking to Kim Gordon about it right before I had kids, and she was saying it worked out really well for them. However, they were in a band together. That’s a whole different thing. We really went over it in our heads, and you don’t want to be running on stage with an infant on the sidelines, and those first years of having kids are really intense. You’re just preoccupied. Now we’re through that and everyone is able to put their heads into music and it’s really cool.
Fans are interested in it and are able to find us. A few years ago I had put an album, and I did not feel like it was so easy to find those fans. There was Myspace, but it wasn’t really reaching some of our fans. It was reaching younger fans, younger people, and I feel like Facebook is where really a lot of people are now.
Do you think if you were starting out now, you would’ve gravitated to this pledge drive model?
I think I would have taken to it probably the same way, yes. As a group, we’re just sort of like that, you know? So I think yes, we were putting stuff out in the world from a really young age, writing and creating stuff, so I feel like a blog can be a real personal expression and you can make it what you want and you can connect other people and that’s good, you know?
It’s full circle, and I think it’s really refreshing, mentally. The harder adjustment, I think, is going into the corporate structure and that wasn’t bad. There are people who have had much worse experiences. We had a pretty good one with the Beastie Boys forging the path and mentoring us and allowing us to be creative and have creative control. That was really a good version of that scenario.