Action JacksonLuscious Jackson's Kate Schellenbach on Blondie, basketball, and building her own musical all-star team

Kate Schellenbach is cool. Cool not because, after starting the fanzine Cheap Garbage for Snotty Kids in the early '80s, she was the first to take a seat behind the drum set for the Beastie Boys. Not because nearly 10 years later Luscious Jackson, the band she formed with friends from New York clubs like Hurrah and Tier 3, was the first band signed to the Beasties' Grand Royal label. Not even because since putting Luscious together the band has shared stages with the likes of Bettie Serveert, Urge Overkill, and R.E.M. Kate Schellenbach is cool in that intangible way that the person you chat casually with in the bookstore is cool—she’s smart, funny, and unassuming. On the verge of Luscious Jackson's national tour with labelmate Ben Lee, supporting their new record Electric Honey, the band played a radio show broadcast from Foxboro Stadium outside Boston alongside the Pretenders, Natalie Merchant, Sugar Ray, Melissa Etheridge, and Blondie. In between playing her set and jetting back to the stage to rock out to the Pretenders, she found time to have lunch with me.

You shared the stage with Blondie and the Pretenders today. I have to ask, how important were artists like Deborah Harry and Chrissie Hynde in your development as an artist?

Definitely huge. An inspiration. They were the first women in rock that I saw who were just doing it. They were in bands as bandleaders—they weren't just up there hired by somebody else. They were in the songwriting process; it was their vision and it continues to be an inspiration. We really wish we could hang out and watch Blondie but we have to drive back to New York tonight.

Deborah Harry sings on "Fantastic Fabulous," a track on your new record. How was recording with her?

That was really cool, it was such a dream come true. We’ve been fans of her for so long—when I was 13, my first favorite band was Blondie. [They were] the first band where I hung posters on the wall, [wore the] t-shirts, I joined the fan club, the whole nine yards. So, 20 years later to have her in our little recording studio...we were like, "Yeah sure, I'll do whatever you want. Is the sound ok?"

Didn't you play with Blondie at one point?

I got to sit in at a show, yeah. They did a surprise show for the Intel Music Fest, I think. Clem [Burke] couldn't make it, so Debbie asked me to play, and that was the highlight, definitely, of my career.

You've played with so many great artists—if you could invite anyone to sit in with Luscious, who would it be?

Right now we're pretty high on Sheryl Crow [laughs]; we want to be her backing band. We want to go—she has a studio in New York near us, and we want to go into her studio, set up shop, and rock out with her. And invite everybody we've met along the way—like, "Chrissie, c'mon down. Debbie, c'mon down. Sarah McLachlan, Emmylou Harris, the Indigo Girls, everybody come in, we're gonna be the house band." That's our fantasy. Every time you go out on tour, in like a Lilith situation, and you meet all these incredible artists, you just get revived.

You guys tour extensively. What do you miss the most about New York City?

Certainly the convenience of New York. I mean, like, "Oh, I need an extension cord at three in the morning, what do I do?" Go downstairs, right down the block. And the access to all kinds of art and culture. And I also really enjoy the mixture of people; you're in the proximity of every race, every class, every religion. If you took a cross-section of people on the street in the city it's a breakdown that I don't think that many other cities have. Certain places do, like maybe London and Paris.

Luscious Jackson was the first act signed to Grand Royal. What are the advantages and disadvantages to being on a label the size of Grand Royal?

Grand Royal kinda set up our fan base in the beginning. Through college radio and independent record stores, which were really important to us—that's what started our career. That's where we sold our first records. We did our first in-store appearances at indie record stores. People who were first interested in us were like, "The Beastie Boys, ok, let's see what the artists that they've signed are doing." But at this point we're pretty much dealing in a lot of ways with Capitol, [in terms of] how our record gets promoted and distributed and all that.

Some might say you have the best of both worlds.

In a way, yeah. I mean, the record industry is pretty screwed up. And the major labels seem to be suffering the most while the indie labels are thriving; our record seems to occupy both spaces. We're waiting for the next thing to happen, which we think is, of course, the Internet. The reorganizing of the whole record industry to where the artist gets a fair share of royalties. It's just really hard to make a living as an artist—in any of the arts, but especially in music. It's rough.

Very few people can answer this question from a firsthand perspective, but what would you say are the biggest differences and similarities between Lollapalooza and the Lilith Fair?

Similarities? Definitely the access to these incredible bands. I mean, we did Lollapalooza in 1994, when it was the Breeders, Beastie Boys, George Clinton and the P-Funk All-Stars, L7, the Flaming was a really great tour. To be able to sit around and watch good music and take it in. One difference is at Lollapalooza you'd get such shit trying to watch a band, [the staff] would be like "That's not the right pass!! Argghh!!"[scary voice, dissolving into laughter], and at Lilith they're like, "C'mon up. Come sit in on a song." It was more of an ego trip on Lollapalooza, and Lilith was more about everyone enjoying each other and getting along. Lollapalooza was like, "You blew that band away!" and we were like, "We did?" I don't know what that's about.

Finally, the greatest team of the modern era: '86 Boston Celtics or '94 Chicago Bulls?

Oh, god [long pause]. Well, we're in Boston, so if I say anything bad about the Celtics.... I'm always gonna be a Knicks fan. But let's not even talk about men's basketball, let's talk about the Liberty, the New York Liberty. I have no comment on the men, I'm into sportswomen right now [laughs]. New York Liberty, Year 2000!

Luscious Jackson recently completed a 12-date national tour with Ben Lee. Their latest release, Electric Honey, is available on Grand Royal. When not playing with Luscious Jackson, Kate Schellenbach enjoys playing basketball and has collaborated with Josephine Wiggs on a series of 7" cover songs under the moniker Ladies Who Lunch, also available on Grand Royal.

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