By Anthony Lozano for Tom Tom Magazine
Photos by Anthony Buhay
Best known for her band, Luscious Jackson, Kate Schellenbach was also the drummer for the Beastie Boys when they were a hardcore punk outfit. Luscious Jackson, for those unfamiliar, combined elements of hip-hop, jazz, and rock to create a sound all their own, but they disbanded at the end of the 1990’s. The music industry has changed dramatically since the band broke up. Instead of traditional channels, there are now many different outlets to get one’s music made and delivered to the people. Schellenbach seems to understand this current state of the business and she likes it. I met up with her in the kitchen of her home in Los Angeles to catch up and share details about a new Luscious Jackson album and talk about her journey on the drums up until now.
Name: Kate Schellenbach
Hometown: West Village, NYC
Lives in: Los Angeles, CA:
Past Bands: Young Aborigines, Beastie Boys, Young and the Useless, Hagatha, Lunachicks, Luscious Jackson
Current Band: Luscious Jackson, Pushbuttons!
Drum Set: 4 piece Ludwig classic maple
Cymbal: Zildjian (mostly K’s and A’s)
Hi-Hat: Zildjian K’s
Snare: Ludwig Black Beauty
Pedal: Ludwig or DW
Fav Food: Pizza
Fav Venue: Gorge Amphitheatre
Tom Tom Magazine: Hi Kate. Can you introduce yourself to the world of Tom Tom Magazine?
Kate Schellenbach: I’m Kate Schellenbach, I’m the drummer for Luscious Jackson. I’m from New York City and I’ve been playing drums since I was about 13. And I’m 105 so that’s a loooong time. (laughs)
I’m curious about what it was like growing up in New York. Can you describe the environment you grew up in?
Luscious Jackson and also Beastie Boys came out of a time in New York where it was very unique. In the 1970’s and 80’s the drinking age was still 18. We looked old enough to get into clubs, so we started going out to clubs and seeing bands really early – like at 13. I went to CBGBs and that was just the vibe of the city. The kids were free and easy wandering the streets. In a lot of ways it was like a tribe of kids all going to see bands, doing fanzines, and just being really creative and starting our own bands. It was towards the end of punk rock, just before hardcore was starting up and also around the same time that hip-hop was filtering into the downtown clubs coming from the Bronx. So that’s kind of what informed a lot of us in that time period. I lived on this kind of crazy street, 14th Street, with a lot of discount stores, where it’s just like this stuff just spilling out into the street. Puerto Ricans, Haitians, Israelis and just all kinds of cultures where everyone is playing their boomboxes and you know there’s the punk rockers and the hippies and whatever. You would walk down the street and you’d hear seven different things. It’s kind of awesome, if you’re listening.
When was the moment you were inspired to play drums?
I remember there was a time after junior high and before high school during that summer. A bunch of girls were like, ‘we’re going to see this band at CBGBs and the singer is really cute and we should all go!’ We all went and there was this band, Student Teachers, and the drummer was a girl. Seeing this band made me think, ‘Oh, I could do that!’ It’s just one of those things where it had to be in front of your face to be like, ‘Oh AH-HA!’
How did you end up drumming for The Beastie Boys?
I remember meeting this guy John Berry, who was the original guitarist for The Beastie Boys, at shows. He introduced me to Mike Diamond and then eventually Adam Yauch. They had a band called The Young Aborigines and they were more post-punk, think a Public Image, Siouxsie and the Banshees-ish tribal kind of thing. They invited me to play percussion with them. We would play and we would rehearse as The Young Aborigines; it was our serious band. Then when we were done, we would switch instruments and that’s how the Beastie Boys kind of came to be. It was kind of a joke. It was just like, let’s be a punk rock band now! And since it started off as a joke, we never really took it seriously. We practiced enough so we had enough songs to play a show. After that show, people liked us so much that they wanted us to keep playing and we’re like, ‘Well, we’re not really a band you know?’
So, how did the hip-hop come to be the focus of that band?
We did [a song] “Cookie Puss” which was sort of this weird proto-rap hip-hop thing that really took off on college radio and underground radio. That started the whole hip-hop focus of the group.
So, as “Cookie Puss” took off, the group became more of a hip-hop thing, how did that affect your role with them?”
We would play all our hardcore songs and then we’d stop and put down our instruments. We had to figure out some way to recreate this, so this is where we hooked up with Rick Rubin. Someone was like well this guy is a DJ, so he can DJ while you guys rap and it was never anything I was comfortable with and I tried it. We all had matching shirts and it did not come naturally to me.
When was the time you hooked up with Luscious Jackson?
I reconnected with Jill and Gabby [of Luscious Jackson] in the late ‘80s or early ‘90s. I think Jill called me and said, ‘Do you want to be in an ESG cover band?’ – that’s how she pitched Luscious Jackson to me; it was an ESG cover band. I was like, ‘Yeah! Definitely! That sounds awesome!’” (laughs) They had done this demo tape and given it to friends, one of whom was Mike D. of the Beasties. At the time, Mike and them wanted to start a label. They decided this is what they wanted to release. So Jill and Gabby knew they had to form an actual band, which they asked me to join. They also found Vivian Trimble (keyboardist). It just kind of snowballed in a nice way; like a slow rise. It was super fun.
It sounds like the stars aligned for you ladies. How was the touring during this time? Any highlights?
Right from the get-go we had kind of cool tours. We were really lucky. Like we opened for the Breeders and we were all obsessed with them because they were another great band with strong women and strong personalities. We did Lollapalooza with them and Beastie Boys. I think we were the only band who did Lollapalooza and Lilith Fair, which is kind of cool.
Lilith Fair?! How was that?
It was actually amazing, like we got to meet some of our biggest idols, like Chrissie Hynde was there; Bonnie Raitt, of course. Sarah McLachlan. Sheryl Crow. You know as female musicians we’ve always gravitated to other female musicians. I think it’s always nice to be around other women who are working in the business to get their point of view and see how they do it. You know someone like Bonnie Raitt who’s been touring since the ‘70s and how she’s maintained her sense of self and her health and her success and all that kind of stuff.
Well things seemed to be going so well. What brought about the breakup of Luscious Jackson?
After Lilith Fair ended, there was sort of a backlash against women, especially on the radio. The macho Limp Bizkit and Korn stuff knocked most female voices off the radio and that’s kind of why our band ended up splitting up at the end of ‘99/2000. It was like, ‘What are we doing?’ We couldn’t get a break. We had just released an album we think is great, but all these radio stations were telling us, ‘We’re already playing a female on the radio so we’re not going to play you guys.’
You ladies have become a band again. What chain of events allowed that to happen?
Jill and Gabby just had such a nice rapport that they decided to start working together again (around 2004/2005) and just having fun. Jill called me and said, ‘Hey, I met this guy. He has this company called PledgeMusic. It’s kind of like Kickstarter and you have complete control of everything. You’re not on a label. We get the money and we use it to record. Is that something you’re interested in?’ I was like, sure, why not?! Let’s just do it and see what happens!
So, does that mean you’ll be touring again? What can you say about the new Luscious Jackson album?
We’ll see. We’ll see you at Lilith Fair 2018! (laughs) That being said; I’m super excited about the album. The drums are all crazy and fun; they were done super easily. It was like me in a room with four mics and just doing 3 takes for each song. It’s very similar to how it was before. Also, Adam Horowitz from the Beastie Boys gave us a track to work with. Our old DJ, Alex Young gave us a track. So it’s a lot of input from cool people and it’s going to be cool. We just wanted to release something that people are going to be happy to hear and not just be like, ‘life is so hard’ you know, doom and gloom. This is a party album. So we’re psyched.
The new Luscious Jackson album is called “Magic Hour” and will be available Nov. 7th (and available Nov. 1 for people who pledged for the album via PledgeMusic)