Daughter of the chaos

Luscious Jackson's Jill Cuniff explains why it shouldn't be called "news"

Since Luscious Jackson's third album, Electric Honey, was released last June, singer-bassist Jill Cuniff has spent much of her time traveling around this country and others promoting it -- playing shows and doing interviews all in the name of selling more records. Along with her bandmates, drummer Kate Schellenbach and guitarist Gabby Glaser, Cuniff appeared in the third and final installment of Lilith Fair, as well as in the group's own headlining tour. And almost eight months later, she's still on the road, this time tag-teaming with Smash Mouth. Except now, she's not out there flogging Electric Honey. Well, not necessarily.

Sure, as far as Luscious Jackson's label, Capitol Records, is concerned, the group's current tour is one last chance to turn Electric Honey into the success its predecessor, 1996's Fever In/Fever Out, was. But both the label and the band probably know that if it hasn't happened by now, it's probably not going to happen -- though they probably wouldn't admit Electric Honey never really stood a chance. The band could tour for another year, and that wouldn't make a mediocre album any better.

Not that Cuniff is inclined to convince anyone otherwise. In fact, the only time she brings up her band's music at all during our 30-minute conversation is when she offhandedly mentions she's starting to write songs for a new album. No, Cuniff would rather spend her time expounding the virtues of the Internet, and since Luscious Jackson's tour is sponsored by one of the Web's biggest companies, Yahoo!, now is the perfect opportunity. And Cuniff is so excited about it all, you don't have the heart to tell her she's, like, three years behind the curve. At least.

Luscious Jackson's Jill Cuniff (middle) wants everyone to know about this new thing called the Internet.
Danny Clinch
Luscious Jackson's Jill Cuniff (middle) wants everyone to know about this new thing called the Internet.

"I think the Internet is still growing, still getting its legs," Cuniff explains. "E-commerce is still tricky, as I've found in our situation. It's just not as tight as it should be -- the delivery and the fulfillment. I think that has a ways to go. And also the fact that people can get credit card [numbers] off of it, I think that's causing people to be a little fearful. It's just not secure yet. But, you know, I'm very interested in it. I keep my ears open. I try to pay attention to it. We do as much as we can. We do live Webcasts. We do downloads.

"I'm very interested in alternative forms of publicity, besides radio and MTV," she continues. "It seems like the public has fewer and fewer choices. I mean, there are many choices, but it's hard to find out what they are. I think if a few or many people start to create sites that have real personality and real character -- like, 'I'm going to go here and find information about what I like' -- then things will start to change."

Of course, things have not only started to change, they've already changed. Time-Warner and America Online have made themselves, through their recent merger, into an inescapable behemoth. Dot-commercials have overtaken the advertising industry. Grandmothers are bidding on eBay. The Internet hasn't become our main source of entertainment and news, like so many have predicted, but the time when it will be isn't as inconceivable as it once was. Cuniff may be at the start of something, but she's one of the few. Everyone else is already in the middle.

Still, you can understand why she and other musicians are so excited. With MTV and radio stations whittling down their playlists until they're barely visible, the Web might be the last, best way for bands and musicians to have their music heard. Which, obviously, is the point.

"I think it's fabulous," Cuniff says. "The fact that the FCC can only license so many stations -- that right there is your problem. You've got 20 stations on the FM dial. It's crazy, and one guy owns tons of them; it's a monopoly. And now there's the threat of the Internet becoming monopolized as well. I'm hoping it doesn't happen. There's a real problem now with monopolies and antitrust laws not being enforced. We're at the point where we're getting our information from three sources, and that's just so scary for the American people. They merge and merge and merge. You can't have real news that way. TV news shouldn't be called 'news.' It should be called, you know, 'the information we choose to give you.'"

Cuniff, fortunately, isn't plowing ahead into the Web without realizing the downsides of downloaded music and e-commerce. Too many other musicians -- Chuck D, They Might Be Giants -- have divested themselves almost entirely of the normal outlets of release, without much success. She's not ready to make Luscious Jackson albums available only on the Internet. And she knows that everything you read online isn't absolutely the truth; for every official Web site, there are dozens spinning their own version of the truth.

"The Internet lacks the same sort of fact-checking that goes on with a book or a publishing company," she admits. "Usually, they'll make sure it's thoroughly correct. With the Web, the way it's just deposited on there, I don't have that same sense of legitimacy. It could have been changed, rewritten, taken out of context, or edited. That's the thing I think still needs to happen. It needs to be made into a legitimate source of information. You feel a lot more safe with The New York Times than Joe's News.com. There's tons of lunatics out there putting out their word."

 
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