Kate Schellenbach would probably be more accurately described as a television producer than as a musician. She was a segment producer on The Ellen DeGeneres Show and has worked as a producer on such other shows as Chelsea Lately and her current gig, The Late Late Show with James Corden. But music is in her blood and she’s been played for audiences all over the world, so we’re calling her a musician, at least for the purposes of this interview.
Schellenbach’s musical career began in the 1980s when she was the drummer for the Beastie Boys, of which she is a founding member. She was already out of there during the Licensed to Ill years, and played briefly with New York City’s legendary Lunachicks. If she’s known for playing with any one band though, it would have to be Luscious Jackson, who performed together for almost all of the 1990s, broke up in 2000, and reunited in 2011, making the album Magic Hour in 2013. The album was made thanks in part to the miracle of crowdfunding and was promoted with a brief tour, which proved that while the band may no longer be the same one that made Gap commercials way back when, there’s still plenty of fondness for them from the people who got to hear them.
Schellenbach willingly subjected herself to the grueling “Five Questions” treatment, and even gave us a playlist to put at the bottom of this interview, which contains the tunes that got her started playing drums. So read on, acolytes of The Z Review! Read on!
TZR: When did you first start playing music and who were your earliest influences?
I was turned on to punk and new wave the summer between middle and high school. Blondie, Elvis Costello, the B-52s, the Clash. I found likeminded music fans in high school and learned about post-punk and pop bands coming out of England.
A lot of them featured women. Siouxsie and the Banshees, the Slits, Raincoats, Delta 5, X-ray Spex, to name a few. That same year, I went to my first ever live show at CBGBs and saw a teenage pop-punk band called the Student Teachers. This band was the darling of the post-punk downtown NYC scene and had been adopted by Blondie and Bowie. They had a female drummer and bass player. The audience was made up of kids my age, dancing and singing along, rocking cool clothes and haircuts. Clem Burke, Blondie’s drummer, was in the audience. I knew then and there I wanted to be a part of this. Seeing those girls, who were just a couple of years older than me, play in a band, inspired me to start playing the drums and seek out more live music and perhaps form my own band.
I started teaching myself to play drums by playing along to my favorite records on a borrowed snare drum and some cardboard boxes. I attended shows regularly, seeing the Student Teachers, the Stimulators and Bad Brains, as well as all the incredible bands coming over from England, the Buzzcocks, Gang of Four, the Specials. I perused records stores for import singles and fanzines. I met the boys and girls who eventually became Beastie Boys and Luscious Jackson. I was asked to join the Young Aborigines, which eventually morphed into Beastie Boys.
TZR: Do you prefer playing to samples or do you prefer playing with human beings exclusively?
I prefer playing with humans for sure. Playing along to a click track can sometimes feel a little restrictive dynamically but ultimately, it’s the best way to work on your internal tempo, which has helped my overall playing. When I play with Luscious Jackson, there’s only a few songs where we play along to a fully programmed drum track. I have the beats and a click in my headphones to use as a guide on songs such as “Naked Eye,” “Lady Fingers” and “Nervous Breakthrough.” On some songs, like “City Song,” our DJ will manually trigger a one-bar sample, and we’ll play along to that, which is a little looser.
The rest of our songs aren’t tied down to a sampler or programming. The most fun for me is playing along with a percussionist, our DJ, and the band.
TZR: What are you working on now?
I am a producer on The Late Late Show with James Corden, where I produce the in-studio celebrity interview segments. Luscious Jackson plays shows every so often. The last couple of shows were in Brooklyn where [vocalist and guitarist Gabby Glaser]and [vocalist and bassist Jill Cunniff]live. I have an 80s cover band that plays once in a blue moon, called Pushbuttons.
TZR: What is your number one most treasured memory of playing with Luscious Jackson?
It’s hard to pick, but one of the most exciting gigs was the Tibetan Freedom Concert at RFK Stadium in DC in 1998, organized by Beastie Boys and The Milarepa fund. It was by far the biggest crowd we ever played for. We only played a handful of songs but the audience was into it. There’s nothing quite like the feeling of your drum beat making a sea of 60,000 people jump up and down.
As a band, the Lilith Fair tour was probably the most fun. We were at the height of our popularity, we had a killer band, the production was top notch, and we were playing with incredible, inspirational female artists every night.
For me personally as a drummer, literally my dreams came true when Blondie asked me to play drums for them for a secret pre-reunion show as part of Intel New York Music Fest. I had one rehearsal with them and played six songs — “Dreaming,” “One Way or Another,” “Rapture,” “X Offender” and “Rip her to Shreds” — for a show at Tramps organized by Joey Ramone. I don’t know that anything can top playing drums for my all-time favorite band, and the feeling of joy watching Debbie Harry dancing around and singing along to my drumming.
TZR: What’s the theme of your playlist?
I decided to make a playlist consisting of the songs from albums that helped me learn to play the drums when I was 14. I’d play these records and cassettes over and over and try and play along to figure out the beats; how to accent musical moments using the cymbals and fills; how dynamics work within a song; how pop songs are structured — verse, chorus, bridge, etc. Mastering these songs made it possible to start a band and helped me define my style as a drummer.