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Category:    Home > Interviews > Rock > New Wave > Pop > An Interview With The 88 (Rock Music)

An Interview With The 88 (Rock Music)



It has been a long time since a band has arrived that has received the advanced critical embracing that has befallen the Los Angeles Quintet known as The 88.  For all the music that comes to this site to cover, we have not seen anything like this band.  When Michael Farmer, the “Music Geek” from the now-defunct game show Beat The Geeks covered the band’s debut album A Kind Of Light when he still wrote for us, he raved about it, giving it an A+!  I liked it too, but he is not a music authority for nothing and now they are one of the hottest new bands on the rise in the country or anywhere else for that matter.


Then came their second album, Over And Over, which has broken the sophomore curse like no album anyone has seen or heard in many years.  The songs are surfacing in TV series, shopping chain ads, feature films and the band is even doing music specifically for motion pictures.  All this is making them a true, authentic Indie Rock success.  In an age of endless Internet options, narrowcasting and only a few giant record labels, their rise is remarkable, but the music and talent are there.


Not since great, underrated Rock bands like Split Enz and Blur were so exceptionally impressive so early on with their first albums that a new band has been this amazing.  Their combination of Rock, Pop and even R&B sensibilities is truly masterful and as seen recently in concert, is one of the most energetic groups of showmen in all of Rock today.  They put the “live” into live.  With the additional influence of the singer/songwriter era, The 88 are simply working at a higher level than most bands in the business and rejecting the Emo Rock formula wisely, finds themselves on a new frontier of a genre needed a major boost.  We interviewed the band about their music, influences and other thoughts, with some very interesting results.  Please note that all answers are by keyboardist/pianist Adam Merrin, except where noted:



Nicholas Sheffo, FulvueDrive-in.com:  Hope the superlatives are not bothering you.  Because few bands have used numbers as their name unless it was to name the number of their members, you get asked all the time how your name came into being.  I was reminded that the song “Rocket 88” (co-created by Ike Turner and released in 1951) is often sited as the first Rock-N-Roll song, but that is not the origin, right?



Adam Merrin/The 88: We got the name from the title of a French Kicks song.  There are 88 keys on a piano, which is an important part of the sound of our band.



Fulvue: The California Rock that developed in the wake of The Beatles with The Beach Boys, The Mamas & The Papas and the folk movement has survived remarkably unscathed every time it surfaces.  It even continued with Fleetwood Mac.  Beginning from there, do you have any special insight on how and why that has happened?



The 88: I think whether people realize it or not, the environments that we live in do have an effect on how we act.  Our band never intentionally set out to sound like a California band.  I think it’s the same thing as trying to hide a Southern accent if you’re from the South.  At the same time, there have been so many various types of music that have come from here so I think it is difficult to pinpoint a general sound.



Fulvue: The cover for Over And Over makes a sort of promise to the listener.  If you buy this album, you will hear great Rock and Pop music like you used to all the time in the 1970s, down to the retro clothes, semi-Kubrickian chair and unique turntable.  We here at the site feel the album delivers.  Based on the Music Video for the brilliant Hide Another Mistake single, how did this visual concept surface?



The 88: Michael Reich was the director of this music video and also created the album artwork for Over And Over.  He also directed a video for Elbow Blues from our first record, both of which you can watch on our website (www.the88.net).  I think the concept was born with the help of some illegal substances, which they used in Amsterdam, of course.



Fulvue: It seems that that California Rock has a certain timeless honesty to it, yet, there is a dark side.  A few years ago, Steven Soderbergh made a remarkable film called The Limey (1999) which pitted greedy, burnout, second-rate record company owner/exploiter Peter Fonda against tough, angry, vengeful Terence Stamp as a man who comes to town wanting to know why his daughter is dead and blames Fonda.  One prominent song used was British Invasion group The Hollies’ amazing King Midas In Reverse, which still has a California flavor to it.  Much later, they had a hit with The Air That I Breathe, their last major hit.  It was so California you would almost not know they were British.  With Graham Nash’s time in Laurel Canyon put aside, do you think these remarkable hit records show some kind of special connection between the two approaches?



The 88: I think everyone has a different approach and goal with their songwriting.  For some people it’s easy to imitate a certain style of music.  One of my favorite albums of all time is Music From Big Pink by The Band.  I admire them for the fact that they recorded an album completely contrary to what was popular at the time.  Everyone else was playing psychedelic rock and they completely ignored that and stayed true to the music they liked.  I think music that is honest like that ends up outlasting all the other cookie-cutter crap that sounds like everything else.



Fulvue: Carlos (Torres, bassist), the bass is such a vital factor in any Rock band, yet so many signs for Rock band’s forming always have “bassist wanted” on them.  Why are you a bassist, why do you think that is, who are your influences and what do you think in particular of Chris Squire of Yes?



Carlos/The 88: I am a bassist for the simple reason that a good band needed a bassist instead of a guitarist.  I didn’t start out yearning to play bass as a kid.  I think most kids want to sing and play guitar…lead guitar.  It’s just more romantic… more rock star.  When I was young, I was really influenced by heavy metal.  Among my friends, you were either into Spandau Ballet or Judas Priest.  There was nothing in the middle to be had or to inspire to.  I wanted to be Randy Rhodes.  I wanted to be a rock god.  Bassist just didn’t cut in the coolness factor with perhaps one exception.  I CAN remember wanting to be Nikki Sixx for a while but that was probably more because he yielded his instrument (or axe) like a lead guitar.


So years ago, after playing guitar in a band with Keith and Adam and after we broke up, I reconnected with them in a new band but they needed me to play bass.  I had many reservations and honestly didn’t feel up to it.  Adam convinced me to come over and jam and I slowly realized that bass was an instrument that I had long underestimated and really had no idea how FUN it was to play.  I took to it and ran and have never longingly looked back at my past as a guitarist.  In fact, I hardly ever play guitar anymore.  It just feels right to play bass, especially with The 88.


Once I started playing bass, I quickly found new heroes to look up to.  It had been long since I was into metal and my tastes had grown a bit.  I love and am influenced by Paul McCartney, Rick Danko (The Band) and to some degree guys like James Jamerson [of The Funk Brothers; see Standing In The Shadows Of Motown elsewhere on this site] who played on so many Motown hits.  These guys just played the right or really…perfect notes in all the right places.  Almost as important, to me at least, they left spaces in the right places as well.  I have never been into bassists that play all over the place.  I’m not into the prototypical bassists that most look up to like Chris Squire or Jaco Pastorious.  These guys obviously are or were great, but I just wasn’t so into them.


I have long been into what makes a great pop song.  And I don’t mean Top 40 stuff necessarily.  The Beatles wrote great pop songs.  I try to make sure that whatever I play doesn’t distract from the song.  It’s just more important to me than trying to make sure everyone hears me.  Sometimes great bass lines don’t stand out, but if you take them out, then everything fall apart.



Fulvue: Brandon (Jay, guitarist), I wanted to know more about your influences and if you had any thought in particular on Jeff Beck and Lonnie Mack?



Brandon/The 88: I've listened to Jeff Beck, but at the time I was primarily a drummer so I concentrated more on Cozy Powell.  Lonnie Mack I've never zeroed in on, but I will now.  My main influences on guitar are Marc Bolan, Mick Ronson and Frank Black.  I like a lot of the acoustic guitar along with the electric sound on records like The Slider, Ziggy Stardust, and Surfer Rosa.



Fulvue: Keith (Slettedahl, vocals, guitar), when I asked about singers you liked, you named some big names, then a great one that has been forgotten for far too long:  Harry Nilsson.  You have an exceptional voice that is so Rock-capable like, say Rod Stewart singing Maggie May.  What other singers like Nilsson who have amazing voices and are not always thought of as Rock do you like, enjoy and are influenced by?



Keith/The 88: Bob Dylan is one of my favorite singers.  I like Lowell George a lot.  Richard Manuel is one of my favorites along with The Everly Bros., Joni Mitchell, Hank Williams, Thom Moore of the Moore Bros., Richard Swift, Neil Young, Nick Drake, Nina Simone, Pete Townsend, and Steve Winwood.  Ray Charles is my favorite.  I don't know which of these are considered "rock" voices, but they are some of my favorites… and Ray Davies of course, John and Paul… I could go on forever.



Fulvue: Anthony (Zimmitti, drums), in the middle of Richard Linklater’s underrated School Of Rock (2003), as Jack Black’s teacher is trying to explain Rock Music to the class, there is a profound moment in the film I always go back to.  Part of the shocking reality of the film is how the best Rock has become too much a part of the past while bubblegum Pop tunes and dominance (at the time) of Hip Hop eclipsed it after a quarter century or so.  You have Black having to teach everything, then there is this montage about drummers and the late Keith Moon is shown in a clip giving it his all.  At every screening I was at, and that was a few, I noticed that there is a sudden profound silence at this moment.  Outside of the awful loss of Moon, could you share your thoughts on this?



Anthony/The 88: Most people are just amazed at what he is playing.  He's very animated.  You don’t have to be a music major to realize what’s going on there.  He plays with passion and watching somebody that into what they are doing is infectious.  It’s unbelievable the amount of Pat Boone - Debby Boone - buck-a-chickens that one person can fit into one tune.  He's a legend.



Fulvue: Adam, when we talked, you had quite a list of persons who inspired you.  Could you name some of them and tell us what you think in particular of Jerry Lee Lewis?



Adam/The 88: Some of the people that have inspired me to play the piano are Ray Charles, Leon Russell, Richard Manuel, Nicky Hopkins, Nick Mason, etc… Jerry Lee Lewis is also a big influence, not only for his style of playing but his energetic stage performance and great voice.



Fulvue: More than one of the members of the band sited The Kinks as an influence and band favorite, with your clothing style more like their early days, but your sound covering their long history.  How do you figure and consider the difference between the two eras of The Kinks (singles to 1966) versus the full-length albums of the 1970s?



The 88: My personal favorite Kinks album is The Village Green Preservation Society [See the Super Audio CD reviewed elsewhere on this site.]  The band’s sound definitely progressed over the years.  Some bands like to try to imitate themselves on follow-up records.  I think they’re an example of a band that tried to do something different on each record.  On Over And Over, we experimented with a variety of things that we never did on our first record.  I love that about The Beatles as well.  They were always trying to outdo themselves.



Fulvue: Though your music has brilliant implementation of the best Rock of the 1960s and 1970s, your productions sound as full as bands like Spacehog and Venus In Furs.  I have never heard a band manage to sound so classic and so new at the same time so seamlessly.  Was this an aim of producer/engineer Ethan Allen and/or just a natural progression of the band?



The 88: Our sound has developed from our love of all eras of music.  Most of us have a passion for the way music was recorded in the 60s and 70s.  I’m drawn to songs that are melodic and kept simple.  We never set out to try to sound like anything.  The final product came about from everyone’s different ideas and tastes melted into one.  Ethan, our producer, came up with a lot of creative ideas and has a huge selection of instruments and really interesting sounding studio gadgets that we got to experiment with on this record.  We wanted this record to sound how we do when we play live so we played all these songs together as a band in the studio.



Fulvue: One debate has been analog versus digital sound recording.  Though digital has finally reached a new level with better general technology and new higher definition playback formats like DVD-Audio and Super Audio CD that blow MP3s and CDs away, digital in the 1980s was considered limited.  When several major artists went for it in the mid-1980s, they landed up going back to analog because of long-term playback limits they did not consider.  What limits do you see now with the latest technology?  Has the ability to record too easily made many music performers lazy and hurt their work?



The 88: People tend to get too picky and too precise when recording with computers.  There are a lot of advantages these days with modern technologies and they can be very beneficial, but they can also be harmful and take away from the natural beauty of the song. 



Fulvue: Pop has been declared dead in many ways and either pathetic prefabricated bubblegum music or too often disposable and supposedly hardcore music are the successors.  How has this hurt music overall?



The 88: I’d like to see changes in what’s being played on the radio.  There is so much good music out there that’s not getting the attention that it deserves.  Since it’s so difficult to get radio play these days there have been new outlets to help musicians get exposure.  Music licensing has become a great way to get your songs heard by a lot of people.  Websites like MySpace allow you to put your music online at no cost and is a wonderful networking tool. 



Fulvue: It becomes harder and harder to be distinctive when making music, films to TV.  One of the things is the trashing of aspects that helps songs like melody, which many for ideological reasons (the basis for advertising jingles) or a perceived sense of childishness or weakness in the material (i.e., all melodies are child’s play and oversimplify everything), yet melody is never that simple?  Why is that take so prominent?



The 88: I’m drawn to songs with good melodies.  I’m also drawn to instrumental parts that have good melodies.  If a song doesn’t have that then I probably won’t be interested in listening to it again.  I think if you’re honest in the creative process and stay true to what you like than that’s what is important. 



Fulvue: Some vital music cycles of the past have come under attack in recent years, including some the band represents well.  Critics have tried to write off Progressive Art Rock bands, even with the dubbing “Prog Rock” in many corners.  However, it seems that the experimentation bands like Yes, Pink Floyd (more obviously) and Emerson, Lake & Palmer is all over the place.  Many of the Soft Rock music of the 1970s, including that of The Carpenters and Bread, were always sincere attempts to communicate something more substantial, with a new generation of fans and musicians are discovering what those always in the know always understood.  That music was never as overly simple or whiny as some revisionists have tried to state and there is a deeper, even darker subtext to some of these songs.  Is this one of the reasons that The 88’s music seems to have more of an edge in that it takes those structures and subverts them without the listener realizing?  Do you see any hypocrisy in this?



The 88: Everyone’s individual taste is different so of course people are going to have varied opinions.  There’s never a right or wrong answer when someone is describing how music affects them personally.  Pink Floyd has always been a favorite of mine.  I love everything about their albums from the production and their musicianship to their beautiful melodies and lyrics.  That’s the beautiful thing about music is that it can take on so many different meanings.  Each individual person can come up with what the lyrics mean to them or how the music makes them feel.



Fulvue: Finally, since you are not an Emo Rock band or a No Wave band, much of the energy of The 88 seems to relate to the New Wave bands of the 1980s.  This includes the British “New Romantic” movement (with more than a few of those acts influenced by Chic) and gave us an amazing roster of acts from the U.K. and U.S. like Blondie, Joe Jackson, DEVO, Elvis Costello, Adam Ant, Grace Jones, Cyndi Lauper and so many others.  How much does New Wave inform the band?



The 88: Our band tends to like a wide variety of music.  You can hear a lot of influences in our songs but I think it’s hard to pinpoint one particular sound where it comes from.  I think that’s one of the unique things about the band and maybe that’s why we seem to attract listeners of all ages and fans of all different genres of music.



Be sure to check out the latest about the band at www.the88.net including their latest tour dates, media appearances, how to order their music, see their Music Videos, what TV shows & films their music is surfacing in next and much, much more.


The links to our reviews of their first two albums are:


A Kind Of Light



Over And Over




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