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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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