The 88
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The 88

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In case you’re too broke and the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival is too far a drive, check out the free parking lot concert Salzer’s Records is holding Saturday in celebration of Record Store Day.

This is the second year independent music retailers around the world are banding together to remind folks that they’re still around and still selling cool music, both on vinyl and CD.

Headlining Salzer’s bash will be The 88 along with local favorites Franklin for Short and Army of Freshmen. Miranda Cosgrove, the teen queen from Nickelodeon’s “iCarly” series, will be on hand to sign autographs.

The 88, a pop-rock band based in Los Angeles, is fronted by Keith Slettedahl, whose pipes rival those of Chris Isaak, Roy Orbison and Harry Nilsson. That’s a great thing.

The 88 have placed so much of their music in movies and television, they list their appearances by network. They also have released three albums — two indies, then one on giant Island Records. Now they’re back as indie artists with stories to tell, namely that getting signed by a major label may not be the be all and end all of a musician’s mission these days. Slettedahl expounded on that and other topics during a recent phoner.

@TO 1-Text Ragged Right no indent:What’s the latest with The 88?

We have a bunch of shows coming up. We’re going to be gone a lot doing some East Coast shows with The B-52s. We’ve been recording a lot as well.

Tell me your big label nightmare story.

I don’t think it’s a nightmare. If I look at it positively, it was a great learning experience. I don’t subscribe to that victim thing bands can get into. We made decisions and no one held a gun to our head. I never want to come off saying that particular label is evil and that the people we met are evil or anything like that. Put us back in that situation 100 times and I think we’d make the same decision.

Did the Island album do better, worse or the same as your earlier efforts?

I don’t even know, honestly. I just think it wasn’t a good fit. Looking back, that was pretty clear from the start. My wife was pregnant and was afraid that I had to do certain things. The record had to get made. The record had to come out and, you know, whenever you’re afraid and you start making decisions, the results aren’t that good.

Indie band before and indie band again. Any difference?

There’s no difference. There wasn’t even any difference when we weren’t an indie band. The way we feel as people about the music didn’t really change. But I do think it really is liberating to make music you really like without other opinions and overthinking.

I know the Island publicists were all over me to do a story on you guys when your last album came out.

We met a lot of really nice people. My only problem was with myself. I wasn’t believing in myself and I was believing a lot of other people knew more than I did.

Is there more pressure to make the first album, the second album or the current album — or no pressure at all?

No pressure at all, not anymore. I think for awhile we got kind of mixed up and tried to mold the music to fit our business situation and it’s got to be the other way around, you know? What I found out is that I want to be comfortable in my own skin; I want to be happy and the way the last record was made is not the way I ever want to make a record again. There was an obvious agenda to try to take what we do and make it fit a little more into the mainstream. At a certain point, it got even darker. They wanted us to write with a bunch of other writers.

I think the first two albums are better.

I can’t listen to stuff we did five years ago and say, “This is good or bad.” I just try to not even go there. Creatively, we’re more excited right now than we’ve ever been. We got out of the Island situation and we’ve made another record.

When’s the new one coming out?

I’m not sure how it’s going to come out. We did it all at home, so the whole approach was very different. We have to decide whether these songs will be a record. We just have to decide what we want to do and be creative about getting the music out there.

What does The 88 sound like these days?

It’s a lot like what we’ve always done and, hopefully, a little more interesting.

Every musician wants to know this: How do you get stuff in movies?

Well, we just got really lucky. We used to pass out CDs and fliers at local shows and, one night, I think it was at a Supergrass show at Spaceland, we gave a CD to a guy we didn’t know who took it home and liked it. He’s been placing our stuff ever since.

How do you survive on the road?

We’re just really straight-laced people.

No 88 beers a night?

No, we’re all married. I don’t drink and none of us indulge in any of the trappings of being in a rock band.

Since you guys chose the name, how many meanings of 88 have you found?

It can mean a lot of different things. We went with that name and it was just one of 200 on a list. The main reason we chose it is because when you hear it you don’t necessarily think “Oh, they’re this kind of band” or “They sound like this or that.” You can apply your own connotations to it. And to the four guys in the band at the time, it was the only name all of us could get behind. Our drummer at the time was really into older blues and jazz music, and there was the “Rocket 88.”

Yeah, Jackie Brenston. What a great song.

Yeah, he liked it for that reason. Obviously, the piano reference was important because that’s always been a big part of our sound.

The first time I saw you guys was at the Mercury Lounge in Goleta. You were singing a Harry Nilsson song at soundcheck. No one does that stuff anymore.

He’s one of my all-time favorites.

Any sage advice for the youngsters?

Try to have as much fun as you can and enjoy it while you’re doing it. - Ventura County Star


Music You Need To Download Now

The 88 "Hide Another Mistake"

Yet another young Los Angeles band (Giant Drag, the Willowz) with a charming swagger, the 88 shift a robotic riff into a sunny chorus like a garage-rock Beach Boys.
- Spin Magazine


Power-pop act the 88 has won rave reviews from LA Weekly to Rolling Stone, and earned national exposure on the Sept. 8 season premiere of Fox's "The OC," which highlighted its album "Over and Over," due Sept. 20. The act's sophmore effort - released on a friend's label, EMK Records - is a glorious collection of '60s-inspired, with hooks packed into nearly each of its 45 minutes. But behind the peppy piano-driven melodies are the sincere and mature lyrics of Keith Slettedahl. "I'm feeling older than a younger man should," he shouts on "Hide Another Mistake." With sold-out shows in Los Angeles, plenty are listening. - Billboard


The rehashed movie titles dominating marquees this summer appear to indicate Hollywood is just plain out of ideas. Is the same true in rock 'n' roll? (Twelve notes, fifty years ... you do the math.) Maybe. But The 88 demonstrates how proper execution keeps things sounding fresh. You've probably heard the mostly bouncy tunes on Over and Over before, since they're obviously born of '60s and '70s pop rock. But kudos to frontman Keith Slettedahl for making them sound so simultaneously charming and potent - not to mention showing off an arena-worthy voice that'll stop you dead in your tracks one moment then sing you to sleep the next. - Paste


Who needs expensive recording equipment anymore?

That's what Adam Merrin, the keyboardist for indie rock trio The 88 thought when he read about Four Track, a new $9.99 application for the iPhone which lets you record music directly into the device.

The 88 Tuesday released "Love is the Thing," a new song recorded directly onto the iPhone, available at iTunes.

The band recorded directly into the iPhone's built-in microphone, the same one used for voice calls and for cool apps such as Ocarina, which turns the iPhone into a toy flute.

The trio -- guitars, keyboards and drums -- used the iPhone mic for each instrument, plus four-part harmony, which is displayed on the bands "making of" video on YouTube. The 88, currently on tour with the B-52s, read about Four Track while driving to a gig in a van, and Merrin clicked to buy.

"It would be a fun way to put down ideas while we were away from home," he says.

He begun experimenting and decided to try recording a song. After plugging in a regular microphone, he discovered that he actually preferred the sound of the iPhone mic.

For the song, drummer Anthony Zimmitti, used his daughter's toy drum set. Guitars and bass were on small practice amps, and Merrin used a cheap Yamaha keyboard.

The tune was recorded at Zimitti's Los Angeles house, for a total of 16 tracks altogether. Four Track has a Wi-Fi feature to get the files off the iPhone, and Merrin took those and remixed the song in Pro Tools, a popular program for recording audio.

"The great thing about this, is that anyone can do it," says Merrin. "You don¹t need expensive recording equipment or instruments." - USA Today


The 88 makes witty, dynamic, melodic music that the newest little girls (and boys) seem to understand.

Howlin’ Wolf sang it: “The men don’t know, but the little girls understand.” In 1979, L.A. rockers the Knack took the latter half of this line from Willie Dixon’s blues classic “Back Door Man” as the title of their second album – a joke of sorts, but the joke was on them, as that slab generated far less pop heat than its debut, Get the Knack. The little girls may understand, but they don’t always stick around.

The lyric came to mind while I was interviewing another L.A. band, the 88. But where this group’s own second album – the witty, dynamic, and luxuriously melodic Over and Over – is concerned, both the men and the little girls understand quite well.

The men part isn’t surprising. Singer-guitarist Keith Slettedahl, keyboardist Adam Merrin, guitarist Brandon Jay, bassist Carlos Torres, and drummer Anthony Zimmitti get the trainspotters swooning by blending the brainy tunesmithery of the Beatles, the Kinks, Elvis Costello, and Pavement with the rock ’n’ roll swagger and creativity of the Stones, the Band, and T. Rex. Released in late September on the 88’s own EMK label, Over and Over is buoyed by clever, deceptively cheerful music and weighted with brooding-yet-catchy lyrics that can veer from reassuring to unsettling in the span of a measure.

No wonder music men like KCRW’s Nic Harcourt (of Morning Becomes Eclectic fame) and 103.1’s Steve Jones (of Jonesy’s Jukebox notoreity) have featured the 88. As far as obsessive rock guys (and gals) are concerned, this band would be worth a listen whenever it popped up on the postmodern-rock continuum.

But the little-girls thing is a whole other universe, one tied more specifically to The Now. For the 88 is among the growing number of artists gaining listeners the new-fashioned way: via television. Five of its songs have been used on Fox’s teen drama The OC, which also included it on the show’s first soundtrack album last year. The 88’s tunes have also been heard on MTV’s Laguna Beach, CBS’s sitcom How I Met Your Mother, and many others.

“The OC exposed us to tons of kids who would normally not have heard of us, or maybe not even be into us,” says the bespectacled Slettedahl over dinner with Merrin and me at a vintage mid-Wilshire restaurant/bar. They’ve been friends since high school in Calabasas, a longtime bond that shows in subtle ways, like how Merrin patiently, attentively waits for Slettedahl to continue, rather than talking over him, during the short pauses the singer takes between expressing his ideas. “I’ve always thought we could have a broad appeal,” Slettedahl says, “but it did kind of catch us off guard, like, ‘Wow, 15-year-old girls are into our band.’”

Many younger fans, he says, contact the band through ever-more-popular music-oriented cyber community Myspace.com, saying they heard the 88 on The OC. But Myspace is not the only place you’ll find the 88, nor are teens their only admirers. The quintet’s been featured recently in the Los Angeles Times and Spin, profiled on syndicated entertainment show Extra, and even written up in Playgirl. Hmmm … it seems that the women also understand, although the photo showed Slettedahl fully clothed.

As far as their teen fans go, Slettedahl recognizes a past self in them. “They are at that age I was, where they’re discovering the Beatles and all the music that my parents listened to; it changed my life.” And their excitement is infectious. “Any time we play an all-ages show,” he says, “it’s like, this is who we wanna play for: people who are there to like music. When I was their age, that was the highlight of the month, week, year – to go see a band you loved.”

Still, the 88’s inventive rock and spiffy on-stage suits might seem at odds with casually attired, rap- and metal-obsessed U.S. teendom. But the songs aren’t as shiny-happy as the bright music first implies. They’re as moody as any teenager: shot through with uncertainty, insecurity, and anxiety, and full of adult emotions that nevertheless resonate with youth.

“People always talk about how happy our music is,” says Slettedahl. “But it’s kind of deceiving. It’s definitely not dark, but it’s … I mean, I’ve always been more interested in trying to paint a real picture of how I think. Like relationship stuff. It’s not all, ‘I love you, I know we’re gonna be together forever, this is great.’ It’s full of doubt, ‘why does she like me,’ and all that.” Even the naturally upbeat, budding-romance celebration “All ’Cause of You” acquires a disturbing undercurrent with the Elvis Costello-esque line “I caught you kneeling in the alley with the baby talk.”

Such tracks as the propulsive, fuckup-fearing “Hide Another Mistake” and the plaintive, dizzy waltz “Bowls” simmer with angst, often drawn from Slettedahl’s own struggles. The latter, he says, “is very Kinks-ish, longing for when things were innocent and a little simpler.” Written five or six years ago, it “came out of this feeling of being really messed-up and unsure,” he says. “I was newly sober, so I just didn’t know who I was, or why I was angry, or what I was confused about, or why I was so uncomfortable.”

Slettedahl’s songs tends to be emotionally impressionistic. “My favorite writers – like Dylan, Ray Davies, Paul McCartney, John Lennon – tell these amazing stories,” he says. “You feel like you really get to see it and touch it. I can’t do that. So, out of necessity, the songs are the way they are.” Sometimes a tune’s genesis is easy to pinpoint, like the spare, pretty “You Belong to Me,” a love song for his girlfriend. Other times a more fleeting sensation causes a spark. “I’ll be kind of upset, and I’ll jump on that moment,” he says, “because I’m feeling something kind of strongly, so I don’t have the ability to talk myself out of writing it.”

Working on Over and Over with producer Ethan Allen at the Village in West L.A., Stag Street in Van Nuys, and Allen’s Silver Lake home studio, the players were encouraged to record live more than layering together the musical components, as they did for their 2003 debut, Kind of Light. “That was a big difference,” says Merrin. “Ethan got us to keep that live energy.”

During a recent Amoeba Music in-store, the musicians did build up an enthusiastic momentum on their give-and-take, closely watching each other and Slettedahl, out front with his big smile and bookish glasses vaguely evoking Buddy Holly. They clearly enjoyed being on stage – which is good, because they’ve been touring more than ever. Indeed, all this mainstream exposure has enabled the 88 to continue on its little indie way. It attracts bigger audiences out of town now, and gets a lot of college gigs, which pay relatively well. There’s more money for tour essentials like a van, gas, and hotels.

Playing nightly has psychological benefits as well. “I start to get into a different mindset,” says Slettedahl. “It’s not like the one show of every month at the Troubadour. My head quiets down a little more, and I think it brings the band together.

“It was great,” he continues, enthusing about a recent jaunt through the Pacific Northwest. “We were all sick” – Merrin snickers – “and it was brutal, and we overbooked the crap out of it.”

And this is a good experience? “We did, like, 12 shows in 10 days,” Slettedahl explains. “It was ridiculous. But we learned so much. Like, what not to do.” Heh. More seriously, he says, the group was reminded of what really matters. “There’s so much about being in a band and playing music that has nothing to do with playing music in band,” says Slettedahl. Breaking into a sudden, buoyant grin, he says, “We get back to that place of, when we play, people like it.” - Los Angeles City Beat


In a city associated with artificial sounds and one-hit wonders, local Angeleno rockers The 88 have managed to escape the quick fix of Hollywood for a slow, steady path sharing their clean, original indie-hipster sound with a loyal following. Over and Over, the follow-up to their well-received debut, features tinkering piano riffs, Beatles-esque tambourines, and swooning vocals that at times echo an edgy Jeff Buckley, and when all melded together the results could possibly make for the most totally awesome road-trip tape in a while. On "All 'Cause of You," the quintet creates blissful rock 'n' roll and multi-instrumentalist Keith Slettedahl belts out sweet melodies atop a contagious hip-swaggering backdrop. The simplistic rhythms and impressive harmonies on "Coming Home" gradually build to an up-tempo infectious musical party, which will likely have the whole room swaying. With comparisons to The Kinks (although admittedly they were never fans), the eclectic range of The White Stripes and some hints of The Thrills' sunny disposition, these rockers bring a refreshing approach to the ever-growing indie pop scene. The band is riding some recent attention, thanks to television placements and MySpace.com. So before they hit the mainstream airwaves, slide this disc into your car, roll down the windows, and hit the road. - FLAUNT


There is nothing not to like about The 88. In fact, you'd be hard pressed to find a band more likeable, more cheery and sweet and eager to please. An irrepressible blend of deftly played pop and rock 'n' roll, The 88 elicits boundless enthusiasm from an army of die-hard L.A. fans. They're hometown heroes in a city infamous for being rigorously unimpressed. Their second full-length, Over And Over (a welcome follow-up to their fine debut, Kind Of Light), is brimming with energy and sweet nostalgia. Tracks like "Hide Another Mistake" are true pop gems, everything you want in a hit song—danceable, emotional, cheery little ditties impossible not to bounce to, or sing along with, at top volume in your car. The miracle is that The 88's sound is utterly without the usual pop saccharine; the insincerity; or the glossy, bossy over-production. Somehow the band has skimmed off the cream of the '60s and '70s' most lovable musical moments—Bowie in Ziggy glitz; Lennon in love; McCartney in his gleeful, carefree Wings era; Marc Bolan as he was dancing right out the womb. The result is nothing short of glorious, and never derivative or strained. The 88 have managed to do what needs to be done—take audiophile obsession and mix in enough modern sensibility and guitar power to bring peace, love, and understanding to a whole new audience. - Rhino.com


It may be in vogue for bands like the Killers and Franz Ferdinand to pull from '80s references, but the 88 like to go back a tad further. The Los Angeles band jumps its well-dressed members head first into the happier days of the Beatles and the Kinks. Call it standard hooky pop, but, boy, it works with an immediacy and brightness that's simply undeniable. A majority of Over and Over bounces along so crisply and effortlessly that you'll be boogying before you know it. And in the odder tunes, the guys really show off their chops, namely in the loopy drowsiness of "Jesus Is Good," the sing-along shuffle of "Coming Home" and "You Belong to Me," which could've stood up on any Elliott Smith record. Definitely a winner--over and over. - E Online


Regulars on the L.A. club scene will recognize the upbeat melodies of The 88 on its sophomore album Over and Over. For newcomers, listening to the album is like childhood encounters with your favorite uncle: It picks you up, spins you around, and leaves you with a smile on your face, luckily without referencing flowery meadows, a united world, or shiny, happy people. The 12 mostly joyful tracks showcase the band’s ability to straddle rock and pop, and ride it well. Seen all over network TV, including Jimmy Kimmel Live, Extra, and a coveted spot on The OC’s season premiere, The 88 seem to be on the Big Time’s doorstep. - Santa Barbara Independent


Discography

LPs:

- "This Must Be Love" (2009)

- "Not Only... But Also" (2008)

- "Over and Over" (2005) - #43 on CMJ

- "Kind of Light" (2003) - debut album #85 on CMJ

SINGLES:

- "Love Is The Thing" (recorded entirely on an iPhone) released 6/24/09

SOUNDTRACKS:

- You, Me, & Dupree Soundtrack

- Music From The OC Mix 1

- Weeds Soundtrack Vol 2

- Failure To Launch Soundtrack

- Kyle XY Soundtrack

- NPR's All Songs Considered 4

Photos

Bio

The 88 use an organic combination of old and new school in their approach to music – and its marketing – the band's catchy melodies have found a growing audience through TV, film and commercial placements, as well as virally online.

The L.A.-based group, whose core consists of vocalist/guitarist/songwriter Keith Slettedahl, keyboardist/songwriter Adam Merrin, bassist Todd O'Keefe, and drummer Anthony Zimmitti, has been attracting attention since forming in 2003. Tirelessly playing the local scene, as well as opening nationally for acts like the B-52s, Matt Costa, 311, and Smashing Pumpkins, The 88 once served as the late Elliott Smith’s backup band, by personal request, for a memorable Orange County performance.

While you may not be familiar with The 88 as a band, you’ve certainly heard their music. With two independent releases already under their belt (2003’s Kind of Light and 2005’s Over and Over), the group has enjoyed a welcome home for their music on TV, in the movies, and as part of widely-seen, national advertising.

Their songs have appeared on The OC, Grey’s Anatomy, Laguna Beach, The Real World, One Tree Hill, and Weeds, among many others. The band themselves performed one of their tunes on an episode of CBS’ How I Met Your Mother (including a speaking role for Keith).

The song “Coming Home" has been used for national TV spots by both Sears and Target. The 88 also recorded a cover of Queen’s “Crazy Little Thing Called Love” for the Sarah Jessica Parker comedy Failure to Launch, while “All ‘Cause of You” has been featured on the soundtracks of the films You, Me and Dupree and Ira and Abby. All that in addition to a robust MySpace following, a regular spot on influential L.A. station KCRW’s playlist, and a designation as Best Pop/Rock Band of the Year by L.A. Weekly.

“We’re still the same band that works very hard and takes the songs seriously."

“In the end, the thing that ties all our songs together are the melodies,” says Keith. “Everything we do has that unifying element.”

For a band that appeals to young and old alike, with lush ballads like “No One Here” and pumping uptempo rockers “Sons and Daughters” (while also capable of tossing in a spot-on Zeppelin cover as a live encore), The 88 are in a unique position to conquer the splintered world of pop circa 2009.

“Our music has an appeal that can reach a wide range of different-age audiences,” nods Adam. “There’s a heavy edge that would be right at home on rock radio, while at the same time keeping the melodic pop side that blurs the lines of genre.”

With a bittersweet, sometimes neurotic vulnerability toward love that nevertheless offers a glimpse of hope at the end of the tunnel, Keith’s songs cut through musical genres to touch the heart; an ability he insists comes naturally to him.

“You have to be yourself,” he says about songs like “No One Here”. “It’s like a conversation with myself, going back and forth. But I’m not really that way in real life. It’s just the way I’ve always written.”

“We’re different from everybody else, even though we’re accessible, we’re likable,” explains Anthony. “But we’re still putting ourselves on the line.”

With a new album now complete, The 88 are set to do what they do best: hit the road and perform one of the most dynamic shows you’ll ever see.