SXSW Interview: The 88
No rock band around exemplifies the marriage of old and new like The 88, a foursome from Los Angeles. Vocalist/guitarist Keith Slettedahl, keyboardist Adam Merrin, bassist Todd O’Keefe and drummer Anthony Zimmitti formed the unit in 2002 and they play catchy power pop that reminds one of the heyday of the British Invasion.
But they’re completely 21st century – The 88 have used the internet to market their three indie releases and their sole major-label album Not Only … But Also. And they’ve gotten their music where people can hear it, which is on TV and in the movies. Their songs have appeared on “The OC,” “Grey’s Anatomy,” “Laguna Beach,” “Gossip Girl,” “Weeds” and “One Tree Hill” among others.
The 88 also wrote and recorded the theme song for NBC-TV’s comedy series “Community.” Their song “Coming Home” has been used for national TV spots by Sears and Target, and their music has appeared in movies like Failure To Launch , You, Me and Dupree and Ira and Abby.
Currently they’re touring behind rock legend Ray Davies of the Kinks, and the 88 (with Davies) will perform at a SXSW showcase on Thursday at La Zona Rosa. Davies usually does an acoustic set then The 88 joins him to perform Kinks classics. We caught up with Adam Merrin:
30 Days Out: You guys seem to be one of the hardest-working bands around … can you tell me a little about how you got noticed, and what were the biggest obstacles you faced in getting started?
Adam Merrin: When The 88 first started playing live, we booked as many shows as we could around the Los Angeles area. We put up fliers and posters at all the local coffee shops, record stores and restaurants. One thing that worked extremely well for us was making CD samplers that we would hand out at local shows. We would also include fliers for our next show inside the CDs which definitely helped bring people out to see us play. We made thousands of those, and they were a lot more fun to give to people than fliers that would get thrown on the ground.
30 Days Out: The combination of old and new styles in your music gives it a real “throwback” feel, like you guys were a part of the British Invasion. Who were your biggest influences, who do you listen to for fun and who do you really study for inspiration?
Adam Merrin: I discovered the Beatles when I was 14. Their music did something to me that I had never experienced before. I became such a huge fan, and from there I started getting into other bands from the 1960s like the Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, the Kinks, the Band, Jimi Hendrix, etc. Still to this day, that is my favorite music to listen to. Not only do I love songs with great melodies, but I’m also fascinated by the production and the sound quality of those records. I find myself liking a variety of different types of recordings. Dark Side Of The Moon is one of the greatest-sounding records of all time. A lot of thought went into the making of that album. Another one of my favorite records is Bob Dylan and the Band’s Basement Tapes. That record was done on a two-track and although it sounds completely different than Dark Side Of The Moon, it still sounds amazing to me!
30 Days Out: When you put your songs together do you have an approach to make them sound a certain way … in the writing, in the addition/subtraction of instruments? Your melodies are all very strong, do you spend a lot of time working those out?
Adam Merrin: The thing that works for this band is when we don’t spend a lot of time thinking about the melodies and trying to make the songs sound a certain way. The best stuff usually comes out when we’re all playing together at a rehearsal or a sound check. We record all of our rehearsals, and most of the songs on the record that we’re working on right now came about that way.
30 Days Out: Can you tell us a little about the process of getting a song in a movie or on TV? Is it something you seek out, or do they come to you? Do you write “to order” for a production? What’s better in terms of exposure, a song in a movie or a TV show or a commercial?
Adam Merrin: Danny Benair at Natural Energy Lab works on placing our music for us. We were handing out our CD samplers at a Supergrass show in 2009, as people were leaving the club. One landed in the hands of Danny Benair, and the rest is history. At that time I wasn’t even familier with the “music licensing” world. He called us the next day and told us about his company, and we thought we’d give it a shot. What’s great is that we’ve made new fans all around the world by having our music appear in TV shows and movies. Today, radio is pretty much dead, so this has been a great way for independent bands to get more exposure.
30 Days Out: This springtime tour with Ray Davies sounds epic, how do you approach opening for and playing with a rock legend like Ray? Is there a lot of rehearsal time that you have to do, or are those old Kinks songs almost second nature to you?
Adam Merrin: This is a dream come true for us. We are so excited for this tour. We have been rehearsing every day, and playing more than we ever have. Ray requested the bands that he was auditioning for this tour to record three Kinks songs, we did six, and he chose us. He gave us a list of Kinks songs to learn for the tour, and we are going way beyond that, and have come up with our own list of favorites.
30 Days Out: Have you ever played the South by Southwest event in Austin? If not, what have people told you about it that you know can’t be true?
Adam Merrin: We have played SXSW a few other times. We always had a great time, and we try to do as many things as we can while we’re out there. One year, we didn’t even have an official showcase but still managed to fill our days by playing at parties, and other events. It’s a great opportunity to see a lot of great music, as well as playing in front of people that can help you out in some way or another.
30 Days Out: After the tour with Ray Davies, what’s next? Do you have another album coming out this year? Any more placements in movies, etc.?
Adam Merrin: As soon as we get back, we’re going to finish this new record we just started. We recorded 15 songs at Grandmaster Recorders, which is an amazing studio in Hollywood. We are really lucky to be working with a great engineer, Andrew Alekel. These new songs are coming great and I can’t wait for people to hear them!
YouTube: “Go Go Go”