The year 2007 has been an excellent one for L.A.’s pop-rock powerhouse The 88. The band is cresting on a red-hot music licensing streak that has netted close to 40 song placements in advertising, television, and film since its independently produced debut disc, Kind of Light, dropped in 2003. Replete with catchy tunes sporting killer hooks, said disc gained traction thanks in large part to its frequent play by KCRW’s Nic Harcourt on his Morning Becomes Eclectic show.
Fast forward two years to 2005, and The 88 had earned its spurs as first-rate musicians. On the cusp of greatness, The 88 released its independently produced sophomore effort, Over and Over. The album built on Kind of Light‘s gorgeously melodic and buoyantly infectious songs, yet also showed singer/songwriter Keith Slettedahl’s angsty side.
In fact, Over and Over was so undeniably rich and textured that it’s amazing to think it took the band two additional years to get a major label to ink them a deal. But, finally, Island/Def Jam Records has done just that. I spoke to Adam Merrin, The 88’s arpeggio-ardent pianist and cofounder, about his band’s major label coup, future plans, and upcoming Velvet Jones gig on Thursday, August 2.
How does it feel to at last be on a major label? We’re incredibly happy; we’ve worked very hard for this and we feel like we’re in good company, being on the same label as Bob Marley and U2, even if it took us a while to get there.
I heard the producer Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds worked with you on three tracks. Will he be producing all of the tracks on your next album? Yeah, it is looking like he probably will. It is kinda funny because he’s generally a hip-hop producer, but he really likes our sound and thinks we are the real deal in terms of Keith’s songwriting. He’s also worked with Fall Out Boy, whom we are now labelmates with. So we’ve booked more time in the studio with him.
To what extent did Nic Harcourt playing your songs on Morning Becomes Eclectic help you guys get signed? Nic was hugely instrumental in helping us get across. Ultimately 12 out of 13 tracks off Kind of Light made KCRW’s spin list and got heavy rotation. That led to us getting “How Good It Can Be” featured on the Music from The O.C.: Mix 1 soundtrack. Then our songs got used all over the place-on Grey’s Anatomy and How I Met Your Mother. We also had songs licensed for some films, including You, Me, and Dupree and Failure to Launch. Since then, we’ve been on Jimmy Kimmel Live, Last Call with Carson Daly, and The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson-all before we got inked to a major. So, over time, our fan base just grew and grew, and the major labels finally took notice.
Why are you called The 88? (Laughs) Well, that’s our enigma. Eighty-eight is the most auspicious number in China, and it’s also the infinity sign and the title of a great song by a band we admire called the French Kicks : and it takes 88 mph to get Back to the Future. : But, since I’m the piano player of the band, I’ll go with the fact that there are 88 keys on the piano.
You’ve gigged in S.B. a few times throughout the years. Are you looking forward to playing here again? Absolutely! We love Santa Barbara. It’s funny, too, because we’re opening for the Smashing Pumpkins up in San Francisco the night before our S.B. gig, but then The Faded is opening for us at Velvet Jones, so we get to be on both ends of it-opening act and headliner-depending on the town and the venue.
Does the band still perform in suits? Yep. We tried doing it without the suits once-it just didn’t feel right. We gotta look sharp.