- October 2016 -
HAVE A BEER WITH EIGHTY NINETY
Brooklyn alt-pop band Eighty Ninety’s EP Elizabeth quickly racked up more than 9 million streams since its summer release. The EP was self-produced in the band’s home studio, and rapidly gained recognition when it was playlisted thousands of times on Spotify, including New Music Friday, Fresh Finds, Spotify's Weekly Buzz and MTV's Radar.
Eighty Ninety (brothers Abner and Harper James) create all of their music and visuals independently, and have perfected the blend of indie and pop to create heart-on-your-sleeve, lyrically powerful tracks. Eighty Ninety took their viral singles to the stage when they made their live debut at New York’s famed Mercury Lounge last month, and has been busy in the studio preparing their next EP.
Eighty Ninety write, produce, mix and perform music in a style they've nicknamed "808's and telecasters". Their songs fuse intimate storytelling, sticky melodies and minimalist pop productions built on acoustic instruments and electronic sounds.
Read on to hear how Abner and Harper collaborate, the making of their EP Elizabeth, and what’s on their bucket list for 2017.
The Band: Eighty Ninety
Drinks of Choice: Corona (Abner); Whisky (Harper)
Kristen from A Beer with the Band: Tell me about your journey into music. What was the turning point for you as a musician? When did you decide to fully pursue music as a passion?
Eighty Ninety: There was never a single moment when we decided to take the plunge — music is something we’ve always wanted to do since we were young. We spent a lot of time sending songs and production ideas back and forth. Earlier this year, though, we looked up and realized we had the songs and the time to make something we were both very excited about.
Kristen: You released your debut EP Elizabeth in July. Were there any particular challenges or surprises in making this EP? What’s it like to have something so personal out there in the world?
Eighty Ninety: Making and releasing “Elizabeth,” our first EP, was one of the best experiences of our lives. We had a sign on the studio door while were recording that said “fun.” The biggest challenge was leaving everything else — expectations, doubts, fears, hopes — at the door, and the biggest surprise was how much easier everything became, how much faster the music came, when we kept that in mind.
It’s a really great feeling sharing something so personal. This might sound like a cliché, but the EP really has a narrative, an emotional arc. It’s something we’ve wanted to say in one form or another for a while, and, like in life, it feels great to just say it.
Kristen: With your band name, Eighty Ninety, and your initial release “Three Thirty,” I have to ask a question related to numbers. What’s the most significant number in your life and why?
Eighty Ninety: 2005 — the year we made a spit-hand-shake pact to be in a band together one day.
Kristen: Guilty pleasure gas station buy?
Eighty Ninety: String-cheese. Anything that encourages you to play with your food: delicious and passes the time.
Kristen: What’s something you can’t live without and why?
Eighty Ninety: It would be hard to live without an acoustic guitar. No one has room for a piano, plugging into an amp is hard with neighbors, and writing on a computer just isn’t the same. Gotta feel the vibrations.
Kristen: Do you have any rituals when you’re playing shows?
Eighty Ninety: There’s generally a stripped-down section in the middle of our sets. Those songs are always called last, sometimes as we walk onto stage. It helps to keep the energy up and the band on our toes.
Kristen: You’re at a bar or a party with friends. Who is most likely to do any of the following: make the drinks behind the bar, man the Jukebox or hit the dance floor?
Eighty Ninety: Abner would likely be manning the jukebox because he’s not embarrassed to put on the pop music most people (including himself) secretly want to hear. Harper’s a bit of a mad scientist at heart—in the recording studio or behind the bar.
Kristen: What’s your creative process like?
Eighty Ninety: We write, produce, perform and mix everything ourselves, and it all happens pretty simultaneously. Generally speaking one of us will have an idea for a song that we bring into the studio and then we let our ping-ponging ideas, informed by the underlying emotional intent of the song, guide the process. That results in a kind of genre-free, whatever-sound-suits-the-song approach (and final product).
Kristen: If you could tour with one band or musician (living or dead), who would it be and why?
Eighty Ninety: We’re going to risk being boring here and say the Beatles. Not because of the whole “best-band-in-history” (true) thing, but because they approached music with a sense of uninhibited discovery and curiosity, and were always redefining who they were as musicians and artists to reflect who they were growing into as human beings. Also, imagine the late-night conversations with John and George. And the fun with Paul and Ringo.
Kristen: What scares you most about making music?
Eighty Ninety: The risk of making music with any specific outcome in mind. We still have the “fun” sign taped to the studio door.
Kristen: What have you learned about yourself through making music?
Eighty Ninety: It feels better to be yourself than someone you think other people want you to be.
Kristen: Boldest thing you’ve done in the past year?
Eighty Ninety: Probably making and releasing “Elizabeth”. It’s totally sincere — the musical influences, the lyrics — and we really didn’t know what people would think.
Kristen: Least rock-‘n’-roll thing you’ve done in the past year?
Eighty Ninety: Probably forming a band in Brooklyn.
Kristen: What’s on your bucket list for the coming year?
Eighty Ninety: We’re always in the studio writing and recording. We want to release new songs and play them for new people in cities we’ve never been to. A bunch of times.
More specifically, we played a secret show earlier this fall and filmed it. We’ll be releasing that video, along with an official music video for our third single “Fading”, coming up.