Mix Magazine
L.A. Grapevine
By Maureen Droney
March 1, 2005

'Twas the week before Christmas and everybody was winding down — except for The 88, that is, who were hard at work in The Village's Studio D. The five-piece L.A.-based pop/rock outfit looked surprisingly fresh considering that the previous night they'd been Jimmy Kimmel Live's musical guests, and that several bandmembers had also pulled an early morning gig with their alter ego, children's group Gwendolyn & The Goodtime Gang, before heading to The Village for tracking.

For an “unsigned” band, The 88 (www.the88.net) has amassed a stellar roster of accomplishments. Their first CD, Kind of Light, was a Record of the Week pick by Radio and Records, Tower Records.com and Virgin Mega magazine, with cuts airing on Fuel TV and MTV2, and U. They're also music supervisor darlings, with songs in Get Shorty 2: Be Cool and Surviving Christmas, as well as on soundtracks for The OC, Dawson's Creek and JAG. They have a song — alongside Jet and the Dandy Warhols — on the hit Warner Bros. CD Music From the OC soundtrack, are championed by taste-making L.A. radio station KCRW and were voted Best Band in Los Angeles by the L.A. Alternative Press. All of that should be enough to swell some heads, but instead, The 88 remain a rather shy bunch.

“This band works hard,” understates producer/engineer Ethan Allen (Gram Rabbit, Tricky, Luscious Jackson), who's hooked up with The 88 for their sophomore effort. “I don't think we've done a recording date where there hasn't been some other gig on the same day. Our recording schedule's difficult, but they organize it very well.”

Allen calls the project a blend of “high- and lowbrow recording.” Much of it was recorded in his personal studio; in The Village's capacious Studio D (which had just been vacated by Trent Reznor and Nine Inch Nails), the band was enjoying the ability to spread out and record live. “It's great to be able to play with isolation booths and different places to put stuff,” Allen remarks. “Brandon [Jay] plays acoustic guitar that goes through an amp, Adam [Merrin] is playing the acoustic grand piano and they were able to get their own spaces. We're also using the echo chamber room, leaving its door open to let the drums leak in.”

While The 88 is influenced by some of history's coolest bands [The Kinks, The Beatles, The Band], their sound is their own. Songs are melodic and full of hooks, with expertly offbeat arrangements and playing by pianist Merrin, bassist Carlos Torres, drummer Mark Vasapolli and acoustic guitarist/percussionist Jay. Ultimately, however, it's singer Keith Slettedahl's stream-of-consciousness lyrics that draw you in.

“Keith will usually have an idea for a song,” explains Merrin. “Sometimes, it's a complete idea with lyrics and a melody; other times, it's unfinished or needs a little help with the arrangement. Brandon is very good with that part, and during the making of this record, Ethan also contributed many great [arrangement] ideas. He's also been very helpful in making some of our ideas complete. He's a perfect fit for this band.”

“To me, the identifying, central part of this band is the writing,” comments Allen. “It's about songs. That seems ridiculous to state, but so much music isn't really solid songwriting. With The 88, the music is pop and familiar, but there's always something just a bit twisted. There's a very definite character that comes from telling stories. It's not a band that jams. They have something to say, and they have great common instincts that support the songs' ideas without stepping on them.

“It's inspiring to work with a band with such unflinching commitment to their music. I ask a lot from them. They respond and reach beyond their normal limits, and I feel compelled to do the same, which is really the way it should be!”