The 88 is going back to the
By Naughty Mickie
You may not know their name, but you know their
music. The 88, lead singer and guitarist Keith Slettadahl,
pianist/keyboardist Adam Merrin and drummer Anthony Zimmitti, has
had songs placed in television shows such as "90210," "Gossip
Girl," "Grey's Anatomy," "How I Met Your Mother," "Numb3rs" and
"One Tree Hill," plus HBO's "Weeds" and in films like "Failure to
Launch," "You, Me and Dupree" and "Surviving Christmas." Their
tunes can also be heard in the video game, "Rock Band 2," and in
commercials for Target, Sears, Microsoft Zune and other companies.
The band has even been featured in #25 of the DC Comics series "Manhunter."
The 88 was named best pop/rock band by the LA
Weekly Music Awards and best band in Los Angeles by L.A.
Alternative Press. They have opened for artists such as Smashing
Pumpkins, B-52s, Flaming Lips, 311 and The Pogues and have served
as both the support act and backup band for Elliott Smith. Their
most recent album is "Not Only... But Also" (Island Records).
"Adam and I went to high school together, so
we've known each other a long time," Slettadahl begins. "We
started playing music together shortly after we graduated from
high school, actually the last day of high school we made a song
together. It's the first thing we've ever done and we've been
pretty much playing together ever since. It's really been me and
Adam all these years.
"We met Anthony probably five years ago now. We
were already The 88 with a different drummer and different bass
player. We had another guitar player and just over the years, you
The group has gone from five members down to
three. I wondered if this was a conscious decision to make things
easier, both for more cohesiveness and better economics.
"It wasn't easier, it was just the way things
happened. I don't think we ever decided that we wanted to be a
smaller group, this is just how it evolved." Slettadahl explains,
"The biggest thing is the older you get, your life tends to have a
lot more responsibilities in it. It's really hard to keep a band
when people have kids and wives and all these different concerns
come up. It just gets more and more difficult to keep that
youthful attitude like, 'This is going to be good, awesome, we'll
just get in the van.' Our bass player left for that exact reason
because he had a second child and just couldn't be away, he wasn't
happy. We totally understood and are still really close."
There's been a number of rumors as to where The
88 got their name, so I asked for the truth.
"It means a lot of things, but basically
somebody saw it on a French Kicks record, they're a band from New
York, one of their songs is called 'The 88,'" Slettadahl answers.
"It was in a list of hundreds of names for bands that we were
throwing out there. At the time it was the one name that everyone
in the band could get behind one way or another because it's kind
of a reference to Rocket 88, which is supposedly the first rock
and roll song by Ike Turner and Jackie Breston. Our drummer at the
time was into old blues and old jazz, he thought that was cool.
Also the obvious reference to 88 keys on a piano, which has always
been a big part of our band, Adam's piano playing. And more than
anything, it was a name that you didn't instantly have a
connotation to, you didn't think, 'Oh they're this kind of band or
they sound like,' so we could put our own stamp, our own meaning
to the name."
Slettadahl was athletic growing up rather than
"I was much more into sports. I got a guitar
when I was 12, but I didn't really play it." Slettadahl says, "I
played baseball pretty obsessively until I was 18, but I picked up
the guitar near the end of high school and started messing around
with it and I got really into it. I was always really into music,
even as a kid, but I never played it, but I was pretty obsessed.
Through high school I was obsessed with a lot of bands. I got my
dad's record collection when I was 15 and that was pretty much it,
I never looked back after that."
Before The 88's career was solid Slettadahl had
worked in tile repair for a few years and delivered food.
"The ultimate musician's job is telemarketing,
which I think every musician's done at one time or another because
they don't make you cut your hair, they don't care how you look,
which was really important to me when I was 19 and 20 years old,"
Slettadahl adds. "I'm still a huge sports fan. I go to a lot of
Laker games, that's a passion of mine."
He's also a Dodgers fan and is married with a
one year old daughter.
We return to band topics by discussing
Slettadahl's approach to the material.
"I pretty much write all of our songs, but some
of them happen with the band, just ideas that happen when we're
making up stuff together. That's something that I really want to
get into more." Slettadahl shares, "The last record we made is not
indicative of what we do. I think when we get together and play
there's a very special thing that happens and by that I mean it's
really special to us.
"It's always, for me, the music first because
for me everything is melody-driven. The hardest thing for me is
coming up with stuff to talk about."
I comment that many of their song lyrics seem
"That's because it's all based on the melody,"
Slettadahl replies. "If you write words first you're trying to fit
this idea to the melody. I love writers that can write in a
narrative style and tell stories, but that's never been me, I'm
not very good at it. I want the words to sound cool, I like the
sounds of the words and the rhymes.
"With the last record I thought I got away from
that. We had this idea to make it fit more into a mainstream kind
of world and we found out that's not really where we belong. I've
been having a lot more fun with writing again because I think it
was pretty torturous making the last record."
"Do you feel that the band has evolved with
'Not Only, But Also...'?" I ask.
"It's not the songs so much, it's the way it
was approached, to me, it's not a fair representation of who we
are." Slettadahl explains, "I think we're more interesting than
that. But again, that's the thing, you'll have an opinion, I'll
have an opinion, my wife will have an opinion and that's where we
found ourselves making our last record, was like 150 opinions and
what we allowed to happen was our opinions meant the least. That's
a dark place to be if you're a creative person or trying to be a
creative band. You're constantly second guessing what comes
naturally to you. That's no way to make anything no matter what
you do. You're trying to guess what some faceless nameless entity
would want to hear to sell the most records.
"I like a lot of the record, it's not like I
think it's a piece of shit. It's just because I know what the
experience was like and I learned a lot. In the future, it's not
OK for us to put out anything that we don't 100 percent believe
in, whether it's three verses of two songs or one bridge on the
whole record that I don't like. We're the ones, we have to live
with that forever, nobody else. I don't buy in to a lot of
reviews. I used to, when I was a kid, I read them in a completely
different way, now being on the other side I see them in a whole
different kind of light."
I comment that I don't trust reviewers who are
quick to criticize an artist, but have never been on stage or
played an instrument.
"I totally agree, but I think also that just
because someone plays music their opinion can't matter more than
if they don't," replies Slettadahl. "At the end of the day, I
can't go there because it doesn't work for me and you could just
drive yourself crazy. Of course this is coming off the experience
we just went through, so today you're talking to me and I'm very
sure about this, but talk to me in a year."
What is the key to The 88's massive success?
"I don't know what it is, but I know what it's
not." Slettadahl clarifies, "I don't want to keep harping on the
last record, but that was a good example of going against
ourselves in a way and ignoring a lot of feelings we were having
and just going along with this process. For two years everything
came to a grinding halt, we'd been really busy and moving and
doing things before that record and then we signed a major deal
and everything stops. Now it's real clear to me, but at the time I
"We have always just made songs that we liked.
That's the most important thing, you have to find out, it's so
obvious that it's kind of embarrassing to realize that you didn't
realize it. It's like, 'If I'm not excited and I'm not happy, then
no one else is' because that's what people really want, for you to
be excited about what you're doing and when you're not, I think it
shows through." Slettadahl goes on, "The producer we worked with
on the last record is a phenomenal person and I'm really glad I
met him and I know him. He's an amazing guy and we met all kinds
of great people, it's not a knock on anybody, it was really our
decision to let everyone dictate what we were going to do.
"Since we got out of the record deal we
recorded a bunch of songs and I don't know what we're going to do
with those, but they exist. They were done in a very different way
than we've done it before, they're all started a home, home
recordings, so sonically it's not really like the other record.
That's why we're not really sure what we're going to do, but the
plan is to do dates with the B-52s and come home and figure out
what makes the most sense recording-wise and start being a real
band again, a creative band that gets together and makes songs and
feels excited about music.
"I think for a couple of years there there
wasn't a whole lot of playing, there was a lot of talking, we did
a lot of conference calls, but not a lot of playing. So I asked
myself, 'Why doesn't this feel right? Oh, yeah, we haven't
played.' No shows, everything waiting, waiting, waiting. (To play
is) the only reason to do it, right? But we had to experience it
to figure out what we want," Slettadahl continues. "It could be
the best thing we've ever gone through because I think we feel
closer as people and musically I think we have a much clearer idea
about what we want to do and, more importantly, what we don't
want to do.
"We're starting to rehearse a lot of (the new)
songs with the band and get them up to speed to start playing
live. I think what we're finding is the old idea of making a
record of 12 songs and then playing 12 songs for a year is not
appealing to us. If there's another way to do it, I would be
really excited about doing that. Now with the Internet I don't
know if you need to stick to that old model, I'm not sure what
we're going to do, but it's very exciting because we're excited
about what we're doing again. We really can't go wrong and really
that's all you ever have and it's easy to lose sight of that, but
if we're not excited about it, what's the point?"
Find out when you can catch The 88 live and see
where their career goes next at