Adam Merrin of the 88 Gives Good Advice: Stay True to Your Music, Don't Try to Fit into a Scene

Categories: Q&As

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You could say that the 88 is the ultimate indie pop act, a shining example of a band making a living playing shiny, happy pop music (read: no day jobs needed) without skyrocketing to fame, pandering to crowds or being a household name. They release their own albums, tour at their leisure, are full time musicians who make a living by making music. Last September, they released their eponymous album; they're performing at the Coach House on Saturday to support it. How do they do they make it seem so easy? Read our interview with keyboardist Adam Merrin. 


OC Weekly: It's interesting that you're all working musicians while not necessarily touring 24/7. How did you successfully pull that off?
Adam Merrin: One of the best pieces of advice that we ever got was to make CD samplers of our music and pass them out to as many people as we could.  We used to make thousands of these, and hand them out all over town.  One night, I was doing this at a Supergrass show in front of Spaceland, and handed one to Danny Benair.  The next day, he called us and said that he places music in television and film, and that he'd like to represent our band.  I had never heard of something like this before, and we thought that we'd give it a shot.  Soon after that, he was calling us all the time telling us that he placed our songs in different TV shows.  We are extremely appreciative of everything he has done for us in that world, as it's allowed us to concentrate on writing, recording, touring, and even bought us our van that we travel in. 

Why is your newest release self-titled?
Todd (O'Keefe, bassist) came up with the album title while taking a hot bath.  I think he comes up with a lot of ideas that way.  We were at rehearsal one day and he came in and told us that he came up with the name of the album.  When he said it was, "The 88," it made perfect sense to all of us.  There was no questioning it or trying to come up with any other alternatives, it just fits exactly where the band is at right now. 

What were your musical inspirations working on this album?  Any life changes going on?
I'm inspired by the guys in the band.  When we all get in a room together, something great happens, and we have a lot of fun playing music and making up songs.  Either that, or we're all just wired out of our minds from our morning coffee.  Some of the songs on this record came very spontaneously out of improvisational jams that lasted over 30 minutes.  We record every rehearsal and then make CDs for everyone to listen to.  After doing this a bunch of times, purely for the fun of just getting together, we realized we had enough songs to record an album.  We booked some studio time at Grandmaster Recorders in Hollywood, and finished it in nine days, then mixed it in a week.  Between going in to the studio very prepared, and having a great engineer (Andrew Alekel), we were able to pull it off that quickly.
 
How is your musical career different from your expectations when you first started out, after six albums?
We have stayed true to the music that we love, and have never tried to change it to try to fit into any particular scene... if you don't count our major label release... which actually was us half-trying to hold on to our sound and beliefs, and half-saying yes to other people's ideas.  So you have this confusing mix that doesn't fully go one direction or another.  So besides that brief experiment in time, which I'm so thankful for, because we came out of it stronger and more confident than we ever have been, we continue to make the music that feels good to us.
 
You were one of the first bands to take the money side of things into your own hands and not depend on a major label to make a living. What brought that about and what kind of advice would you give other bands?
I think that each individual needs to decide what makes them happy, and then go with that.  Keith and I have been playing music together for almost 20 years, and we know each other so well.  So when we were making the major label album, I could see that he was unhappy.  So even if we started making money from that album, it wouldn't have been worth it.  It feels so good to be recording and writing how we want, and there is a joy that comes from that experience that is priceless to us.  You can't top that with anything.  
 
What's the best thing that happened to you in 2010?
When we were in the studio making our new record, we got a call from Ray Davies that he was looking for a band to not only open up for him on a month long U.S. tour, but to also be his backing band playing Kinks songs with him.  We actually had to take a break from recording to do this tour, but it was one of the best touring experiences we've ever had.  The audience reception was incredible, and it was a dream come true to be able to play Kinks songs with one of our idols.  After that tour, he asked us to go to England with him, and we got to play places like The Royal Albert Hall, and the Liverpool Philharmonic, and then record with him at Konk studios at the end of those dates.  I still can't believe that it actually happened.  I guess there are some YouTube clips that I can watch to reassure me.

The 88 perform at the Coach House in San Juan Capistrano on Nov. 20.


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