words by Ava Butera
Self-proclaiming their signature sound as “808s and telecaster,” Eighty Ninety seem to give off a vintage vibe just from that. However, when listeners delve into their music, not only will they find music reminiscent of 60’s rock, but also indie dream-pop tunes to dance and sing their hearts out to. Comprised of brothers Abner (vocals, production) and Harper (guitar, production) James, this duo puts their heart and soul into their unique sound and stylized production. Hailing from Brooklyn, New York, Eighty Ninety are constantly influenced by the huge indie rock scene in this city. With a diverse list of musical influences, such as COIN, Khalid, and Tom Petty, listeners are in for a musical treat.
Their new single “Your Favorite Song” was released on September 29, and is a great introduction to their sound, as well as their EP, (the only other music they have currently available) Elizabeth. We had the chance to interview Abner and Harper of Eighty Ninety and discuss musical influences and new material!
So first off, a basic one: I hate assuming things, but your music is very indie-influenced, what artists/albums do you listen to when seeking inspiration for new music to give me a more detailed idea?
We just made a spotify playlist of the music that we’re into right now — it’s on our spotify artist page if anyone wants to give it a follow! It’s called “Our Favorite Songs” (get it!) and it features awesome artists like COIN, Khalid, MUNA, Sampha, LANY, and The 1975. We love those bands because their production is new and cool but it feels like the main focus is still the songwriting.
Going with the theme of inspirations, who are your biggest influences and influences in music?In addition to current music like the artists we just mentioned, we love classic songwriters like Tom Petty, Paul Mccartney, Johnny Cash — for us a song has to sound great on just an acoustic guitar if it’s gonna be worth producing out as a full track.
I love that you describe your sound as “808s and telecasters!” It’s super quirky. But I am a Stratocaster gal myself!! (LOL) For those who don’t really understand those references, could you elaborate a little more on your sound?
Totally! Don’t get us wrong, Strats are great. (We may have even snuck one or two on the record, but don’t tell anyone.)
“808s and telecasters” began as a literal description of our first song, “Three Thirty” — it’s filled with 808 drum machine sounds and Harper’s yellow telecaster. It stuck as a shorthand for our style because we felt like those two sounds represent the two main elements present in our music: 808s for our minimal, more contemporary pop leaning productions, and the telecaster is this icon of the classic americana songwriter. We’re always trying to live up to that ideal with our songs. So we thought “808s and telecasters” had a strong contrast that would give people a sense of what we’re about.
I have to give you guys some praise for the production! Your music is so well curated. How’s the process for that?
Thanks! As far as process goes, it’s important to us that a song is finished before we produce it. Once we’ve written the lyrics, melody and chords (generally on an acoustic guitar or piano) we’ll build the production around the song — really making sure that we’re picking our arrangements and sounds based on the song’s emotional intent. Rather than producing instrumental tracks and then writing over them, we want every element of the productions to be informed directly by the emotional core of the song. We try to go in with a totally open mind.
I’ve noticed that you guys haven’t really played shows besides ones in NYC. Are you planning on doing a tour soon? If so, when?
We played our most fun gig yet at Music Hall of Williamsburg in Brooklyn a couple months ago, and have since been focusing on writing and recording. We’re definitely planning to play again soon, including a few shows outside NY. No details to announce yet — but keep your eyes out!
Lastly, congrats on the release of “Your Favorite Song!” It rocks!! Somewhat tying to the last questions, any upcoming plans from here on out? Tour, another EP, album?
Thanks! Someone said it made them want to “smile, cry and dance” which is perfect. And yes, “Your Favorite Song” is the first single from our upcoming EP “Bowery Beach Road”. A lot more of everything coming soon.