Say hello to Eighty Ninety - the NYC-based musical collaboration of brothers Abner and Harper James, who recently released their stunning debut EP, Elizabeth. Each of the three songs on this release are perfectly-crafted, smooth-sounding, modern pop gems with polished, easy-flowing vocals. After just one listen to the EP, I was blown away by how accessible and catchy these songs are. It's no surprise that Elizabeth is attracting significant attention and getting heavy play on various music streaming services. Their first single, "Three Thirty", has already clocked nearly 13 million plays on Spotify alone. This is an emerging, talented band you'll definitely want to put on your musical radar.
SoundThread Music Blog recently caught up with Eighty Ninety to pose a few questions about the origin of the band, the inspiration for Elizabeth, and their songwriting process, as well as finding out what's in store for Eighty Ninety in the near future.
Tell us about Eighty Ninety – when and why did you decide to form the band? How did the name originate?
We're brothers and have always written and recorded songs together - from the first four track tape recorder in our basement growing up to the production space in Brooklyn we work out of now. Last spring something clicked and a more cohesive sound emerged. We felt like we'd finally incorporated our various interests and influences into something that might work - and were excited by that. Eighty Ninety was born and we released "Three Thirty" followed by our EP, Elizabeth, later on that year. The name Eighty Ninety has a lot of connotations we like - speed, eras of music, liquor proofs…
EIGHTY NINETY "Three Thirty" (Official Video)
How would you describe your sound?
We nicknamed our genre "808s and telecasters". We try to fuse a more classic songwriting approach with modern, minimalist, sometimes experimental pop production. We let the emotional arc of the song, rather than any set of genre conventions, lead us to instruments and sounds.
Have you both always had an interest in becoming musicians?
When we were younger, Abner wanted to be a film composer and Harper studied jazz guitar. The threads of songwriting - putting story to music, composition through improv - were always there.
What parts do you each play in the songwriting process?
The two of us write, perform, produce and mix all of our music. It's all part of one organic (and frequently simultaneous) process. No single element of a song, production or mix is ever set in stone until the track gets mastered. That said, so far all our songs have Abner on vocals and Harper on guitar. We play live with a killer drummer/producer Benny Brown.
There is a short video clip on your Facebook page that contains the message: "Elizabeth is kind of far away, and it can be hard to find again, but we think we might remember." What is the significance of the title "Elizabeth"?
People, places and times are inseparable. The songs on Elizabeth are about all three and their relationships to each other. The title encapsulates that - for us, at least.
Can you tell us a bit about the inspiration or theme throughout the tracks on the EP?
We wanted the EP to have an arc. "Heartbreaker" is really about a single intense moment and feeling in time. "Three Thirty" explores how stringing together those kinds of moments can create something that feels bigger. "Fading" is about searching for meaning when you feel that sense of hugeness, of importance, disappearing. Who knows if any of that comes across - but it was important to us that these songs mean something more together than they do separately.
All three of the tracks on Elizabeth are outstanding in every respect – it's as if you've released an EP full of hit singles. Are there plans to promote the last track "Fading", similar to the promotional videos done for "Three Thirty" and "Heartbreaker"?
Thanks! And yes, we plan on it. We actually filmed a secret show at the studio where we record a couple of months ago and recently released the video. We partnered with one of our favorite magazines Local Wolves to make it happen. The show felt like an unofficial EP release party. It was the first time we'd done something like that, and it was so much fun. You can watch the video below:
EIGHTY NINETY "Live at Degraw Sound" (January 2017)
What's next for Eighty Ninety in terms of new music and touring?
We're currently finishing up a new set of songs that we're so excited about, whether they take the shape of a full-length, second EP, or string of singles. Either way, we'll be releasing them into the wild soon. For the moment, we've been playing in New York (where we live). We have plans to tour soon, though, and we're really excited to play these songs - along with a lot of new ones - in some different cities.
Eighty Ninety's next show takes place in NYC at the Bowery Electric on April 22. Get your tickets here if you're in town!
For more information about Eighty Ninety, check out their official website, stream their music on Spotify, and follow them on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.