Within the New York City alternative rock scene, band Eighty Ninety has been an act to watch ever since their debut EP Elizabeth dropped in 2016. Out on June 10th, The Night Sky follows this strong opener with eight distinctive tracks.
Eighty Ninety is a project of brothers Abner and Harper James that they’ve described as “808s and Telecasters.” This confluence comes through their sound – a mix of pop and dance production coupled with skilled guitar playing, eclectic production, and introspective, confessional lyrics.
Themes of love, friendship, hope, and dreams have connected with fans – including, perhaps predictably, Taylor Swift. Not long after their debut, Swift listed their track “Your Favorite Song” on her Spotify playlist Songs Taylor Loves.
Along with reviews from Billboard and Alternative Press, this boost introduced Eighty Ninety to a new potential group of fans.
The Night Sky extends their ethereal sound with an overall chill vibe. We spoke with Eighty Ninety about putting this long-awaited release together:
You describe your sound as “808s and Telecasters.” What does this mean in terms of influences and how you approach writing your songs?
Our first single “Three Thirty” was an almost country-leaning song with full-twang Telecasters on top supported by an electronic and pop production complete with vocal glitches and drum machines.
When we were first trying to describe our sound, we found that “808s and Telecasters” was the most succinct way to get the idea across. It’s since come to be a shorthand for our approach, which is that we let the song (rather than any genre conventions) lead the way for our productions.
Your upcoming EP The Night Sky serves as a follow-up to your debut, Elizabeth. How have you changed as musicians and songwriters over these years?
Elizabeth was a small, intimate feeling EP reaching for widescreen emotions.
Over the course of making the singles that followed and then with this EP, we have expanded the soundscapes and tools but tried to stay true to that intimate yet cinematic feeling. The idea is that sometimes the most personal things feel the most epic.
The Night Sky gives off somewhat chill vibes overall. What was your vision for this EP?
We wanted the EP to be almost dreamlike in the way that it hangs together as a not-quite logical or chronological story and takes you from important moments and scenes to others, with overlapping characters and scenes.
In some instances, we actively wanted to create an almost surreal atmosphere permeated by a sense of wonder and possibility, like the magical realism of a dream.
When did you start working on this EP? How did each song come together?
We flew to LA to work with our good friend and producer Gian Stone right before the pandemic started. Those sessions became the first of a process that involved many Zoom sessions and, once it was safe, work in our studio in Brooklyn.
Each song was a result of all of those kinds of sessions. It was a new way to work, but creating in all these new ways helped shape many moments we’re most proud of.
You’re also known for your live sets, and get described as a band to watch. For performing tracks from this EP, what should listeners expect?
We love to perform, and have missed it so much! We play as a trio — Abner sings, Harper plays guitar, and we’ll have a drummer as well.
There’s an element of a rock show to it (Harper won’t say this, but he can absolutely shred if he’s asked to) that’s a lot of fun for us.
Do you plan to tour to promote The Night Sky, and if so, where should we expect to see you?
We would LOVE to. Right now, things are still up in the air. We’d want to make sure we can do it safely.
Around the time Elizabeth was released, Taylor Swift added your track “Your Favorite Song” to her Spotify playlist. How did this help your career in terms of visibility and listeners discovering your music?
We are huge Taylor Swift fans — have been for years before that happened — and getting that endorsement meant so much to us on a personal level.
Career wise, it helped get our music out to so many new people. Taylor’s fans are so dedicated — being the recipient of that positivity and enthusiasm is amazing.
You’ve also branched out to producing and working with other artists, like Cade Hoppe. What’s your approach for producing other artists, and how does it vary from producing your own music?
We love to collaborate with artists as Eighty Ninety, and Harper also frequently produces other artists. Whether it’s Eighty Ninety or another project, the process really just depends on the specific artist.
Whether for making your own music or producing other artists, where would you like to see your career go long term?
We’re just excited to continue to release music — we’re already working on our next releases — and to evolve and expand the world of Eighty Ninety.
Ivan Yaskey is a Philly-born EDM and synthpop enthusiast and interviewer who recently relocated to beautiful Boston, MA.