88 Fingers Louie

Last month, 88 Fingers Louie released their first full-length in nearly 19 years, titled Thank You for Being a Friend. We spoke with singer Denis Buckley and talked about how the album was written, what its recording process was like and the style of the record. While longtime fans will likely recognize the band’s classic characteristics, there are also plenty of contemporary influences to be found, making for an album that’s not only mature, but also aggressive and urgent. Additionally, we conversed about the record’s lyrics, their relationship with new label Bird Attack Records, the upcoming shows overseas and more.

Bill – In 2009, after a ten-year hiatus, you guys got back together and started playing shows somewhat sporadically. Then in 2014, the band began working on new material for the first time in about 15 years. How would you describe those initial writing sessions and at what point did you realize that an album was starting to take shape?

Denis – Well, as we started thinking about writing these songs, speaking for myself, I was initially hesitant going into it. I wasn’t closed off to it, but I was hesitant only because we had attempted in the early months of 2010, after doing some shows in 2009, we tried to write some new music. After a couple false starts for lack of a better term, it was just kind of obvious at the time that we weren’t on the same page. I don’t know if everybody’s head wasn’t in the right place, I don’t know, but I remember thinking, “Alright, we tried to do it and I’m just not feeling it. Maybe we just play a couple more shows and call it a day.” So that’s initially what we did, we stopped playing in 2010 for a couple years. Once we actively picked back up again in 2014, we had gone back and forth on the older songs we were going to continue to do. Dan, (guitarist Dan Precision) suggested getting together and having kind of like writing workshops. The first couple of times we weren’t getting together and plugging in amps and going for it, we were sitting down and listening to ideas that were previously recorded. In this case, Dan had ideas going back probably to his time in Break The Silence, so probably ten good years there if not longer. Dan and Nat, (bassist Nat Wright) they had been working on music together, they were doing a band called Set Fire To Reason. They also had some music left over from that. Between those two batches of songs, we had gotten together a couple times, the four of us, and some songs immediately jumped out. We’re like, “Alright, let’s explore those.” And the ones that didn’t, maybe the ones that sounded a little too much like our earlier stuff, those were the ones where we were like, “We can do better than that. That sounds like something we would’ve written in ’99 or something.”

After a few of those sessions, we started working on new ideas. What was cool was John, (drummer John Carroll) mentioned that he had a written a hardcore song. That turned out to be the song “2810” and we were just like, “Holy shit. Little nice guy John, he knows how to rock ‘n’ roll. This is awesome.” He came in with a few other songs as well. I would say probably the start of 2016, so a little over a year of solid jamming and writing before we realized we had some good ideas and the makings of a really good album. From 2016, we knew at some point we were going to record an album.

Bill – What was it like recording at your guitarist Dan’s studio, The Bombshelter?

Denis – I’m as surprised now as I was in January; the best recording experience I’ve ever had, far and away, and certainly the most comfortable. When I’d hear stories about bands that had members that either ran recording studios or worked at recording studios, I always thought what a nice benefit that would be to have. But until you can actually kind of reap those rewards, you don’t really know how good you can have it. To record this new record on our own time, making our own schedule, working at our own pace, it was beautiful. There’s no other way to describe it. The guys worked on their stuff first, I came in and worked on like two or three songs a day for a number of days. It might’ve been the first day we were recording or maybe the second, I kind of made a side joke to Dan, I said “Wow. I can’t believe it’s actually nice working with you.” We’ve had kind of a contentious relationship over the years. It’s been somewhat documented. But this time around it was just like, “You aren’t an asshole. This is really fun.” It was so much fun that I’m already looking forward to recording the next record.

Bill – That’s really cool. What do you like best about how the finished record sounds?

Denis – Well, I’ll be totally selfish and say the vocals. This record and I would say at least two of the three songs from the Kid Dynamite split are really the only songs I can go back and listen to that I’ve done with 88 and not cringe. Youth, inexperience, whatever you want to call it, those early records, as much as they might resonate with people, I can’t stand the sound of my voice. This time around especially, I probably listened to the record a dozen times before it actually came out. Not even listening for mistakes, but I feel like this record is on equal footing with a lot of the current stuff that’s out there now.

Bill – In terms of the album’s style, while it’s definitely a progression from your earlier material, many of the signature traits are still present too. Was it something you thought a lot about beforehand or did the songs just develop organically?

Denis – It was completely organic. And when I say that, like I was saying before when we were doing our songwriting workshops, we had the luxury of going through songs that maybe sounded too much like a typical 88 song or too different than an 88 song. The songs that I initially thought might throw some people for a loop, with those I was like “The hell with it. That’s the stuff I want to work on the most.” When we knew we had the makings of a record, the important thing for me was I didn’t want people to listen to it and be like, “Yeah, of course that’s what you’re going to do.” Like you were saying, it’s 2017, it’s not 1999 anymore. People have grown up, shit’s happened, of course things are going to be a little different. We obviously knew we had to play to our strengths too, so we couldn’t completely abandon what we did before. We just did our best to update it.

Bill – The song “Advice Column” has a really positive message about not being stuck in the past and embracing the future. What inspired its lyrics?

Denis – I think it was basically born out of the 20th anniversary we did in 2013. We did that, we kind of walked away with Joe, (original bassist Joe Principe). In the beginning of 2014 the door was kind of open, like “Hey Joe, if you ever want to do some stuff, we’d love to play.” Joe quickly realized and we quickly realized there was no way he could do that and Rise Against at the same time. We basically said, the three of us, John, Dan and I, that we still wanted to do this. Of course he gave us his complete blessing. We got Nat involved and kind of my frame of mind at the time was that the band could go one of two routes. We could continue just to play the old songs and eventually call it a day after a year or two, because you can only do that for so long. Or we could finally sit down and give writing new songs another shot. If we’re successful writing songs then we’ve got some additional mileage and we’re probably going to tack on a bunch more years after that. There was some doubt, I remember kind of over-thinking and wanting to write what feels naturally, but I don’t want to alienate people. It kind of got to a point where we all realized that you just have to write to make yourselves happy. We can’t worry about if the song is going to sound like a song that we did 18 years ago. “Advice Column” is basically a product of us saying “Enough is enough. We’re going to keep writing, we’re going to move forward. We can keep an eye on the past, but we can’t just be completely beholden to it.” That had a lot to do with it and in a way, it was kind of a way to address people that rip on reunions and think it’s just a cash grab. There are a couple lines in there about drama queens and punishers and stuff like that. We’re doing our thing. If you’re not onboard, then that’s fine. Just because the stuff you did before didn’t resonate with people, don’t rain on our parade.

Bill – “All the Right Words” is one of the more personal songs on the record. What were some of the things that motivated its creation?

Denis – Well, you’re the first person who’s asked, so you’ll be the one to get an answer. I was in a long-lasting relationship that since I wrote that song has kind of come to a close. It was kind of written from the standpoint of I know I’m not an easy person to get along with and the girl I was dating put up with a lot of shit. I wrote “All the Right Words” as my way of showing my appreciation for her patience, kind of like a “thank you” to her.

Bill – What are some of the overall messages that the album tries to convey?

Denis – I would say that the songs are all kind of tied together just by the theme of, and I hope this doesn’t come across as too pretentious, but the overall theme is that there’s a lot of love on this album. Love doesn’t necessarily mean like a traditional love song. Love is complicated. I’ve got friends that I love that are literally throwing their lives away and there’s not a lot you can do but kind of watch and hope that they figure things out. You have family that aren’t making good choices or haven’t made good choices and you kind of have to let them do their thing. You love the people in your life on a romantic level that drive you crazy in the best and in many times the worst ways. But in spite of all that, you live through the drama and move forward as best as you can. If anything kind of ties these songs together, it’s love and its many forms and how to weave your way in and out of it.

Bill – How did you go about partnering with Bird Attack Records for the release of the album?

Denis – We worked with Garrett Wadford, one of the partners at the label, he booked a short Florida tour for us last year. We played with a couple of the bands on his label, Allout Helter and Flag On Fire, and they were great shows. We had started introducing a couple of new songs into the set and he picked up on those. Before the tour was over he said, “Hey, I don’t if you guys are starting to think about an album yet, but I would love to be the guy who puts out a new 88 record.” We were happy to hear that, but at the same time I don’t know that we were close to having an album in mind then. We were just kind of writing as we were going at that point, but we took it to heart. Not long after we got back from that tour, we had finished a four or five song demo that we started shopping around, to old record labels, new record labels, record labels that we respected. We got quite a few bites, but a lot of that was followed by, “These songs are great, but we’ve got a full schedule, so you’re probably looking at a year and a half to two years before we could put something out.” We couldn’t wait that long. We were coming back from doing some shows out of town and we decided to give Bird Attack a call and see what their release schedule was like. He had heard the demo as well and we were like, “Hey man, we’d like to discuss this further.” He’s like, “Tell me when you wanna put it out, how you wanna put it out, where you wanna put it out, I’m in.” We realized that he was by far the most passionate of the people that we talked to. We talked with labels that we worked with before, labels that we respected, but Garrett and the Bird Attack folks, they knew what we wanted. I can’t think of a single thing that we asked for that they didn’t follow through with. We knew after a couple conversations with them that they were the label to work with.

Bill – That’s awesome. What are you looking forward to in regards to your upcoming tour in the UK and Europe?

Denis – I’m actually looking forward to going overseas for the first time and not having too much drama back at home to deal with. I laugh nervously at that and the only reason why is we went to Europe for the first time in ’96 and my marriage was starting to fall apart at the time, so my head was not really in the game 100%. Then in ’99, we had already reunited for a year or so at that point and I was starting to feel the guilt because my little guy was still a little guy back then. I was starting to wonder if I was doing the right thing by traveling overseas. This upcoming trip, I finally feel like I’m 100% in the game. Like we talked about before the interview started, making better choices because health-wise I’m not a spry young man anymore. I gotta make sure that I’m not drinking wine like it’s water or smoking things that I shouldn’t be smoking. I gotta be responsible. It’s going to be fun. I’m looking forward to seeing old friends, making new ones and just making the most of the time we have there.

Bill – What else do you guys have planned for the rest of the year?

Denis – We’re going to do a record release show at the Metro on the 26th of August. We decided rather than doing a release show near when the album came out, we figured let’s give it a couple months to let people sink into it. I don’t believe we’ve got anything going on in September. In the early part of October we’re going to do a Bird Attack tour up in Canada and then at the end of October we’re going down to Gainesville and playing Fest for the first time. We’re all really excited about that. We’re working on some stuff for November. We’ll be heading west, whether it’s the Pacific Northwest or back to the West Coast remains to be seen, but we’ll be heading west in November. I think maybe a show or two in December, hopefully something to end the year and then we start thinking about 2018 stuff.

Bill – What’s the best part about having the band back together?

Denis – For me, the best part is knowing that all these stupid inside jokes that we had years ago, we all still remember them and they’re all still funny. We can’t start a rehearsal or end a rehearsal without saying some dumb shit that we’ve been saying to each other over the years. And this isn’t just a line, but we’re all really, really passionate about doing this band again. I don’t know that each band member has ever felt the same amount of excitement. I think more than we ever did before, whether it was insecurity on our part or lack of confidence or whatever, but we’re all really passionate about this band and excited to be on the same page. Keeping with positivity, we also are optimistic about writing more new music after this. We want people to know that this isn’t going to be just a one-and-done thing for us. It’s not like we just decided to get together, finally record an album and then walk away. We want to keep doing this. We’re all in a really good headspace now, so it’s really exciting.