Eighty Ninety is the project of brothers Abner & Harper James. Eighty Ninety first catapulted onto the scene in 2016 with their break out single "Three Thirty," which hit #2 on Spotify’s Global Viral Charts, and was followed by their debut EP Elizabeth. Since then, their music has garnered over 22 million streams, been hand-picked by Taylor Swift for her official Spotify playlist “Songs Taylor Loves”, and has been featured in publications like Alternative Press, Billboard, Galore, Ones To Watch and LADYGUNN. The guys are currently finishing up their sophomore EP which is slated for a mid-2020 release.
On "Know Me", Abner's voice floats over Harper's earthy blend of banjo and acoustic guitar as the track builds to a big pop chorus, complete with 808s and stacks of ethereal harmonies. "Know Me" stays true to Eighty Ninety’s breezy indie-pop aesthetic while also adding an Americana-inspired flair that feels fresh and new for the band.
I was able to catch up with Abner over Zoom to talk about his new single and what’s next for Eighty Ninety.
PR: Who are some of the artists that you listened to growing up?
AJ: In the beginning, we were listening to the records our parents put on. My mom was obsessed with The Beatles, like everyone else, and my dad loved The Rolling Stones. A lot of Tom Petty, Bob Dylan, the blues. Harper was a couple years older than me, and always on the cutting edge of what was going on. I remember one of the first bands that I remember him getting into was this band Sparkle Horse. For me growing up, I wanna say I liked “songey-songs,” if that makes sense. One of my first heroes was Noel Gallagher from Oasis. I really loved Coldplay, A Rush of Blood to the Head. I loved music that was melodic and narrative based. The more explicit storytelling was something that I gravitated towards, and as a result I loved some county and americana. I was really into early on Taylor Swift, unapologetically.
PR: When did you and your brother start writing music together?
AJ: When we grew up we were always in bands, but not together. He went to New York and I went to California for film school and he got really into the production side of things and ended up getting a recording space. At a certain point we had enough songs and ideas and felt like it was the right. It was low pressure just writing a song, picking a band name, and if we decided to do more we’d do more. The first song we started working on was Three Thirty. It felt sturdy and we thought we could just have fun and do whatever. I liked the song and was really proud of it and thought it would be fun if some people heard it. I reached out to a bunch of blogs. We still don’t really know but my guess is one of those blogs could have passed it to someone over at Spotify, and Spotify put the song on their Fresh Finds playlist and it kind of just went viral.
PR: Did you feel pressure after that to put out more songs or were you working on some?
AJ: We were already working on other stuff before this happened. We were just like that was fun, let’s do some more. When it started doing well, we really were trying to not let it derail us. Whatever creative space we were able to get ourselves into, which was a very non-pressured, totally loose, environment... we had to make sure that it didn’t become the opposite. It took a month and a half of overthinking to get to the point where we were under thinking. We were trying not to think about what about the song worked and how we could do it again. With Heartbreaker and Fading, we decided rather than try to do the same song again, let’s put out an EP that will help triangulate our sound for people.
PR: I want to talk about your new single that you put out this month, Know Me. I love this song, it’s beautiful. Can you tell me a little bit about it?
AJ: It came pretty quickly right after we put out 10K Summer Nights and Got Your Message. After the first EP, I think we had fun with zooming out a bit and creating a bigger canvas. It was the first time we used real drums and it felt like there were more layered, more dense productions, and the scope of the songs themselves were more widescreen. There are certain kinds of melodic cadences that go with more conflicted emotions. I was thinking if we were going to do something more simple, I’m going to try to exist in a more simple subject melody, more just direct space. A lot of our other songs is always swirling around together simultaneously. I think Know Me was about having something more direct with the lyrics and the melody and production. It was nice to just say something more direct and try without equivocating so much. I also think at the time I just needed to write and it felt like a good time to do that.
PR: What is next for Eighty Ninety?
AJ: Back in September, we started working on an EP with a good friend of ours. It’s pretty much done and finished so we are figuring out what to do. It was an amazing experience because it was the first time it wasn’t just me and Harper.
PR: Okay we talked about Eighty Ninety: The Movie. If you could cast any actor to play you and your brother, who would you cast?
AJ: I feel like Adam Brody for me and Benedict Cumberbatch for Harper. I think that’s something that would become more understandable the more that you got to know us.
Check out the full interview below!