For the longest time, The 88 have had to deal with both the gift and the curse of being pop music’s “best kept secret”. Although these California-based power-pop revivalists have always had the benefit of being spoken in the same positive light as groups like Fountains of Wayne and a pre-Raconteurs Brendan Benson, The 88 kept getting their perpetually-upbeat songs featured in movies and television shows (The O.C. especially) without the support of a major label, the band eventually developing quite a bit of notoriety for essentially being the most high-profile freelancers working in the industry.
Yet tides do frequently change, and, fortunately, all of that seems to be changing for The 88. The group got signed to Island records for their 2008 disc Not Only … But Also, they’ve already netted nearly 1.5 million MySpace hits, and they most recently recorded the theme song to the hit NBC show Community (“At Least It Was Here”), showing that after years of being nothing more than “the best group you’ve never heard,” The 88 are now poised to break into the big time — and deservedly so.
As if being the toast of the town wasn’t enough, 88 bassist Todd O’Keefe recently got a chance to tackle PopMatters’ famed 20 Questions, here expressing a fantastic disdain for Matthew McConaughey, a deep admiration for Peter Buck & Bill Hicks alike, and gives us ample warning as to why we should never steal his coffee.
1. The latest book or movie that made you cry?
Probably Ghost of Girlfriends Past starring Matthew McConaughey. What a triumph for the artform of film. No, I’m just kidding. He’s a great talent and we’re lucky to have his face on all of those billboards. If we’re talking music, Pet Sounds by The Beach Boys has been known to choke me up. There’s something about that record that really moves me; a true expression of spirit.
2. The fictional character most like you?
Any character ever portrayed by Matthew McConaughey. I think I’m obsessed with this guy and I really would like to know why. I guess he represents the vapidness of corporate entertainment to me, so when I see his face it sets me off. I’m sure that he’s a very nice man, but the lines that he reads and the way his product is marketed is staggeringly offensive. The problem is mine, of course. This is the last time I’ll mention his name.
3. The greatest album, ever?
I have the definitive answer to this question. The answer is Dark Side of the Moon by Pink Floyd. I know that there are people out there who might say Revolver or London Calling or something, but they are incorrect. While those records are great, they are not as good as DSOTM. But then again, Revolver is pretty amazing. Yes, in fact I was wrong. The best album of all time is Revolver by The Beatles.
4. Star Trek or Star Wars?
Star Wars is a much better film (I’m only vouching for the first one). It a retelling of the primal story: 1) Man searches for deeper meaning, 2) Man goes on journey, 3) Man finds The Answer within himself. God Bless George Lucas. I’m very hopeful for the future that children are still watching Star Wars and getting that message. Star Trek is for geeks who are into lasers and spaceships.
5. Your ideal brain food?
Different things inspire me at different times and there’s no one thing that consistently gets me going. It could be a book, or something someone says, or a really good song, or a woman who won’t pay attention to me. I’m in a fortunate situation to be playing with The 88 because Keith and Adam and Anthony inspire me all the time just in the way that they lead their lives. They remind me that music is important, bands are silly, and rock and roll is dumb.
6. You’re proud of this accomplishment, but why?
I don’t usually “feel proud of myself”. That’s not to say that I’m down on my accomplishments, it’s just that I don’t sit back and reflect on how proud I am of myself for the things I do. I feel like people who tell other people that they are proud of themselves are looking for some sort of validation from the person they are telling. I’m proud of myself for this answer.
7. You want to be remembered for …?
I won’t care, so I don’t care.
8. Of those who’ve come before, the most inspirational are?
John Lennon and Bill Hicks. They told the truth and sold it with love and I feel encouraged whenever I listen to them speak. Bill Hicks says: “It’s only a choice, no effort, no work, no job, it’s only a choice right now between fear and love.” John Lennon says: “You may believe in devils, and you may believe in laws, but you have to serve yourself.” Thanks for the advice fellas.
9. The creative masterpiece you wish bore your signature?
How about, “Central Park in The Dark” by Charles Ives. I just got into him so I don’t know too much about his music but what I’ve heard is incredibly powerful and unique, kind of classical meets marching band if you can imagine. Or maybe I wish I wrote “Good Vibrations”. But these works already bore my signature because whenever I buy a record, I cross off the name of the real artist and write, “by Todd O’Keefe”.
10. Your hidden talents . . .?
It’s hard to hide talent when you’ve got as much of it as I do. When I do something as mundane as walk through the supermarket, people stare at me as if Fred Astaire is gliding through the aisles putting on a show. I’ve been roundly applauded just for checking to make sure the eggs I’m buying aren’t cracked. If I sing while on line at the post office, business stops because people’s jaws are on the fucking ground and they can’t move. Are you beginning to understand the total absurdity of your question?
11. The best piece of advice you actually followed?
Getting rid of my television to find world peace. Heed my words, readers. Pardon the proselytizing, but they requested that this interview be around 1000 words so I’ve got to fill in the space with something. I would have much preferred to end this thought after the first sentence, you understand, but they want more words, so here are a few more words: The reality portrayed on TV is not reality at all. Reality is right here right now, as they say. The sun is shining, so go outside. Your kids need your FULL ATTENTION, so give it to them. Matthew McConaughey is giving you secret messages in his films, so go watch his movies and act out his commands. Sorry about that everybody. That really is the last time I’ll mention Mr. M.
12. The best thing you ever bought, stole, or borrowed?
My friend Jerry lent me his record player for a while which was great. I had been listening to digital music for most of my adult life and had forgotten what good recordings and good playback equipment sounded like. You’re not really getting the whole experience on an iPod. After he took it back, I went out and bought a record player for myself and it has greatly enriched my life.
13. You feel best in Armani or Levis or . . .?
As long as I’m comfortable in my skin that day, it doesn’t really matter. That is to say, I’ve felt uncomfortable and self-conscious walking around in jeans and sneakers, and also felt at home and comfy wearing a tailored suit and vice versa.
14. Your dinner guest at the Ritz would be?
Peter Buck. What a cool guy. It meant a lot to me as a teenager that Peter Buck gave such candid interviews. The idea that he helped foster in me was “it’s OK to be yourself”. Musically speaking, the fact that he plays a Rickenbacker confirms that he’s both intellectual and pop minded at the same time. An inspiration!
15. Time travel: where, when and why?
Sunset Strip, 1965. I’d strum some tunes, smoke a little weed, and make love to a few different women. After that, I would travel to Wilton, Connecticut, 1991. I would tell my younger self, “High School doesn’t matter and you don’t have to go to college, so don’t worry.”
16. Stress management: hit man, spa vacation or Prozac?
Hit man? Does that mean I pay someone to murder who I perceive to be my enemies? I don’t know if that would effectively manage stress. Prozac is bullshit. I guess that leaves a spa vacation please. But first I would try to find the cause of my stress and eliminate that, so then I could really enjoy the spa.
17. Essential to life: coffee, vodka, cigarettes, chocolate, or . . .?
If I woke up this morning and found my coffee beans missing, I would literally tear my goddamn place apart until I found them. It would be like that scene in The Conversation where Gene Hackman destroys his apartment looking for the bugging device. And if I caught the guy who took my coffee beans, I would fuck him up, after coffee. Does that answer your fucking question?
18. Environ of choice: city or country, and where on the map?
The countryside is where I’d like to end up, but I feel like I’m still a little ways away from packing my bags and leaving civilization behind. Southern California (where I live) is one of the most beautiful places on Earth and it would be hard for me to leave it. But no matter where I go, as long as I’m a short drive from Bed Bath & Beyond, Subway, Cold Stone Creamery, Old Navy, Starbucks, and Quiznos, I’d be happy.
19. What do you want to say to the leader of your country?
I can’t say that I see myself as needing “a leader”. The idea that it’s possible for another person to know what’s best for my life never made sense to me. How about I’ll lead me, and you lead you? The cosmic pendulum seems to be swinging in this direction, in fact. Does this answer make me a terrorist?
20. Last but certainly not least, what are you working on, now?
The 88 are working on making music every second we possibly can until we don’t want to do it any more. It’s really a great time if you’re an artist who enjoys recording music. Men and woman of all ages and by the millions are able to write and record music in their homes and share it FREELY with the world. I stress the word FREELY because music is spirit, and spirit is free.