Charleston group 87 Nights reveal their origins, inspirations, roadblocks, and the roots of their dynamic electricity.
Stream: “Know Yourself” – 87 Nights
It was always about the energy, really, that’s what we knew we could always bring to the table.
There’s something to be said about a band that can get a crowd moving on a Monday night.
Picture this: you’re dragged out to a place across town by your sister who’s looking for some music to move to. The first opener plays, they entertain but they don’t necessarily excite. The second band starts and you’re thinking of your bed, its warm embrace, and by the end of that set you’ve decided that you’ll be heading home if the final group doesn’t wow you in the first chord.
And then that first chord happened, a cover of “Les Cactus” by Jacques Dutronc (or perhaps The Last Shadow Puppets) pours through the room, cementing you to the venue until the place closes. The glue holding you to the room is 87 Nights, who exhibit enough electricity to light up Manhattan. “It was always about the energy, really,” notes frontman, Zane Acord, when discussing their roots in Charleston bars and fraternities. “That’s what we knew we could always bring to the table.”
The members, alumni of College of Charleston, came together as many college bands do: Just a couple of guys with songs in their souls, looking to share their mutual love of music. The band as we know it now consists of five members: Zane Acord on vocals, Johnny Holliday and Preston Johnson on guitar, Mac Dickson on drums, and Shane McCoy on bass. Before 87 Nights reached its genesis, the small practice room in Dickson’s house (located at 87 Morris, where they spent a lot of Nights) was a somewhat bare space with an electric drum kit and a few guitars, a kind of experimental laboratory where friends could collect and try their hand at what they liked.
“At this point,” Dickson says, referencing 2017 – a turning year for the group – “we kind of had a bunch of people playing different instruments that they didn’t really like, you know, know how to play. And then we got this opportunity to open for a friend’s band for a bigger show at The Music Farm in Charleston. And so it was like, ‘okay, well, now we need to write some songs, learn our instruments, get a real drum kit, and kind of put things together, come up with a name.’” And, as hinted at before, the group name was a product of circumstance, referencing the nights spent in that room at 87 Morris.
From there, the band’s early repertoire of “party songs,” tunes like “Twist and Shout” and “Stuck in the Middle,” diverged into independent, original works that reflected their influences. “There was always kind of a consistent sound,” Dickson mentions, “like Kings of Leon was kind of an early influence when we first got started, mixed with more classic rock and roll. But the energy was just the thing, we just liked playing rock.”
“Yeah, that’s how we compensated for not knowing how to play the instruments,” Acord adds.
Their first original song, “I Ain’t Your Man,” is now their most popular track, accruing over 500,000 plays on Spotify. The song follows one central riff, a grungy, bluesy, distorted measure that is present from the beginning to the end of the track. “It started largely with just that one riff, that one lick,” says Dickson, “and we just played that forever, just hours and hours and hours. There was one late night, we were just playing with a bunch of people just kind of hanging out and then Ian [a former keyboardist for the band] started singing some lyrics and then someone else started singing some lyrics and then it just kind of eventually evolved into the song that it is.”
The song is somewhat illustrative of artists like The Black Keys or Kings of Leon, drawing on that modern-blues sound, but it doesn’t necessarily mimic those references. The greatest similarities come from the overall distorted nature of the track, as well as Acord’s inherently Auerback-esque vocals. Yet the song is individual, not trying to replicate the work of other artists but, instead, utilizing some of the techniques those bands popularized.
What’s truly crucial about this, along with 87 Nights’ other released work, is the aforementioned energy of this band, which cannot be stressed enough. This could, in part, be due to the group’s writing style, leading with instrumentation over lyrics. “It [our music] is more melody and rhythm driven, the lyrics typically come later, unless we just kind of someone says something cool, we write it down, and go from there,” Acord reveals.
As a consequence, the group’s songs rely more on the music than the lyrics, prioritizing sound over building a narrative. With this, an emphasis on melody and rhythm, their songs are driven by the feelings that are elicited by the music. It’s not necessarily about what’s being said, it’s about how the listener feels, which only heightens the great energy of this group. Aside from this, their relatively simple, live-room recording technique helps to capture the live energy of the group onto their albums.
“One thing that’s been really fun,” Dickson says, “especially on the first record, was the gang vocals, all in one booth around one condenser mic, just yelling and having a blast together.” Aside from a tempo-click, additive vocals, and additional instrumental refinements, 87 Nights’ recorded catalogue mimics their live performance exceptionally.
In 2019, Luke Washburn and Atlas Touring took 87 Nights from Charleston to venues around the Southeast, and they’ve been touring ever since. Their self-titled album, Eighty-Seven Nights, was recorded at Coast Records and released in 2019. Their most recent single, “Know Yourself,” was “tough,” as guitarist Johnny Holliday puts it. Other guitarist, Preston Johnson, reveals, “[‘Know Yourself’] was our first time really focusing on recording with a click but also still in a live setting, and because the tempo of that song is so important, and because it’s something we’d never really had messed with, that was kind of a challenge for that song.”
Accompanying the inherent struggles of artistic creation is the insurmountable disadvantage which COVID-19 put onto all musicians, including 87 Nights, whose members are scattered around the East Coast.
“It was hard for us to get together,” says bassist Shane McCoy, “because we weren’t living in the same city anymore, so we’re sharing voice memos and it was harder to flesh it out with us not just all being in a room together.”
That’s what we’ve always been surprised with: We can just kind of get together after not seeing each other for a while and actually be refreshed.
As is the nature of college, in which it seems that one is never truly alone, the struggle of displacement for a collaborative group could very well have a great effect on a band’s output-abilities. Yet, it also raises some opportunities for the growth of each individual artist, which then builds up the collective.
“It’s been tricky,” Acord admits, “but we’ve gotten it done. Times have been super tough for music during Covid…but [with online streaming concerts] it was nice to, during the pandemic, reach people who weren’t necessarily in Charleston… that’s what we’ve always been surprised with: We can just kind of get together after not seeing each other for a while and actually be refreshed. And by playing with different people, you’re constantly learning, that’s how we are as musicians, that’s how we really master our craft, you just play with different people, you learn things every day.”
The band is now in the process of recording more, hoping to expand their production techniques. “We’re very open,” Dickson comments, “and kind of interested in trying some things that we haven’t done before, but while sticking to, well it kind of depends on the song really but, while sticking to what our roots are, which is that live energy. It’ll be fun and interesting going forward to experiment with new processes.”
It’s hard to pinpoint an expectation for what 87 Nights have in store, the only recommendations being to give them a listen and keep an eye out for announcements of what’s to come. And to seek out opportunities to see these guys live, regardless of what day of the week they may come to your town.
For five guys who, supposedly, didn’t know their instruments at the start of the band, to now showcasing three separate rhythmic breakdowns in their song “Hot Mustard,” there’s great hope for what comes next.
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