88 Fingers Louie
A lot has changed in the 18 years since Chicago’s 88 Fingers Louie last released an album. Shortly after the release of a split EP in 1999 with Philadelphia’s Kid Dynamite, the band decided to call it quits due to differences in vision for the band’s future. Its previous members went on to form and join almost a dozen new bands in the wake of 88FL’s demise (Rise Against, Explode and Make Up, The Story So Far, Paper Mice, Alkaline Trio and many more). This is a story with many stops and starts, ups and downs and many of the players have come and gone throughout the band’s career. What’s most important is that they are back with a new album entitled Thank You For Being a Friend, and they can’t wait for you to hear it. Read More
88 Fingers Louie (named after a shady piano salesman from the Flintstones cartoon) has played a very important part in Chicago’s rich punk rock heritage. The seminal Chicago melodic punk/hardcore band got their official start in 1993 when Denis Buckley decided to tag along with a friend who was trying out to be the band’s singer and bombed his audition due to nerves. The band, comprised of guitarist Dan Precision, bassist Joe Principe and drummer Dom Vallone, had already been playing for a bit with a previous singer who didn’t work out. Buckley decided to give it a shot after encouragement from some other friends that were hanging around. Everything clicked and two days later they asked him to join. With the lineup solidified, they quickly started writing, playing shows and released three 7” records during their first year as a band. The band’s sound was unique and a combination of all the things they loved about punk-rock—drawing influences from 80’s California punk, east coast hardcore as well as midwestern hometown heroes the Bollweevils, Naked Raygun and Pegboy. “At 16 or 17 years old, you can’t go see a Naked Raygun show and not have your mind blown. It was inevitable that that sound was going to seep in too,” says Buckley. The band released a 7” on their own label (Go Deaf Records) and quickly garnered the attention of Fat Wreck Chords, who released a series of 7”s and EP’s. Original drummer Dom Vallone split in early ’95, was replaced by Glenn Porter, and the band released their first LP Behind Bars on Hopeless Records the same year. As the band’s popularity grew, so did the time they spent on the road. At this time Buckley was struggling with the balance of being a touring punk singer, a husband and a new father. It eventually led to him distancing himself from the rest of the band, which ultimately caused 88 Fingers Louie to split up in late 1996.
Just shy of two years passed before Buckley and Principe crossed paths again. When they did, Buckley half-jokingly said, “Great news, I got a divorce—let’s get the band back together.” Buckley smoothed things over with Precision and they brought in drummer John Carroll (who’d formerly played with Dan and Joe in Nice Guys Finish Last) to replace Glenn Porter who had started playing with Alkaline Trio. Just a few months later, they started putting together a set of songs that became the much-anticipated comeback LP Back On The Streets, also released via Hopeless Records. The band continued to tour throughout ’98 and ’99 and released the well-received split EP with Philadelphia’s Kid Dynamite. The split (released on Sub City Records) showcased 88FL in peak form. The three songs contained within were arguably some of the band’s best material to date. Once again momentum continued to grow, tours got longer and time spent at home became shorter—resurfacing tension between Buckley and the rest of the band. On the way out to the west coast to start a month-long tour supporting AFI in ’99, the band made it halfway to Portland when tensions flared and they decided to turn the van around, head home and split up for good.
Principe and Precision had a fair amount of material demo’d for a new 88FL record and, shortly after the break-up, they formed a new band—Transistor Revolt (later renamed Rise Against). A handful of the leftover demo’d songs made it on Rise’s first record, which Precision co-engineered. Buckley was quick to move on musically as well, joining friend Jeff Dean’s band The Story So Far, that went on to release an EP with Hopeless Records around the same time as the first Rise record. After a few years, Precision left Rise Against and started his own recording studio, the Bombshelter. Buckley left The Story So Far in 2001, and a few years later went on to form the nostalgic hardcore band Explode and Make Up (also with Dean) that remained active until 2015.
In 2009, Precision reached out to Buckley and pointed out the fact that it had been 10 years since the band’s last show, and pitched the idea of a reunion gig (Precision and Buckley had been playing together in a band called Zero to Sixty for a year or two at this point). Buckley agreed to a one-off gig. They reached out to Principe who was unavailable due to commitments with Rise Against, but gave his blessing for the band to move forward with the reunion in his absence. The band recruited friend John Contreras to fill in on bass and they booked a show for mid-August at Chicago’s Bottom Lounge. The show went off without a hitch, and was documented as a live album and later as a DVD called 88 Fingers Louie LIVES. The buzz surrounding the reunion produced multiple festival offers and the band decided it couldn’t hurt to extend the reunion to a few more festival appearances (Riot Fest and Groezrock) and a short tour. All went well and, after a brief eastern Canadian run and additional hometown show in late 2010, the band made the decision to walk away once again, this time amicably.
In 2013, Buckley and Principe started talking and realized it had been 20 years since the band started. They decided to reunite again, this time featuring all the members in 88FL’s past. Principe played bass and Vallone, Porter and Carroll all rotated on drums at the show that took place at Chicago’s Concord Music Hall. Buckley fondly recalls: “It was awesome. You couldn’t have asked for a better reunion than that…everybody in the same room playing songs…sitting across the rehearsal spot with somebody you hadn’t seen in forever—let alone played with them.”
In 2014 the band first kicked around the idea to start working on new material. They reached out to Nat Wright (from Chicago punk band Shot Baker) to take over permanently on bass (Principe and Contreras were unavailable due to commitments). The four guys got together in a room and decided, “This still seems fun to do, let’s see where it goes.” Some sporadic writing sessions took a back seat to additional festival appearances and a few short tours. In late 2016, they made the songwriting process a priority and material quickly came together for a new album. Some of the ideas had previously been collaborations between Precision and Wright, while others saw the first songwriting collaboration with Buckley, who’d previously been presented with fully demo’d songs before writing his lyrics and melodies.
The band entered Precision’s Bombshelter Studio in January 2017 to begin tracking the new material for a new LP, later titled Thank You For Being a Friend. They tracked the record over the course of a few weeks with Precision behind the console. The recording process couldn’t have gone smoother and the finished product clearly reflects the band’s excitement to be creating music together again. A lot has changed in the 19 years since the band’s last full length album, and the new material features a more mature 88FL, but still has the band’s signature fast tempos, ample aggression and melodic sensibilities that put them on the map. Buckley describes the material: “We’ve all grown as musicians. Some of us listen to the same music we did back then and some are now into a completely different style of stuff. Musically we definitely took some chances. This has some of our heaviest songs and some of our catchiest as well—and a bunch of stuff in-between.” The lyrical themes on this record are also Buckley’s most diverse: “A lot happens in 20 years, friends get sick, friends commit suicide, relationships are amazing and those relationships end. There’s also a song on there that is our most overtly political song.” Sonically it’s the best sounding album they’ve released and the band’s performances are razor sharp. “Here’s to That Innocence” is an infectiously catchy track, and the song’s intro riffing gives a nod to one of the band’s main influences, (The) Descendents/ALL. “The Violence of Denial”, a bittersweet breakup song, was co-written by Buckley with drummer John Carroll and started out as an acoustic idea. In the stand-out track “Advice Column”, Buckley presents the perspective: “Don’t stay stuck in the past, the future is scary but if you don’t try you’ll never know. This is our time.”
88 Fingers Louie has teamed up with Florida’s Bird Attack Records to release the new album and they are aiming for a summer 2017 release. While playing a string of dates in Florida in summer 2016 with Bird Attack bands Flag on Fire and Allout Helter, 88 Fingers Louie met Bird Attack’s founder Garrett Wadford, who’d booked and managed the short tour. Buckley was impressed by Wadford’s enthusiasm: “He had the vibe of somebody who knew what they were doing, was super excited about what he was doing and, most importantly, he believed in the label and had the resources to do a great job.” When the band left Florida, Wadford told the band he’d love to put out the upcoming record. As time went on, the band talked to a few other interested labels but when they were finally ready to make a decision, they decided “He’s the guy to do this.”
The fact that the band is back and releasing their first full length album in 19 years is still something Buckley is wrapping his mind around: “In my head, I think it’s been 10 years, but people around me remind me it’s been almost 20. Not a day goes by since we got the band back together that I don’t scratch my head once a day and say ‘We’re actually doing this now—this is crazy,’…but I couldn’t be more excited.”
“Thank You For Being a Friend” was released in the summer of 2017.