Interview with vocalist Denis Buckley | By Kayla Greet
Nearly 20 years since the release of their last studio record, 1998’s Back on the Streets, Chicago’s 88 Fingers Louie hit the scene again with one of the most unexpected comebacks of 2017 and their new full-length, Thank You for Being a Friend. Vocalist Denis Buckley shares, “Things ended in such a dramatic fashion that I didn’t think we would ever talk to each other again, let alone reunite and work on new music.” He continues that, fortunately, the band have a bit more “wisdom and patience” now that they’re older.
In the time since they officially broke up in 1999, the band have played a handful of reunion shows, especially surrounding their 20th anniversary in 2013. With the new full-length released on Bird Attack Records on June 30, Buckley assures that they will be playing considerably more shows. For example, this is 88’s first time hitting up FEST in Gainsville, which was met with lots of excitement when the first wave of bands were announced. “This will be my first year as a FEST attendee,” Buckley says, “so I don’t plan on sleeping much that weekend.”
For this new record, Buckley says that not too much has changed in the two decades since they hit the studio last, besides the location. This time around, they did everything at guitarist Dan “Mr. Precision” Wleklinski’s studio, The Bombshelter. “We had the luxury of moving at our own pace, as opposed to getting everything done in a 10 to 12-day block,” Buckley relates. While these songs have never been recorded before, not all of them are brand new. “Four songs were fleshed out of demos that Dan and [bassist] Nat [Wright] had started working on prior to 88 reuniting, and one song was from a band Dan and I were involved with in 2007,” Buckley remembers.
Even in their second chrysalis phase, things haven’t exactly been quick and easy. As Buckley looks back, he recalls, “Really, the only challenge I think was our own hesitancy, perhaps for me more than anyone else.” He elaborates that there are tons of bands who reunite after years apart who keep making great music, but there are also plenty of them who “have dropped the ball and tarnished their ‘legacy,’ for lack of a better word.” That being said, Buckley also admits that each recording session ended with huge smiles, so they knew it wasn’t a reunion they’d regret.
Speaking of “legacies,” a large portion of Thank You for Being a Friend’s lyrical content is a look in the rearview mirror. One could assume that these are acknowledgments of the large gap between records, with lines like, “What’s the fun in living in the past?” and “Swerving down memory lane / We’ve moved ahead, but you’re still the same,” from the song “Advice Column.” But Buckley reveals that a good chunk of the songs “chronicle a relationship I was in for several years that unfortunately did not end under the best circumstances. Lots of looking back fondly—but critically—and some looking forward to better days.”
While the album title is a reference to “The Golden Girls,” it is also a shout out to everyone who has supported 88 Fingers Louie in their 24-year run. “This included everyone in the band now and those who have come and gone,” Buckley says. The band met Garrett Wadford from Bird Attack Records when they played Pouzza Fest last year, and he helped them get some gigs in Florida that same year. When 88 started demoing new songs, Wadford was the most responsive, and as Buckley jokes, “We quickly realized we weren’t cute enough to be on Hopeless [Records] anymore.”
Chicago has long been home to big bands in the punk scene. While 88 largely grew up in the shadow of bands like Naked Raygun and Pegboy, they also had acts like The Bollweevils and Los Crudos to help guide them. “As we started to take on a little more of a Californian influence, we caught a little bit of flak for not being ‘true,’ but our friends still stood behind us,” Buckley remembers. “Bands like those pretty much handed us the blueprint on how to be a successful, active band in Chicago.” Now, so many years later, he reflects that it’s great to see a community build itself up to a healthy scene. “We were always each other’s biggest cheerleaders,” he shares. “I’ve heard from many of these same friends as we announced the new single and album. It’s a great bit of reassurance.”
Following the release of Thank You for Being a Friend, 88 Fingers Louie plan to return to Europe for a tour, as well as book one down the East Coast, including stops in Canada and at FEST. “It’s my hope that the band continues once we finish supporting the album,” Buckley concludes. “We do lead very busy lives outside of the band, and a few of us are looking forward to being first-time fathers, husbands, and homeowners, but we appreciate this band now more than ever. One way or another, we’ll try to find a way for this to keep working.”