Abner and Harper James are brothers. They’re also the indie-pop duo Eighty Ninety. With Abner on vocals and Harper on guitar, these two bring feeling to pop music that only comes with the chemistry and closeness of brothers. Ahead of their forthcoming debut album, Eighty Ninety released their latest single “Stay Alive,” an honest and emotional song about mental health inspired by Abner’s personal struggles and experiences.
We caught up with Abner and Harper to get an inside look at how they make music and the song that Abner originally wrote on piano and hopes “can also be a loving reminder to anyone else going through a hard time…”
Showstopper Magazine Online: How did you both get into music? How did Eighty Ninety get started?
Eighty Ninety: We’re brothers, and our parents always had instruments lying around the house. Growing up, we decided that we wanted to move to the city and be in a band together. It seems like we actually did it—still a little hard to believe.
SMO: What is it like to work as co-creators while also being brothers?
Eighty Ninety: As siblings, you share so much short-hand and so many reference points—it’s a dynamic that’s almost impossible to find anywhere else. That makes the creative process a lot smoother and more intuitive. A lot of people ask if we fight—maybe we disagree, but in certain ways, it’s easier to argue with someone you know can’t really go anywhere and will be home for Christmas.
SMO: Abner, your experiences with mental health inspired your latest single “Stay Alive.” Can you elaborate on what inspired the song and how it became what it is?
Abner: A lot of time I think I turn to music as an escape from lower points or internal struggles. With this song, I wanted to face them. It was hard to get to a place where I felt like I could write it, but once I did, it came quickly and was really cathartic. I’ve been inspired by artists talking about their own experiences, and if our song can similarly help anyone who listens, that would be amazing.
SMO: “Stay Alive” started on the piano. What are your favorite changes to the instrumental and the final song?
Eighty Ninety: “Stay Alive” started as a slow ballad on the piano—but we wanted it to ultimately feel optimistic, so we added the whole band to give it an upbeat, hopeful feeling to contrast with the sometimes heavier lyrics. That’s really what the song is about—finding a piece of hope to hold onto to get through to another day. Because everything can change.
SMO: “Stay Alive” is the second single from your debut album which comes out later this year. What can you tell us about that project? How do “Stay Alive” and “2 Carat” represent the album as a whole?
Eighty Ninety: This album feels really personal, and as a result, has a raw, more organic feel to the production. We’re excited to show off this side of the band, and as we were creating these songs, they felt like they belonged together. It was the first time we had all these songs that felt like a bigger part of the same statement. We’ll leave it to listeners to decide what that might be.
SMO: Do you have favorite lines or moments from “Stay Alive”?
Eighty Ninety: …”can we learn tonight, how to stay alive?” means a lot. Because it encapsulates the process. It’s a choice you have to make – something you have to do—again and again. Make that choice to stay hopeful.
SMO: What are you most excited about with the release of this song?
Eighty Ninety: We’ve been working on it for a long time, and it feels like in some ways the most personal thing we’ve released yet. It feels really cathartic to have it out in the world.
SMO: Is there anything else you want people to know about “Stay Alive” or your forthcoming album?
Eighty Ninety: The longer format of an album allowed us to follow our inspiration toward ideas that we might not have pursued if we had continued releasing singles. In some ways, singles have to do everything at once—with albums, you can approach some of the songs with more experimentation, curiosity, and sometimes even depth. We’re excited for people to see what an Eighty Ninety full-length feels like.
“Stay Alive” is streaming now on all major music platforms.