The history of Charleston sextet 87 Nights doesn’t take long to dive into because, well, there’s not that much of it. The band has only been officially together since early 2018, which is what makes their accelerated evolution so surprising.
The tracks on their just-released debut album, Eighty Seven Nights, are tight, self-assured hard-rock tunes with a dash of Southern twang and more than a little soulful grit.
This is not a collection of tunes you’d expect from a group of just-barely-twenty-something guys who haven’t even been together for two years. Yes, they had a considerable assist from Coast Records producer/engineer Matt Zutell in shaping the album, but the songs themselves sound like they could’ve been played by veteran bands like The Black Crowes or Kings of Leon.
The band came together at the College of Charleston, initially as just a group of guys jamming in the music room at some mutual friends’ house.
Rhythm guitarist Preston Johnson and singer/guitarist Zane Acord had some musical experience, but as for the rest of the band …
“No one really knew how to play their instruments when we started out,” Johnson says. “Mac Dickson is our drummer now, but he started out playing bass. Then when he switched over to drums, Augie Dale picked up the bass, and over time everyone just kind of learned their instruments.”
It wasn’t until Acord transferred from Ohio Wesleyan University and began playing with Johnson, Dale, Dickson, guitarist/harmonica player Johnny Holliday, and keyboardist Ian Larson that 87 Nights got a little more serious. But even then, they didn’t have too much of a plan. The band played exactly one gig and made some demos, but they needed a little outside pressure to take the next step.
Enter guitarist Alden Sayre, of another Charleston group, City on Down. Not only did Sayre first introduce Johnson and Acord to each other, but when City on Down had a show booked at the Music Farm in April of 2018 and they wanted a local opener, Sayre reached out to them.
“Alden knew we’d been messing around but hadn’t really done anything too serious,” Johnson says. “But City on Down said, ‘Write a bunch of songs and learn maybe one cover tune, and you can open for us.'”
87 Nights got busy, managed to get the songwriting done, and hit the stage at the Music Farm in front of a packed house. And it was just what the band needed.
“That show was nearly sold out,” Johnson says, “and it was crazy because it was our second show ever. Ever since then we’ve picked up more gigs, learned more, and written more. I think that pressure helped us. If we hadn’t had that offer, I don’t think it would’ve gotten as serious as quickly. We’d probably still be messing around in the music room, jamming and writing, rather than organizing songs or set lists we could perform for people.”
The band’s next benefactor was Matt Zutell, who ran sound for their subsequent shows at The Royal American. He was intrigued by the possibility of recording 87 Nights, but they were cautious about taking him up on the offer.
“We’d done a trial run of recording right when we were starting out,” Johnson says, “but we listened to it and we weren’t happy with it. We weren’t prepared, and it showed. It’s such a different dynamic going into the studio rather than playing live.”
But Zutell was insistent on making music with them.
“We’d always had a great experience with Matt at The Royal American,” Johnson says. “He said he wanted to be the one who got us into the studio and put out our first album. So we just put ourselves in his hands and trusted him.”
The resulting album, largely recorded live, took 87 Nights from a practice-room project to a real working band.
“Matt took this to a whole different level,” Johnson says. “Having him as the producer, giving us input, being involved in the recording process, that allowed us to learn how to be professional and take it really seriously. When we went into the studio, we were all super focused, we’d been practicing and playing non-stop. We all were all in the same room, and we played it through live until we got the songs perfect.”
Everyone in the band except for Acord has graduated college, and he’s only got one semester left. Which raises the question: What now? Do they pursue their musical career or go their separate ways?
The answer, at least for right now, is that they’re going to keep making music.
“We just started a test run working with Atlas Touring (a Charleston booking agency),” Johnson says. “We’re trying to figure out if this is something we want to pursue, but for right now we have no intention of stopping.”