In their twenty-plus year career, Athens, GA’s Five Eight has amassed quite an impressive share of critical adoration and a loyal (and vocal) fan base. Despite a short stint opening for REM and a proclamation by none other than USA Today that they were “the greatest live band in the world,” widespread success has been elusive.
The band hopes to change that with its newest release, Your God is Dead to Me Now, out now on Iron Horse Records. AD recently caught up with vocalist/guitarist Mike Mantione, guitarist Sean Dunn, bassist Dan Horowitz and drummer Patrick “Tigger” Ferguson in their Athens practice space to discuss the new record, major labels and what it means to “make it.” Words after the jump…
AD: The title of the new album is interesting. Want to talk about it?
Mike Mantione: Well, the record is named after the title song “Your God is Dead To Me Now,” which is a nice song and is about our relationship with your god.
AD: The implication being that god wasn’t always dead to you…
Dan: Don’t get your god get mixed up with our god.
Patrick: Yeah, I think that’s the crux of the matter. It’s your god. Get your chocolate out of our peanut butter.
AD: You guys have been at this for a long time. How does this record differ from previous Five Eight records?
Dan: This album rocks harder. It’s just not mucked up with too many tracks. There aren’t songs with, like, eight guitar tracks and I think it just sounds better. It sounds like Five Eight the way I’ve always heard it.
Mike: Dan is describing to you the frustrating process that Five Eight has gone through with every single record we’ve ever recorded up until this one. It would be, “Oh, the drums aren’t loud enough. Turn them up. Oh, the guitar isn’t loud enough. Turn it up…” Until we had to bring everything back down again and then it was a mess.
Patrick: I recorded this record and we had the luxury of time. We had a lot of time to listen to and pick the best performance. Rather than just sort of layering a ton of guitars on top of each other, we could pick the best guitar takes and bring those up in the mix. And I was learning as I went, so we kept it simple because we couldn’t complicate it.
AD: You set up an IndieGoGo campaign to help raise money to promote the album and received almost 200% of your stated goal. That’s got to be pretty gratifying.
Dan: It’s amazing. Five Eight and money don’t really mix. It’s like oil and water. Anytime we have made any money there’s always been some other hand coming out to grab it. But it’s, like, “Duh, why didn’t we think of this before?” We have this fan base that we’ve accumulated over 20 years and those people really came through for us.
Patrick: It’s definitely the model of the future, where your fans are your VC, A&R, label, all rolled into one. I mean, no one’s buying a house out in Aspen, but it just works. This is the greatest time in history to be in a rock band. You can record a record, master it and thirty minutes later have worldwide distribution if that’s how you want to do it.
AD: Thinking back to the early days of your career, you certainly didn’t fit in to any sort of notion of the “Athens sound.” Did the music community embrace you at the time or were you more outsiders?
Dan: No, actually it took a while.
Patrick: I think out first big breakout show, we opened for Liquor Cabinet (ed. note–Jack Logan’s band) at the old 40 Watt. Mike fell off of the stage halfway through the show and bounced right back up as if there was no gravity in the room and never missed a note of his solo. People talked about that for weeks.
AD: After a few moderately successful early records, you guys made something of a bid for more mainstream success with 1997’s Gasolina! that reportedly cost something around a quarter of a million dollars. What was the story behind that?
Dan: It wasn’t deliberate like that.
Patrick: Yeah, I don’t think anyone ever set out to make a more commercial record. We got hooked up with Walter Yetnikoff, who was former president of Columbia records, and who had signed Springsteen and the Clash and Elvis Costello. So he had this incredible track record and that was just the way that they did things. Those were the days of spending a million dollars on a band and they’d make it back. Or not. So they put us in the studio with Ed Stasium, who’s a genius–I mean here’s a guy who produced Talking Heads records, Ramones records, who was Phil Spector’s engineer…
Sean: Just a great guy.
Dan: Cooks a mean steak.
Patrick: That’s just they you did it. We were signed to essentially what was essentially going to be a major label-caliber indie label (ed. note–Velvel Records, founded by Yetnikoff) and their plan for us was to make a big record and the way you do that is to hire a name producer like Ed Stasium and you go to a studio with a closetful of $11,000 Neumann microphones and an SSL board and a tape machine and you make a record. I mean, the budget wasn’t out of line for the era. It’s just now it seems crazy.
AD: Patrick and Sean, you guys left the band shortly after Gasolina! was released. How did that all go down?
Patrick: Well, we had been doing 200 shows a year for a long time and it was how we made our living. We didn’t have day jobs and we had to stay out on the road, sleeping on floors and it was exhausting. There was a lot of turmoil within the band and our personal relationships were deteriorating before our eyes. When the record didn’t work out for us or Velvel, it just felt like time to stop.
Sean: I ran away and became a drug addict for a few years.
Patrick: That’s the truth. But stopping at the time we did allowed us to maintain good personal relationships with the other guys in the band. I think the hardest thing about the time off for me was that I thought [2000’s] The Good Nurse was the best Five Eight record and I was really sad I wasn’t on it.
AD: Many of your contemporaries from the ‘90s have made comebacks recently to great fanfare. As a band that’s continued unabated for 23 years or so now, what’s your reaction when you see those announcements?
Patrick: Actually when I heard Pixies were reuniting I got up on the roof on the house that I was living in and cheered. Jesus Lizard, Gang Of Four, that’s all amazing. I mean, if the guys from Better Than Ezra want to put together a reunion show, I’ll go see it.
Mike: Even The Glands are getting back together! They’ve at least practiced together, I know that.
Dan: Every time we put out a new record it feels like a reunion, even though we’ve been playing the whole time.
AD: Your reputation is that you’re a killer live band. Does it bother you to any degree that this doesn’t appear to necessarily translate in to record sales?
Dan: Not really.
Patrick: We’ve had a lot of conversations about this in the course of making of the new record–what it means to “make it.”
Mike: It’s not the record sales, the not being…it’s taking the live energy and making it record. That’s the problem. Record sales don’t have anything to do with it. It’s when you listen to the record, does it sound like the live show? I think what happened on this record is we got some really great performances, and thank god because it makes a big difference.
Patrick: This record keeps pulling me back in. Even though I’m the one who recorded it, I hear stuff that still intrigues me.
AD: If you had to succinctly describe the new record you would say it’s…
Mike: Levity in the face of existential despair.
Patrick: For me the point of the record was that it never got so dark that there isn’t a moment of redemption in it. That’s the whole reason you even make a record after twenty years of being in a rock band. You can very easily start to feel sorry for yourself and what is the point of playing music. But music is so incredibly uplifting for us to play together as friends. Other guys have their boats and golf clubs. We’ve got this rock band. words/ john kress
MP3: Five Eight :: Your God Is Dead To Me Now