FIve Eight (Bridge Stage)
"Once upon a time there was a dream...they would not let the dream die...."
Five Eight is a four piece rock band from Athens, GA, though sometimes we were a three piece and sometimes as many as five people on-stage. It varies with the weather and people’s medications.
The band’s roots go back many years, preceding the advent of Five-Eight by half a decade. The story begins in Hinman Dormitory on the campus of SUNY Binghamton in Upstate New York. The bottom floor of Hinman was populated by so many socially awkward and conversationally maladroit freshmen that the residents had been nicknamed “Jerry’s Kids” by the rest of the student body. Mike Mantione (guitar, vocals) was ambling down the hallway one afternoon when he peeked into a room and saw Dan Horowitz (bass, banjo) sitting on his bed and improvising a half-remembered version of a Ramones song on a battered, atonal acoustic guitar with a pencil for a bridge. “This is the guy,” Mantione apparently thought to himself, “that I want to play music with for thirty or so years.”
Mike and Dan eventually ended up with a handful of other exceptionally talented social misfits in the Binghamton band The Reasonable Men. The Reasonable Men went on to some local infamy as the party-rock band responsible for songs like “What The Fuck’s Wrong With My Brain?”, “Two Fat Ladies”, and “What I Imagined is a Movie by Me.” At the time, Mantione was lead guitar player and did not write songs. However, Mantione experienced a life-changing event when he had a nervous breakdown and was institutionalized for depression and psychosis. His family signed him out of the hospital against the advice of physicians and Mantione resolved to write his way through it. What followed was the first burst of songs like “Dawn of Son Melody,” “Streets of Fear,” and “Behind the Glass Wall”, which would eventually become parts of the Five-Eight repertoire.
The band had planned to move to Brooklyn as the members either graduated or dropped out of college. Dan Horowitz moved to the city and worked a part-time job while taking boxing lessons in Harlem. Mike went home to Long Island for what was supposed to be a few months, but entered a serious depression and never made it to the city. Dan Farnz, the band’s other principle songwriter, impulsively followed his brother to Athens, GA, where his elder sibling was attending law school, taking all of the band’s equipment with him.
Dan Horowitz, Mike Mantione and then-drummer Mike Palmatier ended up following Farnz to Athens, ostensibly to get their equipment back, but eventually the whole band ended up living in the same small house that is shown in the movie ‘Athens, GA: Inside Out” as the one under which Dexter Romwebber lived (in the crawlspace). (Dexter had moved out, by then, of course.)
Dan Farnz left the band and the name was changed from The Reasonable Men to Five-Eight. Mike Palmatier eventually left the band as well. Local drummer Patrick Ferguson joined, first as a temporary replacement when Palmatier was greviously injured in a workplace accident at a lumber yard, then permanently when Palmatier moved back up north. The band put out two cassette-only releases (‘Passive-Aggressive’ and ‘Inflatable Sense of Self’) and began touring heavily in the Southeast with occasional trips to play in NYC.
Five-Eight’s furious live shows and growing regional following caught the attention of Sky Records, with whom they inked a deal in 1990. The band traveled to San Francisco to record ‘I Learned Shut-Up’ at Brilliant Studios with producer Norm Kerner (American Music Club, Angry Samoans). The record was released in 1992 and the band toured heavily behind it, playing over 200 shows before taking a week off to record the follow-up EP ‘The Angriest Man.’
In the weeks prior to recording sessions for ‘The Angriest Man,’ the band had been joined onstage by New Orleans guitarist Sean Dunn. Dunn, a member of the Atlanta band The Blood Poets, had befriended drummer Ferguson outside The Point, a nightclub in the Little Five Points neighborhood of Atlanta. Dunn suggested that he might jump up on stage with the band the next time they played Atlanta. Ferguson said he thought this might be a fun idea. Dunn then told Horowitz and Mantione that he was going to play a few songs with them in at back-to-back shows in Athens and Atlanta. After the Atlanta show, Sean loaded his amplifier into Five-Eight’s van and joined them for a run down to Mississippi and Louisiana, telling each bandmember that other bandmembers had okayed this decision. At their sold-out show at Jimmy’s in New Orleans, drummer Fred LeBlanc (Dash Rip Rock, Cowboy Mouth) came up to the band after the show, pointed at Sean and said “That guy stays. That worked.” It was about eighteen months later that the rest of the band realized that Sean had essentially conned his way into the band and had become an indispensible member of the team.
Five-Eight and Sky Records released ‘The Angriest Man’ in 1993 and ‘Weirdo’ in 1994, while the band played more than 200 shows a year and extensively touring the United States. Not long after the release of ‘Weirdo,’ Sky Records was acquired by Atlanta hip-hop label Ichiban. Relations between the band and the label went south fairly quickly.
In late 1994, the band left Ichiban/Sky and eventually signed to former Columbia President (and protagonist of the tell-all record industry expose “Hit Men”) Walter Yetnikoff’s Velvel Records. While on Velvel records, Five-Eight recorded ‘Gasolina,’ their most ambitious album yet, produced by Ed Stasium (Talking Heads, The Ramones, pretty much everybody, really). ‘Gasolina’ was released in 1997. Even with the labels stellar pedigree and massive budget, ‘Gasolina’ unfortunately didn’t make a dime. The band continued on its relentless touring schedule until Ferguson announced he was burned out and bored with the whole thing and then quit the band.
Not long after, Dunn also left. Velvel declined to pick up the option on another Five-Eight record. For a brief moment, Five-Eight broke up, then Mantione and Horowitz recruited fellow Binghamtonian Mike Rizzi to play drums.
It was in the wake of this crushing series of disappointments and disillusionments that Five-Eight wrote what is largely believed to be their must artistically complete and most realized album, ‘The Good Nurse’(2000). With his marriage in tatters, his band nearly broken up, close friend and fellow songwriter Graham King undergoing treatment for Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, Mantione wrote a searing and gorgeous conceptual album about illness, hospitals, dying and broken families. It was celebrated by NPR, Spin Magazine and Alternative Press as Five-Eight’s greatest work.
Five-Eight soldiered on, continuing to tour and write, releasing the self-titled album ‘Five-Eight’ in 2004. Five-Eight refers to the self-titled album as “The Black Album” (a conscious reference to the movie ‘Spinal Tap’), several tracks of which got heavy airplay on the Atlanta Alt-Rock powerhouse station 99X. It was in support of The Black Album that Five-Eight opened for REM on their US tour. It looked for a moment like Five-Eight might finally break through to widespread commercial success.
In 2007, Rizzi took an offer to join The Ghost Hounds, an LA band with a growing cult following, often joined onstage by Slash and other Los Angeles rock royalty. He leapt at the chance and the band approached Ferguson to play drums again. Ferguson joined “for a few shows” and remains with the band to this day. Together, they recorded a new album, with Ferguson recording and producing all the tracks. It was during the recording of this record that Sean Dunn moved back to Athens to rejoin the band. The resulting album ‘Your God is Dead to Me Now’ ended up being one of the band’s favorites and was mentioned favorably by NPR’s ‘All Songs Considered’, as well as by several influential music blogs.
Currently, the band is recording a new album, tentatively entitled “Songs for Saint Jude.” (Saint Jude is the patron saint of lost causes and also figures prominently in the prayers and iconography of Dunn’s hometown of New Orleans.) They are working with ace young producer Richard Salino and recording to tape.