Summer Music Series: Fiveighthirteen Takes Inspiration From The Natural World
In another installment of NHPR's Summer Music Series, All Things Considered host Peter Biello talked with Mike Effenberger and Nick Phaneuf of the band Fiveighthirteen.
After playing together for almost 15 years, the two have developed an ethereal style that incorporates the spirit of the natural world into each song, and is reflected in the band's name — a reference to the Fibonacci sequence.
Listen to the story or read the transcript below to learn more about Fiveighthirteen's new album, which drops today.
Peter Biello: Nick Phaneuf, Mike Effenberger, thank you very much for speaking with me.
Mike Effenberger: Thanks for having us.
Nick Phaneuf: Yeah, thanks for your interest.
Peter Biello: So, let's kick things off with some of your music. What do you say, should we start at the beginning, first song on the album?
Nick Phaneuf: Sounds great.
Peter Biello: OK, so this song is "Further From This Moment All The Time." And as we listen to it, can you tell us a little bit about the inspiration for it?
Nick Phaneuf: This is Nick. The name of it came from the idea that everything is moving forward always, that you only ever are moving away from something that happened. And musically, we think about how music develops and changes over the course of a piece or an album, but that's kind of the thought.
Peter Biello: One of the things that stood out to me about this album is that a lot of the songs kind of blend seamlessly into each other. So, you'll be listening to the song and then it'll blend into the next track, "Static But Not Still," and if you're not watching the tracks shift on your iPod or your iPhone, you won't even notice. So what made you want to structure an album like that where it kind of just flows so easily? Mike?
Mike Effenberger: Yeah, we had been interested in trying to make the record a complete listen rather than just a sequence of tracks that are assembled of their own accord and then sort of sketched together at the last stage. We started by assembling material and then sort of ordering how the material was going to play out across the record and where elements are going to recur and then sort of started filling in from there. So there's a lot of transitions like the one you're describing where a track sort of bleeds into the next or elements of a track appear in another one later.
Peter Biello: Are you optimistic that people will listen to your album from beginning to end and catch the arc? Or are you wondering if people are just going to pick up a track here and a track there, as people tend to do, given the popularity of things like Spotify and Pandora?
Mike Effenberger: It is a concern because music has gone in the opposite direction of television where people are really interested in these long story arcs, long-form storytelling, and, as you said, Spotify is really about the single and its place on a playlist of multiple artists. But despite that, we still thought that we like the album as an art form. So we're going to just encourage people as much as we can to spend time not only with our album, but albums in general as a way of listening to music.
Peter Biello: And Nick, can I ask you what kind of challenges structuring an album like that presents?
Nick Phaneuf: It was actually, in some regards, easier than working the other way where you make a bunch of songs and then try to make them make sense together. So, we actually were able to tailor the beginning and ends of any given track because we actually decided the overall architecture before we finished the composition. So, we really worked all the way from the outside, in.
Peter Biello: I wanted to ask you about your name, Fiveighthirteen. What's that about?
Nick Phaneuf: This is Nick here. So five, eight [and] 13 are three consecutive numbers in the Fibonacci sequence, which is a number sequence where any two numbers in the sequence add up to the next number. And it describes a growth curve that appears in the natural world often. Mike, some examples of that?
Mike Effenberger: Yeah, like the location of nodes of leaves along a branch or petals on a sunflower forming like a spiraling shape that roughly corresponds to the Fibonacci sequence.
Peter Biello: You also have a song here called "The Ecliptic Plane," which is something people familiar with the Earth's orbit around the Sun will know something about. I'm curious about this, too, because it's another sign of your interest in science and the natural world. Would you like to talk about that song a little bit?
Nick Phaneuf: This is Nick. Yeah, so as you said, we have an interest in math as it relates to science and the intersection of that stuff with art. And we get a lot of inspiration from thinking about the scale that things happen on. Geological time is moving so slowly and then other things in the natural world happen in an instant. And thinking about the way that things orbit in our solar system is a little bit about the recurrence of events also in music and art.
Peter Biello: Well, let's listen to this a little bit. This is "Ecliptic Plane" from the album here. That's an interesting part of this song and some other songs as well, you're bringing in some recorded voices. They sound like vintage radio recordings. What's that about?
Mike Effenberger: This is Mike. Yeah, they do now. I mean, so we're interested in sort of the human voice, as divorced from just a conversation or anything, just like the sonic elements of the voice. It's a sound you're so used to, hearing people talk all the time, but it is a bizarre sound, like spectrally, with all the different things going on that make up that communication are really interesting. So when you divorce that from its context and sort of drop it in as a melody, basically like a musical foreground, you can end up in some interesting places.
Peter Biello: I know you might have touched on this a little bit, but I do want to hone in on this a little bit too, Mike, maybe we'll start with you. Where do you get your inspiration from when you're composing?
Mike Effenberger: Sure. A lot of the music definitely on the surface can seem sort of like technological or electronic or sounds that you wouldn't associate with acoustic music at first glance. But the music itself, like what we put together with it, tends to draw more heavily on the natural world or ideas of minimalism, like letting the rate of change be slow enough that you have time to really live inside a given idea and let that idea really have its voice. Like, let it have its moment to say its thing.
Peter Biello: Well, I wanted to close by playing the last song on the album, it seems appropriate, since you were talking earlier about how you want things to come back periodically. So, this one is called "Early Winter Late Day Sun," and let's close with this, but can you tell us a little bit about it?
Nick Phaneuf: This is Nick here. I think that this is probably the most characteristic of where our influences come together musically. This sounds the most like what Fiveighthirteen sounds like in my mind, actually.
Peter Biello: So the record releases today, where can people find it?
Nick Phaneuf: It's going to be on all streaming platforms, Spotify, iTunes, and it's on our Bandcamp page where you can directly support us if you're inclined to do that. And today, we'll also be playing two shows to promote it and with some physical vinyl copies of it for people who like to listen to music that way.
Mike Effenberger: And that'll be at 3S Artspace in Portsmouth.
Peter Biello: Nick Phaneuf and Mike Effenberger of Fiveighthirteen, thank you very much for speaking with me. I really appreciate it.
Mike Effenberger: Yeah, thanks a lot Peter.
Nick Phaneuf: Thanks for having us.