The blueprints of a capella

A capella group Fifth Element releases their new album “Blueprint”

More stories from Brian Sheridan



Fifth Element performing for their fall concert in 2014.

After finishing a performance on the Milwaukee television show “The Morning Blend”, a capella group Fifth Element went to eat at a local diner, and a waitress asked if they could sing a couple songs. People were recording them on their phones, even giving them money.

The reputation of Fifth Element seems to span across Wisconsin and may gain even more traction with the release of their new album “Blueprint”, available Nov. 21 at their fall concert in Schofield Auditorium.

The 10-track album contains covers of various pop songs like “Uptown Funk”, “American Dream” and “The Fox (What Does The Fox Say?).” The last album the group produced was done six years ago and they figured it was time for another, even though it was new to members like senior Barry Bakunowicz.

“It’s cool because I’ve never done anything like it before, personally,” Bakunowicz said. “It was such a unique experience and none of us really knew what to expect going in.”

But in order to make the album, they needed money. The group had some money in savings from past concerts and gigs, but they needed to do fundraising so they could afford the quality of the album they wanted.

They decided to launch a Kickstarter campaign in hopes of getting some donations to their cause. Fifth Element had 30 days to raise a goal of $4,500. With the help of anonymous internet strangers, past group members and the city of Antigo  — raising over $1,000 alone  — they managed to exceed their goal.

“I actually, personally, didn’t think we would (meet the goal) because I was like, we’re just this nobody, small town a capella group,” Bakunowicz said. “but we were very humbled by the amount of donations we got.”

The Kickstarter funds went to helping supplement costs like the $1,400 to record, the $1,600 for editing and $3,000 to mix. Fifth Element was looking to get famous a capella mixer Bill Hare to mix their album. Hare said he would, but also noted he would have to do it after finishing a project in Italy.

When it came to finally recording the album, Bakunowicz said they didn’t want their songs to sound mechanical so they used minimal “editor magic”, and did their best to record it in a natural manner.

“Just the way we recorded it, we tried to record it as organically as possible,” Bakunowicz said. “Like all of us around in a circle recording all at once.”

Fifth Element member Will Johnston said they tried recording individually and then stacking the voices on top of each other, but it just didn’t work. He said by recording as a group, it makes the recording and mixing process a little harder, but it’ll “get that emotion in there” and make it more “whole sounding.”

With this organic sound, however, comes its own troubles. Bakunowicz said it was a struggle getting everyone in the studio at one time because coordinating schedules was difficult. Once everyone is there, though, the recordings have to go perfectly.

Since everyone is being recorded at the same time, Bakunowicz said any sneezes, coughs or any one part being slightly off would mean redoing the entire verse, or possibly the entire song.

Bakunowicz said they spent 30 hours trying to get the album as perfect as possible, and then six more in another week trying to finish cleaning up spots. By the end of it, Johnston said they were very on edge with each other.

“We got frustrated with each other because hanging out with each other for many hours just gets a little tedious,” Johnston said. “But we overcame it after we listened to it. That’s how every process is making an album.”

After they finished recording this last spring, the songs were sent to be mixed and mastered over the summer. The group is unanimously pleased with the end result.

One of the newest members, Senior Zac Plein, who is not on the album, enjoyed listening to the songs and is proud to be a member of Fifth Element.

“For me, it was ‘wow, I’m a part of this group’,” Plein said.

Sophomore Matt Nyman, also a newer member of Fifth Element, said he did some background work on the album and helped with some financial aspects of the album process.

Nyman said he can’t wait for the public to have it and that it’s really satisfying to release a hard copy of the songs.

“Now that we’re going through the whole internet age,” Nyman said, “CDs are much more nostalgic and I’ll keep that CD for quite a while, until they’re completely obsolete.”

With the new album being available at their next concert, one fan in particular hopes she can make it, since she hasn’t missed a Fifth Element concert in 10 years.

UW-Eau Claire graduate Dale Gibson first heard about the a capella group her freshman year of high school when they came to do a performance. After arriving at Eau Claire, she began attending concerts more regularly. Starting her second year, she began attending every single show.

Gibson said she has seen the evolution of Fifth Element from a good-sounding group with no stage presence, to what it is today.

“Over the years I’ve watched them develop into this amazing group of guys that have energy on stage and they’re constantly doing different things to make you want to go,” said Gibson.

Nyman said when old members leave, he doesn’t want the group to sit and die. He wants to keep the reputation up to par, by continuing to do gigs and to also keep emphasising having fun because, he said, “we’re not doing this for fame, we’re doing this for fun.”

Currently, there are possible plans to begin recording for another, smaller, album this coming spring that would then be put on hold until it can be funded.

New members like Johnston and Nyman are eager to record another album sooner than the six-year period between the last one. Johnston said he wants this because they’ll be the ones to take the group to where it needs to be when all the other members have left.

“We want it to be every three years, every four years,” Johnston said. “Because we have the funds for it, we have the motivation for it, we just need to be able to make a plan and go into it.”

Bakunowicz said this transition period of new members will be important to preserving the legacy of Fifth Element as it is a time to find out what their advantages are, where they can improve and find the new direction the group should steer towards.