Finger Eleven are not only one of the most influential Canadian rock bands, they’re also the hardest working guys in the business. The bands various songs have been featured in the television shows Scrubs, Smallville, Gossip Girl & CSI: Miami. In July, the band announced that the title of their sixth album would officially be “Life Turns Electric” which was released in October 2010. Since then, they’ve been touring & have also shot a music video for “Whatever Doesn’t Kill Me” I got a chance to catch up with James to talk about Finger Eleven’s latest record, his gear & Blackie Jackett Jr.
Hi James, first off thanks for taking the time to do this interview. Last year you took your talents to the studio & co/produced the bands latest record “Life Turns Electric” with Rick Jackett in New York City. What was that experience like & can we expect more from a production standpoint from James Black?
The whole experience of making the record was incredible. It was intimidating at first, but once the process starts, our band has an incredible rhythm together. Everyone in the band knows what they want from themselves and from the songs. The hardest part of making an album takes place long before you get to the studio. When you’re getting the songs ready. Once we’ve agreed on the songs we’re recording it’s just a matter of making sure the mics are in front of the right person. Not very complicated.
The experience is quite different when you’re producing another artist. You gain an instant objectivity simply because it’s not “your” band and that grants a whole new realm of creativity. It is certainly the intention for me and Rick to continue to produce records. I think, by now, we’ve actually learned somethings about songs and music that we can certainly pass on to younger bands.
The music video for “Whatever Doesn’t Kill Me” was a one shot concept video directed by “Alon Isocianu.” How was the experience on set compared to the music videos shot in the past.
It was quite a different shoot then the usual. Not only was it shot in one take, but it showed the entire 360degrees of the space we were in. All of the “behind the scenes” equipment, that is necessary to make a video, had to be hidden. The majority of the day was spent mapping out the camera moves, hiding the gear and choreographing the giant fan and moving walls. We didn’t have to show up until later in the day, which is the real rarity. Most video shoots start at 6 in the morning. We were also able to make a casting call to our fans on line asking them to play a part in the video. I great crowd of people showed and appear in the video as “the Herd”.
A video shoot is quite an exciting place to be, but after shooting many of them you take it all little bit for granted. Having the fans there gave the whole thing a fresh energy. We ended using the last full take of the day and successfully turned in a completely ONE TAKE video.
Finger Eleven have had a ton of music featured in film & television such as shows like “WWE’s Raw,” “CSI: Miami” & the “Scream 3″ soundtrack. How important is it for a band to explore different ways of getting music exposed now with the growing amount of new releases & bands every year?
I think it’s become incredibly important. We are now in an era were a song can become a “SUPER SMASH MEGA HIT” by being on a VolksWagon or iPod commercial. It’s insane.
The conventional ways of getting recorded music out there have completely changed. Media has given birth to new media and with every step it had create new places for music to appear that never existed 40-50 years ago.
Because technology has given a voice to people who may not have had one otherwise, there has been a flood of music. Now, with more options then ever, the artist becomes a single drop in an ocean. If you want to be heard you have to get it out there.
The song “Paralyzer” is also featured in the roller-coaster “Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit” at Universal Studios Florida which looks amazing. Have you ridden it yet?
No not yet. I’m really excited to try it, I love roller coasters.
You also play in an incredible Alternative/Country side project called “Blackie Jackett Jr.” Tell me about this project, who else is involved & how did it begin? Any Future plans?
It started with a batch of songs that we recorded on the road. In hotel rooms, dressing rooms on the back of the tour bus. The songs became the soundtrack to many a great party night at the BrewShack (our buddies apartment). We would write a song and then get drunk recording it. Or write a song and then get drunk to celebrate. The more fun we had the more songs we wrote, it was perfect. Eventually we had enough songs to make a record
It started out as just me and Rick recording ourselves at Brewer’s place, then Brewer started to pitch in lyrics and singing harmonies. And then we were three.
Rick heard Sandra Dee singing Loretta Lynn at local karaoke and asked her to come a sing a few tracks. She has since become a permanent fixture in the band and we’ve written a few songs with her since the album. The live band has climbed up to seven or eight members on a good night, mostly playing locally, around Toronto.
The idea is to do another album soon, hopefully with the band rather than just the two of us. Whichever way is the most fun i suppose.
You’ve been playing guitar for years and I want to ask a question for our gear enthusiasts. What guitar set up do you & Rick use & has it changed through the years? Any favourite guitars, amps etc you like to use in the studio rather then on stage?
My live rig has changed many times over the years.
I’ve toyed around with MIDI rack switching units and simple stomp box pedal boards, to no pedals at all. I’ve settled on a philosophy about live guitar rigs. The simpler the better. So I’ve been using a simple stomp box board for years. Delay. Boost. Whammy pedal. Crybaby. Modulation. For an amp my tastes have changed as well. I’m using an amp made by MORRIS now. I absolutely love it. I used high gain amps for many years but started looking for something that allowed for my personality to cut through the distortion. The MORRIS is simple, tubes and wires. It’s a 50 watt amp, so I can crank the volume and get the tubes hotter, which is essentially how you get the nice sound.
That’s one piece of advice above all else for any new guitarist. The higher wattage (100 watt/200 watt amp) is LOUDER but, because of that head room, the volume gets to unbearable levels before the tubes really start cookin. Louder doesn’t mean bigger and beefier. Hot tubes mean big and beefy.
Finger Eleven have a big resume when it comes to touring & playing live. Do you have one memorable venue or show that you’ll never forget? Where was it and what made it so significant?
I’d have to say that our gig at Kandahar Air Field was the most memorable. Playing in the Afghan desert for thousands of soldiers. Fighter jets taking off into the night sky as we’re rocking out. On the way there we played an acoustic set on the Prime Minister’s plane. Entirely surreal.
Growing up in the city of Burlington Ontario, what major influences did you have growing up as an artist? Any Canadian Bands/Artists?
My major influences early on, were the Beatles, Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd. As I grew I got in to music like The Red Hot Chili Peppers, Jane’s Addiction, Faith No More and Guns and Roses.
As far as Canadian artists, I think the Hip was probably the first band who’s “Canadianess” I was aware of. I never knew where any of my favorite bands were from back then. I thought they were all from another planet.
What can fans expect from Finger Eleven this summer?
We’re touring all summer, a lot of high energy outdoor rock and roll shows.
Last but not least, what important piece of personal advice would you give to young rock bands or artists starting out in the music industry?
Do it because you love it. Do it because somewhere inside you, you have to do it. Write as many songs as you can. Remember that nobody really knows what they’re talking about in this industry so trust yourself. And whatever you do, don’t take advice from guitar players in magazine articles.
To get more info on the band visit www.fingereleven.com