Finger Eleven: Back To The Future

Following the lukewarm critical reaction to their 2010 release, `Life Turns Electric’, Burlington Ontario’s Finger Eleven felt they needed to re-evaluate their musical direction. It took the band five years and at least one major false start before they realized the element that was missing from their sessions was the same energy and rawness which had sparked the band’s initial success._DSC7144-2

So after a frenetic 11-day recording session in Nashville with madcap producer  Dave Cobb (Rival Sons, Jason Isbell), Finger Eleven has released , studio album No 6, `Five Crooked Lines’, a throwback to the band’s classic rock roots but with a contemporary production style.

“Spontaneous action, that’s the direction we were shooting for when we recorded this album,” noted band guitarist James Black as he checks in from Cleveland as the band launches the record with a mini U.S tour. “We were trying for an almost live, off the floor sound.”

Finger Eleven
Finger Eleven

“On our last album, (Life Turns Electric-2010), we kind of abused our time in the studio,” he continued.  “The weird backhand of any success is that once you achieve a certain amount of popularity, your ego takes over.  You start working on overdubs, special effects and you convince yourself you know what you are doing. But what got you there in the first place was the fact that you really didn’t know what the fuck you were doing, initially you were just trying to get somewhere.”

Black, lead vocalist Scott Anderson, guitarist Rick Jackett, bassist Sean Anderson and original drummer Rob Gommerman started life as Rainbow Butt Monkeys in 1989. A win in HTZ-F.M St Catherines’ ` 1995 Rocksearch competition funded the band’s self-titled indie release and a positive local reaction resulted in Rob Lanni and Eric Lawrence signing the band to their Coalition Entertainment production company.

With a change of name to Finger Eleven, the band fell under the production direction of Arnold Lanni, former singer/guitarist with Sheriff and Frozen Ghost who had produced Our Lady Peace’s debut recording.

Lanni recorded the band’s first two records under their new name; `Tip’ (1997) and `The Greyness Of Blue Skies (2000) both reaching the gold sales status (50,000 units) in Canada for Mercury Records. Jonnie K took over production for the band’s next two releases Finger Eleven (2003) and “Them vs You vs Me (2007) which spawned the band’s biggest single “Paralyzer.

By this point, the band wanted to experiment with their sound but by Black’s admission, they found themselves getting lost in the recording process.  “The thing about being in the studio is that you get this feeling you are in the driver’s seat and then you start making decisions that hampers what was genuine about your band in the first place.”_DSC7123-2

In retrospect Black thinks Finger Eleven tried to make `a nicer sounding’ album.  “With all the elements we brought together we created a `smoothening’ effect which is a few shades short of generic. It’s so easy to lose yourself down that rabbit hole if you’re not careful.”

The reason the band’s current follow-up took almost 5 years to take shape was because at one point they trashed a bunch of songs they felt were going in the wrong direction. “One out of five songs that we wrote were okay but the other four were just not happening. Direction-wise, were were totally lost,” admitted Black. “Then we just said, `screw it, let’s get back to the basics, let’s remember what we sounded like in the first place. Once we made that decision, the ideas started to flow and the new record started taking shape.”

The album’s first track; `God Of Speed’ is synonymous with their `Back To the Future’, all guns blazing approach. “There’s no rumbling intro, there, just a big slap in the face,” laughs Black.

“Come On Oblivion” has been cited by several observers  as an ode to Pink Floyd which Black acknowledges. “Pink Floyd was a massive  early influence of mine and the trippiness of the song with its combination of acoustic and electric guitar does have a strong Floyd feel about it”.

When it is mentioned that “Lost In Words” has a distinctive `King Crimson, prog rock feel to it,” Black again responds positively, saying “Progressive Rock has always been a strong element within the band and I just tried to capture that guitar feeling that Robert Fripp used to generate.”

Five Crooked Lines, the record’s title track is autobiographical in the sense that, traditionally, the band has had five members in their lineup and like five crooked sticks, if they are aligned correctly, they can be arranged into a star, a concept Black says the band could relate too.”

With “Wolves And Doors” taking off in a big way on national rock radio play lists, Black feels the band’s decision to head down to Nashville and record with producer Dave Cobb  was the right one, even if they didn’t have a drummer!  Rich Beddoe had left the band prior to recording the new album and instead of hiring a new percussionist, the band surmised that it was silly to hire a new drummer when Nashville boasted some of the best session musicians on the continent. Veteran drummer, Chris Powell was recruited by Cobb for the sessions which were laid down in ljust 11 days.

“Chris just had that feel that we had never had on our records before,” enthused Black.”There’s a swagger in his style that comes across on the tracks.”

Never critics darlings in Canada, Finger Eleven have been shoved into that post-grunge category with the likes of Pearl Jam, Creed, Theory Of A Deadman and Nickelback, with their releases routinely trashed by the print media. “Things were okay at the beginning until we had a big hit with “Paralyzer” (of their 2007 release `Them Vs You Vs Me release). Chad Kroeger (Nickelback lead vocalist) said to me `Now you’ve done it, better get ready for the backlash’…and he was right!,” Black noted. “Our attitude is, the more people you reach, the more you are going to piss off, but we are reaching people in the first place so the negative reaction we do receive has no consequence to us.”

Currently finishing off a string of U.S dates (with Steve Molella on drums), Finger Eleven are set to tour Canada this fall and capitalize on the positive response, Five Crooked Lines is receiving. “It’s great to see bands like Big Wreck, The Tea Party and Our Lady Peace back out there, I think there is a really positive feel  for bands like ours,” noted Black. “In all of this time (since 1989), we’ve never broken up but we have taken our time between projects.”

“We encountered a bit of a creative rough patch after `Life Turned Electric’,” he continued. “But now we all feel the new record is self-pleasing . `Five Crooked Lines’ is like a throw back to our first records. A time when we were trying to please ourselves even before we had an audience to please.”

Photos by Kris Gelder.

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