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James BlackI was so fortunate to interview one of my musical idols growing up. James Black of Finger Eleven. Finger Eleven played a huge part of my musical upbringing. I would say they were the first band to add that missing dimension of imaginative lyrics and unorthodox guitar methods. They were far from the feel of Metallica and were much more complex than the power chords of Nirvana or the churn of Sevendust. Finger Eleven captured my senses on all fronts. Their debut album ‘Tip’ and the follow up ‘The Greyest of Blue Skies’ blew me away and I was totally obsessed with them – and still am. I idolized James Black when I was learning to play guitar and had pictures of him hanging on my wall. He had such a different approach to the songs I really caught onto it and wanted to be just like him.
So needless to say it was an incredible honor to be able to speak with him on the phone for a brief phone interview. For those unaware, James released a solo album ‘Moon Boot Cocoon‘ in May of 2014. Finger Eleven just released their new album ‘Five Crooked Lines‘ in July 2015.
Here goes:
Hi James! Thanks for taking the time. I just want to start by saying how big of a fan I am. I’ve followed your career since tip and even have a hard copy of Rainbow Butt Monkey’s Letters From Chutney displayed proudly in my collection. I have a bunch of signed stuff from seeing you guys a lot when I used to live in Cleveland.
Yeah, we were just in Cleveland and went to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and got a behind the scenes look at a lot of the displays there. We have fond memories of Cleveland.
Yeah, i saw some of the pictures on social media of you guys there. That was going to be one of my questions – When you were there and looking at all the displays, do you aspire for Finger Eleven to be in there one day?
As far as the honor of it – yeah. There’s a lot of prestige there. Though it’s not a source of prime motivation. What I got the most out of the whole thing was that, when you look up close, the costumes and the hand-written word, all of it, when you get really really up close it all looks like costumes and hand-made. There’s something about the immortal being you create like Jimmy Page, David Bowie -these guys are like gods to me- then when you see the iconic costumes up close and notice the bad stitching like his girlfriend or neighbor made it for him. It makes it seem more attainable because they too, were mere mortals at one time. Seeing Jim Morrison’s hand-written mothers day cards, y’know. At one time he was just a tiny little kid who was just in love with his mom and going to kindergarten and all that shit.That makes me feel like I can pull it off. It makes me feel like ‘ok these guys were people just like us’. But at the same time you see that all the greats were just so… great like they possessed this extra quality in how they express themselves.
Well, in a sort of role reversal that’s kinda what I would also say about you. From a fan’s perspective I see your stuff and what you do, with your artwork and the creativity in your music and the music video for ‘Above’ and your side projects with Blackie Jacket Jr and your solo album Moon Boot Cocoon. I feel like from a fan’s perspective that your mind also has that extraordinary capability. From the Moon Boot Cocoon album artwork I feel like it does show how you live and think with your head up in outer space while all these other things are below you. I was able to catch on to that rather quickly.
When I was working on the James Black album with producer Tino (Zolfo), It seems like a little late in my career to have had such a big self-discovery and we talked about it often – that the only way to really do something is to really do it. I you really want to be a creative person, you have to create a bunch of stuff, you just have to and there’s no other way around it. And if you want to be an eccentric kinda guy who wears rubber boots and swimming goggles to the mall, then you have to do it. You have to be living it. I think at some point i thought ‘I think I need to start doing that’ and then at some point in time – like you were saying- I guess I am doing that. I never really stopped to think about it. It’s cool that somebody notices and it’s cool that there’s a big enough picture that see that. I’ve been lucky to be a part of a lot of things and it’s cool that i’ve been able to do that and it’s cool that someone like yourself was even paying attention to any of it.
Now that I’ve learned that, now I can apply that to my music, and coming back into Finger Eleven and the creative space after going and learning about myself and making stuff outside of that. I think now Finger Eleven has more of it as well.
 James Black Moon Boot Cocoon
Sometimes -and I was reminded by Tino – when you start with an really great idea, it’s a shame that you were so free spirited that it went down so many paths instead of actually doing what you set out to do. That was a big thing i learned about MBC and the album cover is the same thing. I coulda used photoshop, but the cover of Stg Pepper isn’t.
Even though you have an idea and circumstances prove it a lot more difficult to do. Sometimes going with the creative flow of those around you is purely the greatest thing but sometimes it’s not and you have to stop yourself and go –I had an idea I need to see this through my own way.
I think this new Finger Eleven – the reason that it took so long but the reason that (in my opinion) it’s so good and rings so true to us is that we decided that ‘OK – nothing is going to be on this record that isn’t how we wanted it to be’ Nothing is going to be like ‘oh, well i guess that’s the best we can do with it.’ None of that shit, otherwise we’re not ready.
I also read that the recording process of the new album that you wanted to have a fast recording and a raw feel and I understand that was your intention. But was there a reason you decided not to do a long-term process and add any production layers or other elements?

I think it has to do with what I was saying earlier about being it, and living it. When we go out and play live. I think we’re pretty fucking bad-ass and after the show there’s always people that are entertained and even though we have every chance in the world to go into the studio and do a buncha stuff, with all the gear there, it’s kinda like after this many years it’s like ‘Man, the one thing that we do and that we’re great at is the one thing that we haven’t really put on a record yet. We’re always kind of doing a live version of a studio record and it was sort of like ‘we can go anywhere and do this live’ We’ve been this since the beginning and thinking about that. If these songs are good enough they won’t need a lot.
In truth, my ears and my taste, I’m just getting bored of the sound of rock records in general. Some of the guitar tones and overdubs and when you play it live you have less options and maybe there’s some holes in there have to be there because you have to switch pedals or change chords. Maybe that’s what’s missing, maybe that’s what we love about all the old stuff. We spend an obsessive amount of time writing the songs but in order to make a record that feels live and spontaneous again, the only way to do it is to live it. You can’t go into the studio for 6 months and make it sound like something you did in a week. That’s like spending 8 hours to make your hair look messy.
Last question since we’re out of time – I’ve always wondered: Does Scott play any instruments?
He doesn’t play on any of then records, but when i first met in grade 7 he played drums. That’s part of how we even matched up. We were kind of like schoolyard rivals, well it wasn’t really much of a rivaly, he was just the popular golden boy and I was just the awkward little new kid. So I kind of had it out for him and so we knew of each other and we only became friends about music – Iron Maiden, Guns N Roses, and Jethro Tull and all this stuff. So in my version of the story our band starts with Scott playing drums and we playing guitar and then Sean (his brother) was playing bass but in a different group of people. So yeah, Scott does play drums.
Here’s a photo of James and I after a show Circa 2001 and 2003:
James Black
James and I
One of James’s art pieces signed –
James Black Art

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