FINGER ELEVEN’S hit single from the album Them Vs. You Vs. Me may be called “Paralyzer,” but the song has set the Ontario rock quintet’s career into a continuous motion since its release in early 2007. They’ve appeared on talk shows such as Jay Leno, kicked off 2008 in New York’s Time Square, were the first to perform on the CHUM Building roof for Much Music and “Paralyzer” broke the Canadian Rock Radio Record for most weeks at number one.
Now, with the Juno Awards coming up in Calgary on April 6, the band will find out if they will win their first Juno. They’re nominated in three categories—Rock Album of the Year, Group of the Year and Single of the Year. Finger Eleven guitarist, James Black, 32, who’s been with the group since they formed in high school 16 years ago, talks with Where Calgary about the upcoming awards show, the state of rock and roll and buying his first cowboy hat. Plus, the former dishwasher and Chuck E. Cheese employee also reveals a surprising secret about the band.
ON THE JUNOS
Has being nominated changed anything?
It generates a buzz in Canada and gives you something to talk about. It’s always exciting when something positive is directed towards you and your band. The idea that the industry takes the time to turn to you and say, ‘hey, good job,’ is really the most flattering part of the whole process. Everyone knows how hard it is to get anything going in this industry so when it gives you a nod, of maybe not approval, but respect; it means a lot.
It must be a big accomplishment being nominated for three awards…
Hear his reaction.
What can people expect from your live performance at the Junos?
We’re gonna try something very different for us. It’s gonna be slightly elaborate, but I’ve been informed not to talk about it. It’s an ‘under-wraps’ thing. But I’m really excited about it. It’s always cool to throw a little monkey wrench into the mix.
Will Calgary be a good host city for the Junos?
Absolutely. We have never had a bad show in Calgary, we always have great crowds there. They just love rock-and-roll and they’re always enthusiastic. We’ve been there a few times for the Stampede, which just has a crazy energy about it. They throw the Stampede every year and it’s an absolute blast, so I don’t think they’ll have a problem throwing a Juno weekend. I think it will be incredible.
HIS THOUGHTS ON CALGARY
Where do to go when you’re in Calgary?
Different places, like Cowboys we went to once for a night out. We’re just kinda like the party-drinker guys so we’ll play the show and then we’ll go out to wherever there’s a good time happening.
Where do you eat out in the city?
I pretty much will eat anything.
Where do you like to shop when you are here?
I know that there’s a good style there. I bought some really cool t-shirts there, Calgary and Edmonton both have good fashion sense.
FIRST COWBOY HAT
Hear James’ first experience buying a cowboy hat in Calgary
CRAZY FAN STORIES
While you are in Calgary, fans will get a chance to talk the band at Juno FanFest. What’s it like meeting the fans?
It’s really amazing. It’s cool when you meet people that are into your band and into what you do. It means a lot.
Any strange stories of overzealous fans?
There was one time we were in Florida and we were gonna go to Disney. As we were waiting for a cab, these girls figured out where we were staying and they were like, ‘oh, you guys are going to Disney, you want some company?” It would be a dickish thing to say no really, it’s a big amusement park. So we ended up having this day in Disney with these two strange girls that we met that kind of followed us. You get into a weird thing where you think you know someone by their art and by the things they put out. So, there’s a crazy kind of familiarity with some people that you’ve never met before, because, ultimately, they know more about you than you know about them.
THE SUCCESS OF PARALYZER
The single “Paralyzer” broke the Canadian Rock Radio Record for most weeks at number one, at 14 weeks. What do you think makes “Paralyzer” so popular?
I don’t know. Maybe it’s the beat. It connected with people, they could bop their head right away. It doesn’t alienate people who are into soft music or loud music, it’s just so musical, and I think that’s where we ultimately would like to be. You just do what you do and hope that people react and when they do, you just gotta go with that, but there’s no way of predicting what people like.
Did you think when you recorded “Paralyzer” that it would be a huge hit?
Yes and no. We hoped that it would and we got really, really, cool reactions from everyone involved right up until the record was released. To have this unanimous opinion about one song, was rare for us, so we kind of looked at it like ‘okay, maybe this one has something special.’ To know that I might have play that song every night for the next 20 years is something I’m totally down with because that guitar riff is easily one of the most fun riffs I’ve ever played.
THE GROUP’S EVOLUTION & THE STATE OF ROCK & ROLL
How has Finger Eleven’s style changed over the years?
It’s changed dramatically. You go through monumental changes in your life and we’ve been fortunate enough to document those changes with music. When you’re young you try to be as loud as you can to get noticed and to make a difference. And then as you get older, you start to realize, ‘oh you know what, I can save some energy from being so manically loud and really concentrate on saying something important, and say it in a way that affects people. You can get trapped into what people expect of you and we, as five guys, have never really been concerned about that. That might be a detriment to our career as far as people knowing what they’re in for when they buy a record, but I think it would be unhealthy for us to pick a path and say, ‘no, we’re only gonna do this.’ We’re really comfortable with growing and evolving. If we were stuck doing what we did when we started out, I think a lot of us would get bored along the way and fall off the train.
What’s the state of rock music today?
I think it’s really good. I think there’s so much of it that there’s this illusion that it’s not around anymore. There’s so many good bands and so many platforms to get it out there, that it’s almost like a huge forest of rock and roll, no one can see the individual trees, so they think it’s gone. But it’s thriving. The hard part is making exceptional music in a time where everyone can make music and getting people to know that it’s there. We’re in a strange time where some of the methods of getting your music out there is not very “rock and roll” according to the old way of rock and roll. I think it’s important to accept the idea that maybe Jimi Hendrix and Jimmy Page wouldn’t do it this way, but if they were out right now trying to make it, they wouldn’t be able to do it their way.
What Canadian bands are you guys into?
Wintersleep from the east coast. I think that’s an incredible record. They’re nominated for Best New Group. Pride Tiger as well. They’re a great band from Vancouver. We had the privilege of touring with them down in the States for a while and they’re that spirited rock-and-roll.
A SECRET REVEALED
What’s something about Finger Eleven that people don’t know?
Hear his answer
What’s next for Finger Eleven?
We’re hittin’ the road for a month and a half down to the States. And then we’re back for the Junos and then who knows? They’re talking about New Zealand, Australia, England. We’re gonna be pretty, pretty busy for the rest of the year and things are going really, really well in the States. And “Paralyzer,” apparently in New Zealand, was number seven or something like that this week. So, it’s crazy. We don’t even have a record out there and the song is kinda jumping ahead of us, which is really cool.—Chloe Jones