Since exploding onto the scene in 1998 with the album Tip, and the floor shaking first singles ‘Quicksand’ and ‘Above’, Finger Eleven has been one of the best loved and most successful Canadian rock bands, delivering big hits and touring on an almost constant basis. Their new album Five Crooked Lines finds them with a new record label and a new drummer, and explores the sound they call their own, pushing their boundaries while staying true to their roots.
This new record comes after a bit of a hiatus. Was the record written during that time?
Scott: Well, from the outside, I know it looked like a hiatus, but we really didn’t take too much time off from writing. I think we sort of just settled into the luxury of being home and improving on the material and then all of a sudden a handful of years goes by (laughs). But we were still writing and happy with what was coming up. We also had a label implosion and subsequently a label change and a member change and all of those things took time to get organized. So instead of worrying about deadlines, we thought ‘let’s just take our time and make this record awesome.’
And was the writing a gradual process or did it happen quickly?
Scott: There was definitely a phase two, after we had found a new home with the new label. That’s when this new wave of music came in, songs like ‘Wolves and Doors’ and ‘paralyser.’ Also we talked to a number of exciting producers over the years about the project, but for whatever reason, scheduling or for financial reasons, they fell through. And we were really lucky that (producer) Dave Cobb got excited about the project and all he had was twelve days to do it. Which was actually his vacation time, but instead we drove down to Nashville and did the record in a very quick fashion for us. Dave can do a record fast. I think the quickest record he ever did was in two or three days with Sturgill Simpson. So he’s a guy that likes to work. And he really makes the studio fun.
Did you spend much time with him beforehand?
Scott: Dave is a guy who finds preproduction ‘f*cking boring.’ Which scared me a little at first, because I’m not used to it and on previous records that’s just how we did it. But with Dave we would just break open a song every day and by the end of it would all be tracked and we would move onto something else the next day. It was great. There’s a lot more energy on this record than on previous records and I think that’s to Dave’s credit.
The record has a very raw sound. Was much of the record recorded live off the floor?
Scott: That was the plan. But some of the tones or keyboard parts we used came off the demo, because Dave felt why try to replicate it when you can just pull it off of there. But I didn’t sing more than a few times, so some of the that rawness comes from that. And that creates almost instant trust between you and your producer because there wasn’t any time to think about it. You just do it and do it as well as you could. And he had me record a lot of the vocals right there in the control room, rather than the vocal booth. And he was right. They sounded much more alive that way.
Did the history of the city of Nashville bleed into the sessions at all?
Scott: I wish it did, but we recoded it at Dave’s house. Which is this beautiful house in a nice suburb of Nashville and then we mixed it in that same area. I mean we rented a house that was in Opryland right off the highway, but we’d work all day and go right back to the house. We did get to go to a couple of wonderful barbecue joints. And for a laugh we went to the Dukes of Hazard museum on our one day off (laughs). We’ve been to Nashville before and had some serious fun, but this time it was all business. That was just the timeline.
One thing I like about this record is that it feels like you’re exploring new avenues. ‘Come On Oblivion’ for example is a seven minute opus that has a Pink Floyd feel to it in some parts. Was that a goal you set for yourselves early on?
Scott: I think it always is, yeah. I don’t know if every band sits down and says ‘let’s try to recreate something’ but the guys in the band are pretty fearless. And the songs don’t usually start with me. Usually James or Rick will get a verse or a chorus together and then I’ll put the lyrics over it and find the melody. With ‘Come On Oblivion’ specifically, we rented this little cottage, which we always find excuses to do, to do a little bit of work and have a whole lot of fun, and it came out of that. And I think the longest song we’ve ever made, but it’s a nice surprise for people at the shows and the impact that the chorus has live is fun to watch.
It’s nice that you’re trying new things without sacrificing your sound. I mean it could be easy for Finger Eleven to just sit back and write ‘Good Times’ or ‘Paralyzer’ over and over and get the radio hits and never try something new.
Scott: Thank you. The band is very proud of this record. I mean the years that have gone by and the uncertainty that life has thrown at us in this last little period with not having a record label again or a drummer again, all these elements out of our control. So we just kept being a band and writing and I’m glad this album materialized so intact. And for the most part it came up pretty organically. I mean how do you write Paralyzer 2? I’m not even talented enough to do that. We’ve only ever been interested in doing what we think is cool.
You’ve been a band since 1989 in one form or another, and had success more or less since the release of Tip in 1998. And even since then the record industry has changed a great deal. How do you keep on top of the changes and not let them sink your band?
Scott: You know, all we know how to do is write songs, play them live and stay together. I mean the good news is we like to tour. And if you’re writing songs, that provides a level of sustainability to the band. And maybe rock isn’t as popular as it used to be, but the audiences are still out there. And they are showing up and showing love for the new record. But the record companies have to try and figure out how to compete with a product that people are getting for free. And if you give someone a CD nowadays, it’s a big hassle for them. So yeah it can be kinda scary, but we’re just going to have to try and find a way to make it work.
And overcome the financial implications from those changes as well.
Scott: Yeah. The good news is I didn’t buy a couple yachts or anything, I live within my means. So I’ll still get to play music for a living, but you need to focus on what’s important I suppose. And I mean I’m really proud of this record, but what is this, our sixth or seventh record? I don’t think anybody is expecting it to be that good (laughs) you know? So I hope it’s a pleasant surprise.
What does Five Crooked Lines refer to?
Scott: Other than the song itself, I guess it’s just about luck and how you should never take that fortune for granted and how fragile that is. I just like that idea. I know you have to work hard and commit to your craft, but there’s so much luck involved that I’m very grateful for my position.
What about the album cover. How does that tie into that idea?
Scott: James got a hold of this wonderful artist for that. It’s basically our own version of Fortuna, the god of Luck and Fortuna had bashed this start shaped hole out of the sky. If you get the CD, when you open up the cover, it’s lying down amongst the flames and the wreckage. And there’s all kinds little vignettes that tie into every song. People who get the album digitally will miss out on those little details, but an album is a labour of love and you want that level of attention.
Scott: As long as you don’t abuse it. I’ve learned almost nothing about how to manipulate my voice in the studio. I know how to press record, I know how to press stop and I kind of want to keep it that way. But it is exciting where, even if you’re at home, like James can work on some kind of riff and send me a file that evening, and then the song will be completely different and I’ll get to react to it and we’re miles ahead of where we would’ve been back in the day. We used to rent these really sweaty, hot, just terrible rehearsal rooms for months at a time. And I remember going to a supermarket where we knew someone who would give us all their empty egg cartons so we could try and soundproof this piece of shit rehearsal space. So there’s a few luxuries that come from cutting out some of that rehearsal time. But getting together with your buddies and creating something out of thin air is as magical in 2015 as it was in 1994. That’s something I’ll always look forward to.
Finger Eleven has just released ‘Five Crooked Lines’ which is available now at iTunes, Amazon, Google Play and other major retailers.Also Finger Eleven is currently on their North American Tour and their next show date is at the The Electric Factory Philadelphia, PA September 23rd and going until the end of October. Details can be found at:
Other links: http://t.co/b3DJzLLpsO
Sep 24 The Chance Poughkeepsie, NY
Sep 25 The Palladium Worcester, MA
Sep 26 Hampton Beach Casino Ballroom, Hampton Beach, NH
Oct 10 The Machine Shop, Flint, MI
Oct 11 Altes Munchen Haus, Kitchener, Canada
Oct 20 The Oak Winnipeg, Canada
Oct 21 The Pump, Regina, Canada
Oct 22 O’Brians Event Centre, Saskatoon, Canada
Oct 24 Better Than Fred’s, Grande Prairie, Canada
Oct 26 Sound Garden, Lethbridge, Canada
Oct 27 The Marquee, Calgary, Canada
Oct 28 Kelowna Community Theatre, Kelowna, Canada
Oct 30 Hard Rock Casino Vancouver, Coquitlam, Canada
Oct 31 Mary Winspear Centre, Sidney, Canada
Nov 07 Rustic Sarnia, Canada