James Black is well known as being the guitarist for Finger Eleven. However, he has taken on the additional feat of his solo career. James recently released Moon Boot Cocoon, his diverse and creative solo record that is out of this world. I had a nice conversation with him about this exciting project, life in Finger Eleven, stepping up to be a frontman, what his future holds, and more.
Alex Obert: What are the influences behind Moon Boot Cocoon?
James Black: The range of influences is mostly pulled from the Beatles and David Bowie, things that had a visual nature to lyrics. It’s like telling stories that you can see. That influenced me the most, storytelling. The Beatles, Zeppelin, Floyd.
Alex Obert: How did you discover bands such as those?
James Black: Mostly from my dad’s record collection. I was raised on the Beatles. My parents are from Liverpool which is where the Beatles are from. It was something had on in the house all the time. That was the beginning of it. Most of the birth of what we’re calling classic rock, that was the best stuff.
Alex Obert: Why did you call the album Moon Boot Cocoon?
James Black: I thought it was fun, I wrote it out and said it a bunch of times. It just feels fun to say. And when you look at it, there’s a lot of o’s. That was a big part of the motivation at first. I came up the idea when I was trying to think of a strange place where the songs would have come from, where they would have been born from. I found out that a lot of the, most of the, if not all of the moon missions, after they went to the moon and came back, they left their boots behind on the moon. I just thought, if there’s a heap of old boots on the moon and that’s the only trace of us having been there, it would be a strange place for songs to come from. The flag and a pile of boots.
Alex Obert: With a new record and your solo career taking off, how has the reaction been from your friends and family?
James Black: It’s been awesome. I think everyone’s been really excited for me. They’ve been pleasantly surprised by the sound of the record and how fun it is. I think it’s been well received beyond what I could have imagined. I think it’s succeeding at a strange and unique picture I have in my head.
Alex Obert: What’s that freedom like of writing a solo record as opposed to the writing process for Finger Eleven?
James Black: It’s pretty amazing. All of a sudden, you can turn on a dime. There’s no debating or any kind of defensive protection of your ideas. It’s just all your own thoughts, you’re willing to go in a million different directions and you’re not really worried about it. Yeah you’re right, that’s a huge freedom. And when we were recording this record, we definitely went every single direction we possibly could.
Alex Obert: How has Scott, the frontman for Finger Eleven, influenced you over the years as a singer and as a frontman?
James Black: Just watching him sing and listening to him as he talks about what he has done over the years. I internalized that and wasn’t sure if I had a full grasp of what that job is. I had to learn the knowledge he had about singing. That unlocked it for me. Then I felt more little more comfortable singing. And it’s mostly about the lyrics. Scott’s a really good lyricist, so it was good to learn about that. I discovered a character, a voice for myself that I thought was solid.
Alex Obert: Do you have a secret to songwriting that you can share with readers?
James Black: Write as many songs as you possibly can. Just keep going and keep going. You only get better and better and better. You’re just making more happy accidents. I’m just rediscovering an exhilarating feeling about writing songs. Just sound like something you want to hear in your head, something you’re looking to hear. Combine all the things you like in your head and you can go be that thing in the middle that sticks it all together.
Alex Obert: Which track what you say is your favorite, or perhaps the most significant to you off of this record and why?
James Black: I think The Gravity, the second track. When I listen to it, I just get a really good feeling about how it all turned out.
Alex Obert: Do you plan on bringing more of these influences while writing the next Finger Eleven record?
James Black: I suppose I do just by what I learned from making this record. It’s now rattling around in my brain with all of these ideas. When we’re jamming together and we’re working on music together, all of that is in there and mixing around. So it will effect my contribution to the band for sure. I know a few more tricks and have some different ideas. I think the stuff that we’re writing right now, I couldn’t be happier. There’s a real strength to the songs and the vibe. Going to the roots of a rock and roll and guitar kind of thing.
Alex Obert: What is your opinion of the Finger Eleven track, Slow Chemical?
James Black: I love that song. That was a strange opportunity where we got to write the theme song for the WWE wrestler, Kane. His theme song was emailed to us and WWE said they were looking for a theme song that fits around that. And Slow Chemical is the song that came out of that. It was always a thrill watching the wrestling on TV when the song came on.
Alex Obert: Scott’s vocals on that song blew me away.
James Black: Yeah, we were definitely pushing him to his limits. I think there’s actually video footage of it somewhere and the veins are popping out the side of his head.
Alex Obert: Being a guitar player, who are your guitar influences?
James Black: For sure, David Gilmour from Pink Floyd. Jimmy Page. John Frusciante from the Red Hot Chili Peppers. All kinds. But those are probably the main ones.
Alex Obert: Which concert that you attended would you say is the one that changed your life forever?
James Black: When Robert Plant came and The Black Crowes opened for him. Just the environment of it and the concert, people coming together to see this one thing on stage. I thought to myself, “Oh man, this is pretty cool!” But I’ve been to so many great concerts that it’s hard to even pick one. Red Hot Chili Peppers, Pearl Jam, Smashing Pumpkins back when Blood Sugar Sex Magik just came out. That was pretty phenomenal. It was a great lineup, they were perfectly on fire.
Alex Obert: With the music off of Moon Boot Cocoon, could you see in a particular type of film or TV show?
James Black: The lyrics kind of pay a lot of mind to space and science fiction. I could see it making sense in something like that, maybe a science fiction nature, Doctor Who-ish kind of thing. There’s one that’s basically a love song, but it’s about an eclipse at the same time. I think it could work on the nature channel or on the women’s network. (laughs)
Alex Obert: With your first couple gigs as a frontman, what was the feeling like? You weren’t standing next to Scott, but it was you in front of the mic instead.
James Black: It was an absolute thrill. In a lot of ways, it felt really comfortable. I really liked it. I liked being able to control the pace of the show. I instantly got a good vibe off it. And then it was over in a flash. I was strummin’ chords and singin’. I was making sure the band was on track the whole show and you don’t really have a moment to think about it. It just happens and then it’s done. “Oh my God! It’s amazing! It’s a rollercoaster!”
Alex Obert: Where do you plan to take your solo career for the rest of the year?
James Black: I think I gotta try to play whenever I can put it all together. Finger Eleven’s about to go into the studio pretty soon, so that’s gonna pretty much be the priority. And I’ll just keep working away on videos and other projects associated with this album in the meantime. I have quite a few the solo shows going. They’ve been great. The last one I had had a four piece band and a nine piece choir, it was pretty fun being the ringmaster of thing of an event like that. I think the frontman position is too enjoyable to not wanna do more and more.
Alex Obert: With Finger Eleven picking back up, I must ask, which song did you like better, One Thing or Paralyzer?
James Black: It depends on the day. I guess I would pick Paralyzer because it’s fun to play on the guitar.
Alex Obert: In closing, what are your websites at the moment for readers to check out?
James Black: You can go to JamesBlack.ca. That’s basically just lots of cool things to look at, links to my record on iTunes and links to my pledge page. It’s at PledgeMusic. I’m trying to put my record on vinyl and CD. Right now it’s only available in digital. You can contribute and get various cool items like the album cover artwork and stuff, all different kinds of levels of incentives to get involved and help the record get put on CD and vinyl.
Alex Obert: And you have anything you can share with readers about what’s up ahead for the new Finger Eleven record?
James Black: A lot of guitar rock. We picked thirty songs out of a huge pile and we’re gonna narrow it down from there. It’s a lot of good songs. Then we’re gonna hit the road with it. There’s a lot of good guitar stuff, so I can’t wait to hit the road.
Alex Obert: I’d love to thank you so much for your time and the great interview.
James Black: Yeah. Thank you, man.