On the Line with Scott Anderson [Finger Eleven]

Scott Anderson has been the frontman for Finger Eleven since 1989 and has a lot to show for it: smash hits, powerful vocals, a Juno Award, a strong ongoing presence and as of this year, a brand new album called Five Crooked Lines. Scott and I had a really fun conversation about touring with Three Days Grace, visiting the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Museum, keeping your vocals in check, karaoke memories, the importance of a full album, the reaction to Five Crooked Lines and more.

So Finger Eleven recently toured with Three Days Grace, but things have been a little different for them over the past couple of years with their new singer, Matt Walst of My Darkest Days. I felt as though Adam had a big part in providing the band’s signature sound. How do you feel about Matt taking over and the significant change?

I was pretty skeptical because those are pretty big shoes to fill for Matt. But seeing that guy do his thing every night, he does it very, very well. He has a naturally higher voice and I think he has a stronger sense of performance, let’s say. The caliber of the Three Days Grace show is a very, very big rock show. They have a giant stage to fill and they do it really, really well. Most people’s instincts would lead towards thinking you’ve got the odds stacked against you if you’re gonna replace a singer, but seeing is believing. That guy can hit those notes and he does a fantastic job. I think Three Days Grace fans have spoken. People are gonna like their favorite albums or whatever, but they haven’t seemed to skip a single beat. And I’m happy for them because of that. I was skeptical at first, but I’ve seen and heard what Matt’s capable of and I’m blown away by it.

And recently at one of your shows, you had a proposal on stage. How was the band contacted to set that up?

(laughs) That was through Facebook. There was a guy that said “I’m coming to see your show and I plan to propose to my girlfriend. Is there any way you can help me out?” We said yes and then a few weeks went by and the day of the show came and I thought “What if this goes wrong? What if this doesn’t work out? This is a really bad idea.” I got a little bit scared and sweaty thinking about it. I was wondering what’s happening here. Thank god it all went okay! It was a very live moment, we stopped the show before One Thing and I called the guy and his girlfriend up. He did this proposal and what actually surprised me about that, it was a very sweet moment and it was a very real moment and then I had to sing One Thing, but I got really choked up. My throat wasn’t working properly because I reacted in a real physical way to this really nice moment. I sort of giggled my way through that rendition of One Thing. I’m sure it’s on YouTube somewhere. I really screwed that song, but it’s really just because my emotions took over. I’m glad we did it, but oh man, that could’ve gone so wrong so quickly. It’s always gonna be somebody’s birthday and somebody wants you to dedicate a million things. You have to remember the flow of the show, you have to keep people happy. It can’t always be about someone’s birthday or something, you gotta do a rock show. There’s a certain point where it’s like “Come on, we’re here to play a bunch of rock.” But in that particular case, it was fuckin’ pretty great.

If I recall, they wedding packages at Ozzfest where you could get married on stage.

Oh my god! That’s amazing! Hey look, that’s pretty cool. Is there like an ordained minister and stuff? I mean that’s crazy.

I’m pretty sure it was all included. What a way to get married!

Yup! That’s more fun than a church, certainly.

You also recently toured the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Museum. What are some sites you witnessed there?

They sought us out when we rolled into Cleveland, which was really nice. We probably would’ve gone anyway. We got a nice V.I.P. tour and they showed us some of the stuff in the vaults that’s not currently on display. We got to see Hillel Slovak’s busted up guitar and that was an overwhelming moment. We saw Cliff Burton’s bass and we got to hold it. It’s so funny, these artifacts. It’s just carved out wood and strings, but when you attach somebody’s legacy to it, it becomes a very powerful thing to behold. It was great and it definitely brought out the music fan in every single one of us. It brought us back to that childlike wonder that music is capable of. The thing I got really emotional over, there were these coasters of some banquet hall and this dude had scribbled out this song. It’s the guy who wrote Save the Last Dance for Me, his name is Doc Pomus. He suffered from polio. So at his wedding, his best man was dancing with his bride and some of his other friends, so he’d watch this all happen. Of course he has polio, so he’s not dancing. So he wrote this song, Save the Last Dance for Me. On the coaster are the words of this song. So just staring at this seminal moment, it left me speechless. It was really, really great. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is full of all of these wonderful things, you get to see the original lyrics for Enter Sandman. It’s a working copy where there’s empty spaces and they’re working it out phonetically. Almost everything in the place is very interesting to a music fan, it’s the most impressive museum I’ve been to in a long time. It was great. It was a neat trip. The entire band got this wonderful tour to go through and we were blown away by it.

If you were going to put something of the band’s in the museum, what would you put?

Around the Greyest of Blue Skies Tour, there were these really giant, larger than life plaster spooky aliens on stage. That would be a neat visual. I’ve got rough drafts of lyrics somewhere and that always seems to be an interesting idea. We gotta think of something because they actually asked us since they have a contemporary section. They said they’d be honored if we could find something that was relevant to our latest record. They would include it in their collection. So I gotta get off my ass and figure something out.

I had read that you prefer a full album experience over purchasing singles on iTunes. With that said and getting back to you talking about the childhood feeling of music, which record stores did you go to while growing up?

Well there were two of them, there was one in Hamilton called Dr. Disc and there was one in Burlington that was called Looney Tunes. Every weekend, if somebody was lucky enough to borrow their folk’s car, we would go into Hamilton. If not, we would take the bus into Burlington. That’s where I discovered a lot of awesome music. That’s where I discovered Nick Cave, that’s where I discovered Iron Maiden, that’s where I discovered Sugar, Blind Melon, all these wonderful pieces of music that either their album artwork caught my attention or I got to sit at the listening booth and hear it. It’s definitely an era gone by. Everybody got burned, it was terrible to spend twenty five bucks and only have three good songs on a record. I did that so many times. That’s not a great feeling because there goes your entire newspaper route money. (laughs) But yeah, it seems like all the great rock records have been albums so far. And that’s bound to change, I’m sure. But classic rock is classic rock, that era will never change. I’d be foolish to compare us to that classic era, but also, it just seems so much more significant to have an album out versus a handful of songs. I think it’s just tied to our old school mentality. With that said, it took us a pretty long time to curate these songs. We could’ve maybe shaved off a year or two of the project if we just wanted to put out an EP or something. And of course we talked about it, but deadline after deadline keeps passing us by, maybe we should just do what makes us happiest. All of these heavier songs are coming out and they seem like they can fit into the framework of a rock album, so maybe we just keep doing that. I think in the future, it might be smarter and more economical to put out a handful of songs at a time, but I just think that it becomes a little less special. You judge songs on their own merits, I’m sure. And they can hopefully stand on their own. It’s just that old-school kind of, I’m not like a vital fetishist or anything like that, I just think I’m a full record kind of guy. I do like my Spotify shuffle nonsense, I think it’s great. But when I get into a record, it’s fun to listen to it from front to back or even shuffle the shit out of that. But I don’t know, I can’t seem to shake my mentality on that. I think that’s why we decided to go for the full record. It just takes so much time and maybe we don’t take so much time next go around.

The way I was introduced to Finger Eleven was through the WWE and Kane using Slow Chemical as his entrance theme. How did it feel to have your music heard every Monday night?

I was not aware of the impact of that particular song until later on. (laughs) We get a lot of requests for that song and that one’s a bit of a throat killer. But I think we’ve gotta introduce it again because people really, really enjoy that song. It feels great. I’ve discovered so many great pieces of music either from movie soundtracks or game soundtracks, there’s music I never would’ve heard. It’s always fun when your song can live outside of its life as just a record and connect with somebody. It’s a wonderful connection that’s made. I’m glad you got introduced to the world of Finger Eleven in any way. I think that’s kind of amazing.

There was a video online of the band recording the song in the studio. Was that one of your all-time strongest usages of vocals during that particular recording?

I didn’t sing it more than two or three times, that was like a one day session. I remember I was sitting down for that. The studio is great for that because you can just pretend that this is the last thing you’re ever gonna sing, you don’t have to worry about vocal preservation or anything like that. (laughs) You can just yell and then take two weeks to rest and relax. (laughs) I just got lucky in the studio. I didn’t have nerves and I knew exactly what I wanted out of the song and out of my voice and I got it. You can get sometimes too inside your head and worried that you better not blow this and that you only have an hour and a half record this and it’s expensive. It’s just more so focusing on it’s either there or it’s not. And that wasn’t exactly early days of Finger Eleven, we had maybe a couple records under our belt, but I’ve since become even more comfortable in the studio. You’ve gotta have your energy, but it’s just as important to relax and be assured of what you’re doing. There’s this whole trick, you can’t tense up because it’s gonna come out in your voice. But don’t relax too much, otherwise you’ll sound like you’re falling asleep in front of the microphone. So yeah, that was a neat moment and it went by so fast, I hardly remember it. That’s what you want in the studio. I get really bored and frustrated in the studio because everything takes so goddamn long. That was close to a live show moment, everything’s working and your voice is on and the crowd’s really into it. Your hour and a half show goes by in what seems like ten minutes, that’s the best. That’s the greatest thing you can achieve.

I happened to interview your fellow bandmate, James Black last year around the release of his solo album entitled Moon Boot Cocoon. How did you feel about him branching out into that?

I thought it was wonderful because he tends to be very prolific in his songwriting. He’s got a country outfit with Rick, they sit in the back lounge and write these ridiculous country songs all the time on tour. It’s so nice because when I heard that album, I can remember hearing the kernels of those ideas years and years ago. I’m really happy and proud that those ideas finally found a home. I think it’s great because they’re definitely different than most Finger Eleven ideas, but they’re so great and they’re so uniquely James Black. He loves interesting music and it shows. It’s very complex and wonderful and melodic and vibrant. That’s what James Black’s songwriting is all about. I think that’s amazing. I wish I wrote as much as James Black did. It takes me months to get an idea together, but when he starts writing, he explodes. I know there’s another solo record coming, but I just don’t know when. We’ll have to fit that in somewhere. He’s a great songwriter and I’m really happy that that record finally came out.

With the recent release of Five Crooked Lines, who is the brains behind the music video for Wolves and Doors?

Well that’s James and the director, Alon Isocianu. We had worked with that director on the video for Whatever Doesn’t Kill Me. That was a number of years ago, but even then, he definitely had a vision and he had his shit together. He was able to execute his idea within the budget that we had. (laughs) We definitely had confidence in his ability. We were told to bring a black outfit and a white outfit. James and Alon had all these emails and conversations about what they want out of the video. For me, I showed up and he told me to do my thing and that’s what we did. (laughs) We performed and then there were all these wonderful visual gags. I found myself smearing paint all over my face. In those instances, you just basically have to trust the director to commit to the exercise. And that’s just what I did, man. (laughs) It was one of the last shots. “I got green fuckin’ paint all over my stuff. Alright, cool.” It was alright. It’s funny because you sometimes have the video monitor in the back room, so you can kind of see how the takes are going. And very, very quickly, I realized this video’s gonna be really cool. I can take almost no credit for it, but I’m happy to be a part of it at the same time.

I really took something out of Criminal when I was listening to the album. Do you feel that it has the potential to be a huge radio hit? That’s the vibe I got out of it.

Dude, you know how happy I am that you said that? I swear to God, I got that feeling when I wrote it. There’s this sense of discovery and giddiness, the same thing I got when I wrote Paralyzer. It was fluid and easy. I listened to the music and became possessed by it. And I thought “Okay, let’s just see where this takes me.” It was really fun. It’s kind of a lighthearted song, but it’s got this wonderful groove. I really like it. Nobody really seems to name check it, so I’m really happy that you singled that one out. (laughs) It’s definitely one of my favorites. First of all, the demo was great. But the actual studio track that we did in Nashville was way fuckin’ better. I love when that happens, when you harness what’s good about the demo and make it even better. But look, I think there’s a pile of songs that I think people could enjoy. More than most Finger Eleven records. I just think we need to let people know we actually have a new record out. I hope a bunch of songs take over the radio. I think it’d be a nice shot in the arm for rock radio.

What has led to you opening with the title track, Five Crooked Lines on this tour?

I think that was this organic band decision where James could riff as long as he wanted to and everybody could get settled in. I think it speaks to how proud we are the new record, the song can stand on its own. There’s an immediacy to it and it seems to go over pretty well. I know it’s kind of a big thing to open with a brand-new song that nobody’s potentially heard. (laughs) But that’s our attitude with this record right now. We’re proud of the record and we said “Look, it’s a powerful song. Let’s open with it and see how it does.” The reaction not only to that song, but to the new stuff live has been really, really great. We realized that it seemed to fit, so we rolled with it.

What was the thought process behind introing Paralyzer with That’s All by Genesis?

(laughs) I think that was James messing around with a little riff at a certain point. That might’ve been either Rick’s idea or just a result of James messing with his guitar before Paralyzer, I don’t even remember. But we’ve also covered bands like Zeppelin and Floyd. And not necessarily latter day Genesis, That’s All is from 1983, but I’m a fan of almost every single Genesis record. It’s not it’s cool to be into Genesis as it is to be into The Who and Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin, but holy shit, there is so much to discover if you want to go down and listen to every single Genesis record, especially from the seventies and the Gabriel era. It’s incredible stuff. Look, it’s progressive rock, which I know is poison for some people, but it also has an incredible sense of melody and there’s nothing else like it. And it still sounds good to me today. I grew up with it and I just think some stuff wears out, but Genesis absolutely has not for me. So I think it was kind of a nod to that. And you know what it is, it’s also a wicked little fake out. We troll the audience for like an hour and a half, people still call out for Paralyzer as if we’re not gonna fuckin’ play it. I think that’s great. It takes some serious balls to not play that song. But eventually we do play it and that’s one last gag before we play it.

For aspiring singers out there, what do you have to say about keeping your voice strong throughout the years? What’s your secret?

Well, the secret is water and breathing and sleeping and lots of tea. Throat Coat Tea. I owe those guys some serious money. Drink till you get absolutely sick of water and then you have to rest. Here’s where your voice gets worn out most of the time, not during the show, but after and before by talking and wearing it out that way. Not exactly a secret, but it’s some boring common sense attached to taking care of your voice. Water, rest and then don’t have too much fun on show dates.

If you were invited to karaoke, what would your go-to song be?

Man, every time a karaoke binder gets plopped in front of me, I have such a hard time figuring out what the fuck I’m gonna sing. So much pressure. I think I sang a Smiths song at the last karaoke thing I was at. And I also sang a Duncan Sheik song recently. I tend to go for these easy songs from the eighties to sing. (laughs) Then there’s Heart of the Sunrise by Yes, that’s a fuckin’ wicked song. But it’s about fifteen minutes long. There was recently an impromptu bar sing-along versus an actual karaoke with that song, we just couldn’t stop. If you try to sing like Jon Anderson, you’re just gonna end up sounding like an asshole. But it didn’t matter because we we weren’t feeling too much pain and we all had each other’s back. We stood in a circle and sang this fantastic song. And then of course, like all good progressive rock, when the vocal line is done, you just switch over to either the intricate keyboard part or the drums or whatever. (laughs) I think I get all weird about the actual karaoke where it’s like “Okay…here comes this guy. This guy’s supposed to be a professional!” (laughs) But once I get started, it’s very difficult to put down the mic once you step up on that stage. And that’s exactly like performing anyway.

Did you ever sing one of your own songs at karaoke?

Oh you know what, we went to one place in Ottawa and there was a friend of ours that insisted, I fuckin’ forgot about this, I’ve been trying to forget about this for a while, now you made me relive this terrible memory. (laughs) He wouldn’t take no for an answer. He dragged me up on stage and we sang One Thing together. And it was as awkward as, ugh, it was terrible! But yeah, I forgot about that. I don’t even remember singing it very well, honestly.

And I bet it makes it even more awkward with the karaoke instrumentals on the program with, the GarageBand instrumentals.

It sure does! It’s all different. First of all, the band isn’t there and it feels less like rock band and more like karaoke. It’s very strange, really. (laughs)

You mentioned earlier that you appreciate Spotify, but have you ever put on the Finger Eleven station on Pandora?

I have not. I’m one of those guys that gets weirded out by his own stuff. I would rather listen to anything else.

It makes me curious which bands they would associate with Finger Eleven and have on the station.

That would be interesting. I mean I don’t know if we still get bunched in with all kinds of nu metal, but that serves no one. If you like exclusively nu metal stuff, Finger Eleven is probably not for you. So it’s hard to have that genre match, but that’s a really good question. I should find out. I know we’re not gonna matched up with the fuckin’ Beatles, but it’ll be interesting to see. (laughs)

So in closing, what are some dates up ahead for Finger Eleven? I understand you’ll be going to Canada soon.

Yeah, we’re doing a big Canadian tour. And we’re doing another handful of dates with Three Days Grace in September, I know that Philadelphia is one of them. It’s gonna be the road, man. It’s gonna be the road for the back half of this year and next year. We’re trying to figure out if we can go out with, I mean I can’t really talk about it because I don’t wanna jinx it and put too much pressure on it. But we played a gig with Shinedown and their guitarist, Zach is a really giant fan of ours. He was trying to bring us along on one of their tours because they’re gigantic and it would be wonderful to be on that tour. (laughs) I don’t know if it’s gonna work out, but the plan is to get in front of audiences and reconnect. And then maybe hopefully write another song or two, sooner rather than later.

Well I’m hoping it all works out for the best, especially that potential tour. I’d love to thank you so much for your time and for a really fun interview.

Man, you had great questions and it was well-informed. This was a good one for me too.

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