Following the release of Tip, drummer Rob Gommerman left the band
and was replaced by Rich Beddoe. In 2000 they released The Greyest
of Blue Skies. Their 2003 release, of their self-titled album
Finger Eleven, was very successful, with the single "One
Thing" reaching #16 in the US charts. The band also recorded
the song 'Slow Chemical' for WWE superstar Kane (which also
appeared on the sound track of The Punisher), and the song
"Sad Exchange" for 2003's Daredevil movie. An Elektra mix
of the song "Thousand Mile Wish" was featured in the
credits of the 2005 movie Elektra. The song "Stay In
Shadow" made an appearance as one of the music tracks to the
video game, Burnout 3, and "Good Times" in SSX 3. Three
of their songs were also featured in the GameCube game 1080?
|This is the third edition of Graphic Tales from the
Road exploring the "Dual Expression of the
Creative Mind" as we get to know popular artists that
express themselves both visually and musically.
For those that may not know, James Black is a guitar player for the
band Finger Eleven and also the artist behind their album covers.
Let's start with the obvious introductions...who is Finger
Finger Eleven originated in Canada in 1994. Their first Album,
Letter from Chutney was recorded under the name Rainbow Butt
Monkeys, using money they won from a rock band search contest.
The name was just one of those things that was funny at the time,
when they were young. But, as the band matured they felt they
needed to change and took on the name Finger Eleven. The change was
not without its cost. Their Canadian record label dropped them and
it took a while to reestablish themselves under the new name.
The meaning behind the name Finger Eleven, explained Scott
Anderson, lead singer: "When everything is pushing you in one
direction and your instinct drives you in another--that's finger
eleven." The name change also marked a change in the band's
sound which led to their breakthrough album Tip, released on
Mercury Records in Canada in 1997 and re-released by Wind-Up
Records in the United States in 1998.
(Finger Eleven - 2007)
Their songs "First Time", "Stay And Drown" and
"Drag You Down" were featured on the Dragon Ball Z Movies
Lord Slug and Revenge of Cooler. Their most recent album titled
Them vs. You vs. Me was released on March 6, 2007. The first single
is "Paralyzer", which can be
sampled at the band's official web site.
The band played "Paralyzer" on The Tonight Show with Jay
Leno on 14 March 2007 and is now on tour with Evanescence until the
end of May. Renderosity caught up with them while there were here
in Nashville on March 28th. We wanted to know more about the man
behind their album art and a guitar from Finger Eleven, James
Hi James, I would like to introduce you to about 200,000
friends, fellow artists and musicians!
Thank you for taking the time to do the interview. I know
you and the rest of the band must be pretty busy with the release
of your new album that just came out March 6th. I really appreciate
you taking the time to visit with us.
doing it. I can't sit down and go "I'm going to draw that
exact thing right there". As soon as I do, I'm like...man this
sucks. Its like...um...um...The difference between creation
and reproduction? Exactly!
|So, let's get this show on the road!
Who is James Black? How would you describe
Oh Christ! [laughs]...I don't know...I guess, I would say...quiet
to people that don't know me. A kind of visual oriented person who
happens to know how to play guitar. I often describe things in
visual terms rather than musical terms.
Which came first for you, the music or the
I think music. I started playing guitar when I was eight years old.
I started to take lessons. It was hard, I learned how to play the
guitar but didn't really make that connection to the music I was
hearing. Like I didn't get the idea that this instrument does this
and this instrument makes this sound.
I learned guitar and then after that I really started getting into
drawing. My dad used to draw the coolest, styled things that always
stuck with me. He did some drawings of some Star Wars
characters and other stuff for me and I remember going "Oh my
God! My dad's a genius!" Then I started to
draw trying to copy what I remember that looked like.
||Then I discovered rock and roll and kind of made that
"Hey, wait! I know how to do that!" connection to the
guitar...and then went back to music. So, I would have to say it
was music first. But, it was more like it was guitar first, then
art, then the actual music came later. I was a little kid and at
first I didn't know anything except the mechanics of the guitar. It
wasn't til Guns N' Roses, Appetite for Destruction and
Metallica's ...And Justice for All that I made the
connection that I could apply what I knew about guitar and said
"I can do this".
Do you have any formal training in art or
No. In music I had six years of guitar lessons and then I kind of
stopped for about four years. Then for art, I took it in school.
But, that was just 'cause it was an easy credit. I would think to
myself, "Hey I can draw. I can't really paint well, but I can
draw! So I could sign up to get an easy 80% grade." I did take
classes, but at the time, I was one of those kids that felt
"I just want to create, I don't want to take lessons! I
don't want the art teacher to tell me how to do things."
You know, that whole...spiteful, young artist thinking. Probably
all useful information. But, at the time I didn't want to hear
|I understand that you created all your bands album
covers, is that correct?
Yes, but this thing that I do with the art, there is no pressure to
it really. The band relies on me to play guitar, so there's this
freedom to it. That even if I do it and it's no good, there's no
consequence. So, that's what this opportunity of being in a band
and actually having to create art work for t-shirts and art work
for album covers is so cool. Because if it doesn't work out and it
doesn't look good...oh well. We can always go the same route as
most every other band and find someone else to do it. But, if it
does [look good] 'hey', that's cool, too. I kind of took advantage
of the fact that no one was ever really ever counting on me for
art. So, I could just do it and have that creative freedom to do it
and relax with it.
And that's the thing, I've had people that have wanted me to draw
them a tattoo or something and the minute someone says "Draw
this", then I shut down. I can't do it. It's like this carving
kind of thing. I don't know exactly what I'm going to do when I
start, it just kind of happens and flows as I'm
So, to answer your question, no I never really bothered with any
formal training for art, because I always felt like it didn't
really matter if I was any good at it or not. There was no pressure
to it, so why bother.
It's interesting, this cover sparked a whole new side of me. We
went to do the photo shoot and I started to like direct the photo
shoot. I knew what I wanted for the art work and it was amazing!
You don't have to actually do anything, you are like a voice,
guiding the action. I was exilarated by it. Down the to camera
angles I wanted, saying "Do this, do this!" It opened up
a new avenue to potentially directing in the future.
So there was no pressure for you when you created any of
the album covers?
Well, this time was a little more...challenging. Like the last
record [titled Finger Eleven] I did the whole thing by hand myself.
The one before that [The Greyest of Blue Skies] I originally did in
black and white and then I found this guy online who is an oil
painter. I asked him to paint the whole black and white scene in
color. Then the Tip cover I did as a collage and drew over it. It
turned out really cool. But when it came to this record, I was kind
of set to do the same kind of thing. And, I dunno, my style of art
is kind of darker than our music and sometimes doesn't completely
reflect the color or the feel of the music. I encountered that on
this record because it is happier and more bouncy. So when it came
time for the art work for this latest album, I kind of panicked for
a little bit because I didn't know what to do that would fit.
It took a long time to write the record. And, after all that time,
it was like what could I put on the cover of it? The cover is the
first impression. I wanted something consistent and thought the one
thing that is consistent on this album is the five of us. The rest
of it is random musically. So, I wanted something that was just
about the five of us and for it to be something more artful.
You mentioned you have a dark side to your work. Who or
what inspires you artistically?
M.C. Escher, Salvador Dali, those are the easy ones. Tim Burton, I
don't necessarily love all the movies, but if you turn the sound
off every frame of his movies looks amazing. Terry Gilliam, he did
that movie "Tide Land", I don't know if you've seen it,
but it's awesome. It's this story of this little girl and a
rock-n-roll dad. I've been following this director for years. My
friend Dean, is an associate artist and he worked on that movie. So
it was one of those things where I'm excited because my friend is
involved. What else...what else...anything else that looks cool to
me. All the old Jim Henson movies, "Dark Crystal" kind of
stuff. Tolkien conceptual art. I grew up with a lot of fantasy
stuff like that, so I love elves and dwarfs, dragons and all that
stuff. Frank Miller and his "300" stuff. That guy is
amazing! When you see a frame and most of the scene is black with
just the siloette of a face and it looks stunning! I
think..."Wow! How do you draw that?!" It's cool
Have you been involved with making any videos?
I've done a couple of videos. But, I've never directed a crew of
people. I did a stop motion video for a song on the last record.
Which was like, done with no money and no budget and we had to put
together this video with behind the scenes footage. But, the minute
you see a video like that you think "This man had no money and
no budget and pieced together some shitty video for
So, I took all that video footage, which was shit to begin with,
with crapy shots and I printed that whole video out on sheets of
paper...some 3,000 pages worth of paper and placed all over the
floor of my apartment. I made a stop motion movie of papers
scattering and flying all over the place in my apartment. So, it
ended up as a video, but it was choppy stuff.
With the Internet, its kind of cool. You can get all kinds of
things and put stuff together really fast. I made my own Christmas
cards using Paintshop and made a collage, then printed them out and
drew on top of that. It gave the whole thing a really cool, unified
What software/equipment do you use and why?
Mostly deep black pen, white out and paper. Sometimes a sharpy. I
think that's why my work ends up having that dark, choppy look to
it. I don't make big, bold lines. I make small, scratchy lines. It
ends up looking all dishevelled and unfinished. It's not tidy and
stream lined. I guess it's a little bit ugly in a sense, less
pretty, less happy.
I've tried acrylic paints and had fun with it. But, it seems to me
the pen is the most controlled thing I can use. Everything I do in
my life is right handed. I play guitar right handed, I eat right
handed, I even write with my right hand. But, I draw left handed.
So, when I would try to paint, I would try it right handed, because
the paint brush is another thing, another tool. It wasn't until I
realized what I was doing that I was like "Wait! I'm a left
handed drawer. But, I couldn't really control the brush any better
left handed." [laughs]
I also use Paintshop and a Wacom tablet. It took a couple of hours
of learning how to draw here, and look there to get the hang of
that tablet. But once I figured out the mechanics it made me think
that I could be the shitty artist in the world and these programs
could make whatever I do look good! The shapes and the strokes of
the lines were awesome! It made me feel like I was an amazing
I also did some animations with Corel Painter. I did this series of
this guy on a journey to plant a seed. The last stage of it was the
seed growing into a tree. So I used that Wacom thing for that and
it was amazing. The was cool. Me and my pal also shot some other
videos and shorts. If you go to
You Tube, Finger Eleven, The Telephone, you can see them there.
There's like eight of them. That's something I've been getting into
a lot more...videos. It's because it's like a natural extension. I
can draw these pictures, now I want to see them move.
So, what are you using for video editing?
iMovie, and lately I've been using Sony Vegas to work on the video
for the title track from our album Them vs. You vs. Me. We have
this video guy out here with us and that's what he uses, Sony
Vegas. I didn't know anything about video editing and just from
working with the programs figured them out. But Sony Vegas is much
better. In iMovie can have one clip, in Final Cut, Sony Vegas has
multiple clips overlapping.
When will we get to see this new video? Is there a release
There's no date really. Just whenever it gets done. My friend works
for an animation studio in Toronto and he and I are working on
creating our own video. Once I get done shooting the videos
sections. He's create the animated sequences. It's kind of a
"Fantasia", abstract animation. I can't wait to see what
happens with it and how it will turn out. Ever since we were kids,
me and my friend Paul, who is now an animator, wanted to
collaborate on something and now we finally have a chance. But,
it's kind of funny, when we were young, he wanted to be a
rock-n-roll guitar player and I wanted to be an artist so bad. And
now he's an artist and I'm a rock-n-roll guitar player. [laughter]
But, he's a far better artist than I am...but, I'm a better guitar
Any parting "words of wisdom" or advice you would
like to share with other artists or musicians?
|Do you ever listen to music while creating art? If so,
do you have a preference of music while you are
Oh yeah, instrumental stuff a lot, a group called "Kronos
Quartet." They're a string quartet, but they're not a
classical though. They're a little bit out of tune and discordant
which makes their music kind of creepy. Then there is "Crime
and Dissonance," which is a compilation of a lot of movie
soundtracks. There's that and a band called "Godspeed You
Black Emperor". Their album, F# A# (Infinity),
actually made me stop drawing because I just had to sit back and
absorb it all. It was the closest thing I've had to a musical
Has any piece of art ever inspired you to create music? If
Oh...yeah. The movie 2001, M.C. Escher. I suffer from this deal
where about 10 minutes into a movie my creative process starts
coming up with ideas and I start thinking, hey when this [the
movie] is done I can go create this thing I just thought up. I
usually can't even watch the second half of a movie because it is
constantly sparking my creative process.
It's great seeing people live their dreams. I see you have
been recording music and making records for quite some time now,
what about 13 years?
Actually, I guess it's been about 15 years all together from the
time we very first started. It's weird, because at first I was
worried that somewhere, somehow, someone was going to figure it out
and say "Hey, get back to real life! Now we've been doing it
so long, I guess that's not going to happen. We've done it! We've
made this our real life. It's a dream come true. It's awesome.
(James Black holding his RenderWear)
Just do it. Just do it as much as you can. Do it as though there is
no consequence all the time, as much as you can and worry about all
the other stuff later.
Check out the Finger
Eleven's official website at www.fingereleven.com
All images within this article are copyright
and used with permission from Wind-up Records and James Black.
Any use of these images without written permission is
Music copyrighted by Finger Eleven and may not be redistributed
without express written consent.
||Graphic Tales from the
Industry News and What's Happening
"Dual Expression of the Creative Mind"
featuring James Black from Finger Eleven
Published: April 2, 2007