I expected this to happen … Ok so I planned it. I dug through my ’t-shirt time capsule’ to find one I had acquired in Toronto in 1995. I stepped out of my car at the Machine Shop and immediately Finger Eleven guitarist James Black says, “Holy shit, eh? You came to party!”
Very few of the hundreds of concert t’s I own have survived over the years. In this case I knew exactly where the one I was looking for was lovingly stored. When it comes right down to it, my Rainbow Butt Monkeys t-shirt meant that much to me. Heck, I only wore it ONCE! I was thrilled to have unique knowledge of Finger Eleven — looking forward to their perspective on the over- 20 years music they have shared as a band.
Chaos abounded … shuffled around to a few places before I had the opportunity to sit down with Black and guitarist Rick Jackett. Without ceremony, the stories around the inception of the group as the Rainbow Butt Monkeys (RBM) began flying out of their mouths, all because of a t-shirt! This is where I was able to catch up, as they discuss a fan who recently wanted to know an exact lyric to As Far As I Can Spit off of RBMs enigmatic 1995 CD, “Letters from Chutney” …
James Black: … is it ‘fight’ is it ‘flight,’ and it was fight because we just …
Rick Jackett: I think we just picked the word.
JB: It was wicked, just a random Tuesday morning email, this one dude from … I don’t even know where he was from.
RJ: It’s basically, some stranger from somewhere who gives a shit about the lyrics of a high school band that didn’t make it out of Canada.
LRI: I can tell you that I just turned a metal band of 15 and 16 year olds on to Letters from Chutney and they were like, “ARE YOU KIDDING ME?”
RJ: Yeah, there’s something there that will appeal to a young metal head kid. Metallica and Guns-n-Roses for me were like the Gospel when we were in our Butt Monkey days. Sabbath, the Chili Peppers, all that stuff.
JB: We met Chad with Chickenfoot.
RJ: We never had the honor of playing with the Chili Peppers, but that BloodSugarSexMagic was one of the most life-altering records that ever happened to us.
JB: It would be the year we started the band. We said, “Let’s be a band!”
RJ: The year they put that record out. It was the first record that I had anticipated. I liked Mother’s Milk so much, and I knew it was coming. I had seen it in magazines. I got guitar tabs for songs that i thought, “I don’t know how it goes, but I think it’s gonna go like this …” That was a weird thing, my whole life I had never discovered records that hadn’t existed yet. But this one …I waited for it. And it did not disappoint.
LRI: I have always loved Canadian music. I only conceded to a hockey trip if I could go to a club to hear Canadian music.
JB: I was wondering what the experience was. Were you listening? Did anyone know you were wearing a RBM shirt in the crowd?
RJ: AND you have a Rob Gommerman autograph. That’s REALLY RARE. He only did one or two tours with us.
JB: He didn’t tour, like, at ALL.
LRI: I spent the whole evening with you guys (laughs) in the Toronto Art District when you opened for Bootsauce.
JB: That was our first national real, REAL tour.
LRI: You had me at, As Far As I Can Spit. I bought the T-shirt, I bought the CD …
JB: And you said, “NICE, I got me a real Canadian ROCK band.” Fuckin’ RIGHT!
LRI: At one point, every time you turned on a Rock station in the US, Finger Eleven was playing. But in general were relegated mostly to Canadian stations during your early career.
JB: Oh absolutely.
LRI: You were a trailblazer, in my opinion, for much of the sound of American hard rock music today.
RJ: WOW! That’s a massive compliment!
LRI: How as Canadians does that make you feel to have had that type of influence on the current US sound?
JB: A large, large compliment!
RJ: I feel that if you said it, Aimee… it’s factual! [sarc]
JB: We were just trying to do gigs in Burlington, Ontario, so the fact that put a record that came out across Canada, and then got an American record deal and came down and did tours and stuff. Those are all dreams, if we made any impression on music here, well, shit.
RJ: One of the neatest ‘crossing the boarder stories’ is that when we made Finger Eleven’s first album it dropped it within 6 weeks. But (the record company) had signed RBM, they didn’t want Finger Eleven. Remember, this is pre-Korn, pre-Limp Bizkit, pre- all that stuff. Stations in Canada were like, “This is too heavy for us. We will never play it.” So we came to America because it was the only opportunity we had with the music we wrote.
JB: It was so much heavier music.
RJ: And on the success of Quicksand and Tip the record, it made a Top 10 single down here. Next thing you know, we are getting phone calls from back home saying, “Hey, that station is playing your song.” And we didn’t even have a label or a representative of it and they were just playing it on the impact it had down in the States.
JB: The same music.
RJ: That felt amazing.
LRI: To see the metamorphosis of the cross was groundbreaking, because Canadian music was considered to be “less than”, we’ll just call it.
RJ: It’s a different thing. It’s a different breed.
JB: I think even Canada for a while had the same complex. There are superstar bands, those are from the States or the UK, and then there’s Canadian bands that we all love, but it certainly took a turn. Recently The Tragically Hip had their last show. They were massive to us. To see what effect they had on the whole country in doing their last concert … I’m getting goosebumps talking about it.
LRI: It’s so sad they never did that in the US.
JB: Yeah but for us, we don’t care. Because all we see is that, even up in Canada, that this was isolated, cool, rare, and special. The fact that it didn’t go beyond the border with their stature is crazy.
RJ: I feel like it’s a badge of honor that we wear. Because there are bands that we respect the shit out of that never broke through.
(Singer Scott Anderson enters the room)
JB: You are also such a big fan, what are you interested in the most about RBM/Finger Eleven?
LRI: How did it all end up this way?
JB: We were just kids in high school and it was enough to get us into this radio contest. We recorded these four songs, including Circles. We were after school going to a studio above a welding shop, and every once in a while we would have to stop recording because he was always using the arc welder.
RJ: I thought it was the mig welder, no it WAS the arc welder.
JB: And every once in a while we would try a different solution. We literally had Sean standing in a bucket of water playing bass thinking that maybe that would ground him in a way …
RJ: That record was made with nothing but excitement and energy.
LRI: It definitely translated your passion and what you had to bring to the table.
JB: That’s cool, yeah.
RJ: I’d like to say that in a weird way that what we were doing then is a lot like what we are doing now. We joke about it. We’re traveling from town to town in a small bus and taking care of our own equipment.
LRI: You can’t recreate what it felt like to make that first record, but you can get back the feel by doing a tour like this.
JB: We were young and drunk and said, “Let’s go on tour!”
SA: It was all such a novelty.
LRI: It took about 5 years before I found out you were one in the same band.
RJ: Ah, yes! Could you hear on that day the similarities?
LRI: You know everybody loves Paralyzer. That’s your ‘big hit’. The first time I heard it, I didn’t know who it was but it’s was so familiar. When the DJ came back he told about your RBM history. I had an epiphany feeling like you had come full circle.
RJ: YEEEESSSSS! Circles was our first single.
Scott Anderson: Other than the name change …
LRI: Did you (as a band) decide to do that?
All: The name change was collective.
SA: We were at the age where you take yourself so serious that it was important to us.
RJ: And the music changed.
JB: We were like, “We can’t be the Rainbow Butt Moneys forever.”
RJ: After the first record cycle we were like, “This is great, let’s do this!” We could do this for real …
JB: (softly spoken “Just NOT as the Rainbow Butt Monkeys.”)
SA: We thought that if we were of that age and we were able to tour successfully …
RJ: But really it was getting in the way. It was either because they thought the name was funny and didn’t even know what the music was like, or they would never listen to the music at all.
LRI: It was always a great confusion to me. It didn’t correlate with the music.
RJ: But the sickest part of that record is it got us in to Rolling Stone!
JB: The name got us, “one of the worst names in rock history”.
RJ: As a kid I would have killed to get in to Rolling Stone for any reason.
LRI: At this point in your careers, do you all still live near each other? How does that effect the recording process? Do you create together or through cyberspace?
JB: Yes to all of those questions! We live close to each other, but we also send tracks.
RJ: We (James and Rick) live about two blocks away from each other.
JB: It’s never like we are too far from each other.
RJ: But it is a combination on how it is made.
JB: We do whatever cyber-dealings we need to do with something, then we go away together to create the demo and make it all stronger.
LRI: How did technology effect your songwriting?
RJ: We’ve adapted.
JB: When we were younger, we were jamming where we would rent a space for like 2-3 hours, and then when it was done you had to go home and remember it tomorrow. While there were other bands playing in other spaces all around you.
Scott: You couldn’t even hear your own ideas.
JB: When we finally got to the studio, like Scott said, you were really hearing the song for the first time. You had spent so much time in a loud room while writing, not able to hear each other, that you were like, “That’s what you were playing?”
LRI: Seems like it all worked out OK …
Finger Eleven just wrapped up their acoustic tour with 10 years. Please visit their official website at http://www.fingereleven.com for all the latest news and concert dates.
Photo’s from their acoustic show at The Machine Shop are below.