July 8th marks the fifth time that Burlington, Ontario’s Finger 11 has played Calgary since the release of their album You vs. Us vs. Them in 2007. The quintet plays the Coca-Cola stage at the Calgary Stampede in a concert, free with gate admission.
“We keep coming back because we keep having an amazing time [in Calgary],” guitarist James Black told GayCalgary and Edmonton Magazine. “And because of that, they keep asking us back. I suppose at a certain point it will, or has, become tradition. It’s not summer unless we go to the Stampede.”
“There are a lot of great reasons to play there. It’s in Canada, so we know that we’re back on home soil at least for a while in the summer. The Stampede itself is already busting with energy because the whole city is into it. So when you throw a rock concert into the mix, it just elevates it all. Don’t tell my wife, but I love the girls in hats, summer dresses and cowboy boots. Usually we play in dank clubs on the outskirts of town, right next to the glue factory. The Stampede is like playing in the middle of an amusement park, way more fun all day and night. The biggest reason is the crowd. It’s always big and loud and full of love.”
Black, alongside Scott Anderson, Rick Jackett, Sean Anderson and Rich Beddoe, have racked up numerous awards based on their smash #1 hit Paralyzer. Accolades include having the most downloaded single by a Canadian artist, multiple platinum certifications, and numerous awards and nominations, including Rock Album of the Year at the 2008 Junos.
“The whole Juno weekend was great. Got to see a lot of friends. Got to win a trophy. There’s a certain novelty to riding around in limos and getting dressed up for that is fun for me. There were great parties and I got to meet Lanny MacDonald’s moustache.”
Finger 11’s show stopping performance during the Juno telecast of Paralyzer, featuring the Mount Royal College Youth Orchestra, added a new dimension to the song. In the past artists like Metallica, The Tea Party, and Jann Arden have teamed up with orchestras - it’s an idea Black says interests him.
“I have considered that. It was something I’ve always wanted to do since hearing Sgt. Pepper when I was 8 years old, then again later with Zeppelin Cashmere. It was really a dream come true to be able to hear it all together. The guy who did the string arrangement had worked with Rick James in the past, so we knew right away that the ’disco / funky’ sound we were looking to get from the strings was going to be there. I’d love to work with Peter again on some of our other songs,” said Black, admitting a full-scale tour would be a daunting effort. “I think touring with such a large group would be a challenge but it would definitely be something for the fans to see. I suppose we can’t rule it out entirely as a possibility but it would definitely be the most ambitious tour we’ve ever attempted. Who knows, we’ll see.”
Extensive touring has been a key to success for many Canadian bands. The Stampede show is a short visit “home” before heading back to the US. Finger 11 is has seen success south of the border, along with other Canadians like Theory of a Deadman, Billy Talent, Three Days Grace, and Sum 41. Often, the bands will team up for tours.
“It definitely does bring a touch of home whenever we run into fellow Canadians on the road. Recently it has been a fairly consistent occurrence. We Canadians are definitely spreading our musical blanket far and wide and it’s always a great reminder of how well things are going for us all. These guys are all from where we’re from, some of these guys live right near my house and here we are meeting in the backstage of a huge festival in god knows what sweaty southern state, thousands of miles from home, and all of us have gotten there playing music which is pretty amazing.”
The extensive touring can take its toll on many relationships. Black is married, but says being apart is par for the course.
”For me this question always reminds me of the end of Kill Bill 2, when Bill’s talking about Superman and Clark Kent. He’s talking about how most super heroes are mild mannered men who dress up in a costume to play their super hero alter-ego but Superman is the reverse. He is Superman and his costume is the mild mannered reporter.
When I’m on the road I feel like I’m in my proper skin. When I’m home I feel quite aimless and am, most times, at a loss of what to do with myself. I’m wired to be a rock n roll, touring musician. It is hard on our relationships but, in my case, we’ve been together so long that it feels normal for us to be apart for awhile, then reunited. Our relationship was born in that dynamic so it knows how to survive. The road life is not for everyone but it’s for me.”
In the June issue of GayCalgary and Edmonton Magazine, Dallas Green discussed how not playing ‘the hit’ can have an impact on fans. I asked James if he ever sees himself growing tired of playing Paralyzer night after night.
“Paralyzer is one of the most fun songs that I’ve ever played, I can’t see myself getting tired of playing it ever, so we’re safe on that one. We have had songs in the past like Drag You Down and Slow Chemical that become popular but we don’t play them. For us it really comes down to the greater good of the live show. If doing these two songs means more wear and tear on Scott’s voice, that means less touring, less shows per week. Time off while on the road, for me, is poison. So we decide to keep these songs out of the set.”
“There is definitely a portion of fans that are disappointed about a song or two they didn’t hear but we’re really only concerned with how they feel about the songs they did hear. If it’s not going to sound as great as it should every night, there’s no point to play it. So we go with our gut and take our lumps if some people don’t like it. We’ve never been good at trying to satisfy other people - it’s hard enough to get the five of us to agree on something, we’d never get anything done if we threw a couple thousand more opinions in the mix.”
Much like its culture, the LGBT community embraces music far beyond the believed stereotypes. While it may surprise some that a rock band like Finger 11 has a gay fanbase, it certainly exists.
“I suppose I’ve never really thought about it. I assumed there are gay people in the crowd as there are gay people everywhere else. To me it doesn’t make a difference. You could be into donkeys for all I care, it’s music. It’s about reacting to sounds and feeling pictures in your head. I definitely think sexuality is a huge part of Rock and Roll but your preference doesn’t matter. It’s all about the urges, buzzes and feelings that get conjured up by the words and melody. What’s always been great about music is that to two people who are on opposite ends of the spectrum, a song can be common ground. They may be nothing alike but they both agree that this song is great, and feels good. That’s powerful.”
July 8th – Calgary Stampede
You vs. Us vs. Them in stores now.