Burlington band has to please itself, first, with Life Becomes Electric.
From left: Finger Eleven, the pride of Burlington, are Scott Anderson, James Black, Rich Beddoe, Rick Jackett and Sean Anderson.
It’s all about the calibre.
As Finger Eleven unleashes a new album to the lucrative North American market this Tuesday, all eyes are poised Stateside to determine whether the Burlington-bred quintet will continue the momentum generated by such rock radio hits as “One Thing” and “Paralyzer” and score a breakthrough.
The signs are certainly promising: the band scored gold albums with their two previous efforts, 2003’s Finger Eleven and 2007’s Them Vs. You Vs. Me and “Living in a Dream,” the leadoff track from the new Life Turns Electric, is plastering the airwaves both sides of the border.
“One Thing,” the band’s 2003 single, went Top 20 on the U.S. Billboard chart; “Paralyzer” went Top 10. Another hit of that size would boost the band’s profile, but by how much? Will they become a household name like Nickelback?
“I think they’re established in the States,” says Larry LeBlanc, senior editor with Celebrity Access and a Canadian music-industry observer for more than three decades.
“Finger Eleven is part of the American rock DNA: It just hasn’t had the media attention of some of the bigger bands. The interesting thing about Finger Eleven is that it’s a group that flies under the radar. This is a band that has very quietly — similar to early Nickelback — just gone down there and played and played and played and played.
“With music splintering off into all these different sub-categories, their success is not as universally recognized. This is a meat-and-potatoes pop and hard-rock band, and that’s not sexy to the media.”
Sexy or no, the two members of Finger Eleven doing interviews at the Gibson Showcase last Thursday don’t seem terribly concerned.
Mohawk-haired guitarist James Black — a pair of sunglasses dangling from his T-shirt neckline — and fellow axeman Rick Jackett, longhaired and bushy beard cascading over his black shirt and jeans — know that reaction to the 10 songs they’ve painstakingly created with singer and lyricist Scott Anderson, his bass playing brother Sean and drummer Rich Beddoe is out of their hands.
“I think the pressure we put on ourselves is just the quality of songs we’re trying to write,” offers Jackett. “When we’re making the songs, we don’t try to let any outside influence come into the creative part.
“That being said, when we wrote ‘Paralyzer,’ we all felt that ‘Hey, this is a different calibre of song.’ So that puts pressure on us to at least try and match that calibre of song …
“And if it becomes a hit . . . we’ve been in a band long enough to know that that’s not up to us. It’s the stars . . . the timing has to be right.”
James Black says the litmus test for Life Turns Electric was “Stone Soul,” a riveting shuffle that he says set the pace for the New York-recorded album.
“How we normally work is that we’ll make music, then give it to Scott, and he’ll attack it vocally — lyrically and melodically,” says Black, like Jackett, a co-founder of the band first christened Rainbow Butt Monkeys 21 years ago.
“This song ‘Stone Soul’ was an acoustic thing that Rick had put down on tape, Scott came up with these great lyrics and that was the first moment of, ‘those are some good words and nice chords — this feels like a real song.’ That’s the one that raised the bar.”
Black and Jackett produced Life Turns Electric, their poise elevated and influenced by their helmsmanship of the duo’s 2009 countryish side project, Blackie Jackett Jr. and the album Whiskey and Tears.
“Obviously, Blackie Jackett was intended to sound kind of old and scratchy and not aspiring to this high fidelity that Finger Eleven was going to try to do,” says Black. “But I think just the idea that we envisioned something and put it out and it sounded like what we envisioned was just a confidence booster.”
Perhaps their most diverse album, Life Turns Electric offers plenty of big rock sonics, driving rhythms and specializes in the groove-rock funkiness as embodied in “Living in a Dream.” Both Jackett and Black have simple hopes for the album.
“I’m hoping this time around that the whole record gets some kind of acknowledgment, rather than just one song,” says Jackett. “I hope that people remark that it’s a rock ‘n’ roll record, not just rock. There’s a roll to it,” Black says, with a smile.