There are a number of up-and-coming Canadian artists who are waiting to be discovered, but one of them in particular has an astronomically unique sound that everyone should take the time to listen to. This talent is named James Black, who comes from Burlington, Ontario. Some of you may recognize him as a band member of the popular band Finger Eleven, but you should definitely get to know him as the new solo act he is growing into. Hearing about his first album, Moon Boot Cocoon, along with his exciting PledgeMusic project in which he aims to release his album in vinyl, I thought it would be great to ask James Black a few questions.
N_: Would you tell us a little bit about yourself and your music?
James: My name is James Black. I have played guitar since I was 7 years old. The majority of my musical life has been spent playing lead guitar, writing songs and singing harmonies with Finger Eleven, but over the past few years I’ve had a the fortune of exploring even further, my musical abilities. Starting with stepping into the role of lead singer in an alt country act called Blackie Jackett Jr. and now this, my first solo record – Moon Boot Cocoon.
N_: You’re currently working on producing a vinyl version of Moon Boot Cocoon. Would you tell us a bit about that project?
James: While I think the songs of Moon Boot Cocoon lend themselves to the warmth and classic hum of vinyl, I started the campaign for two other reasons. The first is that I am fascinated by the PledgeMusic concept. Artists and fans together making it happen, everyone putting their money and their talent where their mouths are. I love the idea of being in it all together.
Secondly, I just love seeing album artwork, especially the Moon Boot Cocoon art, in a large full colour format. I love holding it in my hand as I listen with headphones. I love the feel, the smell of the fresh ink and the complete experience of Audio/Visual. I think the full booklet and cover that I’ve made for the record is really going to be awesome, so I really want to put it on vinyl so that I can have a copy for myself.
N_: I got the chance to see you perform at Edgefest in Toronto and I remember you mentioning it was your first performance. How was that experience?
James: Yes, Edgefest this summer was the first full show that I’ve done in support of Moon Boot Cocoon. It was the first time that I did any of the songs in a capacity much bigger than just me and an acoustic guitar. This show was a four piece band and nine singers. It was a lot of fun putting it all together in the days leading up to it. I had rehearsals with the choir and rehearsals with the band at separate times and on stage was the first time both sides of the equation had played together. It was great! There was barely any time to think, it was show time, then it was done – in the blink of an eye.
N_: Moon Boot Cocoon draws much of its aesthetic and musical inspiration from astronomical & extraterrestrial subjects. Is there any particular reason you chose this overriding theme?
James: Yes, I am definitely a Sci-Fi nerd and it seems to permeate most things in my life so it only made sense that it would manifest in the lyrics. From the earliest age I was obsessed with space, stars, spaceships, aliens, blasters & light sabers and it carried on into a curiosity about the actual stars, the cosmos and the BIG picture of the universe. I don’t claim to have a heavy understanding of any of it, but the concepts and poetry of it just blows me away.
Musically, I feel like I was able to take advantage of the same scenario most sci fi authors do…they can speak of the truths and shortcomings of mankind without being preachy. They can tell a tale about a species of orange one-legged creatures that destroy themselves because of greed. The message is loud and clear but without seeming like the author is condemning people or boring them with a lecture about being generous to your neighbour. It’s entertainment after all. If I’m going to hear about a singer’s plight, why not picture spaceships while doing it?
N_: Is there anything else you are currently working on in regards to your music?
James: I’m currently getting ready to do some live shows, some acoustic -just me and a guitar, some with a band and some with the band and choir again. My musical focus is split between rehearsing for those shows and getting ready to hit the studio with Finger Eleven. We’ll be making our new Finger Eleven record before the end of the year. Lot’s of music going on in my world.
N_: Will you be touring anytime soon?
James: I will tour the James Black stuff, when the opportunity comes. I would love to take it on the road but right now I’m focusing on playing around home and putting the right band and songs together. Then Finger Eleven will definitely hit the road once that record’s out.
N_: Who are your musical inspirations/influences?
James: Though it is such a cliche, boring answer…I have too many influences to list. But I will say that in my temple of music The Beatles are the heavens and beyond. Floating in the high heavens is Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd and then just beneath them is Bowie, Faith No More, Chili Peppers, Genesis, AC/DC, Black Sabbath, Beck, Cream, TOOL, Johnny Cash etc……
N_: I noticed that the last song on your album, “Headlights”, has a much lighter feel and a different sound from the rest of the album. Is there any particular reason for this?
James: No, it was not a conscious decision to make it any specific tone, it’s just how the song wanted to be. I knew I wanted to end on an uplifting note but other than that, it’s all a great coincidence. It is sometimes hard to predict how a song will end up. In some ways I’m a spectator and a listener like everyone else. It doesn’t all have to sound or feel the same, but it all has to have certain, indescribable “YES” feeling. “Headlights” has it for me.
N_: I’m very enraptured by the lyrics “the sun fell in love with the moon’s dark ways” from your song “The Moon’s Dark Ways”. Is there a backstory for this song that fleshes out these lyrics?
James: Not really a back story. I was really just taken with the idea of the love between two things that can’t possibly be together, even if they desperately want to be. Something about the idea that one cancels out the other. Like a flame falling in love with a drop of water. If they ever kissed, the flame would go out and the water would evaporate. But the love they have for each other is real enough to want to risk that. That kind of love/tragedy/romance speaks to me. I also love the idea of putting the most powerful thing in our solar system, the Sun, in a powerless position.
Be sure to make a pledge to James Black’s PledgeMusic project, and also check out his website and the album Moon Boot Cocoon at http://www.jamesblack.ca.