It was a shock when Trouble vocalist Eric Wagner split from the long-running and influential Chicago classic doom outfit. The band’s much-awaited album, Simple Mind Condition, had finally been released, and when Wagner announced he’d begun a new solo acoustic project called Blackfinger, heavy metal eyebrows across the world were raised in skepticism. He’d either be back or fall flat.
To date, he’s done neither. Blackfinger—evolved into a full, heavy rocking band from the acoustic beginnings—are on the cusp of releasing their first album. The first single, “All The Leaves Are Brown,” was released in November 2011, and working with longtime producer Vincent Wojno, Wagner and his new band have been able to push a creative vision forward that’s neither a rehash of the past nor completely writing it off.
The new band played at the Days Of The Doomed fest in Wisconsin this past summer and will do so again in 2012. Wagner recently took some time out for a phoner to discuss Blackfinger and the transition from Trouble to making a completely fresh start.
When do you mark Blackfinger as actually starting?
Oh god. I don’t know. I’ve been working on this new album for four years, so I think about a year in, I started putting the guys together, and then I wanted them to contribute too, so I kind of went through some of their riffs and stuff and put songs together. So about three years [ago].
I think we rehearsed for two [years], just working out the songs. Rehearsing. Different arrangements. Originally we were going to go in the studio earlier, but I guess everything works out, because there would’ve been a couple tunes that wouldn’t have been on the record that I really like and they’re ending up being on. And it took us a year to record. In between there, we’d take breaks and maybe do a show just for the fun. So about three years with these guys now, I think.
Was it strange for you both bringing a new band together and figuring out how to work with a new group of people after Trouble?
It was kind of fun, actually, to tell you the truth. At first, going out there live the first time or two, it was a little weird, because I was so used to them guys being there behind me, and I’d look around like, “Wow, this is different” (laughs).
But it’s been fun, putting together, starting from scratch and everything and putting the guys. We all get along, and everybody, we work together. It was a lot of fun, but yeah, it was a little strange at first. The first couple live shows.
Tell me about moving Blackfinger from a beginning solo project to wanting to make a band out of it and bringing people on board.
Well, after Trouble, I just kind of removed myself from everything and started writing. There was some people who wanted me to get a bunch of guests, those guys in bands equal to Trouble in our same thing there, which would’ve been cool I guess, but I wanted to sit and work and not send tapes across the country and stuff. And just be a band.
I didn’t want it to be the “Eric Wagner Project” or any crap like that. I wanted it to be a band. So all the guys I got were from where I grew up, and they were in bands and stuff just around the area. We all knew each other, except maybe the bass player—I didn’t know him; the guitar player brought him along—and he came one day and never left. I tell him he’s the bass player that never left (laughs).
So like I say, we just worked together and everybody had a great time, I think. I don’t know. It was a lot of fun, and them guys had some good ideas, and it wasn’t just about me. I got everybody involved, so we felt like a band. There was no arguing, no nothing.
How does that situation compare to the last Trouble record?
That was our, what, seventh one? Not counting Unplugged and stuff. It was just different. Everybody was set in their things, and I don’t know how to explain it. It’s just different. We were together for how long and stuff like that. I pretty much did what I wanted on my new record here, and them guys always went along with the stuff.
It was my decision, where in the other guys, everybody was there so long that everybody had their input and opinion on the way things should go, and sometimes opinions differ. So the difference really was, even though I valued their opinion, I had the final say and stuff. It wasn’t like it was bad or anything, it was just I wanted to do my own thing.
How representative of the record is “All The Leaves Are Brown?”
Well, I think there’s a lot of nice variety on this record. There’s a couple slower, heavy things. There’s a couple of jams like “All The Leaves Are Brown.” There’s a couple acoustic ones. There’s one that’s no guitars at all; it’s just piano and cello and a bass and drums and me singing. That’s all. It’s pretty cool.
I wanted it to be a little variety, but make it so it sounds like a record. It’s heavier than [previous solo project] Lid was, because I wanted to be a little heavier this time. I have two guitars, have that heavy rhythm behind some of the things. And plus, I wanted to play live this time, so I wanted also to do some Trouble stuff.
We did a couple Lid tunes in the beginning, but not a lot of people know that stuff, so I just wanted to keep it Blackfinger, and of course I had to do some Trouble stuff. But it’s heavier. I think it’s a heavy record.
I know you’re still embroiled in this one, but have you given any thought to what’s next?
(Laughs) Um, I don’t know. It’s like, I always say I’ve had enough, but it’s not really what I do, it’s who I am, writing down my thoughts sometimes is the only way I can express how I feel, so it’s kind of I need to. I don’t really know what it is yet, I’m kind of living it right now. If there is a “next,” we’ll see what happens.
It’ll all appear one day, what to do. If this one does good, then we’ll do another one, probably. I don’t know yet what the future holds. It’s a little early yet to tell. There’s always gonna be people who are gonna be not even willing to listen in a way, they just want me to go back into Trouble and do that, and not give it a chance, for something a little different.
A band like Trouble too, that was around for so long, people have their expectations.
Yeah, what it should be. But see, this sounds like me. With Trouble, Bruce wrote most of the music and stuff, so it’s gonna be different, and there’s nothing wrong with that, but there’s people that… I’m sure they’re going through the same thing right now with their singer that it’s not the same, and well, it isn’t, but that doesn’t mean that it’s good or not.
People should take it for what it is. I’m sure Sabbath went through that when Ozzy left. I was one of them. “Dio?” Heaven And Hell was a good record, but I grew up listening to Ozzy with Sabbath, so it took me a minute. At first, I absolutely hated it, but when I started really listening to it, it was a great record. It was just different.
Are you nervous at all about how Blackfinger will be received on that level?
I don’t know if “nervous” is the right way to put it, but you know what? I don’t know, dude. I care what people think and all that, but really, I just had to do this for myself. And I enjoyed doing it, and I had fun doing it, and I think it’s a good record, and I’m just happy that I got the chance to do it.
Hopefully people like it. But I can’t really worry about that, or try to write for them or be like, “Well, this ain’t as much like Trouble, we gotta get as close as we can.” That wouldn’t be me at this moment. I’d be trying to recreate something, and it would never live up to it. It’s impossible.
For more on Blackfinger’s debut album, check out darkstarrecords.com and facebook.com/blackfingermusic.
JJ Koczan has the complete Q&A of this interview on his blog at TheObelisk.net. firstname.lastname@example.org.