Tuesday, December 24, 1996

Singer of the Month (Guitar World, 12/96)

Singer of the Month- S.A. Martinez of 311

Beak (B): What does "S.A." stand for?

S.A.: "S.A." stands for "Spooky Apparition".

B: And where did you get the Count part?

sa: I got that from P-nut.

B: What's your favorite word?

sa: Favorite what?

B: Word.

sa: - Favorite word?... Oh, my favorite word... uh, Lionel? Yeah,

B: What's your favorite brand of shoes?

sa: Favorite brand of shoes would be...Vans.

B: Did you ever go to college?

sa: Yes, I did.

B: And what was your major?

sa: English.

B: What's your favorite radio station?

sa: Favorite radio station would be... I don't know KCOW probably.

B: Boxers or briefs?

sa: Boxers.

B: What year is your car?

sa: '71.

B: Nice car.

sa: Thanks. (laughs)

B: What's your favorite restaurant?

sa: My favorite restaurant, uh...El Chollo.

B: What's the grossest thing you've ever seen?

sa: Grossest thing I've ever seen...oh, what's the grossest thing
I've ever seen? Um...God, I guess, P-nut in the morning (laughs)

B: Can we have Nick's phone number?

sa: I don't know it, man.

B: He didn't know yours either, he said.

sa: Oh, he doesn't? (laughs)

Friday, December 20, 1996


Right now, three-fifths of 311 are decompressing by the pool at their home in L.A's Laurel Canyon. Singer Nick, drummer Chad Sexton, and guritarist Tim Mahoney moved into this large, airy house last year; there's still barely any furniture. A bad poster of a sailboat hangs in the studio. 311 are never home to decorate.
I intend to ask them what it's like to incite small riots, but they get me really stoned on their big leafy California weed and all I do is say "Wow" a lot. Tim does reps on the bench press while Chad goes off to try to find the rest of the band: Bassist P-Nut livess in West Hollywood, rapper/scratcher S.A. Martinez in Koreatown. Nick, meanwhile, is articulately stoned, dreaming up ways to sell more 311 CDs.
Not that he particularly needs to. In the last few months, 311 have seen "Down" become an MTV Buzz Clip and their latest album go platinum. This year they've joined both the Warped and H.O.R.D.E. tours and teamed up for shows with No Doubt, the Pharcyde, Cypress Hill, AND Kiss-a mix that's a fair reflection of 311's own sound.
And the inevitaable backlash has begun. "Now that we have a huge hit, there are people who say we suck," Nick tells me. "That doesn't happen until you're BIG, you know?" A couple of nights ago Nick was on the Web, and he dropped into a chat room where people wee discussing 311. "Someone wrote, '311 makes me cry,' and I thought it was going to be this huge emotional compliment, but instead the guy started slamming us. He said Midwestern guys shouldn't be stealing urban music."
But there isn't anything THAT unusual about five guys from Nebraska fusing dancehall reggae, hip-hop, and crunch-guitar rock. not in 1996 there isn't. What's unusual is that today they can succeed without much more of an angle. Bule-oeyed hip-hop has become so familiar that the band's self-described "Omaha stylee" now sounds perfectly natural. And 311 are as natural as it gets-this is a groupo notable for what they DON'T do. They don't dress up as lightbulbs or 70's cop-show characters or hang tube socks on their phalluses. They don't put forth an aggressive political vibe-311's antigun, anitjuck, pro-pot message is as uncontroversial as Amnesty International. And unlike most Buzz Clip bands, they don't want anything to do with, you know, WHINING. As one line goes, "All the angst shit is just cheesy!"
No glam, no angst, no tongues in cheek: What IS 311's hook, anyway? in Nick's view, they don't need one. "It's just about songs, about playing. We try to be almost faceless."
Adam, the band's anxious manager, has cooked us a healthy dinner covering all the four food groups. He calls us in from the pool like the perfect mom, and the guys report with flip-flops and bare chests to stuff their faces. P-Nut and S.A. have finally straggled in. The others call S.A. Grandpa because he sleeps a lot. "Southsider," CHad explains. Like every town, Omaha has its neighborhood stereotype(s?). Nick, Chad, and Time went to high school together on the west side-"the REGULAR part of town," as Nick puts it. P-Nut and S.A. grew up in working-class South Omaha. S.A. met Chad in 1988 when they were freshmen at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln, and remembers being impressed by his drumming. 'Chad would be playing Prince when everyone else was drumming to the Cure," says P-Nut. The following year, Chad dropped out and joinged Nick in L.A.-their first band, Unity, played more-straightforward rock, and didn't take off. But they played the role to the hilt. "We hung out with waiters and paryters, doing a lot of hard drugs, getting really messed up," Nick remembers. Exhausted by the scene, he and Chad soon retreated back to Omaha; Tim and the Southsiders joinged the band, and they took the name 311.
After a breakthrough hometown gig opening for Fugazi, they took another shot and moved back to L.A. in 1992, befriending groups like No Doubt and Korn, and buckling down to work. "I got very toug," Nick says. The band rarely went out, never lost control, never tripped; at home they still don't drink much more than ginger beer or fruit juice. "In 1989 I was cocaine and Jim Beam," Nick raps on the new album. "But now it's '95 and I'm ginseng." Indulgence after rehearsal usually meant a fewe joints and a game of basketball in the driveway.
Focused or not, the band hasn't had the easiest of rides since scoring a contract four years ago. In 1993, they went on the road in Chad's father's ancient Winnebago. One hot day in Missouri, the RV burst into flames. The band dove out to safety and watched all their equipment burn. "All we had on were our shoes, shorts, and wallets," Chad recalls. They somehow made it to the next night's show with borrowed gear; Nick finished the tour with crispy hair and singed eyebrows.
Meanwhile, a friend who was taking care of their house in L.A. started indulging his phone habit at the band's expense. (They slam him in the song "Silver" on their second album, GRASSROOTS: "You left a big surprise from Pacific Bell/Called all your relatives and your friends in hell.") After GRASSROOTS, relations grew ugly and heated with their then-producer; the band teamed with RonSaint Germain, producer of Bad Brains, for the latest album. Then came last year's rumor that the band's name stood for Ku Klux Klan (K being the eleventh letter of the alphabet), whick caused Omaha's Westside High School to ban 311 T-shirts. Naturally, MTV and USA TODAY picked up the story. "Our first major publicity and it's about THAT," Nick sighs. "We got the name from a friend who was arrested for skinny-dipping-311 is the police code for indecent exposure."
S.A. tells us he was at the record store and saw all three 311 CDs. Nick sits up. "You didn't try to sell them?" he says. "You should have been like, 'Ladies and Gentlemen, HERE'S a good value for your money.'" Nick may be the Future Business Leader of the band, but he's equally concerned about holding onto 311's core fans, keeping the control of the band's success. "We don't want to be seen as a mainstream band. That way we cann keep making unusual music."
Then again, Nick has a different idea of what constitutes the fringe: "Kiss is kind of a role model. I mean, Kiss became huge and only had one big hit-that really bad song, 'Beth.' But besides that, they were a tour band that came from the underground."
Somehow Kiss isn't the first thing that comes to mind as we pass ginger beer around the dinner spread of grilled salmon and oil-free salad. Apart from the sinsemilla, the strongest thing in the house is a bottle of echinacea. But it turns out that even clean living has its excesses. "Oh, man," Nick says, "I PUKED on ginseng once."

Thursday, December 12, 1996

311 Prefers Underground Approach (LA Times)

Pop music: Despite little airplay or press attention, the high-energy band has a growing national audience.


Nothing like the threat of airplay on MTV or radio to spoil a perfectly good music career. That's a real consideration these days for the band 311, whose high-energy hybrid of punk, hip-hop, jazz and reggae has found a growing national audience through relentless touring--despite little airplay and virtually no press attention at all.

"We see this as a really good place to be, and we don't want to mess it up by becoming overexposed," says singer-guitarist Nicholas Hexum. "We just want to be careful to keep an underground approach."

If that sounds strange coming from a band that remains little-known beyond its hard-core fan base, the five members of 311 have at least learned the rewards of self-sufficiency. Their success on the road has landed the Los Angeles-based quintet a slot on Saturday's KROQ Weenie Roast at Irvine Meadows Amphitheatre, followed by their own headlining gig June 22 at the Hollywood Palladium.

"It's really cool because we feel like we've done it without any favors," says Hexum, 26, during a phone interview from the road in Ohio. "We did it just through word of mouth."

The attraction is the charged, cross-cultural mix found on the band's three albums on Nashville-based Capricorn Records, including last year's "311," which weaves delicate shades of jazz and reggae into their high-impact groove. The new single "Down" is only now finding its way onto radio playlists.

Perhaps the most surprising part of the story is that Hexum, guitarist Timothy J. Mahoney, bassist P-Nut, singer SA Martinez and drummer Chad Sexton emerged from the minuscule alternative scene of Omaha, Neb., before migrating to Los Angeles in 1992.

"We probably picked the most difficult course to take as far as hip-hop coming out of Nebraska," says Hexum, who now shares a house in the Hollywood Hills with Mahoney and Sexton. "It's the most unlikely thing you would want to hear. You would think that it would suck just from that description.

"If we would have been making poppy alternative rock we would have had an easier time getting over, but that's boring to us. We're just naturally drawn to unusual music, hybrid stuff that's in between styles."

311's multi-genre blend has led to invitations this summer to play on both the punk-themed Warped Tour and H.O.R.D.E., the traveling festival epitomized by Blues Traveler's brand of groove rock. And this comes shortly after finishing a rap tour with Cypress Hill.

"It's going to be weird. It's going to be like being dipped in hot oil or something," says P-Nut, 22, anticipating the contrast. "I can't wait to see how we react to it."

The members of 311 found their earliest inspiration in the records of Bob Marley, Bad Brains, the Beastie Boys, the Clash and Prince. From there, they followed their musical tastes all over the place. Says Hexum: "We just tried to be as unlimited as possible."

Their first gig came in 1990, opening for punk-rock demigods Fugazi, and they were soon putting out their own CDs. "The fans were open-minded enough to want to come to a lot of shows," Hexum says. "It was a good place to start. But it got to a point where we were the biggest thing in Omaha. So what? Now we need to expand."

Their answer was to move to Los Angeles in 1992, and into a house in suburban Van Nuys. It was there that the band rehearsed endlessly while hunting for a record deal, but when Capricorn asked to see them live, the 311 members insisted on performing in front of the hometown fans of Omaha, which they did.

"We were real optimistic and hopeful," Hexum remembers. "We figured we already sold thousands of records on our own here in one city. Somebody has got to look at this and want to sign us, even if they hate our music. There is a fan base there somewhere."

The band expects to be back in the studio this winter to record an album for release next June. Certain to be included will be more of what they consider positive, celebratory messages that go against alternative rock's anguished grain--the single "Down," for instance, is an expression of long-term solidarity with friends.

"We're just expressing how we feel naturally," Hexum says. "If there's some angst that you have, you should express it through your music. But I think that's become something that people hide behind. It's more difficult to say, 'Hey, I like this.' "

311 in Progress (Detour Magazine)

Put 311 on stage, and there is all the impetus to mosh, pogo, slam- and the chance to get painfully dunked under a motley mix of sweaty kids in baggy pants. That's understandable. A 311 show can reach the level of a rain dance, all the whooping and writhing in anticipation of something to come. It keeps coming, from the crutchy guitars and staccato raps, to the occasional injuries of the numb and enthralled.

"I always make a point of encouraging positivity." says lead vocalist Nicholas Hexum. "The energy is such a cathartic release that it seems like some people misinterpret it as violence. But to me it's just a joyous, spastic dance.

"Apparently, when we played in New Jersey last week, someone got stabbed at a show. It really bums me out when stuff like that happens because anybody that really listens to the lyrics know that we're nonviolent. It's just that our shows are so entergetic people might get confused.

"I love to mosh myself." He continues. "I mean, I had a blast moshing at the Pantera show. But they, on the other hand, say things to the crowd like, 'Our crowd are fucking violent and I like that!' I think it's kind of lame. I love their band and I love their music, but we say the opposite: 'Go crazy and be wild, but don't hurt anybody.' It's not supposed to be about impact, it's supposed to be about a dance situation."

During the show, a contagion of collectivity encircles the band just as it does the audience. Vocalist SA Martinez is the secret shaman, slinking his lean, shirtless torso like a wet reed. Any audience member coherent enough to consider what's going on wonders what unifies the electrified group ina gaping concert hall. Drummer Chad Sexton verbalizes the expierence: "It's a weird mental state when we're playing for an hour and a half. I definately see it in terms of energy and energy release, and a different state of consciousness."

Stamping the live sensation into a permanent groove means occasionally breaking from the annual 100-odd-day tour and cutting an album. On their third release, 311, the band reaches a new level.

"On this record we kind of learned what to do and what not to do from our first two records." says Hexum. "We recorded in a real studio, we finally picked a producer we wanted to work with. Back when we lived in Omaha and we were daydreaming and listening to Bad Brains records, we were like 'One day we're gonna work with Ron St. Germain, he's made some of the greatest-sounding records, raw but clear."

This fine new album may take their sound to radio stations and clubs, but for those who want to get into 311's consciousness, there is still a single maxim: music is a public collaberation- not some strategy formulated in a $1000-a-day studio.

In Hexum's view, "When we're playing live and seeing the people dance and rock and mosh, that's just an extension, an evolution of what's happening for thousands of years, all the way back to an African circle of a couple of guys beating on a drum while other people dance, into the middle centuries of someone playing a flute. We're really just one tiny speck on the continuum." Like an atom, this tiny speck can wreck some serious chaos.

311's Wild Ride (WARP)

With its infectious mix of reggae, hip-hop, and punk, 311 can turn a crowd of jaded teens into a raving mosh pit. Over the course of three albums and several tours, 311 has slowly built its fan base to the point that the quintet's concerts in major markets like Los Angeles, Atlanta, and New York sell out. Sitting in the back of the tour bus before a recent show, vocalist-guitarist Nicholas Hexum talks about the bands live performances. He's flanked by a Sega Saturn video game system (one of the band's favorite pastimes), and Rush's "Xanadu" plays in the background.
"Most people say you don't appreciate the band fully until you see us play live. I think that's true of any good band. If you can't cut it live, something's wrong," he says. "When you play live music and you have a large group of people dancing, that's the same thing that's been going on for thousands and thousands of years, all the way back to drum circles where people would dance. We're just an extension of tribal music."
As if to support Hexum's theory, 311 has traveled like nomads for the past five years, migrating from Omaha, Nebraska to Los Angeles in 1992. Now, the group (which also includes drummer Chad Sexton, guitarist Timothy J. Mahoney, bassist P-Nut, and deejay SA Martinez) has moved out of its house and simply lives on the road. The payoff hasen't come yet. 311's most recent, self-titled album (produced by Ron St. Germain) only briefly appeared on the Billboard charts, and the band's video hasn't found its way into MTV's "buzz bin." But for Hexum, touring provides the most satisfaction. He hopes the band can maintain a cult following and doesn't envision selling millions of albums and becoming the next Green Day or Offspring.
"We don't play punky pop rock, which MTV is all over. I think our time is a little more down the road. I would like to be like the Grateful Dead," he says, adding that the band played a song by the Dead on the night after singer-guitarist Jerry Garcia's death. "The Dead always focus on their live shows and have people who travel around to see them. They're very successful, but they did it without hits and mainstream press. As far as how they approach the business side, they can't be beat." Born in Wisconsin, Hexum moved to Nebraska by the time he was one. Ever since he can remember, Hexum knew he wanted to play in a band. He started with piano lessons, then learned to play guitar at age twelve. While a teenager, he spent one year in Greenborough, Maryland (just outside of Washington, D.C.), where he was first exposed to rap, but he says a broad range of music has influenced him.
"When I first heard the Clash, that had a big effect on me. Bob Marley also definetly changed my viewpoint a lot," the 25 year old says. "I had a big jazz period, and I still like to listen to Nat King Cole and Billie Holiday."
311's music has a hip-hop vibe that compares with that of the Beastie Boys, but it's eclectic influences and positive attitude distinguish it in the world of skate music. The band appeales to the skateboard/surfer/snowboarding crowd, but doesn't cop a bad-ass attitude. If 311 has any kind of message to offer, it's one that urges its fans to avoid violence.
"We get a lot of fan mail from people who appreciate what we're trying to do," Hexum says. "I know we're a lot more positive and have more heartfelt lyrics than the tough music stance that prevails. I like lyrics that have meaning behind them, and I like to hear a good love song. I'm not trying to sound all hard. We're just being ourselves."
On 311, the songs "Misdirected Hostility," and "DLMD," a track about a battered woman, reflect the band's position against violence. In "Misdirected Hostility," Hexum rejects the gloomy nihilism of punk rock: "I cannot handle all the negative vibe merchants...'cause all the angst shit is just cheesy." The group's views come across clearest in the track "Guns (are for pussies)."
"We believe people carrying guns, especially young males, are pussies. They are giving into fear. It takes a strong person to hold your head high without one," he says. "There are groups in our genre-not just gangsta rappers-who pose with guns on their covers. I think they're a joke."
Hexum also says that 311 tries to cultivate a culturally diverse audience, reporting that women and kids of all ethenic backgrounds often attend the concerts.
"Our audience is generally people like us who don't fit into any specific group," he explaines. "There're stoners, skaters, and all kinds of suburban kids. It's not only white males; there's a lot of diversity. If you only appeal to one special group, you limit yourself. I think if I express all the different sides of my personality, someone will relate."

Concert Review - 311 (Daily Variety)

(Palladium; 3835 capacity $18)

The accomplished and eclectic sounds of 311 are finally finding an audience worthy of the band's talent and potential. And considering the powerful show the group preformed here, the music world's timing couldn't be better.

The L.A.-based quintet formed in Omaha, Neb., in 1990 and has been on a slow, steady climb toward mainstream favor ever since. Combining rap, rock, reggae, jazz and R&B stylings into one potent and unique brew, 311 distinguishes itself from the usual flavors of the day with an informed hip-hop flow, an ever-changing potpourri of sounds and styles, and an unyielding positivity that permeates the group's high-energy concerts.

At the very sold-out (street scalpers were seen desparately looking for unwanted tickets) Palladium, the band played its biggest headlining show in L.A. Opening with the celebratory "Homebrew" from 1994's "Grassroots," 311 set a rapid pace for itself and the frenzied audience that both easily maintained throughout the 80-minute show.

Vocalist Nick Hexum and S.A. Martinez traded sharp rap lines, reggae bursts, and smart harmonies; the instrumentalists - guitarist Tim Mahoney, bassist P-Nut, and drummer Chad Sexton - continually impressed with a dexterous and infectous style that complimented the two singers' flow.

311's latest, self-titled album is fast approaching gold-level sales, and the group has a big summer ahead, headlining shows during the HORDE and Warped Tour. Considering that the president of Mercury Records, which recently bought out Capicorn, has named 311 as one of the label's priorities, it's easy to see the band's long-expected breakthrough is just around the corner.

Lifeline - Banned in Omaha (USA Today)

BANNED IN OMAHA: T-Shirts bearing the name of rock band 311 (pronounced three-eleven) have been banned at several schools in Omaha because officials consider the number a coded reference to the Ku Klux Klan, reasoning that "11" stands for the 11th letter of the alphabet, K, and "3" suggests three times K. Ludicrous, says 311 members, who are former Omaha residents. The moniker came from a police code for indecent exposure, and 311 in fact has an anti-racism song, Silver, that sprouts, "It's a waste to be a hater." A statement by 311 says, "We believe the only people worth hating are organized haters like the KKK. Our lyrics make a strong stand... for positivity and unity."

What's In A Name (Spin)

Omaha natives 311 are scoffing at accusations from local police and school officials that the band's name may be a coded reference to the Ku Klux Klan. The group's T-shirts were banned from severl school districts after two Africian-American students at Westside High School complained about the band's logo. "We've been told that white-supremacist groups have used '311' because K is the 11th letter of the alphabet," says Lt. Robert Dacus of the Omaha Gang Task Force. The members of 311, three of whom graduated from Westside High, say the name actually refers to the police code for indecent exposure. "If they want to ban us, they should use something true," says singer Nick Hexum, "like how we advocate the decriminalization of marijuana."