Thursday, June 12, 1997

Radio Heads (Rolling Stone)

A makeshift sign near the entrance to the control room of studio "B" at L.A.'s NRG Studios read "Work-Free Drug Zone" this past spring. But judging by the slamming grooves booming from the room's massive speakers, someone was obviously hard at work there.
Those someones were the five members of 311 -- vocalists Nick Hexum and S.A. Martinez, guitarist Tim Mahoney, bassist P-Nut and drummer Chad Sexton -- and their trusty, longtime sound engineer, Scott Ralston, who now also serves as co-producer.

The six made 311's fourth album, Transistor, over the course of three months, recording a whopping thirty-five tunes, twenty-one of which appear on the record. Transistor, which will hit stores August 5, clocks in at seventy-four minutes -- the most that can be squeezed onto a single compact disc (it will also be a single cassette and a two-record set). "It had been two years since we recorded," noted P-Nut, explaining that the excitement of being back in the studio led to the wealth of new material.

"Making Transistor was more of a mission than our past records," said Sexton, on the band's last day at the San Fernando Valley studio. "We've been in tunnelvision, working everyday. It's been a lot of work, but we were prepared. We did more than thirty songs in the time allotted to do fourteen songs, so it was work."

The theme of Transistor, as expressed on songs like "Electricity," "Galaxy," "No Control" and the title track, is that we're all connected by common forces, many of them beyond our comprehension.

"The basis of all of our thoughts," says Hexum, "and all of our actions comes down to the exchange of electrical charge. So we're basically saying that we're all transistors of the same force."

Though 311's first two rock-funk-hip-hop-reggae albums were little more than blips on the music industry's radar, the band's self-titled 1995 release sold nearly 3 million copies, powered by frequent radio and MTV play for "Down" and "All Mixed Up." That success paved the way for Transistor, allowing the band, which formed in Omaha, Neb., in 1990, to finally record the album they wanted to make.

"When a band has success like we did with our last album, they've earned the right to call their own shots on their next record," says Hexum. "With some bands, that would be a death sentence, because they'd get self-indulgent ... not having anyone to keep them straight. But I think we have that effect on each other."

The most obvious difference between "Transistor" and the band's previous work is the extensive reggae influence, which S.A. chalks up to their time spent touring Europe last year, when "all we listened to was dub reggae!"

311 kicks off what will be nearly two years of touring the day of their album's release, in San Diego. Days before, they'll warm up by headlining the two-day Melee Festival in Hawaii, where the band's laid-back lifestyle will certainly fit right in.

"We smoked a lot of herb making this record," Sexton says. "I know I just went crazy ... I don't know why."

Chalk it up to the sign.