As songwriting work continues on 311's upcoming fifth studio album at their Hive complex in Burbank, Calif., the band has settled on a co-producer to work with their in-house engineer Scott Ralston, and it's none other than veteran London-based knob-twirler Hugh Padgham, who's best known for his work with the Police and Sting, as well as for albums by XTC, Peter Gabriel and David Bowie.
"The idea this time was, rather than state- of- the-art production, working more for classic songwriting and melodies, so we wanted someone who had made records like that, melodic- based," says singer/guitarist Nick Hexum, clearly happy with the band's selection.
"I listened to XTC quite a bit in junior high and high school, and that was huge for me," adds Hexum. "They were very innovative and melodic, and the same with the Police. They used reggae and punk, yet with very strong melodies, and it was very cutting-edge, hybrid music. So when Hugh was brought to our attention we realized he was exactly what we were looking for. I think that albums like Synchronicity and Ghost in the Machine are groundbreaking, warm-sounding albums that equally are progressive as well as classic. There's an emphasis on the songs, and it's a perfect blend for us."
After a furious recording schedule for 1997's Transistor album, when they recorded more than 30 songs in just a couple months, the plan for 311's new one, according to Hexum, is to take more time with each tune, and to let them fully develop before they're recorded.
"We're just hanging out together a lot, working on our music five days a week. We just work until we're burned out, and we're like, 'OK, we accomplished something good today, now let's stop.' We don't have any pressure or any stress about deadlines or anything like that. We don't want to let the record company, or any sort of financial concerns, rush us through [the process]. It's impossible to let the songs fully develop when you're trying to make 31 of them in two months."
Hexum says that Padgham is expected at the band's studio to begin work on the still- untitled album in early March, with a tentative release date penciled in for early October. The album, he says, will be more uptempo than the decidedly spacey bent of Transistor.
"There's much more rock this time, more big guitars, and faster tempos."
As for the sound of the new material, Hexum says it represents further exploration of the band's trademark rock/reggae hybrid, some of which he says is influenced by the trip to Jamaica that he and Martinez took last year.
"We were concentrating on the rock songs we had on the first batch,
and on this second batch we're starting to explore our mid-tempo,
hip-hop, and dancehall rhythms. It's more of a high-energy experience than [1996's] Transistor, which was more of a trippy experience."
311 hasn't played a live show since two at the end of last January in
Hawaii, their longest time off the road since before their first album
was released in 1993, leaving the quintet eager to get back in front of their fans.
"It has been a year, and we definitely miss it," comments Hexum,
before excusing himself from the phone to rejoin his bandmates in
rehearsal. "I'm really looking forward to the pure excitement of playing in a smaller club at first. I don't want to jump straight into the big outdoor sheds, I want to ease into the bigger crowds.
We want to tour at a mellow pace this time, so we can keep it going
through next year. I'm looking for this fall to be a small-level tour,
like club and theater level, and then next summer we'll play the big ol' Lenny Kravitz-size outdoor shit."