Thursday, December 16, 1999

311 prepares new material

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."

Tuesday, December 14, 1999

311 To "Come Original" For Fall Theater Tour (MTV)

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The Omaha, Nebraska punk reggaers known as 311 are getting ready to release a new studio album, "Soundsystem," on October 12, and the band has just announced dates for a fall tour that kicks off in Nashville, Tennessee in late September.

311 has already released the riddim-heavy "Come Original" as the first single off of "Soundsystem," and recently shot a video for the track with veteran director Kevin Kerslake.

As we previously reported (see "311 Heads Into Studio With Hugh Padgham, Remixes Lenny Kravitz"), 311 cut the new album with producer Hugh Padgham -- who's also handled Sting, XTC, and David Bowie, among others -- during sessions at Hive Studios in Burbank, California.

The current schedule for 311's upcoming U.S. tour:

•9/20 - Nashville, TN @ 328 Performance Hall
•9/21 - Knoxville, TN @ Moose's
•9/22 - Charlottesville, VA @ Trax
•9/24 - Hartford, CT @ Meadows Music Theater
•9/25 - Washington, DC @ RFK Stadium (WHFS Festival)
•9/26 - Boston, MA @ Civic Center
•10/3 - Ventura, CA @ Ventura Theater
•10/10 - Portland, OR @ Roseland Theater
•10/13 - Salt Lake City, UT @ DV8
•10/19 - Omaha, NE @ Sokol
•10/20 - Lawrence, KS @ Bottleneck
•10/21 - Kansas City, MO @ Uptown Theater
•10/22 - Columbia, MO @ Blue Note
•10/29 - Birmingham, AL @ Five Points South Music Hall
•10/31 - Atlanta, GA @ Tabernacle
•11/3 - North Myrtle Beach, SC @ House of Blues
•11/4 - Winston-Salem, NC @ Ziggy's
•11/5 - Norfolk, VA @ The Boathouse
•11/6 - Washington, DC @ Nation
•11/12 - Worcester, MA @ The Palladium
•11/15 - New York, NY @ Irving Plaza
•11/22 - Pittsburgh, PA @ Metropol
•11/24 - Detroit, MI @ St. Andrew's Hall
•11/25 - Cleveland, OH @ Agora Ballroom
•11/26 - Columbus, OH @ Newport Music Hall
•11/27 - Cincinnati, OH @ Bogart's
•11/30 - Baton Rogue, LA @ Varsity Theater
•12/1 - New Orleans, LA @ House of Blues

Red Hot Chili Peppers, 311 Hook Up For New Year's Eve Gig (MTV)

Add the Red Hot Chili Peppers and 311 to the growing list of artists who have nailed down their New Year's Eve plans, as the groups have just announced plans for a special joint show at the Forum in Los Angeles on December 31.

The Peppers are currently on the road in Europe, where they have shows scheduled through a November 22 date in Lisbon, Portugal. The band isn't expected to mount an all-out U.S. tour until next spring.

Two weeks after the special Y2K show at L.A.'s Forum, the Chili Peppers will head to Japan for a few gigs, then over to Australia and New Zealand for the Big Day Out festival, which will also feature Blink-182, Nine Inch Nails, the Chemical Brothers, and Primal Scream, among others (see "Chili Peppers To Join NIN, Chems, Blink-182 At Big Day Out; New Video On Tap").

As for 311, the Lincoln, Nebraska dub rockers are currently in the midst of their own tour and will play the Palladium in Worcester, Massachusetts on November 13, the same day that tickets for the New Year's Eve show with the Red Hot Chili Peppers go on sale via Ticketmaster.

311: As The World Turns

You know how 311's music sounds like it's made by a bunch of guys who really dig each other? Guys who just want to make the world, if only for an hour or so, a sweeter place to be? Good. Because that's the way these native Nebraskans want it. They want to bring their combustible rap-rock-reggae to cities and towns all over the globe, and maybe have a good time in the bargain. And -- miracle of miracles -- that's what they're doing.

Now, after years of gaining a rep as one of the best live acts around; after a couple of platinum records; after stepping back, kind of hiding out for a while, and taking the time to "relax enough to feel the turn of the Earth;" after making an album without feeling like they had to get back out on the road Right This Minute -- after all that... well, they're back out on the road, of course.

At the moment, the guys are touring behind their new album, "Soundsystem." Nick and P-Nut were kind enough to take a little time to talk with the MTV Radio Network's Meridith Gottlieb about some stuff that's been on their minds lately. Turns out, it's mostly music. Go figure.

MTV: Say "hi" to the folks at home.

P-Nut: Hi, I'm P-Nut. I play bass in 311. Welcome.

Nick: Hello, I'm Nick and I sing and play guitar and walk around like a zombie. [Laughs] [RealAudio]

MTV: Let's talk about the new album. Tell me about the approach you took to making "Soundsystem."

P: Well, we wanted to write an album that was really tight, and make it rock really hard,

N: After "Transistor" and all the years of touring, pretty much since '92, we were really just ready to take a break and sort of get settled in our homes and relax a little bit in '98. And then we started slowly working on the record and just doing it at a comfortable pace. We kind of had this slogan, and kept saying, "Life is not a race." If you're not enjoying ourselves now, you never will. And that turned into a song on the new record, "Life's Not A Race," which is just about chilling out and letting your heart rate relax enough to feel the turn of the Earth, which you can do sometimes.

And one of the main things that we did was build our own recording studio. We're really into producing and engineering our own stuff, to a certain extent. On this record, more than ever, we were in there working, turning the knobs ourselves rather than just going into a recording studio and pointing to something and saying, "Make this sound more trebly, or more low end," or whatever. This time we got in there and just made it happen ourselves, and we also bought all the gear and hooked it all up, which takes a while of what we call "sync-hell." Getting digital recorders to work in time with analog recorders is tough, because a lot of this is brand-new gear that hasn't really been around too long. So we were figuring it out for the manufacturers, in some cases.

MTV: What made you go with Hugh [Padgham] this time as producer?

N: We wanted someone who was not in our scene, someone who wasn't a rap-rock guy, or a California guy. We figured if we made a record that he really likes, then we're really going outside of ourselves and moving up to a higher level, rather than just sticking to a formula. We really liked his work with The Police and XTC, and he's known as a really thorough engineer, and we wanted to bring that level of technique into the group.

MTV: You've always had all kinds of elements working in your records, but in this one in particular I heard a very, very strong reggae influence.

P: We've been listening to reggae a lot. I'm a metalhead. I'm wearing my Iron Maiden shirt as we speak. So it's a new thing that I'm grasping onto, and I'm getting more and more situated with it.

N: We actually intended the record to come out as more of a rock record, but out of all the songs for the first batch, none turned out to be real rock-heavy. And then we took a trip down to Jamaica and saw the local sound systems. That's kind of what inspired the title. We wanted this to be a really hard-rocking album, but then we kind of felt like we missed playing reggae vibes. There's only one straight reggae song on the record; the rest of it is reggae elements, and more hard-rocking music.

MTV: Another thing I thought about when I was listening to this record is that it seems that lately we're hearing about a lot of violence in this country, and music is getting blamed for actions of certain individuals.

P: Entertainment is getting blamed all the way around. It's crazy, but there's also a certain amount of truth in it, for sure. I always ges trying to lean to the other side, 'cause it's my business. But just recently I'm starting to accept the truth in the argument. I don't think it really controls people, though. It does if you're weak in the head, I suppose, but that's gonna happen anyway. It's just sad that people rely on it so much that it does have a chance to seep in and control your thoughts and your destiny, in some cases.

N: We also realized there's a lot of tension and confusion associated with the millennium, and especially since we've sort of been away from the limelight for a while, it seems like there's a more hostile environment in popular music today. We see our tour as a mission to spread positivity and be an alternative for kids, more hopeful. I know that we're not gonna be able to single-handedly change the world, but we can be there for other people who want something a little more positive.

MTV: Do you have any thoughts individually about the new millennium?

P: I'm not all that affected by the odometer switching over, but everyone's feeling it. Everyone is excited about it. It's tense.

N: I've heard the paranoid theories of civil unrest because people don't have their money and stuff like that, but I find that to be all unrealistic. What I do think is gonna happen is that people will panic a bit, and there will be some slight freaking out, but it's gonna mostly be hysterical in nature. It won't be based in actual things happening. It'll just be out of fear.

P: I think I'd be scared to be in New York. [Laughs] If any mayhem is gonna happen, it's probably gonna be here.

MTV: Back to your tour. Is it good to be back on the road?

N: We're having a blast. I mean, we've just been laughing.

MTV: You must have missed it.

N: Taking a break, from a business standpoint, isn't the best idea, but we wanted to kind of fade from the scene. And then to just re-connect with your love of performing, and the whole feeling of seeing a whole mass of people all connected as one organism, rocking together up and down, is pretty awesome.

MTV: Was there any reluctance to come back? Dealing with videos and fans, and...?

N: I never really had that big of a problem with it, because our fans are so cool and the connection that we make with them is so deep. It's cool. I love the fans that we have, and the more the merrier.

P: Yeah!

N: I mean, we're not like "Entertainment Tonight" famous, and I really don't have any desire to get that famous, because, you know, we like to lead normal lives. Not famous where everyone knows you.

P: Whether they like you or not. All the people that know us like us, which makes it a lot easier. [Laughs] [RealAudio]

N: That's sweet. I never thought of it that way before.

MTV: What's the story behind the single, "Come Original"?

N: That song's about just really expressing whatever is in your heart and really being honest with your music and not just going with whatever trend is around. When we first started out in '93, there was a prevailing sort of attitude in grunge, sort of like, "I'm dumb, I'm ugly, nobody likes me." Which people should express in their music if they feel that way, but it seemed a lot of people were just going with the Nirvana attitude that had been set up, and we were this positive, rap-rock-reggae band that wasn't really fitting into any format. We just thought we'd stay with it and eventually, hopefully, maybe it would come back around to us, which is exactly what happened. [RealAudio]

MTV: Any feelings on pop music dominating the scene right now? At least, that's what people are buying.

N: Well, A&R people had a much bigger role in the old days, because A&R meant "artists and repertoire." You bring your singers songs to do -- not a lot of singers even wrote their own music -- and all those pop bands are sort of just a reoccurrence of that. But I think more critical listeners want to hear songs that artists wrote themselves, that they're singing, and songs where the artists are really making that emotional connection with the music.

I just don't think you can have that connection when you're singing a song for New Kids on the Block, a song written by someone else. It just won't ever have the same impact as Pearl Jam, or someone really speaking from the heart.

MTV: Who's moving you at the moment?

N: The new Incubus record is insane. It's gonna be huge, and they're the nicest group of guys and great musicians. And Roni Size's new project called Breakbeat Era. It's awesome. NOFX is a great rock and roll band. Black Eyed Peas, Outkast, great hip-hop like that.

P: Tom Waits' new album rules! You have to be in the right mood for it. You probably should start a fire, sit down, get greasy. Oh, yeah, and "Tougher Than Tough," a history of Jamaican music. Oh, it'll knock you down. It's fun to go back to the '70's and see what I missed and listen to all the Curtis Mayfield and all the roots reggae that I never got. I just love that, and the production style that goes into both of those styles. Mayfield really influenced a lot of reggae, and it's just so cool, and there's actually some reggae artists that cover some of his songs. It's just the perfect marriage. It's like Dread Zeppelin! [Laughs]

N: That's a weird association. It's like Dread Zeppelin?

P: Perfect.

MTV: I think we'll end on that note.

Variety provides plenty of spice at concert by 311 (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

It's a tribute to just how trendy the hybridization of pop that a band like 311 can draw on four or five genres at once and come away sounding exactly the way you'd expect a commercial alternative rock band to sound in the age of one world, one music, one record collection.

They hit the stage rapping to heavy guitars last night at the Coca-Cola Star Lake Ampitheatre, treating the crowd of 9,349 to an opening block of "Hive," "Freak Out," and "Misdirected Hostility."

It was all very Red Hot Chili Peppers without an actual tune to hang a groove on until they dipped into the title track of their latest effort, "Transistor." It got an odd beat that you really can't dance to (at least at first), but the song is a well-deserved hit boasting some of the band's most accessible hooks, from the opening riff to the slow reggae ending.

It's hard to imagine Nick Hexum, a white guy, pick up a Jamacian accent from his parents or friends growing up in suburban Nebraska. Still, it was very effective in pulling the newer, more reggae-inspired material over. He credits the Clash to turned him onto reggae as a child, and it showed on the two most intriguing cuts they played from their newer album, "Light Years" and "Prisoner."

"All Mixed Up," a stand-out from the band's self-titled breakthrough, built from a Red Hot Chili Peppers funk-guitar groove to a lazy feel good chorus as a disco ball dropped from the ceiling and splashing the crowds with streams of light. A heavier hit from their last album, "Down" drew the biggest response of the evening.

The set was a mix of hip-hop, metal, reggae, disco, funk, and arena rock (on the drum solo anyway). There was even a point in which the guitarist, Timothy J. Mahoney, appeared to be channeling Jerry Garcia. There wasn't a whole lotta soloing going on, though Mahoney and Hexum did a cool twin-guitar lead on another reggae cut from the new one, "Beautiful Disaster".

Hexum didn't have much to say, but when he did talk, he knew just what to say to whip up the crowd into a frenzy, inviting them all jump up to the beat together.

Monday, December 13, 1999

311 Heads Into Studio With Hugh Padgham (MTV)

After releasing a concert album, "311 Live," late last year, 311 has just headed into the group's Hive Studios in Los Angeles with producer Hugh Padgham to start work on a new record, the follow-up to 1997's "Transistor."

311's label, Capricorn Records, says that the new album is tentatively due out in October, and that Padgham, noted for his past work with the Police, Sting, XTC, Paul McCartney and David Bowie, will share production duties with Scotch Rolston, who has had a hand in 311's last two studio efforts -- including its 1995 self-titled breakthrough.

Prior to the start of this week's sessions, 311 frontman Nick Hexum hit the studio himself to cut a remix of Lenny Kravitz's "Thinking of You," a track from "5," at the request of Virgin Europe. No word yet on what the remix was commissioned for, but it seems likely that the track will turn up on one of Kravitz's upcoming overseas singles.

311 Turns It's Own Knobs (MTV)

311 is gearing up to release its next album, "Soundsystem," which sports some heavy-duty production help from Hugh Padgham.

Padgham, who has produced Sting, the Police, Melissa Etheridge, and XTC, among others, gets the main producer credit on "Soundsystem," while 311 singer-guitarist Nick Hexum will be listed as co-producer. Hexum told the MTV Radio Network that although Padgham was manning the mixing boards, the group members were doing their share of button-pushing as well.

"On this record, more than ever, we were in there working, turning the knobs ourselves," Hexum said, "rather than just going into a recording studio and pointing at something and saying, 'Make that a little more treblely or more low end,' and [using] these weird esoteric terms about 'crunch' and stuff. This time we went in there and made it happen ourselves, 'cause we really learned how to use all the gear." [RealAudio]

"Soundsystem" is due in stores on October 12, and the band will be on a theater tour through early December (see "311 To 'Come Original' For Fall Theater Tour"), and 311 will be on a theater tour through early December. Here's where you can catch them:

•10/3 - Ventura, CA @ Ventura Theater
•10/10 - Portland, OR @ Roseland Theater
•10/13 - Salt Lake City, UT @ DV8
•10/19 - Omaha, NE @ Sokol
•10/20 - Lawrence, KS @ Bottleneck
•10/21 - Kansas City, MO @ Uptown Theater
•10/22 - Columbia, MO @ Blue Note
•10/29 - Birmingham, AL @ Five Points South Music Hall
•10/31 - Atlanta, GA @ Tabernacle
•11/3 - North Myrtle Beach, SC @ House of Blues
•11/4 - Winston-Salem, NC @ Ziggy's
•11/5 - Norfolk, VA @ The Boathouse
•11/6 - Washington, DC @ Nation
•11/12 - Worcester, MA @ The Palladium
•11/15 - New York, NY @ Irving Plaza
•11/22 - Pittsburgh, PA @ Metropol
•11/24 - Detroit, MI @ St. Andrew's Hall
•11/25 - Cleveland, OH @ Agora Ballroom
•11/26 - Columbus, OH @ Newport Music Hall
•11/27 - Cincinnati, OH @ Bogart's
•11/30 - Baton Rogue, LA @ Varsity Theater
•12/1 - New Orleans, LA @ House of Blues

311's Nick Hexum Gets Busy With Side-Projects (Rolling Stone)

Despite having put the finishing touches on 311's forthcoming Soundsystem, singer-guitarist Nick Hexum isn't about to kick his feet up. The frontman has been busy remixing (No Doubt's "Marry Me" and a track for British DJ Carl Cox) and co-producing (Grasshopper Takeover, Libra).

According to 311 manager Adam Raspler, Hexum's extracurricular activities will be tabled when Soundsystem gets released Oct. 12 and the quintet embarks on a three-month club/theater tour. The Hugh Padgham-produced album will be 311's first studio effort since 1997's Transistor. The first single, "Come Original," will precede the album's release.

In related news, the band's web site ( will get a massive facelift on Aug. 20. Included among the spectacle will be band-contributed information, flash and animation elements, bulletin boards, voting for favorite video, song and album and possibly sound clips from Soundsystem.


311 Hits The Road With new 'Sound' (Rolling Stone)

311, the Southern California quintet who season their rock & roll with reggae and hip-hop, are breaking out of the studio and hitting the road. Their upcoming U.S. tour will begin Sept. 20, and will hit club/small theater-sized venues. The band's fifth album, Soundsystem, produced by the legendary Hugh Padgham (David Bowie, the Police, XTC), makes its way into record stores on Oct. 12.

311's upcoming fall tour:

9/20: Nashville, 328 Performance Hall
9/21: Knoxville, Tenn., Mooses
9/22: Charlottesville, Va.; Trax
9/24: Hartford, Conn., Meadows Music Theater (WMRQ Big Day Off)
9/25: Washington, D.C., RFK Stadium (HFStival)
9/26: Boston, Civic Center
10/3: Ventura, Calif., Ventura Theater
10/9: Portland, Ore., Roseland Theater
10/10: Vancouver, The Rage
10/13: Salt Lake City, DV8
10/19: Omaha, Neb., Sokol Hall
10/20: Lawrence, Kan., The Bottleneck
10/21: Kansas City, Mo., Uptown Theater
10/22: Columbia, Mo., Blue Note
10/29: Birmingham, Ala., Five Points South Music Hall
10/31: Atlanta, Tabernacle
11/3: North Myrtle Beach, S.C., House of Blues
11/4: Winston-Salem, N.C., Ziggy's
11/5: Norfolk, Va., Boathouse
11/6: Washington, D.C., Nation
11/12: Worcester, Mass., Palladium
11/15: New York, N.Y., Irving Plaza
11/22: Pittsburgh, Pa., Metropol
11/24: Detroit, Mich., St. Andrews Hall
11/25: Cleveland, Ohio, Agora Ballroom
11/26: Columbus, Ohio, Newport Music Hall
11/27: Cincinnati, Ohio, Bogarts
11/30: Baton Rogue, La., Varsity Theater
12/1: New Orleans, La., House of Blues


Sunday, December 12, 1999

311 and Fans Rock the 'Neck (Lawrence Journal)

Two looming tour buses and an impossible semi stood outside The Bottleneck Wednesday night as 311 brought positive vibes, a stadium-sized show and a trunk of funk in the tiny venue. The Omaha quintet, who got it's start by relentlessly touring the Midwest, are on a nationwide tour to promote the group's newly released album, "Transistor." The tour focuses on small venues - mostly intimate theatres to medium-sized clubs - giving the band ample oppurtunity to get close to it's die-hard fans.

The Bottleneck show is the tour's smallest gig, but one the bands insists on, because the club was an early supporter of the group. The show sold out in rocrd time - just under six minutes.

Judging by the audience's reaction, they were all rabid 311 fans. The highly pumped crowd sang along to every word, moshing and pogoing with total abandonment.

The band tore through a fiery set of songs, highlighting material from "Transistor" with plenty of classics thrown in for good measure. The group's mixture of influences - from metal to rap to funk to punk - made for an eclentic, entergized show.

Lead sing Nick Hexum traded lines with rapper and turntable master SA Martinez, while drummer Chad Sexton and bassist P-Nut stayed locked in the groove. Guitarist Tim Mahoney filled out the sound with chicken-scratch funk and sheets of thunderous noise.

The group tore into each number with fervor, barely coming up for air before launching into the next souped-up cut. By the shows midpoint, the walls, the floor, and the crowd were soaked with sweat.

After nearly two hours, the band came our for the encore of "Who's Got The Herb?" (easily the most popular number of the night) and a raucous "Feels So Good," inciting the audience to yell "P-Nut, beat that thing" as the bassist wailed away in a Funkestein frenzy.

311 came to Lawrence to pay back the loyal fans who supported the group from the beginning. Those fans couldn't have asked for more.

Thursday, November 25, 1999

311 on Fusing Styles, Dueling Leads, and Tag-Team Rythym (

311 may sound as if they're egging on an '80s metal revival, but the band makes their devotion to Iron Maiden and Mötley Crüe easy to swallow by mixing in heaping spoonfuls of hip-hop, dashes of Santana- and Ernest Ranglin-influenced guitars, and even a pinch of dream pop reminiscent of the Cocteau Twins. But the dark side is never far off -- just as soon as a reverb-drenched tremolo line and a sweet melody drift from your speakers, you'll get hit head-on with a blazing metal assault. "I can't help it," admits 311's lead guitarist Tim Mahoney. "I'm a rocker."
The band -- Mahoney, DJ/rapper SA Martinez, singer/guitarist Nick Hexum, bassist P-Nut, and drummer Chad Sexton -- just released its fifth album, Soundsystem [Capricorn]. "On this album we focused on making all the songs rockin' enough that we'd really enjoy playing them live every night," says Mahoney. Before the band rolled the tour bus out of their adopted hometown of Los Angeles (the members are originally from Omaha, Nebraska), Mahoney and Hexum gave up the details about how they mixed the stylistic alloy of Soundsystem.


How do you typically record in the studio?

Lately, I've been into a simple, mono sound using a single stack. There are a couple of stereo guitar effects on Soundsystem, but the album is more about a basic "plug the guitar into the amp, mic the speaker" kind of thing. If I want an effect, I'll typically use an MXR Phase 90 or an Electro-Harmonix Small Stone. The Phase 90 is clear and sweeps nicely, so I use it for clean chordal parts -- like on the song "Sever" -- and it also works well with distortion. For reggae parts, I use the Small Stone. It's kind of hard to explain the difference between the two pedals, but they both have their own kind of sound.

The tones on the album don't sound all that basic, however.

Well, I'm mostly talking about my live rig as a mono sound. It's really hard to get stereo effects to reproduce live -- there's so much going on live that you really don't hear the stereo spectrum.
Also, my last touring rig had so many cables going in and out, and I'd think, "My sound goes through each one of those!" For this tour, I've cleaned up my signal path. Now I have loop switchers running off my MIDI controller pedal, so anytime I want to switch sounds, it's just one stomp and everything changes. I have maybe five stompboxes connected to the switcher, and when an effect isn't being used, my guitar signal isn't going through that particular effect -- there's way less tonal degradation. I can also set up presets with the MIDI controller that have several pedals running at once, or just one or two. It takes time to configure everything, but once it's done, it's easy.

You also have a Lexicon MPX-G2. Do you use it live?

Not yet, but I used it to record "Flowing" on the new album. The beginning of that song is an effect preset from the MPX -- a stereo panning, trippy guitar sound. We sat there until we got a take that sounded just right, because each time I'd play, the effect would react differently. It's a complex little unit. Typically, I'm thinking about effects when I write parts, because some parts will bring a certain effect to mind, like, "Oh, that would sound nice with a tremolo."

Did you tune down to get some of your heavier guitar sounds?

Chad wrote a couple of songs with this SG that he tunes down to low B. He keeps normal strings on the guitar, and they barely hang on -- the tone is almost like a "wooh wooh wooh" -- but, man, he gets it sounding so good. I just got a Schecter 7-string, but to play Chad's songs on the album, I put thicker strings on my PRS and tuned it [low to high] B, E, A, D, G, B.

What got you into PRS guitars?

I'd always gone back and forth between Fenders and Gibsons. But when we started recording our first album in 1993, I wanted a new guitar. I had a Charvel Strat copy at the time, but I wanted something with humbucking pickups. I wasn't really that familiar with Paul Reed Smith guitars, but I knew Santana played one. So I checked one out and fell in love with how it played and sounded. The PRS totally caters to the music we play, because I need to get both a good crunch distortion and a really nice clean sound.

How do you and Nick complement each other's guitar style?

I grew up listening to Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, the Allman Brothers, and other bands that had dueling lead guitars. Both Nick and I are into that. But we'll also switch parts. For example, on "Leaving Babylon" -- which is a Bad Brains cover -- I play along with the bass and noodle the riff, while Nick plays the offbeats. If he's singing, maybe he'll noodle and I'll play the offbeats. Switching parts is almost a subconscious thing -- we're looking at each other and listening to each other play, so there's a little random magic involved as we react to what the other is doing.


Tim says that you guys play together like a tag-team.

Well, I don't actually play a lot of complex parts. If there's anything difficult to play, I leave it to Tim because I'm more of a jack-of-all-trades than a technical shredder. But there are three or four spots on the album where Tim and I do harmony leads. It's totally a throwback to Iron Maiden and Boston, when harmony lines were cool. We've taken it upon ourselves to single-handedly bring back dueling solos and harmony leads. It's fun, and it doesn't have to sound like cheesy metal.

What influenced you to bring reggae into the band's sound?

To me, Ernest Ranglin is the man -- the greatest Jamaican guitarist that ever lived. Although almost everything I play on the new record is with the Les Paul, I love to get a tone like Ranglin's with my ES-135 -- a reggae-jazz-hollowbody kind of sound -- and noodle away in his style.
Also, I feel there are good parts in every genre of music. It's best to be open-minded and not get locked into one style. There are many talented musicians who have original things to say, and it's just different languages that they speak. A new friend might sit you down and make you listen to Patsy Cline, and suddenly you get it and start appreciating country music.

Is the Boss Octave a signature 311 sound?

We do a lot of single-note riffs, and they'd sound weak without an octave divider, so that has always been a staple of our sound -- single-note riffs that are funky and fast through an octave box. I'm currently using an old Boss octave pedal.

What other effects do you rely on?

I use a Rocktron Replifex, which recreates vintage effects. And during the choruses of "Life's Not a Race" you'll hear a Hawaiian guitar that's processed through this really great Hawaiian chorus patch on my Rocktron Intellifex -- it sounds like I'm playing slide, but it's just the effect. I used the same patch for "Come Original." My rig is pretty much Gibson guitars, Rocktron effects, and Rivera amps -- that's all I need.

Are you still using guitar synths?

That was just a phase I was going through on Transistor. I haven't plugged in my guitar synth in about two years. I used it onstage to bust out sitar and weird organ sounds when we'd go into our dub breaks. But lately, I've stuck to a garage-rock style -- just distortion.

How do you get such an aggressive distorted tone?

I just put my guitar on the bridge pickup, open up the tone and volume knobs, and turn up the Bonehead. The Bonehead's tone controls are pretty simple -- bass, mid, treble, and presence -- but it also has this "Los Lobottom" knob that controls the amp's subwoofer. It's the heaviest sound you've ever heard in your life -- it just shakes the room. It's a really bad-ass sound, and I think a lot of people are going to be getting into it.
You've released five albums in only six years. How do you keep rejuvenating your songwriting?
I just get away from writing for a while and listen to new styles. I'm really into drum 'n' bass, jungle, and dance hall reggae right now. If you listen to other forms of music, you're going to get influenced by them. For example, SA and I went to Jamaica after doing preproduction for Soundsystem, and at that time, every song was straight rock. But we experienced these incredible Jamaican sound systems blasting the most interesting, futuristic beats. They don't go, "boom boom chick, boom boom chick." They go, "boom boom chick boom, boom chick boom boom." We were totally inspired by these different beats, and when we started working on the album again, we came up with some rhythms like that. Just to get away and be immersed in a new musical culture totally refreshed our music.

Monday, November 1, 1999

311 returns to its roots – blending rock, reggae, rap (GW Hachet)

Before Kid Rock and Limp Bizkit started selling millions of albums by rapping over alternative music, 311 had been doing the same thing for years.

And after what many might call a hiatus on its last effort, Transistor, 311 returned with a more solid performance on Soundsystem (Capricorn).

Perhaps the most prolific alternative band of the 1990s (the group has produced 10 albums), 311 became known more for its energetic live performances than its work in the studio. Part of that may be the aftermath of 311’s self-titled album, one of the masterpieces of the decade – it’s hard to top great work.

But on Soundsystem, 311 often blends the rap, rock and reggae flavors that brought the band to the top. One of the strengths of 311’s best music is the combination of several elements – solid reggae stylings by singer Nick Hexum, an equal hit of rap from SA (Douglas Martinez) and some driving guitar riffs from Timothy Mahoney.

And these things all come together in many songs on the album like Come Original. Inspired singing by Hexum and inspired rhyming by SA carry the song over some punk guitar parts and funk bass – combining four elements that normally wouldn’t go together. 311 throws shout-outs to bands who do come original and tells other bands how to come original in what amounts to the alternative equivalent to a rap boast. We do it non-stop and then we do it again Hexum brags in the song.

The band risks falling into the trap of going too soft with a few songs in the middle of the album. Large in the Margin is a good song, but it starts the descent. It has the interesting juxtaposition of some soft singing over a very heavy guitar part, while Flowing and Life’s Not a Race are more vibey songs that are not 311’s strong suit. Stuck in the middle of these songs is Can’t Fade Me, an energetic song that makes you want to throw yourself in to a mosh pit, even though you are sitting by yourself listening to the CD in your room.

The album picks up again with the eighth track, Sever. The song has the fast pace and hard edge on which 311 thrives. What works so well on this song is the movement back and forth between Hexum’s singing to SA’s raps. The lyrics on this album are also a little deeper than previous 311 efforts, with Sever being case and point. It seems like an odd idea for a half-rap, half-reggae song to relate the frustration and confusion that result from the end of a long relationship, but this song does it. Hexum laments that There’s no one that could cure you like she does, and SA sympathizes: Staring at the door thinking/about the mess your in/In your couch sinking deep/Over the girl that’s gone.

The staccato drum beats, guitar riffs and rapping all play off each other in Evolution to create a sound that is strange but works for 311. After taking a detour like the middle of the album did with Leaving Babylon, the album finishes strong with some hard rocking songs that are 311’s meat and potatoes.

311 is often at the top of its game on this album, with a few lapses that are not the group’s best work. But if you fell in love with the band because of songs like All Mixed Up and Down, you’ll find the fast-paced rap, reggae and rock sound on Soundsystem that 311 has mastered.

311 Review (People Magazine)

Rocking in LA with 311 (MIX)

Time should not be a luxury in the recording process, yet so often it is. Sometimes time is short due to budget, and other times it's because the band gets caught up in the merry-go-round of needing to be on the road to promote an album, which shortchanges them when another project comes due. According to 311's drummer Chad Sexton, time had been the missing piece of their musical puzzle, made particularly evident by the recording experience of their current project, Soundsystem.

"On our last record, Transistor, we would make a song, learn it, record it, and it was on the record," Sexton says. "With this album it was more like, 'Make a song, go away from it for two months, come back to it, see how you like it, something's not right so change the chorus, or add a part, or get rid of the song altogether.' We tried not to force anything with the attitude of, 'Oh, we can make this song great.' If we weren't feeling it, we didn't even mess with it. Time really gave us perspective, and we were able to make the right judgments."

In June 1998, 311 leased the building that housed L.A.'s Kendun Recorders in the '70s. They brought in their equipment and created a stable comfort zone in which to rehearse and then record. Back at the helm was Scotch Ralston, whom they had met as an assistant engineer on their Capricorn debut, Music.

As the "young 'uns" of the studio corps, 311 members and Ralston had bonded, so they called him up out of the blue in '93 during the recording of Grassroots. They had had a falling out with producer Eddy Offord and wanted to know if Ralston would finish the record with them.

"They had a whole bunch of tracks on ADAT, so we had to take all the ADATs and lock them to a tape," Ralston explains. "They had already done all the music-all the guitars, vocals, percussion, everything-and then they wanted to redo the drums. So we did the drums last on that record, which is kinda weird. But they had done everything to a click, and Chad is pretty much a rhythm machine, so we came in and knocked it out, and it turned out all right."

Ralston and the group then lost track of each other until the band parted ways with their live sound engineer and called Ralston to bail them out again. "They said, 'We just need you to finish this tour, it's only a couple of months,'" Ralston recalls. "And it turned out to be four years!"

311, or what they call "the Blue Album," followed. There was another tour, and then it came time to record again. "After the Blue Album I think we felt invincible," Ralston admits. "We came up with all these songs, and everyone had a little bit of affection for every song, so we didn't want to cut out any of them. We wrote and recorded 30 songs in three months, so it was every day, all day-a lot of work. It was a little hectic, and I think maybe we should have refined it a little. Transistor lacked focus, which is a lesson we learned for this album. On this album we really took the time to refine the songs, and we concentrated on a small number of songs so they could have our attention, which I think will benefit the album in the long run."

Ralston also considers producer Hugh Padgham's involvement in the initial sessions invaluable. "At the beginning of the project it was mostly Hugh, and we were consulting with each other to make sure we were consistent with the other albums and that we were getting good sounds. Hugh's approach to recording is that a sound really starts at the source. You can't polish a turd, so we really concentrated on getting the drum tuned right and made sure it sounded good without any mics before we put a mic on it. I think it was really a good thing to do because sometimes you put a mic up and start EQ'ing stuff right away to make it sound better. He listened to everything totally flat for the longest time, and at first I was going, 'Come on, EQ it a little.' But then he'd say, 'Okay, let's try moving the mic a little bit over this way,' and we would move it, and it would make so much of a difference.

"After he left, I continued that method of recording for the rest of the instruments and even the vocals. We'd put them in a room and if it didn't sound good, we'd try them somewhere else, and if that didn't sound right, we'd put them somewhere else. We had a little booth that we tried, which was pretty tight and dry, and it sounded good. Some songs sounded good out in the main room, which had a little more air, and then other songs we did in the control room," says Ralston, adding that for guitarist/vocalist Nick Hexum they used an AKG C-12 and for vocalist S.A. Martinez they favored the Neumann M49.

"The main concern about the vocals on this album was that the guys were comfortable with the mix in their surroundings," Ralston explains. "On Transistor, we had them out in the studio with the headphones and the whole deal, and I think they felt isolated, like they were far away from the music. They would do two or three takes, and then it would be, 'I don't want to sing anymore, that's it.' On this album we made sure they were feeling good with everything around them before they tried for takes. They put a lot of work into it and got good performances.

"Also, one of the comments about Transistor was that the vocals were a little too effected, so one thing Hugh mentioned after he had listened to the other albums was that maybe we should try to dry up the vocals a little more and present them more in front," Ralston continues. "I tried to do that on the mix and not double every vocal. I think it was a good idea, and the vocals sound really strong."

Padgham also insisted on recording the bass sans EQ, which raised some eyebrows. "I'd heard P-Nut's bass a million times so I knew the frequencies that sounded good to push and pull out," Ralston says with a laugh. "I was just going to say, 'Hugh, watch this,' and go boom, pow, there's the sound; thinking he'd be amazed. Instead it was, 'What's all this EQ on here, sonny boy? Let's experiment with the knobs.' So we tried the knobs and different pickups and active and non-active stuff that we never really thought about that much. We got the bass to sound really good with no EQ whatsoever, and I was totally amazed. When it came down to the amp sound, we decided to mike the amp. We went through a bunch of different mics and mic placements and different bass amps and cabinets and finally came up with the one we used throughout most of the album. It's just a DI and a mic signal. Hugh said, 'If you EQ the bass when you record it, when you go to mix it, you'll probably EQ it a little bit more and there's going to be a massive phase shift.' So just for a goof I decided to record the bass the old way on a couple of spare tracks. When we got to the mix, I had almost forgotten about it, but I put them on and EQ'd them and man, he was so right-I couldn't believe it. It sounded like it was in a beer can or something." The result of Padgham's production tactic was that they used very little EQ on the entire album, and, Ralston says, they even avoided going through the Yamaha O2R.

"Not because we don't love the O2R," he says with a laugh, "But we had a bunch of Neve modules and we went right from the mic into the module, right from the module XLR into the back of the machine. It was interesting. I haven't done that in a long time. So we really just monitored through the O2R, and it was cool."

On the drums, Ralston insisted on using a bottom snare mic, which at first Padgham resisted. "When Hugh first set up the drums, he didn't have one on there, and we had to poke him in the ribs a little to get him to put one on," Ralston says. "Even though he was reluctant, I think after a while he thought, 'This isn't too bad.' We used it a lot in the mix, so we were glad we had it.

"I think one of the best things you can do for drum recording is to get a good room sound. First you have to have a good kick and snare sound, then a good room sound. You just experiment with mic placement and move them around until it sounds good, which, of course, is subjective. This is going to sound amateur, but for some reason I've really gotten to like a Shure SM91 on a kick drum. It's a flat mic, kind of PZM style, and I just lay it in the bottom on a towel, and it sounds great. I use it live, and we ended up using it for many songs on this album after many mic comparisons." (Incidentally, Ralston has decided not to resume his road duties with 311 on their upcoming tour, so he can concentrate more on his recording career.)

Ralston mentions "Evolution" as one of his favorite songs on the new album, as well as "Leaving Babylon." "We had originally recorded 'Leaving Babylon' for a Bad Brains tribute album, and then we found out Bad Brains had nothing to do with the album. So we saved the track and put it on this album instead. I really think this is a strong album," he concludes. "The one song I didn't like got cut. I seriously like every single song, and that's a good sign."

Tuesday, October 26, 1999

311 - "Soundsystem" (Virtually Alternative Magazine)

Here’s an anecdote straight out of suburban youth culture (yes, it’s a true story–we have all lived this scenario in some way shape or form!). Jake–who at 13 years of age believes he resembles nobody, much less a pre-pubescent Eddie Vedder–is being shuttled by one of his parents to a Thursday afternoon guitar lesson. This week, he’s decided to take something of a break; he’ll grapple with no items from The Beatles songbook, nor will he try to master any of the requisite Jimi Hendrix solos. Instead, he plans to exchange the 15 hard-earned dollars crammed into the left pocket of his baggy black shorts for instructions on covering The Clash’s “Should I Stay Or Should I Go.” At the moment, though, he’s staring out the car window, listening to 311′s Soundsystem CD.

Older ears – the kind that pay for historical consciousness with stray hairs that sprout around the edges–might be able to categorize 311′s music. The pounding bass and drums recall the furious attack of Elvis Costello’s Attractions. The guitar is at times reminiscent of Santana, and at others pounding out a ferocious sound along the lines of The Clash’s Mick Jones. And the dual-vocal attack of SA Martinez and Nick Hexum follows trails blazed by hip-hop and rap. Combined, these five Los Angeles transplants have helped to carve out their immediately recognizable Omaha-stylee sound. More rigorously than most other new rockers, 311 has embraced, as well as developed, new music-making strategies–combining funk with rock as originally trumpeted by the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Fishbone–and adding some rock-steady reggae with hip-hop flava. And miracle of miracles, they do so without being fey, arch or ironic. For nearly nine years now, 311 has successfully melded the conventional rock/alternative form to rap’s collage aesthetic. “Do You Right”–a 1993 hit–formulated the potential of this fusion. Einstein said E=MC(2): Energy derives by expanding the MC’s role by the power of two. And as Spinal Tap’s Nigel Tufnel would say, “This one goes to 11!”

But the kid on his way to his guitar lesson has young ears. He knows little of the history behind the music that fills his family’s car. “You know,” Jake declares, and it’s already clear that he intends to congratulate himself as much as issue a judgment, “this is pretty cool!” He doesn’t realize that the samples, aural citations, electro beats, riffs and motifs that pattern 311′s highly potent musical cocktail can be traced back to pioneers like Malcolm McClaren and Peter Tosh. He’s probably doubly unaware that at this point in time, listeners are having a hard time discerning the various genres of music.

Or at least one would hope so. 311′s bassist extraordinaire, P-Nut, is a model for civility. He clearly enjoys the give and take of conversation, as well as the burden of elaboration. “I think that’s just the way music is going. It’s pretty obvious that music is in that state now, because so many bands are crossing over and achieving huge levels of success. It’s just going to be more and more evident as time goes on that if you stay in one place, you’re moving backwards, but if you’re moving forward then you’re obviously on the right track.”

One thing is for sure: when it comes to band business, these guys are as serious as a Pixie Stick with a triple-espresso chaser. 311 is known for a relentless touring schedule of 200+ shows annually, as well as averaging nearly an album release per year. P-Nut helps to put 311′s impressive work ethic into perspective: “A lot of bands think that once they’ve gotten their record deal, they’ve made it. They get big egos and become complacent. But in truth, all a record deal means is that now you have a chance to make it. It’s a job, and you’ve got to work.

“Everyone is looking for diversity. People are shying away from strictly one thing or the other. Everything is not so cut-and-dried or black-and-white anymore. The crossovers are going to occur and ultimately the genres are going to bleed together.”

It’s obvious that P-Nut, as well as the rest of 311, is well versed in the ways of the music business–and why not? 311 cut its teeth in the music scene that spreads across the Midwest. In addition, shortly after hitting the road in support of their debut CD, Music, on Capricorn Records, their tour was briefly sidelined when their RV caught fire and exploded, destroying all their equipment and personal possessions. Unwilling to concede defeat, 311 canceled only one show before returning to the stage with gear donated by sympathetic friends and fans.

“Looking back, I think we all worried way too much,” P-Nut says. “I know that’s easy to say now, but if you really believe in what you’re doing, you’ll get the break you deserve. You should do what comes from the heart or everything will ring hollow. At the end of the day, all we want to be able to say is that we did something honest.”

311′s personal philosophy, the power-of-positive-thinking mindset, is reiterated over and again within the group’s lyrical and musical content. “Even if it’s not truly a conscious thing we think about, it is definitely a subconscious thing, definitely affecting all of us. It’s a good place to be,” muses P-Nut. “We don’t see it as a bad thing. Everyone is up for new challenges and that’s what it’s always been about. We always make new hurdles to overcome. So, even at this pinnacle we’re at right now, we’re always looking to push the envelope by outdoing ourselves. That’s the great thing about being in a band: always trying to reinvent yourself and not trying to recreate what we’ve already done.

“I’m not saying we’ve reached the pinnacle of positivity, but we’re definitely keeping things on that side,” P-Nut continues. “We know that having a good philosophy allows us to get the most out of life, rather than being cloudy and bringing everyone else down. Being able to do what you want for a living is such a joy that there’s really no reason to ever complain about it. So, as a result, we sing about good things. And if a problem does arise, then deal with it.”

This may explain why 311 isn’t preoccupied with achieving a preconceived level of success. “We know that radio support is important. We know that when it’s kind, radio can help make a band, whereas when it’s cruel it can also serve to help break up a band.” The music business can be very unapologetically cutthroat–where you’re only as good as your last single. And yet, even in the face of this, 311′s convictions are absolute. “Even after a Platinum album and #1 songs,” continues P-Nut, “we still did not see much support for our last album, Transistor; yet we’re still here doing what we’ve always done.”

But living up to the expectations of a Platinum record isn’t easy, and many bands don’t cope with it well. Fortunately, P-Nut cites strong ties with their label: “One thing we all like about Capricorn is that they never really try and tell us what the content of the album should be. Of course, it will be discussed, but they’ve never tried to push us into a corner and force us to do something that’s musically non-representative of 311′s sound.”

311 has no problem with helping to push this new album to Platinum the old-fashioned way, either–by touring. Remember, this is a band that sold thousands of CDs on their own before signing with Capricorn, as well as issuing two new CDs dedicated to their loyal fans (these CDs are available exclusively on their own official Web site, “First and foremost, we are a live band. The music we write is intended to be heard live. There’s nothing like it when the band is just ripping it up and the crowd is jumping. Everyone’s just feeding off the same intense energy.

“We really put a lot of time into how these songs would come off live, and then wrote them accordingly.” If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then the men of 311 should be feeling pretty good right about now. “There are several bands out there right now that are doing it just like we did it years ago–go out on the road and rock the people. Boom! That’s what it’s all about, straight and simple.

“I think that was the motivation behind writing Soundsystem. We wanted an album that was a little bit more in our field of play. Transistor was great for a studio album, and we all think it will age really well, but we’re a band that needs to be in front of an audience.

“Besides, you can’t be a real judge of the band until you see us live. Even though we’ve put years’ worth of work into recording, we’re still a live band. The emotion that comes during a live show is so different than during the making of albums, which becomes a very personal thing. But a live show is this collective experience that we share with everybody.”

P-Nut continues: “For this album, we really want to play the majority of it live, because that was what we had in mind when it was written–to be played in front of a live audience. It can’t be ethereal and dubby; it has to be powerful and straightforward.

“Comparing these last two albums, Transistor was written almost entirely on an individual basis, with not much collaboration going on. This was an important step for all of us, because it allowed us each to grow as songwriters, which in turn, helped to create a much tighter, cohesive songwriting unit when crafting Soundsystem. We worked on these songs for over a year. We haven’t had this much time in the studio since we worked on the Music album.”

What makes a good band is the intangible chemistry that exists in the songwriting processes of the band members. Sometimes, when a songwriter is left to his own devices, there’s suddenly no one there to temper his/her tendencies. “There is always going to be a little reflection of the last album, because we’re not going to completely abandon what we’ve already done–that would be foolish,” states the very self-assured P-Nut. “There’s always going to be a little residue left over, especially from something as different and diverse as Transistor. It was really a fun album to write and record. We are all very proud of it. We even plan on incorporating some of the songs into our live set, as well. But unlike the last tour, where we had a basic set list, we plan on playing a variety of songs, because we know there will be diehard fans attending show after show and we don’t want them listening to the same set every night. Furthermore, it was with this in mind that we structured a small venue/club tour before going out on the full-blown world tour. We’re just going to try and keep everyone happy, including us.”

And happy they are. “There’s always going to be stuff on a smaller scale that goes wrong, but you really can’t get hung-up on that. We are not going to sacrifice the content of the music. We’re just going to keep doing what we’re doing; making sure that everyone in the band is happy and work out any differences democratically. We try and keep everything as positive as possible.

“It really is the only way to be. Being in a different town, in front of a different group of people every night and dealing with different problems, is just a fact of life for musicians. The laundry is going to get messed up, the salmon isn’t going to be ready on time, someone is running a half-hour behind schedule and soundcheck is a disaster. With these kinds of things you realize that this is life–you don’t always have to push the envelope–sometimes you just have to deal with the way things are.”

This philosophy can best described by the track “Life Is Not A Race”:

“The world whirls around your mind in a golden spiral/
The natural way that things organize/
You can’t stop entropy, so why even try/
Observe the conscious flow and don’t mystify/
Life’s not a race”

Soundsystem also marks a studio maturation for 311, thanks somewhat to the contribution of veteran producer Hugh Padgham (XTC, Phil Collins, Sting, The Police), in addition to 311′s long-time producer and live sound engineer, Scotch Ralston. The hooks throughout Soundsystem are more subtle; yet still in your face, with tighter changes and a more diverse sonic range. “We wanted someone that we knew had a good record of people to work with, as well as artists that we admire and respect. We were looking for someone who’d give us an objective opinion on melodies and harmonies and bring that old-school element of recording back into the studio."

“Come Original,” the first single released from Soundsystem, shows that 311 can keep current with its dancehall rock attack. Combining Nick Hexum’s melodies with P-Nut’s quirkiness, this first offering is “really just a hard-hitting song that you want to hear over and over again,” declares the very proud bassist. “And that’s only the first track from the new album!”

For now and on into the foreseeable future, 311 will be radiating their brand of positivity to help erase the anger, bad news and unpleasant vibes in the world

Monday, October 25, 1999

311 (Univercity)

We’re a culture spewing forth the notes and sounds of music of all shapes,
sizes, colors, flavors, images, textures, etc. We’re genre happy and proud of it! Leather and spikes. Dreads and hemp. Adidas, contact lenses, clown makeup or nipple clamps. It’s all good. We’re just a-bootie-wigglin’ upon a very nifty era on the time line of music history. We’re standing smack in the midst of that time-line notch wear anything goes.......and if I want to play my guitar with only one string tuned to the key of “Z” naked with mere banana peals to cover my privates and declare myself a rock star, so be it!

But there are the band’s that take that open invite to creativity far more serious than nakedness and banana peels. In a word (a-hem....a number) 311. Hailing from the not-quite-music -Mecca of Omaha, Nebraska, the band redefines all that is ska, raggae and metal-inspired pop rock. Comprised of lyrical mastermind, vocalizer, guitarist and programming wizard, Nick Hexum, drummer, percussionist and programmer Chad Sexton, vocals, S.A., guitarist Tim Mayhoney and bassist P-Nut, 311 has returned from their brief slumber bearing forth an LP of extreme proportions. Answering to the name of “Sound System”, the band’s latest release on Capricorn, is an exotic mesh of music of all genres laced into one colossal sound scape of positive energy. Soothing yet convulsive; wholly jump worthy.........Nick Hexum gave us a brief low down on the latest release during sound check.

: How does your latest record differ from the band's previous releases?
We spent more time on this record than on any other release. I think that allowed us to really focus on the material and focus on our individual performances. I think its a strong rock record but it still has a lot of melodic elements. I don’t know how its specifically different from our other albums - because I think it definitely contains elements of all our records - but it's still a step into the future for 311.

: Did the recording session for this release differ greatly from your last LP, Transistor?
Definitely. First of all we built our own studio - which was a huge challenge but really made the record a great experience. It did two things...first it allowed us a lot of freedom and a lot of comfort. We could work at our own pace, at our own hours, etc... It also made us jump in and really learn the recording process better. Since we were working on our own gear - it was really up to us to conquer the studio and make a great sounding record.

: All of 311’s records have had a sort of vibe to them. A message I guess. What message are you trying to purvey with this record?
I think this record may be a bit darker than our past two records - but the overall message is still one of positively. It's solution oriented music.

: What do you use as lyrical inspirations?
Life experience is the best inspiration but not all of the songs are based on my own life. I'm inspired by relationships, art, tv, movies, music, weather, etc...

: Is there a song on the record that’s particularly personal to you?
I think I'm really close to “Flowing” which is going to be our next single. It's the first song I wrote for this record - which tends to have some impact on my relationship with the song. “Down” was the first track I wrote for the self-titled album and I've always felt strongly about that song as well.

: Did you ever imagine 311 attaining as much success as they have?
I always had high hopes and aspirations for 311 - but this has definitely been a dream come true. We are really happy and appreciative. No complaints.

: What have you learned in your years of involvement in the music industry?
I've met some cool people in the business - but the industry itself can be a drag sometimes. It's political and it's still not tuned in the artists favor. I think technology (online downloads, etc) is going to have a huge effect on the future of the music biz.

: How do you think the general music scene has changed since the band began?
I think people have gotten more open minded about genre-mixing styles. The music scene is constantly evolving. There’s a lot of artist pushing the envelope - you might not hear it on mainstream radio - but it's out there. I've been listening to a lot of drum & bass music lately which is very progressive
: What advice can you give to someone starting a band today?
Come original.

: Say something to your fans..........
Stay positive and love your life!

311 Interview with P-Nut and SA (VoxOnline)

VOX: Please introduce yourselves to your adoring fans…VOX:How did you come up with the name of the album?
SA Martinez: I’m SA…
P-Nut: I’ll be P-Nut today, thank you very much!
VOX: Now that the album is finished, are you guys dying to get the album released?
SA: We can’t wait to get this record out, we can’t wait to play some shows. We wanna get back in touch with all of our fans. And, basically just have some fun!
P-Nut: Being in limbo like this, sitting on such a good album, is – is impossibly hard. So, the people that see our first shows better watch the fuck out because there’s going to be some danger going on. I’m telling you, I’ve got two years worth of excitement in me and it’s going to blow up all over the stage!
VOX: You guys have some hardcore fans…
P-Nut: The people that I talk to on the Internet are freakin’ out! You know, that just represents the sum population of our hardcore fans. But they are some of the hardest core fans; they’re on top of the news every minute, they got the mp3 of the new track. It’s crazy – you kids are great!
VOX: Any favorite tracks you guys have from the new album?
SA: Favorite tracks…hmmm, there are so many. I like "Freezetime" a lot. I like "Living & Rockin."
P-Nut: We put so much time into the album that I know everyone in the band loves every song. We made sure we didn’t put [on the album] any song that anyone was ‘iffy’ on. We love everything and we put well over a year into writing the music. We fined tuned it. It as strong of an album that we have ever put out. Point blank!

VOX: How would you describe the new album? What direction did you move in…
P-Nut: What I heard people say, which may be more of an objective view, because I am so into the band and everything. I love us (laughing)! They say it’s a mixture of our old and new styles and both of those taken somewhere else. We’re constantly changing ourselves in subtle ways, so, it’s always going to be different. But since we put so much time into it, not only is it different, it’s really good. And, there’s no lack of confidence!
SA: The inspiration behind Soundsystem was based on our love for Jamaican culture, reggae culture; [also] the soundsystem that is incorporated in Jamaican music, the soundsystem that brings all of the people in Jamaica together. And, also the fact that when we go out on the rode on tour we are a traveling soundsystem as well. We just wanted to incorporate that theme into what we are about. So that’s where Soundsystem came from – baby!
P-Nut: Oohhh, baby!
VOX: When is the first single due out?
P-Nut: It’s the eleventh today, hmm., it’s less than two weeks for the release. So, by the end of the month, it should be coming out.
VOX: Ami Vick from Baltimore wants to know what the single will be? "Come Original?"
P-Nut: Yeah, it will be "Come Original.’
VOX: Ami also wants to know if you’ll be doing a video for it.
P-Nut: We are doing a video for it next weekend. It’s going to be at a soundstage in Los Angeles and the director is Kevin Clearlake, who has worked with everyone you can name. He is a really, really cool guy. He showed up and seemed like he was a part of our crew already – it was nice. I thought there was a good connection. But, I am f-o-n-d of directors! I like to see the ideas they want to put us into. It’s so different a media for a bunch of musicians to work in. I find myself very interested and I learn a lot everytime we do a video shoot.
VOX: What is the theme of the video?
P-Nut: Performance based. The shots will be full length of the band and closeups. It’s going to be in and out, straight shots…I am definitely not the person that should answer this question! That’s all I remember!
VOX: Is there anyone you want to tour with?
SA: We haven’t made a decision but it looks like we’re not going to take anyone on this leg of the tour cause we are going back to smaller venues, mainly clubs and bars, getting back to where we started from. And, in those environments, a lot of times when bands play, it’s very loud, very cramped. It will affect your enjoyment of a 311 show, if you’re just inundated with a tremendous amount of noise before hand. We want to keep all the ears fresh and just come out with a 311 show. So, no, there won’t be anyone opening for this length of the tour.
VOX: Any artists that you admire?
SA: There’s a Dr. Israel from New York who has a really good album out. I would be interested in performing with him. P-Nut?
P-Nut: I’d like to have 311 play with Ween someday – even thought their concert last week wasn’t the best I’ve seen in the four shows I’ve been to! But I’d still love to play with you guys. So, call up our management and we’ll work it out baby!
SA: [laughs]
VOX: Anna Wiley from Glenwood, Iowa wants to know if you guys are going to come back to Omaha on this tour?
P-Nut: Yeah, we’re actually going to play the place [311] played at first. It’s in mid-town, right in between South O and downtown Omaha. It’s going to be great. It’s where we opened for Fugazi. Omaha is going to kick ass! It’s going to be scary. You know, we shut that place down. We were the last band to play there cause there was some structural damage! So, it pretty cool that there opening it up for us again. Cause there’s going to be more (structural damage)!
VOX: Loren Mickelson from Loveland, Colorado wants to know what Enlarged To Show Detail II will be like – more of you guys on the road or something else?
P-Nut: Well, you know we have enough footage to do videos 2, 3 and four right now if we were really dead set on it. And we could have, but we would not have been very happy about it ‘cause we know how old the footage is. It’s going to be all from this tour and the recording of Soundsystem. So, it will all be fresh and we won’t be bored with it. We could have sold another videotape with all the stuff we have, but we’re our biggest critics so we knew we couldn’t get away with that! We wouldn’t sleep well with that. It should be released early 2000.
VOX: Haile Urquhart from Lawrenceville, Georgia wants to know where the positive outlook the band has come from. Is it lifestyle or upbringing?
SA: It’s really just an outlook on life, on our upbringing, our environment…
P-Nut: People we hang out with…
SA: Yeah, those people you hang out with. If you are of negative mind you will attract just that. We’re all connected in someway, and we rely on each other, everybody does. If you want to be in a positive environment you really have to focus on yourself and makes some changes in your life. Everyone has the potential to be a positive person, there’s nothing that says you can’t. You might think the odds are stacked against you but you’re wrong! Everyone has their good days and bad.
P-Nut: The right people get it, and that’s the cool thing. When we were first playing and getting the sound – I know what went through everyone’s head. Like, how is this going to come off, like is it going to be a wimpy kind of vibe. Of course not, we’re wouldn’t let that happen. We’re still going to be positive. So, it took a little time, a little learning, but it all worked out.
VOX: Mitch Metz from Caldwell, New Jersey wants to know if you guys will ever play with Bad Brains, or if that is something you guys would like to do?
P-Nut: H.R. is just a little too erratic for us management wise. Like the band wouldn’t care if he didn’t show up for a couple of shows, that’s just going to be expected. Our management is really going to be worried about that and having it ruin the whole show. I wanna play with the legend. That’s what I want to see! It will happen someday no matter what.
VOX: Mitch also wants to know what the picture is on the cover of the Unity album.
SA: It’s a picture of a tree, a detail of a tree.
P-Nut: Tree limbs and stuff growing on it so it looked weird. Good question M-i-t-c-h! Keep it up!
VOX: Will you guys ever play in Alaska?
P-Nut: Well we do have a lyric that says we haven’t been to Alaska. So, we’d have to rewrite "Fuck The Bullshit" if that happens! And, we look forward to changing that. Changing a classic 311 song at least a little bit. That’ll be fun.
SA: The promoter in Los Angeles, Goldenvoice, promotes in Alaska as well. They’ve approached us. I would say we would be in Alaska soon.
VOX: Any chance you guys will play Coachella?
P-Nut: Who? I haven’t even heard about it. Whose involved?
SA: It’s like two days, in the dessert, Rage and all kind of bands will be there…
P-Nut: Ok, ok, I did hear about that. Whoo, that would be great…But, we’ll be doing our own thang!
VOX: Starr from Seattle, Washington wants to know when the tour info will be available.
SA: That should be out pretty soon.
P-Nut: There will be some minor changes.
SA: Yeah, but it’s pretty solid. Our first gig, I think we can say, our ‘foist’ tour spot will be a warm up before some radio gigs that we are doing at the end of September…
P-Nut: A warm-up before the warm-up baby!
SA: It will be in Nashville at the 328 club.
VOX: How have things gone since signing with Capricorn Records?
P-Nut: The relationship has only gotten better over the years. Especially since they have done very little to influence us on singles. Of course they will give us their opinions and that’s to be expected and more heads are better than one. I like how they haven’t been pushy or insistent on anything. It’s a good relationship.
VOX: It’s got to feel good to have made it this far without the critics really getting behind you.
P-Nut: Yeah, fuck ‘em! [laughing]
VOX: Some critics just end up tearing down a band without ever giving them a chance.
P-Nut: Right, that’s going to happen no matter what. The best attitude to have is ignore them or fuck ‘em! [more laughing]
VOX: One more time!
P-Nut: Fuck ‘em! Good direction! [laughing all around]
VOX: Dena from Oceanside, California wants to know if any of you guys plan on getting married or having children in the near future.
P-Nut: Wow, that’s so personal! I’m…I’m pretty much already married. Umm, I’m avoiding children for a good, hmm, ten years right now. It will be a 30’s thang if it happens.  'Cause, well, the girlfriend is not all that into it.  But who can blame her at this point in time.  It would be just too much work.
SA: I’d like to get married some day and have children you know.  I am not exactly sure of a timeline!  But, yeah, I would never rule anything out.   Anything is possible.
VOX: SA, being Hispanic, was or is there a Hispanic population in Omaha?
SA: Oh, yeah. South Omaha was predominantly Mexican and more so now. You have a lot of migrant farm workers who come up to work there. There’s a substantial population there.
VOX: Do you speak Spanish?
SA: No, unfortunately I don’t. My dad never spoke Spanish in the house, probably because my mom didn’t speak it. Yeah, but I wish I could now, that would be awesome.
VOX: Well, you guys have been great! Thanks for your time!
P-Nut: Great job guys. You can sleep well tonight!

311 Size Down Venues For Late Summer Tour (LiveDaily)

With a new single on the radio, a video shoot completed, and an album titled "Soundsystem" (Capricorn) in the can awaiting its Oct. 12 release, 311 is readying to hit the road for a coast-to-coast tour. The festivities begin Sept. 20 at Nashville's 1,200-capacity 328 Music Hall, and so far more than 60 shows are planned through mid-December.
Though a few radio station festival dates will be hit along the way, the tour will generally stick to venues more intimate than the band's multi-platinum status might suggest. According to the Nebraska-bred band's official web site (, the club and theater tour materialized at the request of fans. The band is expected to return in the spring of 2000 for a tour of larger venues.
Festival dates will include The Big Day Off Festival at the Meadows Theatre in Hartford on Sept. 24, the HFStival at Washington, D.C.'s, RFK Stadium, and the Rave Festival at Boston Pavilion on Sept. 26, and a date Oct. 30 in Tampa, Fla.

311 and Incubus Make Plans For Summer Tour (LiveDaily)

Corn-fed alt-rockers 311 have announced dates for a summer tour with Incubus. Focusing on theatres, the 30-plus shows will begin May 23 at the Cox Arena in San Diego, CA and continue through early July.
311's blend of hip-hop and rock was most recently realized on its 1999 release ''Soundsystem,'' which featured the single ''Come Original.'' The Nebraska-based band has been on the road virtually non-stop since the release of "Soundsystem," and is currently winding down its spring tour with Jimmie's Chicken Shack.
Singer Nick Hexum explained what inspires him to write lyrics in a posting on the band's official website.
''I love to hear that people have taken our lyrics to heart. Some people just listen to music to groove or rock to, but others take a closer look. I feel a responsibility to talk about a way out of problems, just as much as the problem itself. Many people say our message is positive, but that's just natural. I couldn't imagine not finding things to like about life. On [''Soundsystem''] there is some darker content, but we'll never wind up competing for the gloom market.''

311: An IGN Classic Interview With Nick And S.A.

In law enforcement circles it's universally known as the code for indecent exposure, y'know, gettin' nekkid in public.
But if you happen to be under 30 and somewhat tapped into the popular music scene, then 311 takes on a whole new meaning, standing for something altogether different.
Y'see, 311 is also the name of one of the hardest working, ultra popular sonic quintet's to grace today's music scene. Comprised of Nick Hexum, vox, guitars; Tim Mahoney, guitars; SA Martinez, vox, turntables; Chad Sexton, drums; P-Nut, bass; 311 originally hails from the Midwestern epicenter of all things corn huskish: Omaha, Nebraska. In a feat hitherto unheralded in the vaults of the modern day pop maelstrom, the band has managed to crank out a total of nine albums, numerous EPs, videos, and countless bootlegs since 1990 (their most recent, Soundsystem just hit the stores a few weeks ago). But, as if that weren't enough, they've toured incessantly throughout the US and the world during the past six years, to boot. IGN For Men Senior Editor Spence D. sat down with the guys from 311 and attempted to get the inside skinny on what makes them tick. Here's what they had to say.
IGN For Men: Growing up in Omaha, did you all watch Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom? What did you think of Marlon Perkin's always sittin' safely in the helicopter while making Jim do the dangerous animal wrestlin'?
Nick Hexum: Yeah, we watched it. We also tried to rip off their logo for a 311 t-shirt that said "311 - Music of Omaha" instead of Mutual of Omaha. They found out about it and sent us a cease & desist so we had to stop making them.
IGN For Men: This one's directed at SA, on the turntable action, do you rock the 1200's?
SA Martinez: Yeah, 1200's baby.
IGN For Men: And what kind of needles do you endorse?
SA Martinez: I don't endorse needles...shooting up is for losers. I do use Vestax mixers though.
IGN For Men: What's your most prized record?
SA Martinez: Most prized record is too tough. I just bought some great old reggae albums in Santa Cruz yesterday at Streetside Records. I got a pretty rare HR record, Aswad and a bunch of stuff.
IGN For Men: Can you cite some of your influences, specifically non-musical ones such as literature, cinema, theater, or art?
Nick Hexum: The Simpsons, Stanley Kubrick, Robert Anton Wilson, Art Bell....

IGN For Men: What's the collective band's favorite late nite snack...y'know, what food do you mack late at night to inspire creativity?
Nick Hexum: We usually get pizzas after the show...but that can kill you. So were moving over to salads and fruit. But last night we had sushi. Chocolate is pretty popular on the bus. Cereal is good, too.
IGN For Men: Why did y'all pack up and move from Omaha to LA? Did you suffer serious culture shock comin' from the Midwest to the sunny CA coastline?
Nick Hexum: We've moved to LA to pursue the dream and get a record deal. It worked. We all live in Hollywood now.
IGN For Men: Looking over your album titles--Music, Transistor, Soundsystem--they all have to do with music. From whence do these titles come from and are you trying to create a continuous theme by naming them all after various sonic terminology?
Nick Hexum: We are just trying to make all of them one word titles. And here's a small bit of trivia for you: all album titles are also mentioned in the song "Transistor" (311, Grassroots, Music, Transistor, Soundsystem).
IGN For Men: What do y'all do on tour during the downtime? Do you play video games? Do y'all have Playstation, Dreamcast, or N64 on the bus? If so, what are your favorite games and who's the best player.
Nick Hexum: We had N64 at the studio. Kobe Bryant Basketball and James Bond are the best games. On the bus we have Sega Dreamcast. Playing a lot of Soul Caliber and some NFL2K. Waiting for the basketball game to come out.
IGN For Men: I recently spoke to Kid Rock and he told me that the band watches Forrest Gump all the time on tour. Do y'all watch movies on the tour bus? If so, what are some of your staples?

Nick Hexum: We have a DVD player on the bus and we have a lot of movies to choose from but we haven't watched anything yet. I will, however, recommend American Beauty which is out at the theatres...good film.
IGN For Men: Who's tunes do you take with you on tour?
Nick Hexum: We all bring a lot of CD's. All different styles. Lately I've been listening to a lot of jungle and drum & bass.
IGN For Men: Have any of you ever been indecently exposed? If so, where and when.
Nick Hexum: No....but you can see P-Nut in some tight purple briefs in our home video "Enlarged to Show Detail."
IGN For Men: Who's your favorite superhero.
SA: I like Shazam because he has that sweet van.
P-Nut: I like the Punisher because I collect the comic book.
Tim: I like Wonder Woman ...just because.
IGN For Men: What's your spirit animal? You know, the animal you most likely identify with?
Nick Hexum: Ram.
IGN For Men: If you weren't in 311 you'd be...____________________ (fill in the blank with an alternate career choice).
Nick Hexum: Working on computers.
IGN For Men: What kind of soundstystem do y'all travel with-- Discman's, walkmans, boombox, etc.?
Nick Hexum: All of the above and then some.
IGN For Men: Do you prefer performing live to being in the studio or do you enjoy both for different reasons?
Nick Hexum: Both for different reasons...but playing live is the best. That's where it becomes a collective experience where you can really share something with the band and with the crowd. It's definitely magic.
IGN For Men: It took you a year to record Soundsystem...that seems like a pretty long time to be locked down in the does that compare with the length of recording some of your previous records?
Nick Hexum: We spent much more time with Soundsystem. We really wanted to take our time. We have felt rushed with all the other records. It was nice to work at our own pace this time.

IGN For Men: You've worked with DJ Spinna in the did you come to hook-up with an underground hip-hop producer such as him?
Nick Hexum: Our A&R guy at Capricorn Records hooked us up with him. He did a couple dope remixes but I don't think they were ever released.
IGN For Men: What underground hip-hop joints are y'all rockin' in the tape deck?
Nick Hexum: Black Eyed Peas is a current favorite.
IGN For Men: What's your favorite daytime television show?
Nick Hexum: Sunday afternoon football.
IGN For Men: What's the band's motto, y'know, what words do you all live by?
Nick Hexum: Stay positive and love your life.
IGN For Men: How are you coping with pre-millennial tension?
Nick Hexum: We're putting out the welcome mat.
IGN For Men: What's the future game plan of 311...what are your long-term goals?
Nick Hexum: We're going to be touring for a long time so I really can't look past that. There's a lot to look forward to, though.

Original Thought (Baltimore Sun)

"Come original, you got to come original/All entertainers, come original," sings 311's Nick Hexum on the song "Come Original." Despite the awkward grammar, there's no mistaking Hexum's meaning - there's no value to be had in trend-chasing or imitation. If you want your work to matter, you need to do something distinctive.
To their credit, the members of Hexum's band, 311, have done just that with "Soundsystem" (Capricorn). Even as other bands are cashing in on the rap/rock fusion that 311 helped pioneer, the band's new album moves beyond the obvious variations to deliver something unique.
"Come Original," for instance, does just that, mixing a lilting, dance-hall vocal with hip-hop rhythms and crunchy guitar for the A-section, then shifts to a more aggressive pulse based on slap-bass and turntable scratching for the rap-style B-section. That alone is more musical variety than most bands manage, but 311 shifts gears yet again on the song's bridge, laying down an angular metal riff that seems to soar over the pulsing bass and drums.
Thanks to the lyric, "Come Original" may be the most obvious example of 311's eclectic approach, but it's hardly an isolated example. From the easy, Caribbean-inflected flow of "Strong All Along" to the punchy, muscular groove of "Large in the Margin," 311 offers a wide array of stylistic ideas here. But even when the sources are obvious, what the band does with its influences is neither pat nor predictable.
Indeed, if there's any common thread to these songs, it's the way the group balances rhythmic fluidity with textural intensity. In other words, no matter how much 311 wants to punish your speakers, the band never wants to interrupt your groove. So even though there's a fair amount of guitar shred in songs such as "Freeze Time" or "Can't Fade Me," 311 never detours into straight-out thrash, preferring instead to keep the music at a nice, funky simmer.
Wanting to "come original" doesn't mean the band doesn't occasionally pay overt tribute to its musical muses. Even though "Life's Not a Race" uses no congas or timbales, it's hard to mistake the influence Santana exerts over the track, from Tim Mahoney's sweetly searing lead (very much in the Carlos Santana vein) to the "Black Magic Woman"-style breakdown at the song's end.
But even when 311 wears its sources on its sleeve, the band never seems to be slavishly imitating the artists it admires. These guys would rather "come original," and that's the best reason to discover their "Soundsystem."

P-Nut (BassPlayer)

Most multi-platinum bands achieve success in one of two ways: either they make it big suddenly with a hit single or two-often falling into oblivion as quickly as they rose to the top-or they scratch and claw their way up the charts, leaving a string of high-quality but underappreciated records in their wake. The latter is the case with 311, a Nebraska-bred quintet raised on equal parts of sweet corn, hard rock, reggae, rap, and funk. This is no case of corporate image-mongering, aggressive marketing ploys, or heavy-handed A&R tactics. 311 has achieved success the old-fashioned way: they've earned it.
Anyone who's witnessed a 311 concert knows these guys are the real deal. There's drummer Chad Sexton, one of the most tasty, solid, and innovative stickmen in modern rock. There's guitarist Tim Mahoney, who's as likely to spin out a delicate Garcia or Santana lick as he is to pound out a highly syncopated power-chord riff-a man who's half Deadhead, half metal monster. There's Nick Hexum, who can wield a guitar with the best of 'em but who often unstraps his axe to concentrate on his sweet, always-dead-on vocals. There's SA Martinez, who at any time might be spinning a turntable, delivering a hard-hitting rap assault, singing in sublime harmony with Hexum, or just clowning it up with kooky dance moves. And there's P-Nut, whose rubbery, happy-go-lucky stage presence is as strong as his ultra-tight, ultra-syncopated, super-smooth bass lines. Together, they put on a show that's equally great for watching, listening, or moshing.
In 1991, after gathering an army of local fans in Omaha, 311 picked up and moved to Los Angeles. P-Nut-the band's youngest member, now 23-had to graduate from high school early to accommodate the relocation. Within months, the band signed a deal with Capricorn Records and recorded their first CD, Music; sales weren't great, but they expanded their fan base considerably during the extended tour that followed. In '94 they recorded Grassroots, and once again P-Nut had to put most of his possessions into storage for another long haul on the road. The next year, 311 recorded their eponymous "Blue Album" and toured some more. It wasn't until late '96 that radio and MTV began playing the record's second single, the aggressively rap-driven "Down." The more melodic third single, "All Mixed Up," was even bigger, giving the "Blue Album" legs that stretched well into 1997 and propelling sales to well over the two-million mark. 311 had arrived.
The ride isn't over. Not by a long shot. The band's most recent effort, Transistor, is their most musical and melodic to date. And P-Nut is playing with more creativity, taste, and depth than ever. "For the last album I wasn't necessarily 100% there, and I think it sounds like it," he said during our interview at his brand-new Hollywood Hills home, just before 311 kicked off its '97 tour with a month-long swing through Europe. "I definitely spent more time in the studio for this album, and I couldn't be happier with how it turned out."
Like their touring compatriots No Doubt before them, 311 is set to make some serious noise in '97 and '98. If they do, you can be sure P-Nut's bass style-now matured and enriched by the open-minded diversity of his listening tastes-will be a major contributing factor.
Since you became a professional musician, in what directions have you been trying to go with your bass style?
I've actually just been trying to maintain everything. When I was younger, I tried to be really inventive and made a big effort to do my own thing; now I shy away from that and just try to be more confident and lay into the pocket better. But I'm expanding, like every musician should. I'm going back to figuring out songs from records, like I used to do when I was a kid. I don't know why I got away from that for so long-but lately I've broken out records by the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Curtis Mayfield and begun figuring out the bass lines. I think that's really good for my brain.
Any examples?
I figured out the Chili Peppers' "Knock Me Down" [Mothers Milk, EMI], which I love-that's a fun bass line to play. I also had to figure out the Clash song "White Man in Hammersmith Palais" [The Clash, CBS] for a Clash tribute album we played on. [Ed. Note: At press time, the Clash tribute was untitled and without a label.]
What kind of personal goals did you have when making Transistor?
I wanted to write more, and I did, so I feel better-but I still need to write even more, so I'm already thinking about the next album. That's good, because I never want to get stuck in one area.
I knew a lot of people would be listening to the new record, but I tried not to let that bother me too much. I didn't even think any of my songs were going to make it, because they were the first ones I wrote by myself-so I didn't have crazy high hopes. Plus, I didn't write the lyrics, so I couldn't tell how they would turn out until they were done. But I think "Creature Feature" [see music, page 49] ended up being one of the more musical tunes on the album.
Actually, most of the songs on Transistor are really musical. I knew that was going to be the dominant feel of this record, compared to the rock formula we used on the last album.
What are your earliest musical memories?
I remember hearing music around the house, but I couldn't tell you what it was. My parents didn't listen to a lot of music; it wasn't a part of their daily routine. I grew up wanting to have music playing all the time-probably because I didn't get to listen to it much when I was a kid.
Was your home environment liberal or conservative?
It was very liberal. The first album I bought was Motley Crue's Shout at the Devil [Elektra], and my mom was right there. I was 10 or 11 at the time. I can't say she approved, but . . . .
Did you play any instruments in school?
My first instrument was violin, which I took up in the second grade. I decided to take it up because my brother was playing the saxophone, and I wanted to do something different from him-so I picked a stringed instrument.
Can you still play violin?
I could bow some notes and they wouldn't squeak, but that's probably as far as I'd go. But I could probably remember everything if I sat down and worked at it for a couple of weeks-especially since I've kept my hands agile.
When I was in the fifth grade, I quit the violin and went right to bass. They wouldn't let me start on bass right away, so I had to take six weeks of guitar lessons, at a music store in a mall. The teacher was pretty cool; I learned [Deep Purple's] "Smoke on the Water" and [Yes's] "Owner of a Lonely Heart," along with some chords-three of which I still remember today. I did get an acoustic guitar later on in case I wanted to make up some more chords. Someday I'll get to that-but not right now. I'm still learning the bass.
What made you want to start playing bass?
Everyone who was musical in my neighborhood was playing either guitar or drums, and I wanted to be doing something else-and playing bass seemed like the natural thing. Plus, I was listening to a lot of Iron Maiden records back then, and I really liked the way Steve Harris made their music sound. He was definitely the first bass player who grabbed me. He's a monster.
When you were taking guitar lessons, did you have a bass?
No, just a guitar-a horrible Les Paul copy. But it was all wood, just like all of my basses are now. That, along with my violin experience, started my fascination with wood. I like wood instruments-that's the way it should be. I like wood furniture, too.
My first bass was a Precision copy called a Phantom. I didn't play it all that much, though, because my bass teacher was really structured; he prearranged what was going to happen and didn't let things happen. He had also kept the same set of strings on his bass for eight years. That's totally cool, and it does give a great sound-but it just wasn't very exciting for me. I'm sure he could have gotten some great dub sounds out of that bass, but I guarantee he wasn't! That's probably why I didn't play as much as I should have right when I started out.
When I was 14, I started taking lessons at a different shop-a place called Russo's-and they were just the best. The people there were a lot closer in age to my generation, and they listened to music that was more similar to what I was listening to. Plus, they were all fantastic musicians. That place was the only store in Omaha like that; all the others specialized in band instruments, because that's how they stayed in business.
My teacher at Russo's was totally mellow. All he wanted me to do was to bring in music; he'd figure it out, and by the end of the hour he'd have me playing it. That got me very motivated and got me to start figuring out stuff on my own. By that time I had moved up to a Fender Jazz Special, which I eventually put EMGs into. My teacher, though, had an early, Telecaster-style Precision, which I thought was the coolest thing. [Ed. Note: A similar instrument is featured in The Great Basses on page 88.] I remember bringing in the Chili Peppers' "If You Want Me to Stay" [Freaky Stylie, EMI], which of course is a Sly Stone song-and my teacher laughed so hard; he couldn't believe someone had covered that tune, because he liked it so much in the original form. But I stood up for the Chili Peppers, because they did a damn good job with that song-and also because they had a lot of balls trying to cover a Sly song.
My teacher had me listen to a lot of Level 42, because Mark King is such an amazing thumb-smith; I learned a great deal from that. That's actually how I started doing double-handed slaps, because it sounded so cool when Mark King did it. Later on, I heard Les Claypool using the same technique-but he was also adding extra thumbs, pulling different strings in different sequences, and strumming. He's an amazing musician, too.
Were you playing with other people at this point?
I was playing with the first 311 guitarist, Jimmy Watson, who's still doing stuff in Omaha. I was also playing with a drummer friend of ours. Later, when I was 15, I started playing with Chad-and he blew my mind the first time we jammed together.
Did you lock up instantly with Chad?
No question about it; I've never locked better with another musician. Even from that first time we played together, down in his basement, he had that same snare sound: so bright and sharp. I was almost deaf by the end of that day.
Chad had been in a drum corps-and when you're playing the snare with seven other people all doing the exact same thing, I'm sure you feel that connection with the other people. And even though Chad and I have a strong connection when we play together, it has to be even stronger when a bunch of guys are all playing exactly the same part.
Have you played on anyone else's records?
I've done things for local people in Omaha, but that's about it. I'd like to do other stuff-I'll take inquiries, although I'll be pretty busy for the next year! Actually, Chad and I have had little rumblings all through our career about someday doing something different-maybe even in the jazz vein. We'll probably do it in his home studio just for fun, but who knows?
What kind of theoretical background would you bring to a project like that?
Ignorance! [Laughs.] Complete and total ignorance. I'd just have fun with it; I'd feel no pressure, and I could just go off. A head shop in Los Angeles called the Galaxy has something called Acid Jazz Night, where people just show up and play-and I played bass on one of those nights a few weeks ago. It was really cool. That was the first time I'd played with any other musicians outside of 311 in any kind of public forum, which wasn't all that public. There were about 50 people there, and I don't think anyone knew who I was, which I liked even better. In Los Angeles, it's easy to blend in-even when you have a bass strapped on and you're playing with a band.
I'm playing bass for many, many reasons. I like the role that goes with it; I like feeling no pressure; and I like the way it lets me be very loose onstage-and just in general-because there are no confines. I think I was made to be a bass player.
It's interesting how popular you are among bassists, considering your lines tend not to be flashy or obvious. Why do you think people notice you so much?
Actually, when I started out, I was trying to play as much as I could-and it seems the older and more confident I get, the more relaxed I'm getting with just laying down a bass part. I still have the flashy stuff in me, but I'm trying to use it with more taste. I like being not too demanding on the ear; I like to mesh. But also, especially onstage, I like to freak a little and just enjoy myself. My role is completely different live from what it is in the studio, because on the records I try to blend in really well, whereas onstage I try to make the bass stand out more-even if it's not that much louder. I'm feelin' it, baby.
What do you consider the characteristics of the perfect bass line?
I don't know. The perfect bass line is impossible to get; it shouldn't even be attempted, because you'll always fail. Simply put, in any given bass line, there's either too much going on or too little going on. You couldn't give it a superlative like "perfect," because it would take so many different factors to make a musical part perfect. Also, one line can be good in one way and another can be good in another way, and yet the two can stand by each other. There are probably thousands of quintessentially perfect bass lines-but there is no one, for sure. Jaco got pretty close, though.
Are you a Jaco fan?
Yeah-not a very big one, though. I know his solo albums better than his work with Weather Report, although I have Heavy Weather [Columbia]. Chad listens to a lot more of that kind of music than I do; in fact, he exposed me to it.
Would you ever try to figure out one of Jaco's bass lines?
I'd try; I don't know if I'd succeed, though, because I'm really no good on fretless. It's really difficult for me, because I learned the violin through the Suzuki method-and I've definitely applied that kind of thinking to the bass, even though it was unintentional. I don't necessarily think of the notes all the time and where they fit with everything else. I play more by memory-with my right brain. I'm used to just remembering a sequence of hand positions. That's actually something I'm trying to get out of by writing music, because writing is listening as much as feeling where you are, which may be one reason why I find it so hard to write.
The bass isn't a super-difficult instrument, although it certainly isn't the easiest, either; it takes a lot of physical muscle compared to other instruments that require more finesse. Plus, there are very few people out in front of the bass world, so there's lots of room for expression; the bass hasn't been flogged until it's purple, like some instruments I know! That's another reason why I was attracted to the bass-especially in the beginning, when I couldn't really name any bass players who stuck out besides Steve Harris.
What kind of bassist do you think you'd be if you had received more formal training?
I might be less outgoing, I hate to say. I'd like to think that since I learned the bass with a looser, less educated, more rootsy and feel-oriented approach-one where I play music only because I love to play music-my playing style ended up being looser. I believe that's because I don't feel much pressure. I would like to be one of the better bass players out there, but I also know I'm young and have a lot to learn. I always think about all the people who can play every chord and name every scale and put together a song in their head without ever playing it.
Heavily trained bassists also tend to have more exacting tastes-and sometimes don't approve of Les Claypool's playing, for example.
That's so wrong-horribly wrong. It's probably equally wrong that I don't know as much jazz theory as I should, but the jazz players should recognize and accept Les as a modern pioneer. There's no question about that. In my mind, anyway.
How is he a pioneer to you?
He's playing bass as a lead instrument at all times; it just doesn't stop. The guitar and percussion are playing mostly rhythmic parts, but his bass runs the band-even more than his vocals. He's singing through his instrument and carrying the whole load. Jaco did that, too; he controlled the musical flow in his band in the same way Les runs Primus.
A lot of people accuse Claypool of being sloppy.
You can find mistakes in his playing, sure. But they're great mistakes! I mean, if you can't laugh at your bass lines, you're too serious. There's a time and place for all kinds of playing; you're not going to put on a Primus album to sit down and work on theory-you'll play it because you love to hear what that particular artist does on his instrument. I put Les in my personal hall of fame just for that reason; I think anyone who can make a unique piece of art deserves to be immortalized in some way. Les is one of a kind, and he doesn't give a fuck what people think. I love that about him-although I don't really feel the need to control the band with my bass playing the way he does. Not yet, anyway.
There aren't a lot of people who would listen to Primus, Jaco, and dub reggae records all in one day. Do you make a conscious effort to vary your listening?
Yes, but it also comes naturally. My brother had me listening to all kinds of crazy stuff when I was a kid; he's older and hung out with different people, so he brought different things to the table.
A lot of the younger bands are doing the same thing we are-trying to fuse styles-and I think it's a really good thing. I believe that if you listen to a lot of different types of music, you'll play different styles, unless you're deliberately limiting yourself to one. Screw that; you should be able to do anything you want. There are no limits, unless you put them on yourself.
What would you say to rockers who say, "Jazz sucks," or vice-versa?
Those people are missing out. You should feel sorry for them-and if you're one of those people, you should change yourself, because there really isn't anything to lose by listening to different types of music.
Do you see yourself ever losing your musical elasticity as you get older?
Oh, yeah. You get more set in your ways; you just get used to thinking a certain way. And that way of thinking only reinforces itself-you get more rigid because you've heard the same thing come out of your mouth so many times. That's even true of what I'm saying now.
Even in your flashier days, you've always been a highly supportive player. What is it about support that attracts you?
Support is necessary in the bass realm-but there's a time for everything. It shouldn't be overdone, and it shouldn't be underdone, but it's all up to the individual. As you mature as a bass player, you become more confident with just sitting in the pocket. Whether that's good or bad is hard to say-especially if you're coming from a more crazy, flamboyant attitude and heading in a direction that's more slower-paced and cerebral. I think if there's any musical area you don't know or haven't experienced, you should explore it. There's always room for growth.
Your recorded bass tone has changed over the years. Are you still searching for the ideal tone?
I think I got it on Transistor. I pretty much recorded the whole album using one Warwick Streamer Stage II 5-string with Seymour Duncan Basslines pickups in it. Those pickups are great. I didn't really want to change my tone that much; I adjusted the onboard EQ, but that's about it. My tones on our other records had been pretty bass-heavy, so this time I really wanted to brighten up things. I like a tone that's somewhere in between warm and midrangy, right in the nice, punchy area-extreme low end, but with punch on top. It helps that I use custom-gauge strings, which go .040, .060, .080, .100, .130. It makes sense numerically-I like the extra .010 going from the E string to the B, because I want the B to be that much lower. It also feels good to have the B string that thick.
Listening to so much dub and reggae music must have had an impact on the tone you want.
Probably. I love a good, over-bassy, '70s dub sound-although I've never really gotten one like that on record.
How did you get turned onto Warwick basses?
I saw and heard Norwood Fisher [of Fishbone] play them, and I was sold instantly. I didn't necessarily like the style of the Thumb Basses I had always seen him with, even though I do have one of those now-but I knew Warwick would have something I'd like. Those basses are just beautiful works of art. When I was looking at Warwicks, I asked what the company's best bass was; they showed me the Streamer Stage II, I liked it, and I took it home. I brought that particular bass out on the road after we recorded Grassroots, and now it has a lot of cool wear spots on it.
When you're not touring, how do you spend your free time?
I've been home for almost six months now-which is weird for us, because we've toured so much in recent years. I'm pretty spoiled, so it will be nice to get that road discipline back. When I'm home, I'm usually propped in front of the TV or the computer. I like to float around America Online and see who's talking about 311; I go into chat rooms and pretend to be nobody, which is great. I'm getting pressure from the band to get a public screen name, which I'll have to do someday. There are already five or six impostors out there claiming they're me-and some of them are even starting to fool my mom! On a couple of occasions she's had to call me up and ask if something I'd supposedly said was true, and I've had to say, "No-I'd tell you first." My mom is online all the time; she talks to everyone about 311.
Have you ever "met" one of your impostors online?
No-but if I did, I couldn't do anything; I'd have to just sit there and watch. If I tested one of them, which I definitely could, everyone would figure out it was me.
How do you spend your free time on the road?
During the day it's pretty slow. I do some reading, and I'm sure I'll be reading even more on this tour, because it takes even longer to set up our stuff these days. I used to be pretty lazy on the road, but this time I'm bringing out my bike, so I'll at least get exercise. I've taken out my skateboard before, but skateboard exercise isn't that great, and you can screw yourself up pretty easily if you fall. I'd hate to be crippled onstage-although I'd always find a way to play.
Are there any things that bother you in today's bass world?
I think there's a lot of low-end mediocrity, especially in pop music. Constant unison lines are a dead giveaway for that, as well as a lack of expression. I mean, even in a song with A sections and B sections that repeat, you can still play a different bass line during the different sections. Paul McCartney did that a lot. "With a Little Help from My Friends" [Sgt. Pepper's, EMI] is a prime example; it's so cool and tasty, and it's a very outgoing line, too.
What one thing helps you to avoid falling victim to "low-end mediocrity"?
Listening to as much different music as possible. That's the way I learn things and appreciate things the best, and I hope it comes out in my writing and my playing.
Are there certain traps bassists fall into that prevent their lines from being as good as they could be?
People often get lost in the mix by not playing lines that jump out-but then again, it's easy to play too much. With the bass, you're always balancing on that razor's edge between playing a percussive role and a melodic role. It has to be interesting for the musician, but you've still got to lay down the groove. Victor Wooten and Stanley Clarke both have that down, which I think comes from playing with other fantastic musicians for years and years. But I'm in no hurry to get all the culture I need to become a better bass player; right now, I'm just enjoying what's going on with the band. I think if I tried too hard, my playing would come out false. I'm just trying to let it grow on its own.