Tuesday, June 22, 2004

NIGHT BEAT: 311's best, worst times came early (Review Journal)

The band 311 became a success by performing an easily recognizable sound -- a blend of rap, reggae-rock and turntable spinning. That helped keep the Omaha, Neb., band on the music map for 11 years. And now, the five-piece band is an industry veteran. It even has a "Greatest Hits: '93-'03" album on the market.

"It's a wild feeling" to have been around this long, says singer and turntablist S.A. Martinez, 33. His band headlines the Orleans Arena, with the Roots, on Wednesday.

Looking back, Martinez says the band's best of times and worst of times came together, in the beginning. Among his favorite memories was when 311 opened for 10,000 Maniacs' final tour with singer Natalie Merchant.

"I think there's something about her music that's very genuine in how she delivers it and presents it," he says. "I don't think she's ever released anything I don't like."

Opening for Merchant's band was "kind of, like, part of a rock and roll fantasy," he says. "When we started, we signed with this management. They were called Gold Mountain. And at the time, they managed Sonic Youth and Beastie Boys. And we were, like, `We're gonna be opening for Sonic Youth and Beastie Boys!' And that never happened."

Now, it's musicians in other bands that call 311 an inspiration.
"I think that's great. Obviously, you want to have that type of influence. You don't want to hear, `I hated you guys,' " Martinez says.

As for 311's worst of times, that happened around the time of the 10,000 Maniacs gig, in 1993. The band's RV blew up, forcing it onto the side of the road. The players escaped with mostly minor injuries. Singer-guitarist Nick Hexum had second-degree burns.

"That happened, and subsequently all of our gear burned up. And then our label at the time tried to take advantage of the situation by asking for publishing" rights from the band, he says. "That stands out as a bad time."

Anyway, that's how 311 got started. With a dream and a nightmare.

"Yeah, things have quieted down somewhat," he says and laughs.

Earlier this year, the group showed its staying power by notching another hit with a Cure classic, "Love Song," which 311 cut after fan Adam Sandler asked them to cover it for his comedy "50 First Dates."

Martinez says he's glad 311 ended up with such a good reputation and righteous fans. That's right, they didn't end up like Hootie and the Blowfish, I say.

"Thank God," he says.