Friday, November 17, 2006

311: Across A Wire

Every year on March 11, thousands of fans migrate to New Orleans to celebrate 311's music the way other's celebrate 420. It's a universal day of peace, love and understanding, and in the past, the band has performed for upwards of six hours with material ranging from their early independent releases like "Dammit!", "Hydroponic" and "Unity" to their latest smash single "Don't Tread on Me."

311 guitarist Tim Mahoney, who started his day with a wake and bake, paused to reflect on the band's holiday and the good vibes being shared each night on the band's Summer Unity tour with the legendary Wailers and Pepper.

Austin In Austin: Have you ever made out in a dark hallway and displayed the kiss that made the day?

Tim Mahoney: I think S.A. [Martinez] might have. That's funny' cause if you knew him, that's such a natural thing for him to say. I have made out in a dark hallway, but the rest of that gibberish I'm not sure about.

AIA: How did you end up with Pepper and more importantly, The Wailers, on your current tour?

TM: We've been playing with Pepper for a while now. Our styles vibe together well. The Wailers, that's one of my favorite bands of all time, space, continuum or whatever. For me, the vibe is just unreal. To hear all of those classic songs with Jr. Marley singing, it's just great. By the time it's our turn to play that vibe is just perfect for us; it's the best line-up we could ever hope for.

AIA: How did 311 Day come to be?

TM: Well, we've celebrated 311 day as long as we've been a band. There just so happened to be a couple of years in a row starting about five years ago, where we were consecutively playing in New Orleans. So then we just looked at the situation and decided it would be cool if we just created a holiday for ourselves, and the band, and our fans. And New Orleans is such an awesome city that's always embraced us. This past March, we weren't able to actually do it in New Orleans because of all the damage done to the city. The area where we normally play wasn't up to safety regulations and that sort of thing. There weren't enough generators. There was a whole bunch of stuff in the air, so we did it in Memphis working with the same promoters and it turned out great. I forget how long we played for that evening. We just try to outdo ourselves, but it kind of got to the point where we only have five hours to work with.

AIA: Only five hours?

TM: Well, yeah. But we play songs that we haven't played in 10 years and that sort of thing. We're so fortunate that we have fans that would come from every single state except for Hawaii to be there. And we played Hawaii after that, so it wouldn't have been that reasonable for those people to have come then.

AIA: Does it surprise you each time you add up the years and you realize it's been 16 years? And a follow-up question to that, how have you managed to stay relevant in the process?

TM: It's almost like time travel when we go back and play those older songs, because it puts you back in that place. Plus, they're fun to play because we've become such better musicians since then that we're able to play these songs in ways they weren't before. As far as the actual music, we've always just tried to channel beautiful melodies or super rockin' riffs that we just enjoy playing. And the lyrics are just things that everyone can relate to, that are timeless in a sense. We've always just tried to influence people in a positive way with our music. That's been the attitude all along.

We just try to get people to be kind to one another. All I can really do is try and be a good person and influence people in a positive way, to try and have people get all that they're supposed to get out of music.

AIA: Between 311, Pepper, Damien Marley and Matisyahu, there seems to be a recent rise in reggae-influenced music on the popular, mainstream level. Is this something you expect to continue or last?

TM: It blows my mind still that every city doesn't have a reggae channel. People just don't get exposed to it enough. I'm glad I did when I did through those old Bad Brains records. It's not surprising to me; it seems like each year it grows a little bit more, spreads out a little more.

Tuesday, November 7, 2006

NICK HEXUM can hear the storms coming again. He is singer-guitarist with the band 311 and is calling from his island home in the Florida Keys, where he owns a six-acre plot of land about a mile off the southeast coast, a place he calls "this most beautiful island that I love with all my heart." And he remembers what happened in 2005.

That was a year of big destructive hurricanes, labeled with the otherwise innocent names of Wilma, Rita, Dennis and Katrina. Hexum's house was battered but survived, and he realizes that others obviously had it much, much worse. Thousands across the region lost homes, jobs, lives. The devastation led Hexum to delve into researching climatological issues and take up global warming as a cause.

"Hurricanes are going to get worse," Hexum says grimly. "We are on an upward trend of hurricane strength because we're on an upward trend of global temperatures. We really felt it hard-core last year."

That experience was enough to further inflame Hexum's existing environmental concerns. He bought a hybrid car (a 2007 Lexus), founded a nonprofit organization,, and is having solar panels installed at his Laurel Canyon home.

This year, he raised $15,000 in pledges for by running the Los Angeles Marathon (his first). He also has a solo project in the works, a collection of ancient pop standards ("Sweet Lorraine," "Smile," etc.), rendered as reggae songs, that he hopes can be used to raise more funds. Its working title: "Too Darn Hot."

"I love 311, but those things are very important," says Hexum, 36. "So I'm going to take a little time off and work on those other things."

That means an indefinite band hiatus will begin at the end of 311's current tour, which closes this weekend with shows at the Greek Theatre and the Santa Barbara Bowl. Hexum isn't sure how long it will last.

"I'm leaving it open-ended," he says, "because if there is any kind of deadline, that will ruin it."

The hiatus comes just as 311 is experiencing one of its most successful tours, playing bigger rooms and with more sell-out crowds than when 311 albums were going triple-platinum. Hexum can't explain the surge in numbers, but says many new fans seem to be in their late teens.