311 lead singer/guitarist Nick Hexum couldn't be more excited about his band's tour, which is serving as a sounding board for new material for a forthcoming album.
"That's what we do [well] is play live," Hexum said. "It serves the purpose of keeping us connected with the fans, but then just adding a lot of excitement to the music that we're making now. It kind of gives it a kick in the butt. It reminds us of what works live and we reconnect with that. There's a real energy that the live shows have."
311--which also includes SA Martinez (vocals, turntables), P-Nut (bass), Tim Mahoney (guitar) and Chad Sexton (percussion)--is in the throes of recording a new album, its follow-up to 2005's "Don't Tread on Me." The band is pushing the studio work aside for the quick tour, details for which are listed below.
"We're past the halfway point in writing and preproduction," Hexum said. "We've got about an album's worth of material started. We are going to do this spring tour, come back and record half of the album, and then we'll do a summer tour and we'll come back and record the second half of the album. Right now, it's been all writing, rehearsing and preproduction."
The preproduction process includes a "trial run" with uber producer Bob Rock (Metallica). So far, the band has recorded instrumentals with him. After this tour, 311 will return to the studio where Hexum will lay down vocals.
"He just brings out the best in 311," Hexum said about Rock. "He doesn't try and put a signature sound on anything he does. He just tries to really accentuate the strengths of the band.
"I think he definitely did that with [Metallica's] 'Black' album and a lot of just good, live rock-oriented music. So we're pretty excited about that.... Now we're going to have him come back and do a trial run on the vocals side of things. If that goes as planned, we'll firm it up and make an album."
Hexum explained 311 will road test a few songs that are "primed up enough." With the Internet and 311's policy of allowing fans to tape shows, he wants to make sure that prime versions of the new songs are performed.
"Obviously, with the Internet and allowing taping, it's pretty much like once you play something live, it's out there. So, whichever songs we think are ready for public consumption, we'll play them. I would imagine we'd do a couple."
He described the new songs as much more rock-oriented, but added that he's not leaving the reggae fans in the dust.
"We were getting more and more into reggae. Now I think we're ready to get into a heavier sound. It'll definitely be a blend. There'll be some hip-hop and reggae on there. Heavy yet up-tempo is how I would characterize a good chunk of our new stuff."
Included in this tour, which runs through March 31, is "3-11 Day 2008," a festival-type concert held in New Orleans. Hexum is keeping mum on most details, but he did disclose a few things.
"We are bringing out more interesting lighting and staging elements," Hexum said. "The stage is going to have a different look.
"I think the band is at an all-time peak of playing. Bar none. I think it's going to be a really special show, just based on the music and the production side of things. We've also been working on some real rarities that people haven't heard. We've dusted off some 311 songs that we haven't played either ever or in a really long time."
While the band is in New Orleans, it is going to participate with fans in a Habitat for Humanity project to help rebuild the city devastated by Hurricane Katrina.
"We've organized a bunch of fans that are going to be building stuff and raising money," Hexum said. "We're selling some guitars. We're doing a lot of stuff to pitch in there. They need it. There's some really good people down there."