Friday, August 15, 2008

Camping with 311 (Star Bulletin)

FRESH OFF the North American leg of their Summer Unity Tour, veteran rockers 311 return to Honolulu this weekend to headline Band Camp VI at the Waikiki Shell.

Produced by local promoters BAMP Project, the annual concert will also feature a performance by Augustana and the return of Jason Mraz to the Shell for the second time this year. Former Pennylane lead singer David Tamaoka will represent the islands with an opening set that showcases his talents as a solo artist (see story on opposite page ).
The Star-Bulletin caught up with 311 lead singer Nick Hexum via telephone last month as the band got ready for a Summer Unity Tour stop in Houston, Tex.

QUESTION: In a recent interview with MTV, fellow 311 member Chad Sexton compared the band to the Grateful Dead. Do you agree with him?

ANSWER: I think Chad would probably revise that statement a little bit. The comparison isn't quite right because we don't like 10-minute songs.

I'd say we're more like some classic rock band like Aerosmith or someone like that. We like to jam, but we're not the Dead.

Q: I think he might have been talking about the number of people who follow you guys on tour. What is it about 311 that attracts that type of loyal fan?

A: I think it's got a lot to do with our reputation for a good live show. The word spread, and people finally got around to checking us out.

We're extremely grateful, because we haven't put any new stuff out, and yet we're getting so many newcomers.

Q: The last few months have focused on the Summer Unity Tour, but in April you were able to celebrate 311 Day in New Orleans with the guys. What was it like to return to that city?

A: Yeah, it was our triumphant return to New Orleans. We had a whole lot of fans get together and do a kind of Habitat for Humanity thing, so it had that whole spirit of rebirth going along with a pretty wild party. It was sold out ... I think maybe 16,000 people, maybe more.

Q: Moving on to the new 311 album due out next year. What can you tell us about it?

A: Well, we were halfway done with the album when we decided to take a break and go on tour. That happened kind of by chance, (because) we're primarily a touring band, and the show must go on with our tour every summer.

But it turned out to be a real good choice, creatively, because we've had the chance to play live shows and interact with the fans directly. So we got the opportunity to decide how to augment the first half of the album and really round things out.

Q: So, stopping recording sessions to hit the road didn't disrupt the creative process?

A: No, it really was more of a thing like this is how we have to keep doing it.

We had basically finished the first half (of the album), so we were kind of finished with all of those good ideas and were ready for some new inspiration. It couldn't have been better for our planning.

Q: On one hand, 311 has sold over 8 million albums over the last 15 years. But the music industry has changed dramatically during that same period of time; has the band been forced to change its approach towards recording new material?

A: We're trying not to think about that too much. The head worries about what people are going to like, while the heart is about what moves us.

We just try to make music that we like. My philosophy is get our music into peoples' heads and the rest will take care of itself.

Q: It's an election year; four years ago, you were on the campaign trail in support of Sen. John Kerry. Will you do the same for Sen. Barack Obama in 2008?

A: No. I've just really simplified my life. I think I was used to taking on too many side projects, producing and political. Now, I'm just putting all efforts into this new album.

But, I've had a chance to meet Obama. He was so inspiring and friendly and down to earth ... it was a pretty powerful moment for me.

Q: Do you have any fond memories of performing in Hawaii?

A: The very first time I ever bleached my hair, Gwen Stefani did it for me when we were playing on a co-headlining bill (with No Doubt) on Oahu. That would have been like, 1995 or 1994.

We have very, very fond feelings for Hawaii, and we're kind of bummed that we can't get over there more often.

Q: Any final thoughts?

A: There's been such a renaissance in excitement and energy, so I'm excited to see what this new album's gonna bring. I really think we're catching our second wind as a band and we're ready to reach new heights.