Friday, May 29, 2009

Interview: 311 (ARTISTdirect)

"I'm just dying to hear what people think of Uplifter," exclaims 311 vocalist Nick Hexum with a smile.

It's been four years since 311's last offering, Don't Tread On Me, but Hexum has absolutely nothing to worry about. In fact, Uplifter may very well be 311's most epic record. It combines the soulful, lush melodies of From Chaos with Music's metallic bombast, and it paves the way for a very bright future for Omaha's finest funk-rock-soul collective. In fact, things in Nick's world are brighter than ever. He's got his first baby on the way, and Uplifter hits shelves on June 2nd. Plus, 311's once again headlining this summer's Unity tour. In between everything, Nick set aside some time to talk to about Uplifter, the cult of 311 and why Unity is the best word ever.

Uplifter feels like your most cinematic record. Would you say that's the case?

We did sort of let our emotions go and have more dramatic and lush arrangements with a lot of suggestions that Bob Rock would make. We had these keyboard days where we would come up with different sounds that you don't hear out front, but they add a big-ness to it.

It feels like 311's most epic record.

Yeah, even though I hate to say it, "Golden Sunlight" is the most like a power ballad. There's a spiritual feeling to it. "Epic" is the word that we felt when we finished it too.

Does anything go musically for 311?

The approach is creativity first. We try and keep the marketing element out of the studio and just do good work. That's all we know. We simply follow the muse wherever it may lead and leave the radio format or any of those concerns out of the studio. After we have that approach, then it's comfortable for us to have a song like "Too Much, Too Fast," which is really bouncy and fun, next to something super-heavy like "Something Out of Nothing," which is more the type of sound that Bob was going for.

The closing track, "My Heart Sings," basically sums up the album in terms of dynamics.

That's cool. I appreciate that. I've only read one review, and the guy was like, "That's a really weird way to close an album." [Laughs] It just felt right to us. We really tried to go with a feeling of following the emotions rather than saying, "What will people think?" We have to make a record from the heart. The title "My Heart Sings" came first after I wrote the riff. The music has such a lush feeling, like my heart is singing. I turned that into a chorus and a hook. Having the emotion lead the way is kind of a different approach for 311.

It seems like 311 has always been open to whatever inspiration comes though.

That's how we talk! We let the energy guide us and tell us what the music calls for rather than being all cerebral or thinking about what people will like. We just let our hearts go and follow the music wherever it leads us. In a time of more confidence, we went through a lot on this last album. We thought, "Okay, we don't need to rush out another album. We can keep touring in the summer and make a living off that because our touring business keeps getting bigger no matter how the last record did." We came from a position of confidence like, "We'll put out a record when we're good and ready. We just have to make sure it's great." Because of that confidence, we allowed ourselves to try new things and have a new approach and not be in any kind of rush. That's why it took those four years in between records, whereas maybe at other times we felt like we had to hurry and write a record. We didn't want to let the momentum go down. We kind of pushed out Don't Tread On Me too quickly because of those types of things. Coming from a position of confidence and peace within the band really translated in the music this time around.

311 has such a positive effect on everyone that's a 311 fan, and they're all true diehards.

I think that we got more in touch with that. 311 is more of a spiritual movement than just a band. Our fans see our band as something positive to believe in and as a refuge from all of the negativity and troubles in the world. We realize that we are that to a large number of our fans and became more comfortable with that. We're kind of a different entity [Laughs]. When we have our 3-11 day show, our fans completely take over New Orleans. You look around there and see that this is more of a movement. It's really an honor to be a part of that. Not to make that into a shameless plug, but it's really cool that the Road to 311 Day DVD, that comes with the album and shows all of our fans in this totally positive hysteria that takes over when we have our 3-11 day show, is a pretty amazing thing.

You give fans something to look forward to every summer, when you do your annual tour.

That's why I love calling the summer tour The Unity Tour. "Unity" is like the coolest word. It's always been associated with our band. It was an album before we got signed, and then it was a song. We're about bringing people together and unifying them through music, period. That's our mission, that's our message and that's what we do. Whether it's going to be this huge worldwide thing or more of a cult following, that's not up to us. We just know we're going to go out there and do our best.

Uplifter sonically feels like the culmination of everything from Music to From Chaos. All of these sounds swirl together, and in many ways it represents your whole career.

There's a turning of the page. I see that we're getting into this middle period. I feel like the band is working so well together that we can move into a really prolific time where I've already got ten new song ideas and this record isn't even out yet. I feel like there's a musical high going on. It's hard to describe. It feels like turning the page.

311 has more of a '60s or '70s vibe—you crank out records and tour. At this point, a lot of fans have even grown up with you.

It's a really cool thing to see that there are multiple generations of people coming to shows. People bring their kids to 311 shows. It goes along with the Unity idea. We're not only trying to have this certain small demographic of hip people, we want to have all walks of life. Being from Nebraska, we didn't have an elitist attitude that sometimes can make people jaded and whatnot. We're like, "The more, the merrier." It's really cool to hear stories about people that have grown up with our music or families that have 311 as a rallying point that they all like together. The record is an Uplifter. It's something positive. The lyrics say, "I need an uplift myself," and we want the record to be an uplift. Whether or not it's going to be this huge uplifting thing for a lot of people or a cult thing is really out of our hands. All we know is that we're going to sing our asses off on stage.

What's next for you guys? Are you constantly creating?

The summer tour is definitely always a highlight for us. Rain or shine, we'll tour every summer. We booked the summer tour a little bit earlier this year because I'm expecting my first child in August, so the Unity tour is coming a little earlier. It's going to be an awesome time. I Twittered about this the other day. I'm often in awe that I get to do this for a living. It's something we would do as a hobby for fun anyway. We're very blessed.

Well, music is something you need to do.

That need for self-expression. We're expressing what people feel as well. Somebody pointed out to me that the point of a relationship is to relate. Humans need to hear other people that they can relate with and have similar thoughts and feelings. When you can provide that through art, when people say, "That's the same way I feel," then that's a masterpiece. The more honest we get with what's going on in our hearts, the more people connect with it and feel it.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

311 Frontman Nick Hexum: ‘The ES-137 Is The Best Gibson There Is’ (Gibson)

311 is less of a band and more of an institution. Throughout its career, this pioneering musical act has incorporated elements of rock, funk, rap and reggae into a style that’s instantly recognizable. Oh, and did we mention they’ve been able to do that regardless of what musical trend was popular at the time?

On June 2, 311 will release its ninth studio full-length, Uplifter, which was produced by Bob Rock (Metallica, Bon Jovi) and is its first collection of new songs since 2005’s Don’t Tread On Me. caught up with the band’s frontman Nick Hexum to get an exclusive preview of the disc, find out how his band has managed to remain relevant and get advice on how your band can experience the same longevity that 311 have enjoyed for nearly two decades.

What are your favorite Gibson guitars?
Oh, there are so many. I’ve always been a Les Paul guy but over the past four years the ES-137 has become my guitar of choice. There’s just something about its versatility, tone and the look of it. I’ve got a Sunburst one and a Blueburst one and I remember talking to one of the guys at Gibson once and I was like, “This is in my opinion the best Gibson there is” and he said, “You know what? No one else has embraced it is as much as you have — and it’s an underappreciated guitar for how great it is.” I took that as a big compliment.

It’s been four years between albums for you, which isn’t a long time for most bands but is the largest gap in 311’s history. Why was there a longer break this time around?
We felt like we turned around our previous album Don’t Tread On Me really fast because we wanted to get the record ready for the next touring season — and once it was out we realized we didn't spend enough time at the drawing board to make sure we were taking a big step forward. So on this record we really wanted to get rid of our old ways and bring in Bob Rock to shake things up. That’s really what he’s known for as a producer.

Had you ever worked with a producer as hands-on as Bob Rock?
No, we hadn’t worked with a producer that had been so hands-on and now we’d never go back. I kind of crave that kind of involvement in the roadmaps of the songs and the vocals and tone. We’ve had good engineers that captured what we were doing on our own but Bob was like, “Okay, that was pretty cool but let’s try it this way.” He became a sixth member of the band. He’s a total gentleman and through all the weird stuff that went down with Metallica he learned how to communicate really well in a constructive kind of way. I can’t wait to work with him again; he’s just a total badass.

Are there any songs on Uplifter that you think might surprise hardcore 311 fans?
Yes, there’s so much diversity. One of the styles that we coined was “danceable rock”: music that has a heavy groove that could be right for the dance floor and right for the mosh pit — and there are three or four songs that have that style. There’s a dancey Britpop song I’m really proud of and there’s also that traditional romantic reggae that I think is taken to a whole new level with ambient production. The guitar solos are sick and I think me and [Tim] Mahoney really raised the bar in that department. The first single is called “Hey You,” and it’s a love song to music itself. It’s about music’s power to take you to different places and be source of solace. I’ve had my life saved by music and I think a lot of people can relate to that.

How do you think that 311 has managed to remain relevant for the past two decades?
There’s always been a grassroots attitude about us, even though we’ve been on a major label. We make the focus of our career the musicianship; it’s not some stunt that we pull. We’re musicians and we put our energy into putting on great performances and making really good albums and that work ethic and dedication shows in our live shows. We’re also very grateful; a lot of bands when they get a certain amount of success they get a sense of entitlement and ego and they break up because they think they can do better on their own. We still think we have an amazing lineup of five guys; it’s not about how many records you sell, it’s about how many years you get to do something you love — so now that we’re at 19 years we feel like we’re living the dream and we couldn’t be happier about it.

What would you say to younger bands who aspire to have that kind of a longevity?
I would tell them to practice their instruments because if you base your career on more superficial things it’s a shaky foundation and you end up getting top heavy and falling over. I think that’s what happened to a lot of the other rap rock bands who we probably paved the way for in the mid-’90s. They got bigger than us and then they fell apart because they didn’t have enough focus on their musicianship. I’m 38-years-old and I still take guitar lessons; people need to understand that music is a never-ending journey and you never stop being teachable.

Like you just said, 311 paved your way for a lot of rap rock bands but it seems like you’ve transcended that scene. Where do you feel like 311 fit in these days?
I think we fall under the umbrella of modern rock music, but we don’t put it squarely into any kind of scene because we started our own unique way and just stuck to it. If you look at any innovative band that’s what they did: When R.E.M. or U2 came out they toiled in the underground until the mainstream came to them — and that’s what happened to us in the nineties. It’s funny, you’ll see ads for people in the newspaper who want to get bands together and they’re like, “I like rock, metal, hip hop and 311” as if we’re a category. I think that’s something that’s really cool.

Could you tell us a little bit about the Unity Tour this year?
Unity is the coolest word and it’s something our fans associated with us because it’s the name of one of our independent albums and it’s a song that’s kind of a live anthem — and that’s what 311 is about, people coming together who share a more positive outlook. The tour definitely a party atmosphere and we’ve had everyone from Snoop Dogg to OAR join us in the past. This year we have Ziggy Marley, which will be awesome. We’re also looking to turn it into more of a festival and expand it even more by 2010. Our fans tell us that it’s like a holiday when 311 comes to town and the Unity Tour is an event, so people are going to come every year no matter who’s on the lineup. It just happened to evolve in a really cool way.

Is it weird to see your fans growing up and bringing their kids to shows or is that validating for you as musician?
I think it’s the coolest thing when people bring their children — and I think our music lends ourselves to that because we’re not like “nobody understands us.” What I mean is that there isn’t necessarily a huge generation gap between our listeners. Every generation from here on out will love the Beatles, so there’s no reason that your music has to be something your parents hate. 311 has always been unifying. So when I hear that people say “Amber” was their wedding song or that families are being built around our music, that’s cooler than selling records. It’s an amazing feeling.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

311's big hit is 'Down' but band wants to be 'Uplifter' at Birmingham's Crawfish Boil

Talk to Tim Mahoney of 311, and it's no surprise that his band is calling its new CD "Uplifter."

Mahoney is just, well, so nice and cheerful. So unruffled. So upbeat.

The rap-rock group from Nebraska has made positivity its official stance from the start, and now, 19 years and 14 records later, 311 still is sending out good vibrations to listeners.

"Music is an uplifter for all of us in the band," Mahoney says during a phone interview. "One of our managers is responsible for that title, but when we heard it, it seemed to fit."

These five players -- guitarist Mahoney, singer-guitarist Nick Hexum, bassist Aaron "P-Nut" Wills, drummer Chad Sexton and singer-DJ Douglas "SA" Martinez -- hit their stride in the mid-'90s with smash singles such as "Down," "All Mixed Up" and "Beautiful Disaster."

Although part of the nu-metal craze, 311 distinguished itself by avoiding the dark side and opting for reggae rhythms and funk grooves instead of grunge and sludge. (An appreciation for recreational marijuana use was part of the lyrical aesthetic, but as Martinez once said, 311 declined to be pigeonholed as "happy stoners.")

The energetic force of their live shows, including several dates in Birmingham, helped to develop a devoted fan base. And, after nu-metal hit its peak and public attention moved to other trends, the core of 311's fans stuck around.

The band never stopped touring, although it did pull back some, and has drawn thousands to its 311 Day music marathons, held every other year on March 11 in New Orleans.

On Saturday, 311 returns here for a headlining set at the Schaeffer Eye Center Crawfish Boil with all key members intact, not to mention that buoyant attitude.

"For me, personally, I'm happier now than I've ever been playing music," Mahoney says. "I think we've grown as a unit. We're democratic, and we enjoy that. We enjoy each other's company."

Faithful admirers also have reason to be happy: "Uplifter," set for a June 2 release, is the group's first studio recording in four years.

Breaking with tradition, 311 opted to work with producer Bob Rock (Metallica, Motley Crue, The Offspring) instead of longtime collaborator Ron Saint Germain.

"We love Ron; he's a good guy and a great friend. But we've done so many records together, and we wanted to try something new and fresh," Mahoney says. "I think he got the most out of us, as far as potential goes, and I think the songs will show it."

Their sessions at The Hive, 311's studio in Omaha, resulted in songs such as "Hey You" (the first single), "Golden Sunlight," "India Ink" and "Two Drops in the Ocean." Mahoney says Rock assumed a "classic producer" role, focusing on ideas and arrangements for material the band had written beforehand.

Rock mixed the songs at his home studio in Maui, Hawaii, while the band remained stateside.

"I think he didn't want a bunch of weirdos coming over there," Mahoney says, laughing. "Typically, we'd be part of that, but it was kind of nice to let it go and trust him. Maybe on the next record, we'll do some pre-production there."

Festivalgoers at the Crawfish Boil can expect to hear a couple of selections from "Uplifter" at 311's set, along with "Down" and other radio hits. The band also has dug into its stash, he says, and worked up a live version of "Crack the Code," a track from 2003's "Evolver."

Anyone who witnessed 311's previous concerts in Birmingham knows that Mahoney and his colleagues literally threw their bodies into the music, punctuating the songs like physical exclamation marks. Is that still the norm?

"Mentally, it is," Mahoney says. "We're older now, so I think that comes into play. But head-banging and stuff just happens. It takes about a week or two to get your gig neck back."

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

311 Returns with New Music Video and Album (InternetDJ)

311 has released their new music video for new track “Hey You”. The single is reminiscent of their 90s reggae-gunk roots combined with some heavy guitar. The video was directed by Joe Lynch (Pete Yorn, Godhead, the original Toxic Avenger).

"Hey You" is the first single from 311's new album "Uplifter" out June 2nd, 2009 on Jive Records. The group is planning a summer tour ("Unity Your 2009") to promote the album alongside Ziggy Marley and The Expendables on June 5th.

Uplifter is 311's ninth studio album. Previously 311 have released five Gold, one Platinum, and one Triple-Platinum-certified albums, a live album and three DVD's (one Gold, two Platinum-certified). Five of their releases have reached the Top 10 on Billboard's Top 200 Album Charts. Six singles have gone into the Top 10 on Billboard's Modern Rock Chart including the #1 hits "Down," "Love Song," and "Don’t Tread On Me." To date band has sold over 8 million units in the U.S.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Cover Story: 311's Musical Roots (Bakotopia)

311 are a long way from Omaha, Nebraska.

The hugely popular reggae rock quintet of: Nick Hexum - vocals, Doug “S.A.” Martinez - vocals / DJ, Aaron “P-Nut” Wills - bass, Tim Mahoney - guitar, and Chad Sexton - drums, have become synonymous with summer parties since they left the farm to re-plant their roots firmly into California soil and beaches back in ‘92.

Returning to rock Bakersfield on Wednesday, June 3, at the Bakersfield Fox, at 8 p.m., the band is primed for a big return to radio and more importantly - house parties across the country.

Most fans might recall an introduction to 311’s music with the band’s self-titled ‘95 breakout CD, aka the “Blue” album and hits like “Down” and “All Mixed Up.” That disc would open the floodgates for the endless 311 summer.

Consistently kicking out hit after hit for loyal audiences from Cali to Maine, 331 is a “fan’s band”, staying on the radar with original music, plus the occasional cover tune. Their version of The Cure’s “Love Song” recorded for the Adam Sandler ‘04 comedy, “50 First Dates,” became an instant hit on both radio and MTV.

Now celebrating more than 20 years together, and an impressive recording catalog (9 studio albums, one live recording,) the band is ready to unleash their 11th full-length CD on June 2. Titled, “Uplifter,” the band is confident about another big year.

Bakotopia spoke with 311’s Martinez, 39, via-telephone from his SoCal home for a look back at the band’s early days, and the importance of staying true to your roots.

When I first discovered 311 with “Grassroots” in ‘94, I immediately assumed you were a California band stylistically, not from Nebraska. What’s the Omaha music scene like?

M: When we were starting in Omaha, in the early ‘90s, there was a really vibrant scene happening. We were one of about a dozen bands making some local waves. There was a friendly atmosphere of “one-upmanship,” trying to have the best show possible and bringing in the most people.

Back then, the Internet really wasn’t around, and there weren’t any social networking sites around. I’m sure there were a lot of scenes happening like that around the country, but Omaha was cool, and had great places to play at. We even created spaces to play at - there’s a lot of farms in Nebraska where you can set-up and have a nice party.

What were those early days like - moving to LA, the struggles, and then the fame - 311 is one of the hottest band’s around?

M: It was an interesting process. After we had just moved to LA in ‘92, we started going to the clubs there and got exposed to a lot of the cool dancehall (reggae music’) and hip-hop that was coming out and really taking to that.

We moved into one house, having never lived together up to that point, then we’re thrust all together into one space.

We had a ritual everyday where we were practicing at noon for an hour everyday. We got gigs around LA. At the same time, we were nurturing this relationship we were having with a few labels to get signed. We landed our record deal in February of ‘92, and our record came out in ‘93. So there was a lot going on at that point.

Looking back, we didn't “blow-up” or have a huge single at all from the first record. So that really allowed us to tour around and just gather a following based off of the live show. People wanted to see us through word of mouth and not through something that they’d been hearing on the radio a billion times. So, we were lucky in that sense - it was a real natural growth period for a new band.

311’s music embodies the whole “California” vibe, laid back, attitude.

M: Yeah, especially when you look back at all of our early influences - Fishbone, the Chili Peppers, and a lot of the punk bands from SoCal, went into the aesthetic of what made 311. Moving here definitely shaped us in different ways, then had we stayed in Omaha or have gone east. Different sensibilities, musically, it just feels better. I’ll take Southern California any day over Omaha. (laughs)

What’s a 311 writing session like?

M: There’s some collaboration, and individual songwriting. But at the end of the day, everyone adds their own element to a song. Everyone’s got an unmistakably distinct flavor, and that’s what really makes great bands. It’s a combination of great talent and trying things out and common ground to agree - great communication.

How has the band adjusted to a different music industry & economy, compared to the “Blue” album period of ‘95?

M: For us, over time it’s only gotten better. We have a new album coming out, and it’s deepening our catalog right there. Our catalog is deep to begin with.

In ‘96, ‘97, I remember listening to some radio shows online and I though that was cool. That was a different time period - before big Internet impact on sales of records and just presence online anyway. Literally baby stages, there wasn’t YouTube, etc…

Even with travelling. Just today we were talking about, “What would life be without our laptops, and cell phones, on the road?”

Back then, once you got to the venue, you immediately went to the production office because they had the phone there. We used to cram around the phone. cell phones were around, but they were prevalent. Now, they’re everywhere. There’s so much that has blown up. It’s a whole new world.

Tell us about the new 311 album coming out on June 2?

M: Working with producer Bob Rock (Metallica, The Offspring), has given new life to the band.

The other day I was listening to some of the other records. I hadn’t listened to ‘93s “Music” in awhile. Production on that is freaking awesome. Our first producer Eddie Offord, did the classic YES albums and what not, but it was like old school ways of doing things in the studio.

Fast forward from ‘92-93 to now, and here we have Bob Rock, esteemed producer in his own right, and what he’s done with us is to me some of our best work on record since ‘93-’93! (laughs)

I think “Music” is our best sounding record. I love all of our albums, but that one to me has always set the bar. Before, when you mixed records, you weren’t mixing for your iPod. It's a different era. Overtime music has gotten squashed - the files … there was different compression used back then and records sounded different. In this era, Bob Rock has really made this music just pop, big time.

Do you prefer analog recording over digital?

M: I love the way analog albums sound, but if someone in this day and age can make records sound great using production methods that are now prevalent, then great.

There’s definitely the signature 311 sound on this record, but it just might be our level of ease or comfort with one another. There is a difference in sound for sure, but I can’t seem to put it into words.

Our fans are not going to be disappointed. If this album is not included in top-3 fan favorites of all-time, I’ll be surprised. It’s a strong record.

What are the forces that keep 311 going?

M: What keeps a band like us together is that it’s about the music. There are a lot of great things in life that I love, but music is probably at the top in my book. And that’s the way it is in the band. Music is a big part of our lives, and that’s why we love it, and that why people come to see us and why we love going to shows and the music we like hearing. It has that kind of impact on our lives - those vibrations, those sounds. It's nothing you can hold tangibly, but it does touch your soul in a deep, deep, way. If it comes to a point where it's not about the music, then the band's over (laughs.)

Some bands just aren’t working at this level anymore. We’ve been blessed with a great fan base that supports us and we have a great time doing what we do and understand the meaning behind it, and why it’s important.

We got music and we got Mexican food. That’s me man. That’s my life and I love it like that. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

I have a funny “small world” moment to tell you about. I sat right next to you and your guitarist Tim Mahoney at the Jane's Addiction “Relapse Tour” show, at the Olympic in LA in ‘97.

M: No way! I totally remember that show!

What can Bakersfield fans expect from your show on June 3?

M: We’re gonna bring it like we always bring it, playing the songs people have come to hear, and it’s gonna be a big party. Everyone who comes out in Bakersfield is gonna enjoy it too.

BAKOTOPIA welcomes...
311 - Live!
Wednesday, June 3, 2009
Fox Theater, 2001 H St.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

311 - Hey You Video (Right On Music)

The 311 Hey You video is in support of the lead single of the Uplifter album, which will be released on June 2, 2009 (Volcano Records). Uplifter was produced by Bob Rock who has done production for several bands including Bon Jovi, Metallica, and Mötley Crüe. The 311 Hey You lyrics and music were written by the band.

311 is a rap and reggae influenced alternative rock band from Omaha, Nebraska and dates back to the early 1990s. The band is comprised of Nick Hexum, S. A. Martinez, Aaron “P-Nut” Wills, Tim Mahoney and Chad Sexton.

In an interview, bassist Aaron Willis discussed the band’s four year hiatus from recording an album. Previous albums have included Music and Grassroots.

“We are five really creative people. We are not all as tenacious as each other, and we needed to step back and try to make our music more of a conversation rather than a one-sided monologue.”

He went on to say that the band did not seriously consider breaking up, but said that among band members there was “definitely poor communication” after they had recorded their prior album, Evolver, which was released in 2003 and throughout their tour in support of the Don’t Tread on Me album.

“I think that situation was as close to [breaking up] as we’ll ever let it get again,” said Wills, 34. “It isn’t the easiest thing to be creative in a group environment, but we have really used this situation as a creative launch pad.”

311 will tour in support of the Uplifter album on the 2009 311 Summer Unit Tour. Touring with 311 will be Grammy-winning reggae artist Ziggy Marley, son of late reggae legend Bob Marley. Ziggy Marley has just released his third solo album, ‘Family Time.’

The 25-city summer tour kicks off on June 5, 2009 in Santa Barbara, California. See 311 tour dates below, as reported by the band’s official Web site

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

311's Uplifter: A Nick Hexum Interview (myMag)

“You’ve changed your tune many times, since we met/ But I always recognize you, you are a part of me…” The opening lyrics of “Hey You” off of 311’s new album, Uplifter, could easily describe how any longtime fan feels about the band that is constantly mixing things up. Over their nine album career, 311 have managed to marry rock, reggae, funk and even metal into a sound that can only be identified as their own. myMag had the opportunity to catch up with 311 frontman Nick Hexum to talk about his new album and his new outlook on life.

Uplifter is your ninth studio album, and 311’s first in four years. You’ve said that working with producer Bob Rock has made this record your heaviest work to date, can you expand on that?
I have to quantify that because there’s a new type of heaviness, but there’s also some of the most beautiful, heartfelt “Amber”-esque love songs. Bob lives in Maui, where our reggae plays quite a bit. So that’s the first thing that he loved about us. He was like, “I don’t want to change 311. I just want to bring out the best in 311.”

What propelled you towards this new direction?
Considering that we’re 19 years in as a band, naturally certain patterns appear - some might say a rut developed. Bob has a very strong personality. He’ll come in and say, “That’s great that you guys used to do it this way, but we’re going to try to do it a totally different way.” He really just shook things up in a way that we needed.

Did you retreat to your private island of Melody Key to get into the headspace for this album?
Yes, I did. For me, retreating to nature is very inspiring. I’m not the type of person that can write well when I’m in a bad place. I went down to Florida by myself with my dogs and I’d write a song a day. That was very helpful in the latter half of the album.

The subject matter is fairly autobiographical. There are love songs; there are songs about struggling with different issues; there are songs that talk about what it’s like being in a band. It’s a very honest album. That’s what I always strive for, revealing myself.

What inspired the lyrics to your single “Hey You”?
That song is a love song to music. It’s talking about how music has been a good friend of mine, seeing me through good times and bad times. You know, I’ve been through some crazy stuff. My love of music has always been the first thing to pull me through it.

Have certain bands helped more than others?
I go through a lot of really rapid phases. I’ll go through a hip-hop revival where I’ll start finding out about all different facets of rap. A few years ago, I was all about underground power-pop like Jason Faulkner and Brendon Benson and The Raconteurs. Then I went through a bluegrass phase where I was checking out The Avett Brothers and Nickle Creek.

Every time I read an interview and talk about what music I’m into, I’m in such a different place. That’s the great thing about music: it’s a never-ending journey. You’ll never be done, you’ll never master it. There’s always more stuff to explore. Lately, I’ve been in a metal phase. I’ve been jamming to new Slipknot and Lamb of God.

Speaking of metal, you’re playing with Theory of a Deadman tonight. How’s your spring tour going? Oh, it’s been awesome so far. We’ve gotten to play a lot of different places we don’t always play. Like this amphitheater today, Orange Beach Alabama, I had no idea there was even an amphitheater down here or a beach for that matter.

Does the band have any good luck rituals before you hit the stage?
We always kind of stack our hands in the middle. We usually say something funny if there’s some kind of running joke. Whatever it may be, it may be a reference to the food we ate that night or some weird characters we met. We always have a lot of humor on tour.

This year you also have another Unity Tour. I actually caught you guys last year in Philly with Snoop Dogg, which was incredible. Have you kept in touch with Snoop since then?
No. Snoop kind of leads a different life. He’s just the nicest guy. Whenever he’d see me he’d be like, “Slick Nick.” That was a really great experience. Ziggy Marley on this year’s Unity Tour is going to be awesome as well. He always puts on a great show, and he’s a really great guy.

Just that man’s bloodline alone, wow. Can your fans look forward to some of those drum jam sessions this year?
Yeah, it’s become a part of the show. It’s a nice little break to put down the guitar and get to go just beat on the drums. That’s the fun part, and it breaks up the show into two halves. That’s definitely a staple of our shows that I really look forward to.
Now, some congratulations are also in order. I heard that your wife is pregnant. It’s definitely very exciting for the 311 community to hear that there’s going to be a little Hexum rocking out soon enough.
[Laughs] Thank you.

Do you think that being a father is going to change you as a musician?
I’m sure it’ll influence me in ways that I can’t even anticipate. I’m just so excited about it. It’s something that I’ve been wanting to do for a good while. You know now, finding the person that I want to do it with is just an awesome blessing.

I don’t think it will affect the actual touring schedule because we tour in a comfortable way, so I’ll be able to spend as much time with family as I need to. Being in a band is hard work sometimes, but you actually have more free time than other jobs. So, I’m sure I’ll be able to manage it.

With so much going on in your life between your music and your family, how do you manage it all?
It’s fun to collaborate with other bands, but I was getting a little too busy and I’ve decided to simplify my life. One way it was explained to me was to take the top 10 priorities of your life and drop the bottom seven. We live in a day and age where we just clutter up our lives so much. I’ve been in a simplifying phase where I just like being in 311, being healthy and having time for a family.

Is there any kind of motto that you live your life by?
I’d say Henry David Thoreau’s book Walden really spoke to me. He said, “Simplify, simplify, simplify.”

311 album “Uplifter” out June 2 (HIP Online)

311′s new album Uplifter hits stores June 2! Uplifter, produced by Bob Rock (Metallica, Simple Plan, Veruca Salt), features 12 new songs, including the hit single “Hey You”, which is currently #3 at Alternative Radio and playing on radio stations nationwide! Tune in to catch the band perform on Jimmy Kimmel on June 4th & don’t miss the band on tour this Summer. 311 is currently wrapping up a Spring tour and will get right back on the road to kick off the Summer Unity Tour with Ziggy Marley and The Expendables on June 5th.

Fans can now pre-order Uplifter at the link below. Every pre-order automatically enters you into a contest. Winners will be randomly selected for an autographed guitar, side-stage passes, meet and greet passes, photo passes, soundcheck passes, handwritten lyrics and autographed prize packs!
Uplifter will be available in Standard, Deluxe and Vinyl editions:
– The Standard Edition features 12 new songs.
– The Deluxe Edition is a CD / DVD combo featuring 14 new songs, including 2 new
BONUS SONGS, plus a BONUS DVD with the 83 minute documentary “The Road to
311 Day.” The DVD documentary follows the band & their fans for the week leading
up to the 3-11 Day ’08 show in New Orleans. It includes exclusive behind the scenes
footage, interviews & live performance footage from the 3-11 Day Concert.
– The Vinyl Edition features 12 new songs in double-gatefold package with special
etched vinyl.

Uplifter pre-order link:

05/05 Asheville, NC Orange Peel
05/07 Bossier City, LA Riverdome at Harrah’s Casino
05/08 Orange Beach, AL Amphitheatre at the Wharf
05/12 Austin, TX Music Hall
05/14 Tulsa, OK Cains Ballroom
05/15 Springfield, MO Shrine Mosque

06/05 Santa Barbara, CA Santa Barbara Bowl
06/07 Eugene, WA Cuthbert Ampitheatre
06/08 Seattle, WA WaMu Theatre
06/11 Salt Lake City, UT Usana Amphitheatre
06/12 Denver, CO Red Rocks Amphitheatre
06/14 Chicago, IL Charter One Pavilion
06/16 Cleveland, OH Time Warner Amphitheatre
06/17 Columbus, OH Lifestyles Communities Pavilion
06/19 Detroit, MI Freedom Hill
06/20 Cincinatti, OH Riverbend Amphitheatre
06/21 Indianapolis, IN The Lawns
06/23 Saratoga, NY SPAC
06/24 Boston, MA Comcast Center
06/25 New York, NY Central Park Summerstage
06/27 Holmdel, NJ PNC Bank Art Center
06/28 Washington DC Nissan Pavilion
06/30 Philadelphia, PA Penns Landing
07/01 Virginia Beach, VA Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre
07/03 Charlotte, NC Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre
07/04 Atlanta, GA Lakewood Amphitheatre
07/05 Raleigh, NC Walnut Creek Amphitheatre
07/07 St. Louis, MO Verizon Amphitheatre
07/10 Phoenix, AZ Dodge Theatre
07/11 San Diego, CA Cricket Wireless Amphitheatre
07/12 Irvine, CA Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre

Monday, May 4, 2009

311 keeps it positive on the road (SoundSpike)

From inception, 311 has stressed a positive vibe in its music and attitude, right down to the name of the group's summer festival: the Unity Tour, which officially launches June 5 in Santa Barbara, CA.

"Unity is the coolest word," guitarist/vocalist Nick Hexum said from a recent spring headlining stop in Charleston, SC. "It's always been associated with our band. It's an old-school live anthem of ours, it's also the band that [guitarist] Tim [Mahoney], [drummer] Chad [Sexton] and I had before 311, and it became the name of one of our pre-major-label albums. The idea to do the tour was something that I suggested: 'Let's try to brand our own festival.' Even though it's not a full-on festival as of yet, we're definitely taking it in that direction. It gets bigger and bigger each year, and I think we're going to make a leap in 2010 to make it more of a full-day event."

It's not the first time that the Omaha, NE, quintet--Hexum, Mahoney, Sexton, bassist P-Nut, and DJ/vocalist S.A. Martinez--has made a special event out of its gigs. In 2000, they started 311 Day, a bi-annual March 11th event during which the band plays a special extended concert ("in the neighborhood of 65 songs") for loyal fans that make the journey to New Orleans.

"311 Day evolved out of where people used to speculate where our name came from," Hexum explains, "because, at first, we didn't tell everybody that it was the police code for indecent exposure. So some people thought that March 11 must be a special day, and we thought, ‘We should make this into our own holiday.' The first one was in New Orleans kind of by chance, that's where we happened to be playing. Then we realized, 311 Day is going to be something where we're going to play a really long set and make it into a huge event, something people are going to want to travel to, so we thought it was the perfect destination. I don't know a lot of bands that have their own holiday."

On June 2, the group is set to release its ninth studio album, "Uplifter," which was produced by Bob Rock. With his heavy pedigree (Metallica, Motley Crue), you might think the musical focus was pushed in a louder direction. "It evolved that way, but it wasn't pushed. Early on, there was a batch of songs where we thought, 'This is going to be our most heavy album to date.' He loved our reggae stuff, but we found a way to merge the heavy side with the funky reggae side, which I think 'Hey You' does pretty well. I realized after we were done that not a lot of bands can get away with putting this many styles on an album."

The glass-half-full thankfulness has permeated the group's history, and when asked how they stay so positive through the shifting minefield that is the music industry, Hexum answers the question with another question: how could they not?

"We've gotten to do something that we would do anyway as a hobby--for a living--for so many years. There are too many musicians and artists that take it for granted and lose sight of what a privilege it is. I think it's just a choice. Life is a lot more enjoyable when you make a choice to be optimistic. It doesn't mean we don't have bad days and regular problems that anyone else has, but we just choose to focus on the positive."