Friday, February 26, 2010

Breaking from routine energizes 311 (Columbian)

The band 311 made its fans wait a long time for a new CD, going four years between the 2005 CD, “Don’t Tread on Me” and its recently released album, “Uplifter.” But singer Nick Hexum says the long gap between albums was the best thing the group could have done for its music and its future.

“If you want to become a better musician, become a better person,” the singer/guitarist said. “I needed to go through a bit of personal growth.”

By the time touring behind “Don’t Tread on Me” wrapped up, the group felt as if it had been on the album-tour treadmill too long and hadn’t been able to step away from its work routine to experience everyday life.

So in 2006, the band decided to take a break that ended up stretching into 2007 when 311 regrouped for its Unity tour, which has become an annual summer event.

It was after that 2007 run of dates that 311 began work on “Uplifter.” By that time, it was clear that the group was coming into the project eager for musical exploration and willing to accept outside input.

“In retrospect ‘Don’t Tread on Me’ feels a little stagnant,” Hexum said. “We realized that it was time to shake things up. We didn’t want to just hurry and make another album. We wanted to really make sure we were taking a huge step forward, because it’s about quality, not quantity.”

Hexum said a key step in the process was choosing Bob Rock to produce the new CD.

Rock came into the project urging 311 to set aside any preconceived notions about its sound and how the group should write and record songs. Hexum said Rock suggested changes to song arrangements and helped 311 discover new ways to approach its sound.

“Invariably bands are going to get into certain sort of ruts and grooves,” Hexum said. “And he (Rock) came in and it was like, ‘I don’t care how you guys used to do things. Let’s try a new way.’”

To say that Hexum is excited about “Uplifter,” would be an understatement.

He said that in some respects, it recalls the more rap-rock oriented sound of early 311 albums like “Music” (1993) and “Grassroots” (1994). But at the same time, it’s also a guitar-oriented album with a definite rock dimension and lots of melody.

“It’s more danceable, but then there’s more heavy, and then there are these shredding guitar solos,” Hexum said. “Then there’s some kind of reggae grooves, even a little bit of world beat, something that we haven’t really messed around with much. But Bob turned us on to some North African guitar textures that make an interesting little appearance in the bridge of one song.”

The reggae-ish grooves work their way into songs like “Hey You” (the CD’s bouncy first single), while the band rocks out on “India Ink” and “Never Ending Summer.” The band puts a little funk into the relaxed rocker, “It’s Alright,” while “Golden Sunlight” is one of several songs that finds 311 venturing into sweetly lit pop territory.

Hexum is also confident that 311 — which also includes SA Martinez (vocals/deejay), Chad Sexton (drums), Tim Mahoney (guitar) and P-Nut (bass) — did some of its best songwriting on “Uplifter.”

“We have 12 songs on the album, and all of those feel like breakthroughs to us, where in the past we might have a few breakthroughs on an album, and then the other songs, we’d be like well that’s just kind of like business as usual,” Hexum said. “Well, now we’re at a place where we don’t accept business as usual.”

Fans can expect to hear some “Uplifter” songs on tour this winter and spring, although Hexum also said the group will include familiar songs from its back catalog and perhaps a few rarities.

“We know that these songs are really going to work live,” he said. “And because we took a break in the middle of the recording to tour … it injected the enthusiasm of the fans into our songwriting. That process made it so the second batch of songs, which all made the album, are very live and friendly.”

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Show Review: 311 at The Fox Oakland (Spinning Platters)

The first time I saw 311 was at the tender age of 18. I stood staring in awe outside at the Justin Herman Plaza at a band I had only ever seen on a TV screen back when MTV still called themselves “Music” Television. My first live show, for free, and they played for at least two hours. It was a show totally worth skipping my early morning chemistry lab for. I walked away with each band member’s autograph written in black Sharpie on my arms. I felt so cool at the time.

Seven years later I find that 311 can still rock my world.

Their sound is so distinctive and so very 311. For me, they represent a significant part of the sound that made up ’90s, and are severely underrated. The show tonight didn’t sell out, but like any good band that has been touring for the past two decades, they had a slew of dedicated fans wearing 311 t-shirts from past shows. All of them eager to relive the awesomeness that is 311 live.

They kicked off the show promptly at 9:35pm with the classic “Omaha Stylee,” filing the theatre with their personal brand of white-boy stoner reggae rock. Each time the lights dropped, a string of glowing lights would float on stage, emanating from P-nut’s bass. Throughout the set, each band member performed his respective trademark move, from Nick’s leg kicks, to SA’s head bobbing. Along with the quintessential drum solo, and the band drum-a-long. It’s my own personal belief that Chad Sexton has the fittest forearms in the business, and he must surely carry around some hand weights for strength conditioning.

The only thing that marred the show’s energy was the muddled sound that made it seem like I was watching the show behind a wall. But I was pleased with the band’s decision to not play too many new songs from their new album, Uplifter. I’m very partial to the classics.

The set list:

1. Omaha Stylee
2. All Mixed Up
3. Homebrew
4. India Ink
5. Come Original
6. 8:16 AM
7. From Chaos
8. Visit
9. 1, 2, 3
10. Applied Science
12. Flowing
Bass Solo
13. Nutsymtom
14. Amber
15. You Wouldn’t Believe
16. Mix It Up
17. Beautiful Disaster
18. Beyond the Gray Sky
19. Jackpot
20. Down

21. Creatures (For a While)
22. Fuck the Bullshit

311 is a band that has forged a symbiotic relationship with their fans over the years, and never fail to deliver exactly what they want.