For more than 30 years, Omaha rockers 311 have been a fixture on the alternative airwaves and renowned for their dynamic live shows. The band began life in 1988 and its current lineup – Nick Hexum (vocals/guitar), Chad Sexton (drums), Tim Mahoney (guitar), SA Martinez (vocals/DJ) and P-Nut (bass) – is strong. since then. about 31 years ago. Mixing heavy riffs with reggae flourishes, hip hop verses, funk breakdowns and a touch of multiple genres, the band’s musical influences are diverse and have resulted in chart-topping hits such as “Down”, “Amber”, “Come Original” and popular versions. of “Love Song” by The Cure.
2023 is as busy as ever for 311, as the group embarks on a fall tour with openers AWOLNATION, reissuing their debut album “Music” on vinyl, announced a new beer called Come Original India Pale Ale, and even released a TikTok -friendly sped-up version of “Amber.” As if that wasn’t enough, they plan to record a new album during a break from touring.
Hexum spoke to him from his studio about how the band was able to get their big break while embracing their unique style, how they keep things fresh in the studio and on the road, and what the new album will be about.
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311 that spans many genres. When you first got together, how did you come up with the combination of musical ingredients that worked?
My biggest heroes and influences were the bands that wanted to jump across genres, whether it was The Clash or The Beatles, and you could hear that they weren’t going to be put into any category . I always loved hearing “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da” and then they had gospel sounds. Or The Pit… “Sandinista!” it was so eclectic that you’d go to New Orleans for a song and they incorporated New York staples of rap and breakdancing, even though they were a punk band.
Then, when I heard what was going on in the late ’80s LA, which was Fishbone, Chili Peppers, Jane’s Addiction, I was like, “Wow, it can be done.” But of course, in the early ’90s, radio was watching. for the upcoming Nirvana and Pearl Jam and we had no contact with what was happening. We like it a little funkier. Grunge is cool, cool that you can be serious without resorting to hairspray and 80s metal. But I wanted to include hip hop as well. But he also wanted hip hop and reggae. We had the attitude that anything we liked could go into our music, why not? We’re already from Omaha, where there’s no set scene we have to fit into. We were creating our own scene.
Did you get advice from people in the sector at the beginning to narrow your path musically?
I remember a great A&R exec telling me, “You have to see Eddie Vedder, that’s what we’re looking for.” There are other bands doing the same thing as Pearl Jam, and we’re definitely not going to have that, so we’ll go somewhere else. So, we ended up signing with a basically southern rock label, Capricorn Records. But they had heard of us, they had a big distribution, they promised that they were going to put out our record, and they just wanted us to go on tour.
When was the first time you realized that the band was connected to the fans and could be successful?
In Omaha, our hometown, I would send the audience into a frenzy. We would play a place called the Ranch Bowl, on New Music Monday, and the place would be total chaos, there would be stage diving and a crazy mosh pit and everyone would take their clothes off. It was very hot, you sweated a lot and the capacity was excessive.
Then at the local record stores in Omaha – Homer’s and Pickles, they were called – I went and got a chart of their best selling records and we were outselling the biggest artists, which at the time were U2 and Michael Jackson . We had this little dot-matrix chart that I could send to record labels and say, “Look, this is what we can do here. I think we could do a lot.”
When the band gets together to create a song, do you write it first and choose the genre in which you want to express it, or do you start by saying “This next one is going to be a reggae jam” or “This song is really going to open the mosh pit.” “? How does that process work?
Sometimes I like to start with great concepts. Let’s do a song like “Beautiful Disaster,” which was the first song I wrote for “Transistor.” We toured with a group called The Urge, from Saint Louis, and they always had really nice horn lines. I said to myself: “I want to do one of those big intros, but instead of horns, we’ll have a lead guitar duel like Thin Lizzy”, but then I wanted to do reggae, and NOFX-style guitars too. the chorus, because then I listened a lot “Punk in Drublic”. At first, I was thinking generally before I got into the notes: “I want to combine The Urge with NOFX, and then throw in some dance beats.”
After 30 years of recording, how do you keep composing and recording fresh?
I think sometimes you prefer the critics, which we are not, can be harmful to a group, which begins to believe its own press. We always felt marginalized. We still think there’s a lot of territory, a lot of people to reach, a younger audience to reach. We are hungry, and now we have begun to say, “Wow, this is too late. Let’s go.” We are currently making new music. We are planning sessions to rehearse the new songs this summer and actually record them in August.
How do you manage to keep the spirit in the band during a long tour?
We prepare like athletes. I’ve learned to peak my energy at the time of day when I’m on stage, which means you don’t need a big meal beforehand. I get very hot. We are also practicing a lot. Sometimes we go on tour with other bands, we’ve just spent a week rehearsing, and the other band says, “We don’t even rehearse, we just show up and play.” We take it very seriously and we know we are there to serve. Not just to enjoy it, but to understand that these songs are part of people’s lives. We are there to enjoy a mini musical holiday for the public.
What’s the 311 formula for creating the perfect set list for the night?
We know that if we go too far into the brush, people will start looking around. You go back and forth between high and low energy, and between familiarity and darkness. We want to make sure the fans enjoy some “nugs” as we call them. But when I go to a concert, I want to hear well-known songs that have cultural significance, that is hits. It is a balance.
Also, since we’ve done so many tours, we know what the crowd will be like. If it’s a place where we’ve been playing for a long time, we know there’s going to be a bigger audience and we’re going to have deeper themes. But other times, if we play a place like SunFest in West Palm Beach, we know that there will be more passive fans, new fans and people who want to hear the lighter side, reggae and things like that. Every city has its atmosphere.
Is there a song over the years that has become huge or a fan favorite that blew up more than you expected?
The song “Applied Science” isn’t a “hit” at all, but we play it at every concert because it’s the song with the drum solo and the drum line where we all play the big drums with together. The concert is a highlight for us and the community, but it was not a success at all. Actually, it doesn’t even have a chorus, it’s just all those rap and reggae parts slapped together without any repetition. It’s definitely a surprise that we’ve been so successful.
On the other hand, is there a song or album that you think is a hidden gem that fans should know about?
In “Mosaic” there is a song called “Places That the Mind Goes”, which seems a bit “sleepy” to me and could be more than it was.
311 had such a stable level. How do you keep together?
First, you have to be willing to not get your way and respect democracy. I like the sentence that says: “We have two ears and one mouth, because we have to listen twice as much as we speak” We have to learn to listen to each other. I also think it’s important to keep an attitude of gratitude, to understand that together we are better than any of us could have done alone. When you start a group, the chances of it being a 33-year career are slim. Let’s take good care of her, because we are lucky to be here.
One thing that 311 fans often mention is that the band’s positive vibes have helped them through tough times. How are you able to bring hope to your music and performances?
There are people who say, “I love how positive you are,” and I say, “It’s really about fighting to stay positive,” but it’s not about toxic positivity, where you just say, “Everything has go well and I know. smile on my face no matter what,” and let you all take shit up. It’s about reaching out to people and telling them how you really feel, what’s really wrong with you and opening yourself up to getting support, asking for help, helping others , that kind of thing.
Also, in the early days of 311, I felt there was a lot of toxic negativity in these angry masculine, misogynistic whites of ours. I want to mock them with songs like “Misdirected Hostility” and “Hostile Apostle.” They are privileged kids from the suburbs… why are they angry? I didn’t have much contact with what was going on, but looking back, if you watch the Woodstock ’99 documentaries, this is what he was talking about: mindless anger, anger and entitlement. What are you writing about? Bottled water is too expensive. Especially in the 90s, when it was a very successful time… the Soviet Union had fallen and there were no real enemies, the economy was booming, but everyone is still very angry. I tried to get their attention. But still, everyone has stresses and pressures that we must continue to deal with. I think that’s what 311 is all about: it’s a community.
Earlier in the interview, he said that the group plans to record songs in August. What else can you reveal about the new album?
It wasn’t intended, but the first two songs I suggested and the first two songs Chad suggested were all low id, meaning the E string was connected to D for those heavy riffs. There is definitely some heaviness, big rock riffs. We’re spending a lot of time working on them as a band and making sure they’re perfect in the studio before we record them. We want it to be 311, but 311 on steroids. Better everything: better riffs, better lead line, better performances, new ingredients. We’re setting the bar really high and I think people are going to be excited when they hear it.