Omaha rockers for over 30 years 311 became a fixture in the alternative airwaves and is known for its dynamic live shows. The group started in 1988 and their current lineup is — nick hexum (vocals/guitar), Chad Sexton (drums), Tim Mahoney (guitar), SA Martinez (vocals/DJ), and P-Nut (bass) — solid for nearly 31 years. Blending heavy riffs with reggae embellishments, hip hop strings, funk breaks and playing in countless genres, the band’s musical influences are varied and include “Down”, “Amber”, “Come Original” and a cover of the popular Cure’s “Love Song”.
2023 is as busy as ever for 311, the band is embarking on a fall tour with their AWOLNATION opening, re-releasing their debut album “Music” on vinyl, announcing a new beer called Come Original India Pale Ale, and even releasing a TikTok-friendly album. An accelerated version of “Amber”. As if that wasn’t enough, they are planning to record a new album when they take a break from the tour.
spoke to Hexum Variation He talked about how the band was able to achieve a big break while adopting their unique style, how they keep everything fresh in the studio and on the road, and how the new album will sound from his studio.
311 embraces many species. When you first got together, how did you determine the mix of musical components that worked?
My biggest heroes and influences were groups that were brave about genre jumping, and you could hear that they wouldn’t be crammed into any one category, whether it was The Clash or The Beatles. I’ve always loved that you can hear the words “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da” followed by gospel sounds. Or Conflict… “Sandinista!” It was so eclectic for you to go to New Orleans for a song that even though they’re a punk band, they include New York rap and breakdancing basics.
Then, when I heard what was going on in Los Angeles in the late ’80s, namely Fishbone, Hot Pepper, Jane’s Addiction, I was like, “Wow, you can do it.” cualquier cosa” But of course in the early ’90s radio was looking for the next Nirvana and Pearl Jam and we just couldn’t keep up with what was going on. We like a little more funky. Grunge is great – great that you can gain weight without the big hairspray and the metal thing that was in the ’80s. But I also wanted hip hop and reggae there. We had an attitude that everything we loved could be in our music, because why not? We are from Omaha where there is no established scene to which we must adapt. We were making our own new scene.
Did you initially seek advice from people in the industry to narrow your lane musically?
I remember a great A&R executive and said, “You should watch Eddie Vedder because that’s what we’re really looking for.” This didn’t help at all. Other bands are doing the Pearl Jam thing and it’s definitely not going to be us, so we’ll go elsewhere. Then we were signed to Capricorn Records, which is basically a Southern rock label. But they heard something about us, they had big distributions, they assured us they’d release our record, and they just wanted us to go on tour.
When did you first realize that the group was connecting with fans and could be successful?
In our hometown of Omaha, we drove the crowds wildly insane. We were playing at this place called Ranch Bowl and we were going to do New Music on Mondays and the place was going to be a total mess, there would be stage diving and a crazy moss pit and everyone was taking off their clothes. He was very hot, sweaty and well above his capacity.
Then I went to local record stores in Omaha — called Homer’s and Pickles — and I got the bestseller list, and we were outpacing the biggest artists at the time, which were U2 and Michael Jackson. I could send it to the record companies and say, “Look, this is what we can do here. I think on a broader basis we can really achieve this.
When the band gets together to create a song, do you write it first and choose the genre you want to express it in, or do you start by saying “This next song will be a reggae jam” or “This song will really open up a lot”? moss pit.” How does this process work?
Sometimes I like to start with flashy concepts. Take a song like “Beautiful Disaster,” which was the first song I wrote for “Transistor.” We were touring with a band from Saint Louis called The Urge and they always had some really cool, detailed horn lines. “I’d like to have one of these big inlets, but instead of horns, we’ll have dueling lead guitars like Thin Lizzy.” But then I wanted to go reggae and have NOFX style guitars in the choirs since I was listening to “Punk in Drublic” a lot back then. At first, I was thinking in really broad strokes before I even got into the notes. “I want to combine The Urge with NOFX and then have some dancehall beats in there.”
After 30 years of recording, how do you keep everything fresh when writing and recording?
I think sometimes being critical lovers, which we are not, can sometimes hurt a group they’ve come to believe in their own press. We have always had a feeling of oppressed, alienation. We still feel like there are many areas to reach, many people to reach, younger audiences to reach. We’re hungry, and now we’re starting to say, “Wow, that’s late.” Let’s go.” We’re making new music right now. We have sessions planned this summer to rehearse new tunes and actually record them in August.
How can you keep things upbeat in the group during a long tour?
We prepare like athletes. I’ve learned to do this so my energy peaks when I’m on stage, which means you don’t need a big meal beforehand. I do a lot of warming up. We also reject many things. Sometimes we’re going to tour with other bands and we’ve just come out of a week of rehearsals and the other band says, “We haven’t even rehearsed – we just come and play.” We take this really seriously and we know we are there to serve. It’s not just about our having fun, it’s about realizing that these songs have become a part of people’s lives. We are there for the crowd to have a miniature musical holiday.
What is the 311 formula for creating the perfect set list for the night?
We know that if we get too deep into the weeds, people will start looking around. You oscillate between high and low energy, and between familiarity and darkness. We want to make sure we’re throwing some nuggets, as we say, for the fans. But when I go to a show, I like to hear familiar songs that are culturally significant, namely hits. We’re just balancing it out.
We also have a feeling of what the audience will be like since we travel a lot. If it’s going to be a place we’ve been playing for a long time, we know there will be more fans there and we’ll make deeper cuts. But other times, if we’re playing something like the SunFest show in West Palm Beach, we know that there will be more passive fans, new fans, and people on the lighter side who will want to hear about reggae and stuff. like this. You get the feel, the air in every town.
Is there a song that’s been a big hit over the years, or a fan-favourite, and popped up more than you might expect?
The song “Applied Science”. There’s nothing “hit” about it, but we play it on every show because this is the song with the drum solo and drum sequence where we all play the big drums together. This is the climax of the show for us and the audience, but it hasn’t been a success. There really isn’t even a chorus in the song, all these different rap and reggae tracks are strung together without repetition. It was definitely a surprise that it became such a staple for us.
On the other hand, is there a song or album that you think is a hidden gem that fans should check out?
There is a melody called “Where the Mind Goes” in “Mozaik”. I feel like a bit of a sleeper maybe bigger than it is.
311 has a very stable staff. How do you run things to stay together?
First of all, you must be prepared not to move on and realize that you will respect democracy. I like the expression, “We have two ears and one mouth, because we must listen twice as much as we speak.” We must learn to listen to each other. I also think it’s important to maintain an attitude of gratitude, recognizing that together we are better than any of us could do on our own. When you start a band that will grow into a 33-year career, the odds are very, very high against you. Let’s take a good look at him, because we’re so lucky to be here.
Something 311 fans often mention is that the group’s positive vibe has helped them through tough times. How can you bring optimism to the music and performances?
Some people will say, “I love how positive you are,” and I say, “It’s actually a struggle to stay positive.” But it’s not the toxic positivity where you say “Everything is fine and I have a smile on my face no matter what” and you let all that bullshit pile up. It’s when you stay connected with people and tell them how you really feel, what’s really going on, and open yourself up to support, asking for help, helping others, that sort of thing.
Also in the early days of 311, I felt like there was a lot of toxic negativity in our white, male, angry misogynist peers. I was making fun of them with songs like “Misdirected Hostility” and “Hostile Apostle”. These are privileged suburban kids… why are you so angry? I just couldn’t keep up with what was going on, but looking back, if you watch the Woodstock ’99 documentaries, that’s what I was talking about: senseless anger, rage, and entitlement. What are you writing about? Water bottles are too expensive. It was a very prosperous time, especially in the ’90s… The Soviet Union had failed and we had no real enemies, the economy was picking up, but everyone was still very angry. I made it a point to call them. But still, there are stressors and pressures that everyone has and that we need to lean on each other to deal with. I think that’s the point of 311 – it’s a community.
Earlier in the interview, you said that the band plans to record a song in August. What else can you say about the new album?
This wasn’t planned but the first two songs I brought to the table and the first two songs Chad brought to the table were all in drop D – which means your E string is tuned to D for heavy riffs. There’s definitely some weight going on, big rock riffs. We spend a lot of time doing workshops as a group to make sure they’re great in the studio before we download them. We want it to be 311 but 311 on steroids. Everything is better: better riffs, better sales, better performances, new content. We’re raising the bar and I think people will be really excited when they hear about it.