Interview by Scott Preston
311 have always been a band that’s defied easy description but Uplifter, the band’s latest album, finds the group harder than ever to pin down. What other band releases their riskiest, richest record after almost 20 years together? What other band had its biggest radio hit in the mid-90’s but is more popular than ever a decade later, selling out amphitheaters even when they haven’t had a new album in almost four years? What other band is so intent on challenging themselves while inspiring listeners to have an open mind? Clearly, there are no other bands that are quite like 311, a band that blurs borders between styles so thoroughly that they wind up blurring preconceptions of what a rock band can be. Uplifter, their ninth studio album, stands as the best evidence of 311’s eclecticism and is, in many ways, the boldest, best music they’ve ever made.
“We have this frontier of music we’re aggressively pursuing and I think we’re making what is our most vital stuff ever. I feel like I’m learning from the crowd each time we play a show. In some ways, it would be appropriate to credit 311 fans on the album. During our last tour, I was writing music every day, taking the excitement from the road and putting it in the songs.” This energy can be heard throughout Uplifter. It’s an album that is as vibrant and exciting as the band’s early albums, but showcases a band with a deep musicality, an album that is positive and bright, speaking to our present. It’s an album filled with good vibes because that’s what emanates from the band. “I think we maintain an attitude of gratitude,” says Nick. “We really feel very fortunate to be able to do this, and that makes us work hard to make sure we’re putting on a really good show every night. We never miss a chance to thank our fans because we’re living the dream.”
Cincy Groove: I see 311’s new album, Uplifter, comes out very soon.
P-Nut: Yes it will be out on Tuesday June 2. It’s currently streaming on our myspace page, so lots of our fans have their radar tuned to our every little step we make. The fans who have heard it are thrilled with the album, which obviously makes us all very happy.
Cincy Groove: How did you hook up with producer Bob Rock for Uplifter?
P-Nut: Well he lives in Hawaii and we get played on the radio a lot there because of our island vibe that we capture in our music. Bob’s wife really loves our music, so when we came calling it made it all that more interesting to him. He probably would have worked with us anyway but it helped that his wife was on our side. We liked Bob right off the bat, he came in from the standpoint of this band has a really great sound and not wanting to change that part of it. He wanted to make our already good ideas, better. We were really happy that we got to work with him and hoping we can work with him again soon.
Cincy Groove: Did you have any guest’s on the album?
P-Nut: We had a guy named Adam Merrin come in and do some piano parts. Bob Rock was kind of a guest on the record, even though he didn’t really record anything. He sat us down with pretty much all of our instruments and showed us the parts where he had ideas. He would just play for us which was pretty amazing. We also had our friend, Native Wayne, do a vocal intro part on Never Ending Summer.
Cincy Groove: Where did you record the new album?
P-Nut: We recorded the drums at Ocean Way Studios in Burbank, CA where we also recorded our first album “Music” back in 1992. It was fun to work on the first album and the most recent album in the same studio. It really felt like we were coming full circle, and we had a great time working on the tracks we did there. We recorded the vocals, guitars, bass, keyboards at our studio, Hive Recording Studios.
Cincy Groove: What brought about 311 starting their own recording studio?
P-Nut: We knew equipment was getting cheaper and the ability to do more things in house was something that was always on the radar that we wanted to do. We did the 1st album at Ocean Way, then the 2nd album in our living room of our rented house. Our producer at the time, Eddie, helped us establish the mindset that we could do it ourselves. He told us we could be in complete control if we recorded everything ourselves. Nick and Chad have taken over the technical side of recording the music. They are the guys who read the instruction manuals when we get some new equipment in. It’s good that they are the ones doing it, the rest of us don’t bother with it because it would be like having too many cooks in the kitchen. Our record labels have always been really cool about allowing us to make the art that we want to make with very little tweaking after the fact. We felt we just had to have our own studio, it just made sense. We have had it for 10 years and we are talking about selling it and getting a bigger place. Maybe even building it from scratch, which would be a lot of fun because we could design it exactly the way we would want it and have it forever.
Cincy Groove: When did the members of 311 decide that music was going to be your full time gig?
P-Nut: Well, it had to wait until I was out of high school. I was in between my sophmore and junior year when we did our first show on June 10, 1990 opening up for Fugazzi. It was great playing that show with them, it was learning experience. I graduated from high school 2 months early by doubling up on some classes. The band then moved out to California from Omaha, Nebraska in Feb of 1992. By the time I came back to pick up my diploma, we had our record contract with the infamous Capricorn Records. They told us that we will first build up the fanbase and when radio comes calling it will be on our terms, we aren’t going to write songs for the radio. We are going to play music that people like and be patient and when it comes around it will come around big time. They were right.
Cincy Groove: How many shows did you play back in the early days?
P-Nut: We played about 100 shows a year pretty consistently for 4-5 years. It doesn’t seem like a lot of shows until you actually try and do it (laughing). Traveling around the country is really the best teacher you can have. It keeps you humble, makes you reflect on things you already know. It also takes you out of your comfort zone and forces you to learn new things. We did 6 months traveling with 2 vans, one for the equipment and one for the band. We then realized how horrible that was , then hired somebody to drive and got an RV with an equipment trailer. We used the RV until it caught on fire. We were pretty excited when we got our first bus, which was a 40 foot Eagle. Those first 2 years we really survived on catering, it was the chicken and light beer days. We barely made enough money to pay for the bus and gas.
Cincy Groove: I was looking over the acts you have been touring with over the years, there are some impressive names on that list.
P-Nut: We never would have thought that Snoop Dog would have wanted to open for us. He put on such a good show, that he made it difficult for us to follow him. We really do look forward to those types of challenges. I think Ziggy Marley & The Expendables will have a great vibe opening for us this year, then we will come out and drop the hammer on the crowd and show them how tough we still think we are (laughing).
Cincy Groove: 311 performs a very unique style of music, what kind of reception did the band get back in the early 1990’s in Nebraska when you were starting out?
P-Nut: Pretty luke-warm for the most part. We knew that Omaha wasn’t going to be the beginning and the end of us, just where we started. The first couple years of touring with this funk/rock/reggae/hip hop mix going on, brought up some questions from people like “What are you guys doing, can’t you just pick and style and stick to it?” People were falling in love in the early 90’s with rock and roll again. We all love that as well, but knew we could do something more. We thought lets take what the Red Hot Chili Peppers did, The Clash and Bob Marley and have some fun with it.
Cincy Groove: What do you like to do when you are relaxing at home?
P-Nut: I pretty much have instruments in every corner of the house. I have tons of bass’, a couple guitars, upright bass, keyboard, hand drums. Music pretty much is always in my head. I love to read, I also play Warcraft a couple hours a day. I’m a nerd in that way and some others I’m sure. I have 3/4 of an acre right outside Pasadena, CA, I love working in the yard.
Nick Hexum – Vocals, Rhythm Guitar, Programming
Doug “SA” Martinez – Vocals, Turntables, DJ
Tim Mahoney – Lead Guitar
Aaron “P-Nut” Wills – Bass guitar
Chad Sexton – Drums, Programming, Percussion
Upcoming 311 tour dates:
for show details visit http://www.311.com
Jun 3 2009 Majestic Fox Theatre Bakersfield, California
Jun 4 2009 Jimmy Kimmel Live Hollywood, California
Jun 5 2009 Santa Barbara Bowl Santa Barbara, California
Jun 6 2009 Shoreline Amphitheatre San Francisco (Mountainview), California
Jun 7 2009 Cuthbert Amphitheater Eugene, Oregon
Jun 8 2009 WaMu Theatre Seattle, Washington
Jun 11 2009 Usana Amphitheatre Salt Lake City, Utah
Jun 12 2009 Red Rocks Amphitheatre Denver, Colorado
Jun 13 2009 City Market Kansas City, Missouri
Jun 14 2009 Charter One Pavilion Chicago, Illinois
Jun 16 2009 Time Warner Cable Amphitheatre Cleveland, Ohio
Jun 17 2009 Lifestyles Communities Pavilion Columbus, Ohio
Jun 19 2009 Freedom Hill Amphitheatre Detroit, Michigan
Jun 20 2009 Riverbend Music Center Cincinnati, Ohio
Jun 21 2009 The Lawns at White River State Park Indianapolis, Indiana
Jun 23 2009 SPAC Saratoga, New York
Jun 24 2009 Comcast Center Boston, Massachusetts
Jun 25 2009 Central Park Summer Stage New York, New York
Jun 27 2009 PNC Bank Art Center Holmdel, New Jersey
Jun 28 2009 Nissan Pavilion Washington DC, Washington DC
Jun 30 2009 Penn’s Landing Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Jul 1 2009 Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre Virginia Beach, Virginia
Jul 3 2009 Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre Charlotte, North Carolina
Jul 4 2009 Lakewood Amphitheatre Atlanta, Georgia
Jul 5 2009 Walnut Creek Amphitheatre Raleigh, North Carolina
Jul 7 2009 Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre St Louis, Missouri
Jul 10 2009 Dodge Theatre Phoenix, Arizona
Jul 11 2009 Cricket Wireless Amphitheatre San Diego, California
Jul 12 2009 Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre Irvine, California