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By: Michael D. Vogel

© July 15, 1997. Michael D. Vogel.  All Rights Reserved. 

Published in:   

The Album Network magazine – August 8, 1997  

 

Although 311 have become both mainstream and commercial in their appeal, they have managed to maintain, with the utmost care, the integrity and power of their message. Although they operate in the “commercial” arena of the alternative movement, that doesn’t mean they should be taken less seriously. Hailing from the midwest, the five guys of 311 are as close as we get in America to a “voice of the people.” Whether you like their music, you should listen up, for 311′s attitude runs the full gamut of their sound. It’s about noise, volume, speed and the sheer intensity of the music. It can make you want to jump around and act stupid or it can make you think and want to change your life. Hopefully, you’ll want to do a little of both.

On the eve of their departure for a European tour, 311 leader and resident guru Nicholas Hexum and I sat down, in his new home high atop the Hollywood hills, for a very candid conversation about the struggles and frustrations of the last year, dancehall reggae, their longform video and the new album.

311 have always been very active, yet the band has been off the road for almost nine months. What’s been going on with 311? 

Nicholas Hexum: “So much has happened in the last year. But, at the same time, it really doesn’t seem like we took any time off either. The popularity of our last album, 311, was amazing. The song ‘Down’ alone went to #1 on MTV as well as at Alternative Radio. We then received quite a big surprise being voted the top song in KROQ’s ‘Best Of’ year-end countdown. In addition, the album has sold several million copies as well. There is a lot of hard work and dedication on all our parts, the band and everyone associated with us, that has helped to achieve the success that we have. Over all, we feel very fortunate to have all these fantastic things happen to us.

“Some people are doctors or lawyers. We are musicians. Our only job is to constantly and consistently push our own level of creativity to the limit. Making music that will be enjoyed for years to come is our biggest priority. If we rest on our past successes, then we really aren’t doing anything new. The end result is that the music, the artists and ultimately the fan suffers. 311 are about creativity. We constantly push ourselves past where we have been so that new doors of sights and sounds can be experienced.”

Although there was some support, for the most part radio wasn’t “Down” with 311 until almost a year, and three singles, after the album was released. Does this type of delay in the recognition and exposure of the music frustrate the band? 

“It is really only about the music. The album might have been close to a year old at the time radio discovered the song ‘Down,’ but the important thing is the song received the attention of radio. This helped to open the door for some of the other material on the album. Ultimately, the biggest benefit came in the re-examining of the songs on our other two albums as well. 

“When, Music, our first album, was released, the whole music vibe was caught on the Seattle grunge sound. Therefore, a rock/rap hybrid probably would not be very well embraced. But nothing ever stays the same for to long. If we kept true to ourselves and our musical goals, we believed eventually would get our day in the sun.”

There is a stark contrast between the last album and Transistor. Why shift to more of a dancehall reggae sound?

“Reggae and dancehall music have always been such a love of ours that we felt compelled to play it as well as try and bring some much needed attention to the whole genre. It satisfies the whole band because of the intense rhythms of rap music and also the melodies that reggae music provides. Our style for this record is a combination of the two. Each song is so completely different and unique, though; no one descriptive term can accurately describe the whole album. There are some rock songs, others that combine hip-hop beats with dancehall vocals and a 60s-style surf guitar sound into what has become a unique 311 formula. Simply stated, Transistor is a quasi-musical cocktail of funk, rock, rap, and reggae with a few other spices thrown in. As a result, the music can be enjoyed by almost everyone.

“Personally, I have been listening to more singers than rappers. On the last album, I had a rap on almost every song, whereas for Transistor, I have only two raps on the entire album. The vocals styles of SA [Martinez] and myself are very complementary. Where he is more of a hardcore rapper, I tend to reflect the styles of jazz/reggae crooners. The rap and hip-hop feel will always be a part of the music we do, but for this record, we wanted to concentrate more on melodies. It is essential to the longevity of the song. If there is no melody, the song will eventually become dated, fitting only that musical climate when it was written. But if it has a melody, which defines the essence of what dancehall reggae is all about; the song should have lasting appeal. Overall, we would like to think of our music as potential standards, rather than something simply destined for a mosh pit!

“During the recording of our last album, 311, we were creating some pretty tasty rock riffs and then combining them with vocal raps. A very simplistic approach compared to the recording of Transistor, where the lyrics were composed simultaneously with the music. Each song is written with a specific melody in mind, leaving room for improvisation in order to add some extra texture to the music. Without it, there is no sense in continuing with that project. In short, slapping two things together doesn’t accurately portray the picture the song is trying to create, as well as having a complete vision and then seeing it through to its completion.

“But, with change comes other factors as a result. By trying something new, our goal is not to try and bring in those that were not supporters of the band before. Instead, we concentrate our energies on what we need to do in order to get the job done and rock the house. It is not so much that we were looking to grab the Hootie & The Blowfish fans, as we are trying to make lasting impressions with the existing fan base.

“It was simply time to challenge our fans as well as ourselves. We really wouldn’t feel proud of the album if it were simply a rehash of the same old thing. Fortunately, our fans have always embraced the different changes and styles we have employed over the last few albums, but at the same time demand we continue to really let it rock. We believe Transistor embodies that kind of creative philosophy. For example, there are some really hardcore songs on the new album. ‘What Was I Thinking,’ ‘Electricity’ and ‘Galaxy’ are all extremely intense songs.

“Overall, everyone in the band has really grown and matured since the last album. [Chad] Sexton’s beats and [Tim] Mahoney’s solos are always amazing, but the biggest difference is SA and P-Nut’s growth in the songwriting forum.”

Too few musicians understand how to listen in improvisational situations–do you feel that it’s a matter of leaving your ego at the door? 

“Improvisation starts with a unique riff that hasn’t been used by anyone else. If it is adding to the overall groove of the song, then we will stick with it and just let everything else flow. But if there are five guitarists shredding at the same time, the music wouldn’t sound right. People need to know when to sit back and when to take center stage. In our case, this album reflects a lot more of SA’s vocal stylings as well as adding the new element of turntables as a viable instrument into the musical mix. By doing so, we can explore on a wider musical scale without having to rely solely on the vocals.

“As time moves on, I can see us getting into the instrumental side of music. Our improvisations are the combination of punk rock that really doesn’t embrace the solo, with instrumental music to create a blend that is a more mature, cerebral way of expression. Pop bands always use vocals in their songs, whereas more developed bands like Led Zeppelin and the Grateful Dead tend to regularly use long instrumentals throughout their music. The aim is to take the listener on a trip purely for music and without any lyrics.”

At the beginning of the year, 311 released the Enlarged To Show Detail longform video and CD. Why did the band intentionally downplay the new music covered in that package? 

“It was really designed for our hardcore fans–a little taste to satisfy their desire for more music until the new album was released. But the project was not, nor was it ever intended to be, considered our new album. Similar to Transistor, there were several songs that unfortunately didn’t make the final cut. The same is true for the video package. The songs contained on the special CD were all B-side material from previous albums. Even though these songs were the ‘left-overs,’ we still felt they were creatively important. The video contains some live footage as well as the mayhem that happens behind the scenes. For the most part though, we were concerned with over saturation.”

With success usually comes some sort of change. In the past, 311 has had some pretty big-name producers working on the album, yet on the new album, you chose to use your own soundman as the producer. By making such a radical decision, have 311 become the master of its own destiny? 

“We are completely left on our own to make our musical vision come true. It is for that reason we chose Scott ‘Scotch’ Ralston, our soundman, to produce the record. He is very much like us–he is from the Midwest and in his mid 20s. We have worked with outside producers before, but for this record we wanted to keep it all in the family. We wanted to test our own level of self-reliance. As a natural part of life, disagreements occasionally do happen. Some take votes in order to solve these problems others simply make rash decision, but for us, Rock, paper and scissors play a serious role in the decision making process of 311. But, after everything is all said and done, we feel we made the right decision.” ^m^

 

Line-Up:                                                                                      Origin:

Nicholas Hexum – Vocals & Guitar                                   Originally from Omaha, the boys of 311 now reside in Los Angeles

Count SA Martinez – Vocals & Scratches              

Timothy J. Mahoney – Guitar                                         

P-Nut – Bass                                                                                 Website:

Chad Sexton – Drums & Percussion                                   www.311.com

About The Current CD:

Transistor is the fourth album from 311, following on the heels of their multi-Platinum self-titled album.

Discography:

Transistor (Capricorn, 1997)                                                 Hydroponic (self-released, 1992)

311 (Capricorn, 1995)                                                               Unity (self-released, 1991)

Grassroots (Capricorn, 1994)                                                Dammit! (self-released, 1990)

Music (Capricorn, 1993)

Produced By:

Scott ‘Scotch’ Ralston

Label:

Capricorn

   

© July 15, 1997. Michael D. Vogel.  All Rights Reserved.  This originally appeared on the Vogelism blog at http://www.vogelism.com, authored by Michael D. Vogel. This article may be shared or reprinted as long as this entire copyright message, including the source location of this article, accompanies it.

 

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