For the members of 311, 25 years has gone by in a flash and have given them some of the best memories of their lives. From their very first show in their native Omaha on June 10, 1990 (opening for Fugazi), 311 have been on an incredible, unstoppable journey, fueled by an instantly recognizable, genre-defying sound, non-stop touring, and a fiercely loyal fan base. The band’s ingenious fusion of rock, reggae, hip-hop & funk – and tireless work ethic – saw them build an undeniable grassroots following. Alternative radio and MTV soon followed.
1995’s self-titled third album proved 311’s breakthrough, earning RIAA 3x platinum certification while catapulting them to the forefront of alternative music. Since then, nine consecutive 311 studio releases – from 1997’s Transistor to 2014’s Stereolithic – have peaked within the Top 10 of the Billboard 200, with total album sales now approaching nine million in the U.S. alone. 311 is of course also responsible for a rightly renowned streak of radio hits, with nine singles reaching the Top 10 on Billboard’s “Alternative Songs” chart, including the #1 classics, “Down,” “Love Song,” and “Don’t Tread On Me.”
Now based in Los Angeles, 311 is widely regarded as one of alternative rock’s most inventive, entertaining, and hard-traveling live acts, earning them an incredible community of passionate and faithful fans. Founded in 2004, the band’s annual “Unity Tour” is now a summer tradition. And the band has branded legendary destination events with their “311 Day” and “311 Caribbean Cruise” experiences.
Legendary alternative rock band 311 will celebrate its milestone 25th year with a career-spanning Volcano Entertainment/Legacy Recordings 4-CD box set 311 – ARCHIVE, available everywhere on June 30th, and supported by a 30-show US tour. Fans are now able to pre-order the 4-CD set, bundled with a limited-edition lithograph and/or collector’s patch, from www.PledgeMusic.com/ThreeEleven. The set is also available for pre-order on Amazon.
311 – ARCHIVE commemorates the multi-platinum band’s silver anniversary with an unprecedented four-disc 81 track compilation of unreleased songs, b-sides, bonus tracks, pre-production recordings, alternate versions & demos (see attached tracklisting). As if that weren’t enough, 311 – ARCHIVE also features a 60-page book filled with rare photos, flyers, memorabilia, and artifacts from the bands personal collection.
In addition to the release of ‘Archive,’ will kick off a hit-filled US Summer Tour. The celebration doesn’t stop there as partnered with Rock Brothers Brewing to create and release an exciting custom craft beer. 311’s Amber Ale will “shine bright,” as roasted caramel malts will be blended with Equinox hops, resulting in subtle hints of tropical citrus and kush aromatics. The craft beer’s blend of malted barleys and unique hops will set this beer apart from other amber ales. It is an endeavor the band has been working toward for years and all of the members have been involved in each stage of development – from selecting the style, to influencing the taste, to creating the name and other branding elements.
Jason Price of Icon Vs. Icon recently sat down with 311 frontman Nick Hexum to discuss the incredible journey 311 set out upon 25 years ago, the challenges they faced along the way, how they are celebrating the amazing milestone and what the future holds for them musically.
311 is celebrating their 25th anniversary this year. What led you to a career in music and got the band on its unique journey?
My folks say that I was dead set on it by the age of 6 or 7. The first thing that blew my mind musically was my dad’s 1950s 45s of Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis and Elvis. I loved the energy. I danced around and had my hair combed back in a ‘50s style. I also used to like to play the 45s at 78 to really crank them up! [laughs] In high school, Tim [Mahoney] and I had a band where we did originals and covers. We played in Battle of The Bands and things like that. I would say the 311 sound was born right when we graduated high school and started playing with Chad [Sexton], our drummer. That is when the funk came in with bands like Bad Brains, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Jane’s Addiction and Faith No More influencing us. We just felt like we really had something. We had our first show in 1990 with P-Nut and SA [Martinez] was a guest vocalist at the time. Our first show opening for Fugazi 25 years ago was such a great launching board because there was a packed house ready to mosh and the place just blew up! We just never looked back!
Looking back on the early years of 311, what were some of the challenges you faced as a band early on?
Being a band from Nebraska and getting someone’s attention to take us seriously was a challenge, relentlessly calling A&R people, managers and lawyers. I was harassing people on the phone over and over and over again and bullshitting my way in by name dropping different executives that I had never even talked to just to get someone to give our tape a listen. Finally, that happened and the tape got to Eddie Offord, who produced our first couple albums. The labels said, “If you produce the album, then we will put it out.” They were kind of our only suitor at the time, so we said, “Let’s go for it!” I guess being taken seriously coming out of Nebraska was a lot of work but we were able to show them we were selling a lot of our own self-produced tapes and CDs, and, in some cases, the number one seller outdoing national artists in Omaha. They could see that people were really reacting to our music and heard something there. We had an unusual way in but we kicked open the door and barged in!
Twenty-five years as a band is an amazing milestone. What kept you inspired through the years and contributed to your longevity?
I guess we just feel like there is always a frontier of music that we can cross into. Music is a never-ending journey. Mentally, if you feel like you have already done everything, that is when you are screwed. As long as you keep curious, teachable, trying new sounds and not become stodgy by saying music sucks now is all very important. There are plenty of great creative artists to be influenced by. Being a music fan first is an important element. A composer is the sum total of their listening experience. As long as you keep finding new music to listen to, you are going to be fine. That holds true for us all.
You have a lot of special things planned for the anniversary. First and foremost is “Archive,” the four CD box xet. I am sure going through 25 years of your past is no easy task. What can you tell us about the process of putting it together?
We realized with the silver anniversary coming along that we should commemorate that in some way. We knew we had a lot of odds and ends in our tape closet and on hard drives. We quickly realized we had more than enough stuff for a box set. Really, that task fell upon Chad, our drummer, who is also the band’s archivist. He has always keep track of all the old tapes and so forth. It was about two years in the making. First we came up with the concept and then started categorizing what we had from B-Sides to demos to unreleased songs to pre-production versions. First we came up with those categories and then found all the songs to fit in those and it took about two years. It is nice now because we know that those things are out there for posterity. A lot of those things could have been lost and now there is a record of those which I think the fans are really going to enjoy.
What type of state was the 311 archive in when you started out?
[laughs] I don’t think it will ever be as messy as it was a couple of years ago. Through the years, it has been giving boxes to Chad to keep at our house. There was an interesting anecdote in regards to the archive. He lives out in the country and there was a wildfire. There was a huge wall of flames heading toward his house and the first thing he did was throw the boxes of tapes and hard drives into his truck to make sure they survived because they were irreplaceable. Fortunately, the firefighters were able to put out the brush fire before it got to his house but that was his mentality. Save those boxes because that is our life’s work and they are irreplaceable. Now, I think he has an organizing system in place, so we probably won’t have to wait 25 years for the next one.
I would imagine you came across some material during the process you had long forgotten. What was that experience like for you?
Yeah. A lot of the demo versions got reworked quite a bit. To spark those neurons that haven’t been heard in so long and hear those early versions that we moved quickly on from was really a trip! I think it is going to be very interesting for the fans to hear songs in their infancy. It is almost like an old forgotten family album when you see pictures of your childhood that you had completely forgotten about. It really brings you back. Songs are time capsules in themselves. They bring you back to how you were feeling. Hearing a lot of the songs bring me back into the mindset that we all had at the time of making those. It is similar to the way a certain smell might take you back to a vacation or something. It is a trip down memory lane! I think the biggest trip for our fans will be hearing songs they have been living with but early versions. I actually don’t have my copy of it yet but I am excited to sit down and hear all four CDs in a row.
We have been wanting to do this for about 10 years. 311 is a movement, a mentality and a lifestyle. Having fun and having parties is definitely part of that. We had talked to some people about it in the past but no one was geared up to do it right and the way we wanted to do it. The partners that we found for our Amber Ale really took a lot of time in collaborating with us to come up with the right formula, roll out and image that well represents our band. It was a dream many years in the making. P-Nut and SA [Martinez] were the ones who were very instrumental in helping them formulate and made sure it was something they really loved.
Is it safe to assume this release isn’t just a one-off? Any plans for future releases?
Yeah, there are some more ideas in the works in addition to other lifestyle products that we are working. It’s fun to diversify!
You are about to kick off another huge tour for the summer. What excites you about this upcoming run?
For a long time, we used to do the same circuit of sheds and amphitheatres. Now, on this tour, we are doing a lot more unusual venues, mixing it up and playing with a variety of different bands. That is always fun to see what we are going to get and show up to different settings and meet different bands. Since this is our 25th anniversary, we are going to have a new collection of music to pull from. We know that people come back to see us from year to year, so to have all that music to make sure that set is different from year to year is really important. When we play a particular city, we look at the set list from the previous year and make sure it is a very different experience. It is just the next step in a long strange trip! [laughs]
Obviously, an anniversary like this tends to make anyone reflective. How has 311’s success impacted you as an artist?
I have always had an interest in jazz, funk, playing with different instrumentation from keyboards to sax and so on and collaborating with my brother, so the Nick Hexum Quartet was a fun dream. Now, I am more into innovative rock which combines the latest electronic style production. Like I said, to me, there is always a frontier to go across. That is why I realize I have the greatest job in the world because I can go wherever the muse leads me. We are definitely all grateful to be able to do this for a living.
The record industry changed exponentially over the past 25 years. What are the biggest obstacles a band like 311 faces today?
It definitely takes a lot of thinking to figure out how to navigate the current environment of streaming and the internet takeover. Fortunately, we have always had our focus on live music because it is something that is timeless and has existed for 100,000 years. Live music is much more of a timeless thing. Recorded music is cool and it is a great thing to hold over our fans to our next show but we have always realized you can’t fake live music. We are going to keep our focus on that and that way the twists and turns of the music industry doesn’t affect us as much.
Where are you in regards to new music with 311? Can you give us an update on what you have in store for us?
Absolutely. We have a great collection of pre-production songs. We have put together four as a complete band. We have maybe another 20 demos started. This summer, when we are on tour, we have our mobile studios so we will be able to work on the songs during the day, write lyrics and maybe work on some songs at sound check. As soon as we get done with the summer tour, we will get in the studio and crank out album number 12!
What is happening in regards to songwriting for the new album?
We continue to collaborate. I think if one person was making a song by himself, eventually that is going to become kind of linear. I think if you combine it with other people’s style within the band, along with Scotch, our producer, and the occasional outside writer, it keeps changing up the style. To me, it doesn’t feel stale at all and it feels very exciting. I can’t wait to get in there. Like I said, there is plenty of stuff coming out these days, whether it is Kendrick Lamar or the latest in dubstep and dancehall reggae, there is always new stuff to get turned onto as well as tons of old music I have never heard before. As long as you remain a music fan first, you are going to become inspired and find new things to try.
What is the biggest lesson to be taken away from the 311 story so far and how do you ultimately hope the band will be remembered?
I think that we gave our fans an outlook, a way of looking at life in a different way that is more positive. I think the musical innovation is important but also just the spirit of knowing that we have probably left the world in a better place than when we started is the legacy I hope to have.
Thanks for your time today, Nick. As I fan, I appreciate you and everyone in the band pouring your heart and soul into all you do. It’s truly inspiring.
We appreciate the support! I enjoyed the interview and I will talk to you again soon!
Jason Price founded the mighty Icon Vs. Icon more than a decade ago. Along the way, he’s assembled an amazing group of like-minded individuals to spread the word on some of the most unique people and projects on the pop culture landscape.