How The 311 Group Keeps Things Fresh And Exciting 30 Years After Their Career Debuted – Daily Breeze
311 vocalist/guitarist/keyboardist Nick Hexum is well aware that many bands that have been around for over 30 years, like his band, have made releasing albums of new material a rare occurrence – or have essentially ceased to make new albums.
This happens for logical reasons. Veteran bands can spin to their old catalogs because fans come mainly to listen to the songs they know. And albums don’t sell in today’s world of streaming and downloads, making it hard to justify spending the money and time it takes to record new material.
But 311 is a long-time group that has bucked this trend.
The band has released 13 studio albums since 1993, when the band’s debut album, “Music,” arrived. And the nearly three years that have passed since the arrival of the last album, “Voyager”, is one of the longest periods without a new album from 311. Of course, having a pandemic that prevented touring for a large part of that time makes the gap between the albums perfectly understandable.
For Hexum, 311 has very good reasons for wanting to keep the creative engines running.
“I think if a musician believes their creativity has peaked and that’s all in the past, well, that’s going to be the reality,” he said in a phone interview. The band will perform on day one of the three-day BeachLife Festival in Redondo Beach, which runs May 13-15, alongside artists like Weezer, The Smashing Pumpkins, Steve Miller Band and more.
“For some reason, we still believe in our hearts that we have music that’s just as exciting or more than ever (to do),” he continued. “We realize we’ve been doing this for a long time, so it’s become urgent like, ‘Hey, people are still really excited for our new music. Let’s keep doing it while this window is open.’”
On the contrary, 311 has experienced a creative renaissance in recent years. Hexum looks back on 2017’s “Mosaic” as an album that opened new doors creatively and set the band on a path that will keep the band inspired for some time to come.
“With ‘Mosaic,’ we kind of opened up this new feeling where OK, we’re going to do a certain part of the classic 311 album with the riff rock and the incorporation of hip-hop,” Hexum said, offering his description of two main elements in the band’s signature style mix. “And we’re also going to have starts that are new sounds that you’ve never heard before because otherwise you’re like, well, we don’t want to completely leave our old style, but we can’t keep doing the same thing. So we realized, okay, we’re going to do both (things).”
To that end, “Mosaic” took 311 into new stylistic places on a few songs and also featured modern production touches that were new to the band. Hexum said “Voyager”, found the members of 311 – himself, drummer Chad Sexton, bassist, P-Nut, guitarist Tim Mahoney and vocalist/deejay SA Martinez – taking the exploration of new elements to a new level.
“We’re going even further on this current album, which has new styles that you’ve never heard from us before, modern production, which has just entered new territory,” Hexum said. “Then you’re going to have super classic, heavy riffs. It’s something for both people. I think true 311 fans love it when we explore, but they wouldn’t want us to completely abandon our roots either. So we sort of settled into this sort of dichotomy on both sides of our group. It seems to work really well.
Hexum cites the dubstep-inspired “Too Late” from “Mosaic” as an example of a song that broke new ground on “Mosaic,” and “Voyager” has that element in the mix as well.
“What was cool about the song ‘Too Late’ was that it just kept getting harder and harder, and rocking harder and harder until people were out of breath at the end,” Hexum said. “We don’t want to repeat ourselves, but just to explore this (idea), where you kind of start with something super cool and then it goes through this build. Then you have this drop which is super rock and then at the end of the song you have a bridge followed by another bridge with a whole new section which is more energetic and more energetic…I think any band , when he opens a new door, you’re going to want to keep exploring that. It’s as satisfying as ‘Too Late’.
Hexum also said “Voyager,” which like “Mosaic,” features songs produced by Scotch Ralston and John Feldmann, includes a pair of funk tracks that add a different slant to the 311 sound, one in a lighter, more jazzy direction. and a second on this has a harder edge. Another song that is a new wrinkle, he said, is “Good Feeling,” which was influenced by the South African sound of Paul Simon’s “Graceland” era music.
“It just takes you to a new place where you want to dance,” Hexum said of “Good Feeling.” “It’s kind of a simple song. It’s not really a difficult song. It’s just a song about joy, and it really shines through.
How many “Voyager” songs are played night to night as 311 returns to shows this summer is an open question. This is because the band only decides on each set list on the day of the show.
“We try to get together after the sound check each day and come up with a set list. We kind of will when we get there,” Hexum said.
The trick, Hexum said, is to create a show that has a good mix of older songs that fans want to hear, along with newer material, while creating a good flow for the show.
“You have to find the right balance,” he said. “It’s something we discuss a lot and sometimes disagree with. But luckily we have an odd number of band members, so if it’s going to come down to a vote, it will. But most of the time we just talk about it and come to a consensus.
Beach life festival
With: Weezer, 311, Black Pumas, Cold War Kids, The Smashing Pumpkins, Vance Joy, Stone Temple Pilots, Steve Miller Band, Sheryl Crow, Lord Huron and more
When: 1pm-10.30pm May 13, 11am-10.30pm May 14 and 11am-9.30pm May 15
Or: Redondo Beach Marina, 137 N. Harbor Drive, Redondo Beach.
Tickets: $159 to $189 general admission for one day or general admission plus; one-day VIP $349; $419 to $449 general admission three days or general admission plus; VIP options from $899 to $2,999 over three days. All passes are available at beachlifefestival.com.