311: 20th Anniversary of Grassroots Album

311: 20th Anniversary of Grassroots Album

311 Celebrates 20th Anniversary of Grassroots Album
An Interview with Nick Hexum & Chad Sexton

Grassroots Track Listing:
1.) Homebrew
2.) Lucky
3.) Nutsymtom
4.) 8:16 a.m.
5.) Omaha Stylee
6.) Applied Science
7.) Taiyed
8.) Silver
9.) Grassroots
10.) Salsa
11.) Lose
12.) Six
13.) Offbeat Bare-Ass
14.) 1,2,3

Release Date: July 12, 1994
Record Label: Capricorn Records

Introducing Grassroots
On July 12, 2014 – 311’s sophomore album, Grassroots, turned 20-years old. Some fans refer to the album as “quintessential 311,” others admire the album’s sense of musical freedom, and still others point to the album as a necessary step to honing the 311-sound. Regardless of how you choose to define the album, Grassroots is an important piece of 311 history. The recording process was guided by a grassroots, do-it-yourself philosophy, filled with drama and without boundaries. Tunes like “Applied Science” became a staple of the band’s live show, and band member’s musical influences were incorporated without question.

The Grassroots Philosophy…
“Grassroots” is more than an album title. It’s more than an identifiable slogan, catchphrase or word. Grassroots is a mindset, a philosophy. “The grassroots philosophy permeated everything we did,” says front man Nick Hexum. “We knew we wouldn’t be instantly embraced; we weren’t going to be widely supported by radio. But, we knew we were building a fan base,” continues Hexum.

Bottom-line—311 knew they had to make it happen on their own. It was with this realization and mindset that the Grassroots philosophy was born.

In the winter of 1993, 311 returned home from their “Music” tour in support of their debut album, Music. The band came back hungry and with a couple of goals: record a new album and get back on the road for the 1994 touring season. With these goals in mind, 311 brought back Eddie Offord to x311-010bengineer and produce the album. 311 first connected with Offord in the early ‘90s, when Hexum began sending around demo tapes in an attempt to get the band signed. Somehow, one of the tapes ended up with Offord and he heard something special. When Capricorn Records agreed to sign 311, Offord was part of the package deal to record the album, Music. Due to the success of Music, Offord was a natural fit to produce and engineer the band’s sophomore release.

With Offord’s help, 311 built a home studio in the bands rented, shared home in Van Nuys, CA. The space gave the recording a unique feel and sound.

“You can actually hear the character of the walls and the space. On the ‘Homebrew’ rap, I can hear the character of the room in the recording. You can hear the walls in the guitar tracks because the sound is bouncing off the bedroom walls where we had the guitar cabinet,” reflects Hexum.

Drummer Chad Sexton adds, “You can hear the room, especially on the vocal tracks. That was because we were young and didn’t know that we should’ve moved Nick away from the corner.”

The album wasn’t recorded live, but was tracked, with the vocals and guitars recorded at the house, while the drums were recorded at Mad Hatter Studios in Los Angeles. The album was recorded onto two inch tape and ADATS, a new digital format at the time.

Even with the new studio space and Offord leading the way, the recording process would soon take a turn for the worse. Offord was going through some personal issues and was in-and-out of the recording process. The tensions between the band and producer soon grew to the point that they had to part ways; but before the separation, 311 had to figure out how to finish recording the album on their own. This is where Sexton stepped in.

“I remember going to Eddie and saying, ‘can you explain to me the things that I need to know to get this done.’ I grabbed a pen and paper and wrote down everything he said,” says Sexton. Because of the falling out with Offord, 311’s relationship with Capricorn Records became tense and the money began to dry-up. “They thought we were trying to embezzle money or something weird like that—which we weren’t. They wouldn’t give us any more money and that’s why another engineer wasn’t sent in to help with the record,” says Sexton.
This left Sexton to act as the record’s engineer, along with help from studio engineer Scott Ralston. There are lyrics on the album that chronicle this experience, like the rap on “Salsa.” “The lyrics ‘a tale of ordinary madness’ was inspired by the band’s falling out with Offord,” says Hexum.

The tense relationship between Capricorn Records and 311 persisted throughout the recording process. The band had plans about who would mix the record, but the label had other ideas. “We wanted Scott (Ralston) to mix the record, but the label didn’t trust us at that point,” says Sexton.

311 wanted Ralston to mix the record because of his work with Offord on Music. Ultimately, the band felt that Ralston knew better than anyone about the sound 311 was going for. Instead, the label chose Chris Shaw (Bob Dylan, Public Enemy) to mix the record. “Chris Shaw has done some great stuff. But, we wish we would have heard how that (Ralston’s mix) would’ve turned out,” reflects Sexton.

Today, the best 311 can do is imagine what could’ve been. It’s likely they will never know what an alternative mix of Grassroots could sound like. This is because many of the tracks are lost.

“If we could find all the tracks, which we can’t, we’d try to do a remix of Grassroots just to see how it turned out. We are four songs short. We have tried to locate them at different labels and they are missing—they are gone and have been for a long time,” says Sexton.

Anything Goes…
In 1994, 311 was young and ambitious, with nothing to lose and nothing to be afraid of. “At the time, we were just learning how to write songs and we really valued the ‘anything goes mentality’. We were like ‘anything goes, let’s put raps over there and do whatever’ and there wasn’t a lot over thinking,” says Hexum.

Over thinking wasn’t any part of Grassroots. Along with songwriting, the album cover is another example. “It’s the side of a rusty barrel,” says Hexum. “That’s pretty much the long and short of it. I could kit-chalberg-concert-phtography-311-30991create a grand story about the artwork’s meaning or be vague to allow people’s imagination to run wild, but we were probably nice and baked, and said ‘oh, that looks cool, let’s do that.’”

This sense of freedom allowed the band to explore and create an open space for creativity. It also punctuated the album’s raw and free flowing feel.

“Grassroots is the least edited, in terms of song structure, of all our records. Back then, we were not thinking about anything; not thinking about radio, not even thinking about the fans we had. We were doing it for ourselves and seeing what we could create. Ideas just came about and they were unquestioned,” reflects Sexton.

The anything goes mentality led to songs with no choruses, a mixture of musical influences and one tune that defines 311’s live show to this day. The mix of musical genres on Grassroots is unmistakable—everything from hip-hop, to jam band, to drum core. Guitarist Tim Mahoney brought the jam band influences to the band.

“I remember Tim spending a lot of time by himself in his room, playing, for hours, along with the Grateful Dead and PHISH,” says Hexum. In between the first two albums is where Mahoney significantly grew as a guitar player. “You can hear it on the soloing on ‘Nutsymtom.’ His playing is just masterful. Tim gets a lot of credit for bringing in that new influence,” continues Hexum.

At the time, front-man Nick Hexum was heavily influenced by the New York City underground hip-hop scene. Music pioneers, De la Soul and A Tribe Called Quest where on repeat in his headphones.

“I was super into the conscious, creative hip-hop. I would go on jogs with a backpack, pen, pad, and a Disc-man. I would go to a park, sit under a tree and listen to my favorite De La Soul song, and just be influenced by the vibe. From there I would write my own raps, which were plugged into songs like ‘Lucky’ and ‘Silver,’” says Hexum.

The anything goes spirit also helped to create “Applied Science” and in particular, the now-legendary drum solo in the middle of the song. The solo reflects drummer Chad Sexton’s time in drum core and its influences on his playing style. On the record, the drum break started with Sexton’s drum kit and expanded with several percussion and cymbal overdubs. The drum break is uniquely placed and abstract, but it didn’t translate to the live show.

kit-chalberg-concert-phtography-311-30992“Playing the song live it was like, ‘okay, what was that?’ It didn’t have all the overdubs. So, live it ended up being a really long drum fill. The band stayed on stage while I did the solo. The song was kind of strange live,” says Sexton.

In the early 2000’s Sexton started to involve the entire band in the solo. The full-band solo started out simple and has progressed into the overflowing drums, percussion and stick-tossing performance of today. Even with the solos progression over the last twenty years, Sexton still feels there is room to grow.

“It’ll be exciting to see where we can take it in the future. We realized that other bands are starting to do ‘all band drum thing.’ So, a couple years ago it motivated me to take the solo to a level that would be more difficult to copy,” says Sexton. “This meant hauling around a ton more gear, more practice time for non-drummers and perfecting the stick toss. We’re just gonna keep building it. We probably won’t add more stuff, but we’ll evolve it,” continues Sexton.

Grassroots was a lot of things. It was a mentality. It was an album. It was a learning process. It was a soap opera in parts. It was diverse and free. It was a stepping stone. The combination of all these factors, along with perseverance, a do-it-yourself-approach and boundary-less creativity, ultimately resulted in an album that still resonates with fans today. Now, if someone could only track down those missing recordings!

Did you enjoy this read on 311?
– Then read our 20th Anniversary for their album Music, by clicking HERE!

311 Links:
311: 20th Anniversary of Music Album
Exclusive 311 Blog
311 Website
311 Facebook

Article & Recent Photos By: Kit Chalberg

Watch: 311 – “Homebrew”