311 Celebrates 20th Anniversary of The Blue Album
An Interview with drummer Chad Sexton
Blue Album Track Listing:
3.) Jackolantern’s Weather
4.) All Mixed Up
6.) Guns (Are For Pussies)
7.) Misdirected Hostility
11.) Don’t Stay Home
14.) T & P Combo
Release Date: July 11, 1995
Record Label: Capricorn Records – Reissued on Volcano
Ah, the summer of 1995. Let’s take a moment and reflect on what happened that fateful year 20-years ago. Well, Coolio was ruling the music charts with Gansta’s Paradise. Alanis Morissette and TLC also took turns at number one. In other news, TLC spent all their money and filed for bankruptcy, Selena was murdered by a nutjob fan and the legendary Jerry Garcia died. Sadly, the country’s love affair with grunge was beginning to fade and was being replaced by everyone’s favorite Canadian crooner—yes, Brian Adams—Motown heartthrobs Boyz II Men and some guy named Montell Jordan.
The summer of 1995 was also the year a little-known band from Nebraska released their third studio album. 311 released the self-titled album in July and quickly received positive reviews from music critics. Singles like Down and All Mixed Up launched the band to mainstream success and introduced many fans to their first taste of 311’s unique blend of rock and hip-hop. The Blue Album changed everything for 311. They went from an up-and-coming band with a strong grassroots following, to getting heavy rotations on MTV and radio. The album would set-up the band for future success and, twenty years later, is still adored by fans.
Working with Ron Saint Germain
In late 1994, 311 returned to their home in the Hollywood hills excited and energized to work on their third studio album. “The Blue Record was a great experience for us,” says drummer Chad Sexton, “we were working with our dream producer, Ron Saint Germain.” For those not familiar with “Saint,” he is a producer/engineer who has worked on 19 Grammy nominated projects, with 14 winners. In addition to 311, he has worked with U2, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Whitney Houston and the King of Pop—just to name a few. But, it was Saint Germain’s work with the legendary punk band Bad Brains that motivated 311 to pursue him as their producer and engineer. “We had always talked about working with him and then on the third record, we reached out and it was as easy as that,” reflects Sexton.
Saint Germain’s creative and technical expertise elevated the band’s sound that helped produce 311’s radio hits. From the technical side, Saint’s engineering expertise helped capture the band’s sound in a new way. The Blue Album was recorded onto two-inch tape with one of the machines set to 16-tracks. “When you record this way, it can give a bigger, fatter sound. So, if you compare albums, you can definitely hear what 16-tracks does for recording. I was especially ecstatic with the quality of the recording on the record,” says Sexton.
Not only did Saint bring the technical side, he brought a sense of passion and collaboration to a young band seeking guidance. “Ron brought an incomparable amount of passion and energy to the project. He’s fully committed. He’ll work later than anyone. He’ll get the least amount of sleep of anyone. He’ll make it happen,” says Sexton. “Those types of super bad-ass individuals—who can fly planes and understand physics and science, and love entertainment—those types of dudes are not around so much anymore. It was a complete honor to work with him.” To this day, the band draws on their experience with Saint and appreciates his willingness to teach and collaborate. “This band learned so much from the guy. We use it as second nature now. I got a lot of my mixing experience from his teaching and allowing me to be there. He shared and wanted people to learn and was willing to teach. He wasn’t intimidated by people because he was one of the best there is,” says Sexton
With Saint on board, the band spent a couple months solid working out the songs. “We were young and so excited that Ron Saint Germain was there, and we were giving it our all. We probably practiced that record every day for a couple months,” reflects Sexton. After pre-production, 311 had 19 or 20 songs that were recorded, including 5 or 6 b-sides. The band recorded all the songs and chose 14 for the record. The songs were then in the hands of Saint Germain, who mixed the album songs first and then (live sound and studio engineer) Scott ‘Scotch’ Ralston helped mix a couple of the b-sides. “It was a great team. It reminds me of a great time in music. But not that the music was great, but because we were right in the thick of it, in terms of where the music industry was and how people were recording at that time,” says Sexton.
Unlike previous records, The Blue Album was recorded live. Guitarist Tim Mahoney, bassist Aaron “P-Nut” Wills and Sexton tracked live together, along with singer-guitarist Nick Hexum on some tracks. “We made sure we got the drums in those takes,” says Sexton, “…we kept parts that worked and fixed parts that didn’t.” The Blue Album was recorded quickly, with the recording and mixing processes taking about six weeks total. Sexton credits the short time-frame to the album’s continuity of sound and the band’s simplified approach. “It’s a rocker, for a 311 record. Most of those songs are, for us, straight-ahead shuffle rock. There wasn’t a lot of complicated stuff going on,” says Sexton, “the record is more linear than other 311 records. It sold the best, so maybe we could learn something there.”
311 Logo & Album Art
The Blue Album’s art is the first time the now-iconic 311 logo appears. The album design is simple and effective, with the logo squarely centered and surrounded by shades of blue. The logo was designed in the early 1990’s by the now defunct production-design company called Pawn Shop Press. 311 had worked with the company previously, including the album artwork for Grassroots. “We worked with them a lot over the years. They did our video for ‘Homebrew’ and we were like ‘this shit looks so cool,” says Sexton, “so, we asked them to come up with a 311 logo.”
311 wanted their third album to be self-titled. This decision broke from historic music trends where a band’s first record was typically self-titled, like Led Zeppelin, The Stooges, Ramones and The Allman Brothers Band first releases decades earlier. The album art was also a conscious decision, “We thought it was a cool idea to just include our logo and a color, so that someday people might call it ‘The Blue Album,’” reflects Sexton. Twenty years later, the logo has stood the test of time, as the band uses it to this day. The only time it wasn’t used was the Sound System package. “For whatever reason, we used a completely different logo, but it does make sense because the whole package was designed by a Japanese artist. That album artwork is a combination of Japanese technology graphics and reggae,” say Sexton.
The Blue Album was a game changer for 311. It propelled the band to mainstream success and laid a foundation for future successes. For rock-reggae fans, The Blue Album is arguably one of the most influential albums in the genre. In terms of mainstream success, it’s hard to find other albums that compare. The album helped break barriers and legitimize the blending of rock with hip-hop and reggae. For longtime fans, it reinforced what they already knew—311 is a bad-ass band that can do whatever they want. Whatever your perspective on the album’s impact, there is little doubt it was critical to 311’s nearly three-decade career.
Watch: 311 – “Down”
Watch: 311 – “All Mixed Up”