The much-anticipated arrival for the forthcoming 311 album MOSAIC is here and features 17 brand-new tracks oven-baked for your speakers. Mosaic will be the 12th full-length studio album from the alternative-rock kingpins, and will officially be made available on June 23, 2017. The Omaha-native quintet is comprised of Nick Hexum (lead vocalist and guitarist), Doug “SA” Martinez (vocals and turntables), Tim Mahoney (lead guitarist), Aaron “P-Nut” Willis (bass), and Chad Sexton (drums).
Seldom will you find an artist of any form who maintains the ability to preserve their roots and quintessential sound while continuing to expand and adapt, reaching new heights without fail upon each new release. A more extreme rarity lies in finding an artist who continues to blaze the trail in doing this for 27 years. Consistently blending a melting pot of various styles and elements into their own unique sound machine, 311 has etched themselves several times over into their own legacy. From igniting the masses with each live performance, to creating truly memorable experiences for their incredible fan-base far and wide, 311 has been “Livin & Rockin” since their musical inception.
We had the opportunity to connect with Nick Hexum for an in-depth discussion in anticipation of the band’s forthcoming album Mosaic, in which he was also able to provide insight and shed some additional details regarding production for the album, a couple of the tracks and the overarching theme centered around family, fans and community. We also chatted about their recent TV appearances, writing collaborations on Mosaic as well as collaborations with Dirty Heads and Rome Ramirez, longevity within their musical career and more — Read the full Q&A below!
Interview: Nick Hexum of 311
The Pier: Congratulations on the new record! Everything we’ve been able to hear thus far sounds incredible — It features that classic 311 feel but noticeably expands and explores new territories as well. From a production standpoint, what was it like working with John Feldmann of Goldfinger who produced five of the tracks? How has that relationship materialize?
Nick: Well, we’ve known Feldy for 20 years now –- Goldfinger went on tour with us back in like ’97. And we’ve been friends as L.A. songwriters and producers, and we’ve just crossed paths a lot and our families are friends. Generally, we’ve kept a lot of what 311 does in house, but the guys had become more open to having different collaborators. With Mosaic, we kind of felt like we were getting to the end of the line with the 12 songs we had done with Scotch (Ralston). At the last minute I was like, “Hey Feldy, you wanna write a song together?” And we got together and cranked out “Too Much to Think” in literally, like an hour. He and I just work so quickly together. And then we agreed to do another one! He’s just a force of nature –- he works so fast and drinks so much espresso [laughs]. He just makes your head spin, so we really had a super-fast output for those last five songs. The first 12 took maybe a couple of years, the last five took a couple of weeks. So, it was cool to work much more intensively than we normally do — we normally just kind of let things evolve.
The Pier: Some of the tracks we were able to sample, that really stuck out to us, included ‘Hey Yo’ — and I believe you debuted that for 311 Day 2016. The heavy outro and instrumentals on that one are pretty powerful! How long had that track been written and what was the overall theme behind it?
Nick: “Hey Yo” was definitely early on in the writing process. “Wildfire” was the first rocker, and then “Hey Yo” came quickly after that. Both of those songs you can hear the very modern transition –- where you have a build which is kind of a looping vamp that builds up, and builds up, and builds up to a drop. I like that, I like that tension and then the release. It’s a very 2017 kind of thing that is satisfying, so “Hey Yo” is one of the early blue prints of that style. And when you get to the end, sometimes you just want to rock out with a riff, totally instrumental –- so that was a fun song to make.
The Pier: ‘Places That the Mind Goes’ also caught our attention, it’s an epic track and slows things up a bit in what seems to be a pretty rock-driven record from what we’ve been able to hear so far. It’s a warmer, soothing track — What can you tell us about that one?
Nick: I like songs that have a twist. It seems kind of like a love song, but it’s also more shining the light back on your own insecurities. Like when I don’t hear from you, the places that the mind goes… it may be jealousy or that kind of thing that everyone can relate with. It’s not a finger pointing thing at all, it’s more of an introspective look in the mirror. So, I found it to be really revealing — and it was fun to write with my friend Alan Hampton. He’s Andrew Bird’s bassist and really good! More of a jazz kind of player, but also a great songwriter. I’ve known him through my brother for a while, and we got together and wrote that. It feels like a breakthrough to me.
The Pier: ‘Mosaic’ will be your 12th full-length studio album, and captures the overarching theme of community, family and the fans as noted from the album cover, including nearly 10,000 photos submitted by fans! At what point in the process of making this record did you determine that was going to be the overall theme for the album or did it happen organically as things continued to take shape?
Nick: You know, we’ve always felt that diversity in all areas of life is the way to go. Whether it’s culturally, what is great about America with having all these different cultures together, but more specifically, musically in our band to have all these different styles somehow congealed into 311. And then to have our fan-base, for Mosaic, on the cover is about the humility that we feel that this isn’t just about us. This isn’t about the band members, it’s about the larger community that we’ve fallen into together and been so blessed with.
The Pier: We’ve heard that you’ve been getting more involved in production, and have recently been collaborating with Rome Ramirez and the Dirty Heads on a track. Are you able to share any details regarding that collaboration and the track itself?
Nick: Yeah! We had started a song over a year ago, and then I went in and finished it with them about three weeks ago. And it was just with vocalists Jared (Watson) and Duddy B. from Dirty Heads on the first session. The second session was at Rome’s studio and he was involved as a producer and collaborator. So that was a fun session, good friends of ours that we’ve done a lot shows with and we’re very friendly with –- I like to mix up the experience of where I record and who I record with. But yeah I’m pretty sure they’re gonna use that song on their album and I’m going to be guest vocalist on it, so that’s cool.
The Pier: Another topic that definitely caught our attention –- you’ve recently had the opportunity to be featured on a couple of TV shows with ‘The Eric Andre Show’, and the HBO show ‘Animals’ -– and they were great! How did those come together?
Nick: You know, I had some young journalist call me and say “As a millennial, the thing that me and my friends know of you guys is Eric Andre.” He’s very dialed-into that world of crazy, extremely on the edge of offensiveness, humor -– both ‘Animals’ and Eric Andre -– we had heard they kept making references to us in their show. And then we found out that they’d maybe grown up on us or were just big fans. So, it’s cool to have a generation doing a tip of the hat back to us for whatever we meant to them in the past, and then therefore kind of tipping their viewers to us. Both of those were fun –- I don’t think we quite knew what we were signing up for with ‘The Eric Andre Show’ [laughs]. I mean, they said he’s going to harass you and stuff while you’re playing, but I left it with a good sense of humor, because we’ve always enjoyed shows like ‘Jackass’ and stuff where people are ready to endure pain and embarrassment in the spirit of humor.
The Pier: The 2017 Unity Tour kicks off in just a couple of weeks, the day before album release day! In what has now become a tradition and the experience of the summer, can you talk about adding New Politics and The Skints to the lineup for this year?
Nick: We were ready to bring in some new sounds. The Unity Tour has had a lot of great bands, but we’ve kind of been in the reggae lane for a while. Though The Skints is a good reggae band, they’re from England. New Politics is of sorts a brand new kind of sound of people that we haven’t toured with before, with more of that modern, electro and dance influence, but still definitely alternative. I haven’t seen them live yet, but I hear the show is a riot. Really high energy with acrobatics, break-dancing, so it’s always nice to be influenced by our opening bands and to be inspired. This summer’s going to be a good one!
The Pier: Along with album releases, 311 at times has also dropped some supplementary releases to include DVDs, B-Sides, etc. It had been announced that another edition of ‘Enlarged to Show Detail’ was in the works, do you have any updates regarding the release date for ETSD3?
Nick: I don’t have any dates to estimate, but I will definitely say that it’s making progress!
The Pier: In regards to collaborations, it seems as though there were several guest contributions behind the scenes on ‘Mosaic’ from a writing perspective. Has 311 ever considered bringing on another artist to be a guest feature on a track or has that been something over the years that you’ve collectively decided to not pursue?
Nick: It’s something that we always say that we wanna do, it just never kind of comes together. For me personally, both me and Tim, one of our favorite guitarists of all-time is John Scofield. He’s one of the three great jazz guitarists that are playing today –- that would be kind of like a dream collaboration to come in and have him play with us. We have gotten a lot more into collaborations, but it’s been more on the behind-the-scenes with having different people come in and write. It’s good, it’s a way to keep it fresh, to keep new influences coming –- we’re secure in ourselves that we know that even if we bring in new people to come in and write with us, it’s still going to be distinctly 311, just because it’s coming through us.
The Pier: Diving back into album covers briefly, one other album cover that has really peaked our interest over time is the album art for ‘Evolver’ -– it’s pretty rad! Definitely has a psychedelic vibe with the floor pattern, but we noticed everyone is kind of scattered and separated and you’re also holding your guitar in the reverse direction. Can you talk about the creation and ideas behind the cover?
Nick: Very observant of you to notice that! That was shot at the Ambassador Hotel, which is where Robert Kennedy was killed. It was closed then, it’s been boarded up – I think it’s torn down now, but it definitely wasn’t functioning as a hotel anymore, we just rented it to do the photo-shoot there. We were inspired to have the type of cover that you could sit there and look at for a long time and pick up little things, like there’s that huge blackbird over Chad’s head and he does not like blackbirds whatsoever [laughs]. It’s a very complex, staged photo that’s kind of a nod to classic album covers that give you a lot to look at. And also in weird settings, like Morrison Hotel or different classic rock things. To us, it felt like a throwback to a more psychedelic era, so I think you’re summary of that was definitely correct.
The Pier: This weekend marked 27 years as a band for 311. 9 million albums sold, 9 consecutive Top 10’s on the Billboard 200 Chart — you guys show no signs of slowing down and continue to raise the bar with each release. When thinking back on the longevity and success you’ve been able to achieve, what is your top moment or favorite memory at this point in your musical career?
Nick: Man, we’ve had so many. We did this one hometown show in the Memorial Park which is in the middle of Omaha, where estimates ranged from 40,000 to 60,000 people showed up. It was this huge free show, that was about 10 years ago and that was one of the biggest crowds that we’ve played for. Every event show we do, we find a way to top ourselves. This last cruise was the best cruise that we’ve had. This last 311 Day we hit new heights with having a gospel choir come sing with us and rearrange the songs that really highlight the more spiritual, inspiring side of 311 –- that was kind of a tear-jerking thing for us to be a part of as well as for a lot of our fans.
The Pier: One last question – what do you hope is the key takeaway and lasting impression for fans when they listen to MOSAIC?
Nick: I just hope that people listen with an open mind. I think we ask a lot of the listener to go through a song like “Wildfire” with so many different movements and sections, and so little repetition. So we ask people to have an open mind, not judge quickly, give it multiple listens. I think diversity is what makes life great and art great. Having all the different random elements and bringing in a bunch of new ones on this album. I hope that people feel we take them into new territory, because that’s what it felt like to us.
We cannot thank 311 and Nick Hexum enough for taking the time! If for some reason you haven’t already ordered the album, make moves and pick it up on iTunes by clicking HERE!
Watch: 311 – “Too Much To Think”
Watch: 311 on The Eric Andre Show
Watch: 311 on HBO’s Animals
Listen: 311 – “Perfect Mistake”
Listen: 311 – “Too Late”