Interview: 311

Interview: 311

As 311’s annual Unity Tour hit the east coast, and heading back towards west coast for the final string of tour stops, Nick Hexum 311’s lead singer and guitarist was gracious enough to spend some time with The Pier.

With a band like 311, the topics and discussion points are nearly endless. Whether it was talking about the current happenings on the Unity Tour with Slightly Stoopid, SOJA and The Aggrolites, or touching on the last time 311 flipped their role to direct support for hip-hop star Jay-Z over ten-years ago, and even uncovering some major details for future plans for 311 day, their 311 cruise to the Bahamas, the Pow Wow festival, and the unveiling of never before seen or heard live footage from long lost shows. Nick Hexum was more than willing to discuss everything that is 311 and the lifestyle they bring.

So, without further interruption, dive into the latest interview, and The Pier’s first ever Exclusive Interview with 311 and Nick Hexum! ENJOY!

The Pier: Nick, everyone at The Pier and all the fans truly appreciate you taking the time out for this interview. We all know how valuable your time is, so I’ll jump right into this. Since you are currently on the annual Unity Tour with Slightly Stoopid and SOJA as direct support and opening acts, along with The Aggrolites previously, what do you and the rest of the 311 band members look for in opening acts in a supporting role for the tour? Is there a certain feature or attribute about a band or is it the entire package?
311: For this type of summer tour, we are looking for that summer fun feel, danceable grooves, just an overall positive vibe. We have been really lucky, this is our 9th Unity Tour, and we have always had really good luck at finding great support for the tours. This year, Slightly Stoopid, they really do it up with kind of a backyard BBQ and a grill going. They have a DJ playing music and just a big cookout backstage every night. It’s just been a lot of fun this year and we found the right fit for the tour. It just needs to be an overall good time with good people and musicians. That’s what the fans want!

The Pier: That’s good to hear that the bands have really gelled together after the shows and throughout the entire tour. On the Unity Tour this summer, 311 has closed the shows with Slightly Stoopid as direct support. Can you remember the last time 311 was not the headliner on an extensive tour, not including festivals?
311: Wow, we got to go way back. I think the summer of 2000, we did the Sprite Liquid Mix Tour, and Jay-Z played after us. Most of the time it was our crowd and it was really cool, but there were one or two cities here and there that was an extremely urban crowd that was not really down with the rock and mosh. And, you know, it was kind of tough to get through it. But, that is one of the benefits now of being a band for 22-years and having our own tour now, we can headline and select the dates and where and when. If the situation was right, we would not be opposed to opening like that either. We initially kind of offered to let Slightly Stoopid close a couple shows, but they were like, “You know what, you guys play last. It is totally fine.” They just have certain spots were they are really, really popular and wanted to at least extend the offer. But, it has been a really fun summer so far for all of us.

The Pier: To hear that 311 offered that up to Slightly Stoopid is really refreshing to know there are truly genuine bands in the music industry today. Along those lines, a lot of bands today have followed a certain mold about the whole perception and sound of a band, and many times maybe even as a cookie-cutter style of their inspirations or musical heroes growing up. As a band, do you perceive yourself and 311 as a genre-changing or even a genre-shaping band since the group started playing back in the early 90s?
311: I think so! In some ways I think we are in a genre of our own, because there are so many different styles thrown in. I think some people will think, “Oh, that reggae band 311” or “that hippy jam band 311” or “that heavy rap-rock band…” I mean honestly, we are none of those things, yet we are all of those things. We like a lot different styles of music, and back in the early days the idea was, anything goes. Just any really weird style we liked, we would go for and throw it in there. In some ways we would automatically fall into certain grooves or routines. For us it is really important to try and break those patterns and just keep exploring our music.

The Pier: You kind of touched on this a little bit, but 311’s music is extremely unique, because you have so many influences in your music. What genre do you see the band fit in or categorized in?
311: I guess you can say we are alternative, but we always change our style and sound. That’s the fun part. That is the exploration. A lot people say, “I am really curious where you guys go with your next album.” And all I can say is, “Yeah, me too!” (laughs) We have no idea where the collective group’s continence will take us next time, but that is the fun of exploration. We are always changing, so it is more of a wait and see process.

The Pier: Without exploration and creativity, your music would have never reached these heights! Now, going back to the Unity Tour; you’re on tour currently with Slightly Stoopid. Last summer on the Unity Tour, Sublime with Rome was 311’s direct support. Can you see or hear any similarities between Stoopid’s sound, musicianship, road lifestyles and professionalism comparatively to last summer with SWR?
311: Yeah, definitely. Those bands, and Sublime originally, have been linked because Bradley [Nowell signed the band and] appeared on Slightly Stoopid’s very first record. I think it was a hidden, extended acoustic thing on there so…But I think there is a continuing legacy thing there between those bands. I think both bands were a great fit for what we were trying to do on tour. Sometimes when you get to this point in the tour you go, “Wow, what are we going to do next summer?” (laughs) That’s exactly what we have been trying to talk about. We try not to repeat, you know? Every Unity Tour is kind of different with support and co-headliners. Like we were talking about early, could we possibly go out and opener for someone else, and would it fit? I have no idea. I don’t know if that is something the band would want to do. But as far as comparing these two bands, we couldn’t have asked for a better reception from the fans last year or this current tour.

The Pier: You mentioned the band is already looking towards the future, so I’ll head in that direction, as well. After being on the road for so long throughout your career, the band has opened up the vault and started to go through old footage and old sound from past live shows. Is there a live album or live DVD in the works to be released?
311: Actually, it is going to be a lot more than just that! It is actually going to be a whole lot of live songs and footage from past shows available online and maybe more than that. And a lot of other bands have done a great job with it like Phish and Pearl Jam, etc. So, we have been preparing shows and going through and finding the best ones, that will include video of course. So, we are rectifying that and it has just been fun to look back and hear what we have done. We think it is going to be a large success!

[Editors Note: This has since launched and you can download tons of LIVE 311 music by going to Enjoy!]

The Pier: That’s going to be a nice little treat for the fans! Going off always giving the fans a great experience, who’s idea was it to arrange a cruise ship to carry multiple thousands of your fans to the Bahamas to listen to music all day, everyday? And, was it the greatest idea ever now that the 311 cruise has been so prosperous and continues on for another year?
311: (laughs) I guess to start with a little history of it, before we started our 311 cruise, they had something called “Blues Cruises” with a bunch of blues bands going out together and do these cruises. Then they started branching out to all different types of music. The promoter, Sixthman, they just do an amazing job with making sure there is always something going on for the fans. There are plenty of bands to see, there are beer pong tournaments, belly-flopping contests, karaoke, name that tune, there are just all kinds of things going on all over the boat. Sixthman invited us a few years back, and each one has just gotten better and better. Our third one is planned already, and we are not only once again going to play on a private beach on a private island, which we did for the first time on this past cruise…I mean to be able to play right on the beach with all the fans standing waist deep in the water just grooving out, it was a really special reggae influence and summertime set. So, we have another new destination to do something like that again on a new beach, and we will be going on a much nicer and more updated boat on the Norwegian Cruise Line. So, we keep finding ways to make each one better and better. Everyone that goes says, “This was the best vacation I have ever had!” So, there is just so much fun stuff to do. For 311 fans, it is just an overall welcoming, feel good party vibe and meeting people from all across the country and the world in some cases. It is just a real kind of unity thing going on. That’s the nice thing about our band, it is not just a band, it’s a movement, it’s a way of thinking, it’s an attitude. We definitely love to see our fans and meet them, so we are already excited for the next trip to the Bahamas!

The Pier: I haven’t seen a fan base more connected and in tune with the band on an interactive level, like 311. Going off of that, how much control do you personally have in selecting a location and host city for 311 day each year? The last year was in Las Vegas and New Orleans is where it all began. How much do you take into consideration the fan base’s input and demands?
311: Well, I’ll tell you, the real spiritual home for 311 day was in New Orleans. Then for one reason or another, then there was hurricane Katrina destroyed the place where we wanted to play, then the last couple of times have been booked with a convention or a basketball tournament and all the hotels were filled up. There were always logistical reasons that we just couldn’t play there. But, Las Vegas is a great party destination too! (laughs) So, no announcements as to where the next 311 day will be, but it is every other year. We do 311 day on even numbered years, and now that we are going to continue doing these cruises, those will be in the spring of odd numbered years. Next year, 2013, will be a 311 cruise year, and then the following year, we will host the 311 day. Then after that it will just be back and forth and back and forth.

The Pier: That’s great information for the fans to take note of! Now, the 311 hosted Pow Wow Festival in 2011 was a huge success. What are the plans for that event in the near future?
311: Well, we have not made any decisions on that as of yet. We definitely enjoyed the Pow Wow Festival. We kind of scheduled it in a time of year where it was a little too hot. Although, when it came time to do the show, it was a really special time for everyone involved. We do want to do it again, but we also got to the point where there were just too many events and people would say, “There is just too many to go to, we can’t make it to all of them.” So, we are going to kind of space them out more and more. We haven’t made an official decision on when we will do the next Pow Wow again. Right now the only thing we have locked in is the 311 cruise.

The Pier: Between the 311 cruise, your annual Unity Tour and the Pow Wow festival, the band has extended an outlet for a lot of upcoming Reggae-Rock groups to showcase their music. Groups such as Pepper, the Dirty Heads, The Movement, Passafire, Ballyhoo! and many more have had the opportunity to play along side 311 on numerous occasions. Since 311’s inception in 1990, how have you seen the culture of Reggae-Rock music evolve over the years?
311: It is nice to see a newer generation of bands combining different styles like us. It’s cool, The Aggrolites, I was chatting with Jesse Wagner (lead singer/guitarist) the other day… I am a big, big fan of that band, and he was telling me that when he was a teenager, “My Stoney Baby” off our first album, that was his jam. It’s cool to have bands grow up listening to our music and then now to be able to share the same bill with them is unbelievable. It just gets passed along, you know? Everybody is just standing on the shoulders of giants, as the expression goes. Nobody truly invents everything on their own. You are basically building on your roots and experiences with everything you had as a band coming up. That’s why I keep my listening experiences extremely broad. Like right now, I am all about 70s funk, just a whole bunch of rootsy, truly American music. Music is a never-ending journey, and we just want to keep it going.

The Pier: Going off of your conversation with The Aggrolites, in your opinion what bands display long term potential within this musical game, like 311 has shown for the last three decades?
311: The bands we have out on tour with us right now are definitely two to watch. Slightly Stoopid and SOJA just have a great overall sound. Another band that I really like is Rebelution. They are just a great live reggae band to see. It is kind of sad though, with the collapse of the music business, there are just not that many bands to go see live and coming out to tour as there used to be. Only the bands that are really savvy with their social media are able to get everything going and make everything work. Back in the 90s, there were tons of bands that were really into playing and touring, and I think that those types of bands have really fallen off a bit. For us, we just feel grateful that we were able to survive the downturn, you know?

The Pier: You mentioned Rebelution, and they released a triple album earlier this year, including an acoustic version and a dub version of their studio tracks. There was tons of input and feedback on our social networks about inquiring if 311 would ever consider putting out a strictly acoustic album or a dub remix album in the future. Has there been anything discussed internally with 311 about that or is that even a possibility?
311: Um…No, but that sounds good to me! (laughs)

The Pier: The 311 fan base is at it again! Jumping to another topic, it is extremely common for various artists, bands’ friends in other bands collaborating on a song while in the studio for recording sessions and then perform that particular gem live to the crowd. What is 311’s stance of guest vocalists and collaborations during recordings and on stage for a live show? Thinking back I can’t remember many collaborations other than Shaquille O’Neal joining the band onstage at a KROQ Weenie Roast way back when…Was there a talk about possibly collaborating with Slightly Stoopid on this tour on one of your songs or one of their songs for this tour?
311: Not really, but I do think that is cool to do. You know, it might happen in the future at some time. I was kind of curious to hear how Slightly Stoopid had so many collaborations with guest stars on their recent album. I do think it is good to mix up who you play with and perform with live and stuff like that. I am actually kind of in the process of a little side project with my brother and these funky jazz players, and have some music that we have been working on. But yes, I do think it is great for artists to mix it up and bring in different artists and musicians and their personalities to write along with and learn from.

The Pier: Following the Unity Tour last year with Sublime with Rome, The Pier caught up with Rome during a backstage interview and he spoke about writing with you, Nick Hexum, and 311 for a song or two. Was that a 311 song featuring Rome or a song for his solo career?
311: You know, our schedules haven’t lined up, but I do think that was the plan. I was going to get in there and co-write a song with Rome for his solo joint whenever that finished up. Our schedules didn’t connect, but he is a good guy… That is another example of when we met on tour last year, he said, “I used to go to the Unity Tour every year just as a fan to see who was on it.” He told me how much he enjoyed it, and now that we co-headlined a tour together and sharing the bill. It was really cool for us and for him, just as a side story, to see it all come full circle for him and for us.

The Pier: Since 311 has been touring nonstop, and you mentioned the thought process has already begun for next summer and the Unity Tour, has 311 toured with every single band you ever wanted to tour or play with, or does 311 even have a bucket list of bands to potentially perform along side in the future?
311: There are some more, I wouldn’t say plenty more, but I also don’t want to drop any names. Certainly, yes, that is what the discussion has been about. So, we will see what happens in the future.

The Pier: To some 311 is a band that was big in the 90’s and continues to grow over twenty years later. As we mentioned, to some it’s now a reason to go on vacation, and for some of us, 311 is a way of life or an attitude as you stated earlier. 311 has molded its own genre of music. In 100-years from now, what do you want the 311 legacy to be? What will be 311’s claim to fame?
311: Wow…I would have to say, just a little bit of everything, you know? Remember us as being just positive people that had a good influence on people’s psyche and their lives. We always tried to have a fun time with the fans at all the live shows and different settings, and just played good songs for them to enjoy. That’s what music can be, it truly can be like a miniature vacation for the fans. Whether it is just putting on your headphones with an album or attending a show in person, we just wanted to make these people’s lives a little bit better and help them out with our music. And, hopefully we did that, and made their lives better through our music.

The Pier: Well, Nick, I think I will end it on that! It was truly an honor and a privilege to speak with you. For myself, I can remember being only six-years-old watching 311 music videos on MTV, back when they were actually a platform for good music. To be able to interview you now, I can’t thank you enough. Everyone at The Pier appreciates you taking the time out for us!
311: Oh okay, no problem, thank you we appreciate the support

311 Links:
311 Website

Interview By: Kris Siuta
Photos By: IrieAZPhoto & Amanda Zancanella

Video: 311 – Love Song

Video: 311 – Down

Video: 311 – Come Original

Video 311 – Sunset in July