Written by Al Mannarino
In 1988, a rock band was formed in Omaha, Nebraska. Twenty-three years later that band would not only still be together, touring every year, and still recording new material, but would also become the quintessential “summer band.” Because of their unique sound that mixes funk, rap, reggae, and jazz; 311 have solidified themselves one of the biggest names in rock music. They are constantly evolving as artists and even with their busy schedules, which include touring every summer and playing shows while cruising the Caribbean, they still have time to record new albums and work on solo projects.
Speaking of solo projects, I recently had the opportunity to speak with Nick Hexum, the lead singer and guitarist of 311. Hexum has just released his new solo project: The Nick Hexum Quintet’s first album My Shadow Pages. The Quintet will be playing a few shows in January before 311 release their new album in March.
I spoke with Nick about the inspirations for the new solo project, coming back to The Stone Pony, and the possibility of seeing the Quintet set sail on the upcoming 311 Cruise.
Pop-Break: What was your inspiration for the solo project? Did you find yourself writing material that didn’t fit with the band or did you want to try something new?
Nick Hexum: I think it was just real organic that I had interest in more instrumental music, jazz, improvisation, and jam bands. I have been really working on my guitar playing a lot and my brother Zack and I had just been kicking around the idea of having an improv band. The idea just sort of snowballed into an actual album. It was just very organic. I suppose why it was a different avenue then 311 was because it was more in the jazz and funk vein where is 311 is more rock and reggae.
PB: When listening to your album I hear a lot of different influences ranging from jazz to funk and even classical. Where do you say the Quintet’s sound comes from?
NH: Those influences are definitely right. There is this sub genre of jazz that’s funk influenced like John Scofield, Medeski Martin & Wood, and Charlie Hunter. Worldwide there’s a band like The Bamboos, which is an Australian funk band. The New Mastersounds is kind of an updated version of The Meters that are based in England. So those are some of the influences, but I suppose the guys that I collaborated with on the project Luke, Andres, and Zack were the biggest influences.
PB: For your first solo album you used your own record label, which hasn’t been used since the first few 311 albums. What has that experience been like?
NH: It’s so different now than it was then. Back then it was taking boxes of tapes down to Omaha Record stores and now it’s just figuring out all the digital distribution; Spotify, Pandora, and iTunes promotions. So it was a good learning experience for me and for my management, which became the label. When a band does their own label, it’s really the manager that’s doing all the work. You always have to thank them.
PB: You are use to playing larger outdoor arenas and amphitheaters. I remember seeing 311 every year at the PNC Bank Art Center. How does it feel to play as the Quintet in smaller more intimate venues like your upcoming show at The Stone Pony?
NH: I’m really looking forward to it. We have had three warm up shows in L.A. around the time the record came out in October. Now we are getting ready to leave looking forward to The Stone Pony. That’s just a very special venue. I remember it fondly when 311 played there many years ago. There is a lot of excitement around that show in particular and it’s nice to be up close and personal, and have that compact energy of a club. I love playing outside in the amphitheaters in the summer, but this has a special magic playing in these smaller places.
PB: 23 years of making music with 311, what’s keeps you motivated to make new music?
NH: Man, there’s always a new frontier to venture into. That’s the great thing about music: it’s a never-ending journey. Really the only way you could be stuck in music is if you got it all figured out. If you remain teachable and keep getting into new styles it’s truly a life long journey. I always find new stuff that excites me; finding out new artists that I didn’t know about through social media, sharing playlists, and making a Pandora station. There’s just so much stuff out there and there is always inspiration to go find it.
PB: You are playing a few shows in January then the new 311 album comes out in March. Will you try to tour again with the Quintet after, or start working on new material?
NH: I think there will always be new tours and records along the way. I have kind of been conceptualizing another solo release. That’s just the fun of trying to figure out what to do next. I think this tour is going to be good. Ticket sales have been good for this Quintet tour. I imagine we will do it again, I’m not sure when, but we are just taking it one step at a time.
PB: I wouldn’t be a 311 fan if I didn’t ask you a 311 related question. What can you tell us about the new 311 album?
NH: Well its more eclectic; wider variety of styles. There are fifteen songs, which is almost twice as long as our previous album. So that kind of shows that we were in a very creative flow on the record. I think people are going to really like it.
PB: Now I know the next 311 Cruise isn’t until 2015, but is there a chance The Nick Hexum Quintet will set sail as well?
NH: Not a bad idea. It’s possible.
The Nick Hexum Quintent performs at The Stone Pony in Asbury Park, New Jersey on Friday January 24th. Click here for tickets.