In 2010, I bought tickets to see The Unity Tour at The PNC Bank Arts Center in Holmdel, New Jersey. The bill was headlined by 311 and featured The Offspring and Pepper. I went to the concert with my friend for the singular purpose of seeing one of my favorite bands at the time, The Offspring. For us, it was all about Offspring, 311 and Pepper were just cool bonuses for us.
Yet, as the crowds slowly filed out of the hot and hazy amphitheater, my night had ended up going in a completely different direction. It was 311 who made my night. I hadn’t just witnessed a concert; I had been part of an experience. Every concert that I had seen before paled in comparison to their energetic and unforgettable performance. Their impressive two-hour set was unlike anything I had ever seen. I went in as someone who had heard a few of their songs, I left as a die hard fan.
311 soon became synonymous with summer for me. In fact, in my mind, summer didn’t officially start until 311 performed at The Arts Center. Like I said, this wasn’t just a concert, this was an experience that is the reason that going to live shows became my hobby. 311 became one of my favorite bands and in the process, they made music the biggest part of my life.
Nearly four years after that fateful night, 311 is once again kicking off summer in the Northeast for me by performing at The Stone Pony Summer Stage (their first time at the venue in nearly 20 years!) and the brand new JBL Live at Pier 97 in New York City. I had the privilege to speak with 311 singer/guitarist Nick Hexum (for the second time this year) to talk about their latest record Stereolithic, performing for over five hours on 311 Day, and the upcoming 311 Cruise.
Pop-Break: When we last spoke, you mentioned that the next 311 album would be eclectic, but you didn’t mention how heavy it was going to be. What inspired the band to go this route?
Nick Hexum: There isn’t really a lot of calculation. It’s just get in, make music, and see how it goes. There’s definitely the core of rock songs that we like to make. As I’m working on new music I try to stay with the newer textures that we are capable of. I don’t know, I just love exploration. Stereolithic is just when five guys put their minds together, that’s what came out. Not very calculated.
PB: On some songs like “The Great Divide,” you and SA Martinez switch roles, what was the thought process behind that?
NH: Yeah there was no calculation to it. I love that opening rap. Though I have to say that the opening line of the opening rap was written by P-Nut. “It’s like I stepped into a dream.” He’s like, “you got to start a rap with that.” I was like okay that gives me something to go off of so here I go. So he wrote the first line. It’s just fun to see where the cards fall.
PB: Will fans see more shake-ups to the dynamic like that in future albums?
NH: Yeah, I love breaking rules.
PB: You recently played The Stone Pony with the Quintet, but 311 hasn’t played there in almost two decades. What’s was it like to come back to such a legendary venue without the rest of the band?
NH: Well, yeah, it has been so long. I have strange long memories from when had played there before. It was a long time ago and that’s a cool room with a lot of history. Playing in the dead of winter compared to playing in the summer is totally different. Of course the two styles of music are pretty varied as well so I’m looking forward to this summer show.
PB: You released Stereolithic on 311 day and celebrated with a 66 song set over five hours in New Orleans. What is it like to have an entire day dedicated to your band? Were you able to move or speak the next day?
NH: You know, I wasn’t that tired. There’s just so much adrenaline. It’s like running a marathon: they say the actual race is a victory lap. You know all the work is in the preparation. So I didn’t feel that sore because I prepared properly. It was just a blast to try different things and dig out all those rarities that we haven’t played. Some songs we never played before we managed to find. Then to play with an orchestra was really an amazing thing. That with the excitement of releasing a new album on that day was really a special thing. So it was kind of a dream come true to put out an album and have the 311 Day show on the same day.
PB: What was it like to work with Scott Ralston again on Stereolithic?
NH: He’s just like a member of the family. He’s definitely kind of an unusual person on how he approaches things. He added so much life into our album. At the time, he was living in a RV and he parked it in our studio parking lot and he was just working on music. He started going through our hard drives finding old songs that we forgotten about and reviving them. That was part of the reason we had fifteen songs is because Scotch did what he called “hard drive gold mining” where he found gold and helped us develop them into sweet songs. It worked out great and we definitely want to work with him some more.
PB: With over 11 studio albums, how hard is it to create a set list each night on tour?
NH: It can be kind of hit and miss. The other night in Tulsa I didn’t think we came up with as good of a set list as we could have, but you never know. You kind of make a predication. like okay this one doesn’t have seats, so maybe they want more moshing or more energetic songs, but then sometimes you get there and it’s a little different than what you thought. That’s the good thing about our band; it’s a different show every night. After each sound check we get together as a band and hammer out the set list so it is different every show.
PB: Since you’re constantly on tour, are there any songs that you love playing the most? Are there any songs that you are tired of playing?
NH: I don’t really get tired of playing our songs unless the crowd isn’t into it. If the crowd is into it, then I want to help facilitate them enjoying the show. So I don’t get tired of songs. I do enjoy playing certain new songs. We debuted the song “Tranquility” the other night and that was really emotional for me. It’s just a really powerful song.
PB: This is the first time in almost a decade that 311 isn’t doing their famous Unity Tour. Was it because you wanted to focus on promoting the new album or did you just wanted to take a break from the tour?
NH: The Unity Tour is when we have usually one opener or supporter that’s going to come out and play with us the whole time. This time we played some more offbeat and smaller venues that really just didn’t make sense for us to bring a big opener for the whole tour, so that is why we didn’t do the Unity Tour. I definitely think that we will revive that, but for now we just took a break.
PB: What are your plans for the rest of 2014?
NH:Well it’s kind of a longer touring season. We have seven weeks of shows to do this summer so that’s pretty much it. Then when I go home I’m awaiting the birth of my third daughter.
NH: Thank you. I’m also writing new music right now so I can always get back to work when I’m ready.
PB: Any more information about the upcoming 311 Cruise?
NH: We’re going to Jamaica. It’s going to be amazing. We are lining up supporting acts. We are trying to get the greatest we can get. [Editors Note: It has been officially announced that The Dirty Heads and Pepper will be joining 311 on the cruise in October 2015.]
311 will perform at The Stone Pony Summerstage on Friday July 18 with Passafire. Click here for tickets. The band will perform at the brand new JBL Live at Pier 97 with Passafire on Saturday July 19. Click here for tickets. The band ends the weekend on Sunday July 20 with RDGLDGRN at The Tower Theater in Upper Darby, PA. Click here for tickets.
Al Mannarino is the music editor for Pop-Break as well as the host of the News Over Brews Podcast. He graduated Rowan University with a degree in Radio/TV/Film & History and is currently a Promotions Assistant for Clear Channel Media + Entertainment. When he isn’t writing he is either trying to build his own TARDIS or taking a nap. Follow him on Twitter: @almannarino