311 Talks Mosaic, Songwriting & Being Dubbed ‘The Beatles of Rap/Rock’

311 Band Photo
Photo Credit: Brian Bowen Smith

It’s a great time to be 311.

The band recently released their 12th studio album, which debuted at #6 on the Billboard Top 200 Albums Chart, finished off a massive summer tour (their 18th in a row), and were called “The Beatles of Rap/Rock” on an episode of Last Week Tonight with John Oliver.

We spoke with Doug “SA” Martinez about their latest album, the songwriting process, finding time to write in-between touring, and more.

The band has remained pretty consistent with the release of new music (about three years in between each album). Can you walk us through what the band is doing in between each album?

Well it can vary, from album to album, year to year.  I busy myself with other projects. The past two years have been pretty full for me, musically, with my side project.  For 311, we’re talking about a new record already. We get back November 5th, so we’ll have a little bit of a break, then we’re talking about getting together and working on some music. In that window, I’m trying to finish the next Los Stellarians record. I actually have a Ghostwolf record coming out, real soon.

I know what I’m up to, and 311 as whole, we’re pretty busy. For the most part, we all have families, we’re all married, so there’s the whole domestic side of things. Most people don’t even realize, like, these guys have lives outside of 311? Honestly, it’s constant, 311, since day one, it’s been the majority of our lives. There’s no real big break from that commitment. That’s what we set out to do, that’s what we want to do. I don’t think any of us could have asked for anything more.

When does the songwriting process begin? Are you working on music while on tour or do you save it for when you hit the studio?

Everyone has ideas, everyone works on their own. I’ve got a couple 311 songs that I’ll pitch to the band. We’re all constantly putting ideas together. We’ll setup some time to focus if we get in small groups and work on stuff from there. Nick [Hexum] is always working on something, Chad is always working on something. Everyone is busy creating, but it’s a matter of penciling in that time to come together and put it together. It takes commitment and the follow through.

I’m a huge fan of your last two albums and I think fans were ecstatic to have two albums with 15+ tracks. Was that a conscious decision after Universal Pulse, to make the next few albums longer?

I think after we did that record, a short album, our fans expect way more from us. With Mosaic, to be honest, it was a deadline sort of thing.  In the past, to be honest, we’ve gotten it wrong on many occasions. When fans get wind of the B-sides of a particular album, they are astonished when a song didn’t make it to the album. I think this time around we didn’t really have time to debate about what should and shouldn’t be on the record, so we put it all on there.

Speaking of Mosaic, the album is awesome. I think one of favorite track is ‘Perfect Mistake.’ Hearing you and Nick both rap and sing on the track is like all the best parts of a 311 song put together. It’s the whole band in unison. How do you approach a new album? Is there a discussion between Nick and yourself on how you write and record each song?

Sometimes, there have been occasions where I’ve added a melody to a part where Nick thought, Oh I thought you were going to rap there. Sometimes it’s obvious where something needs this sort of feel. That’s where you’re going to get the most honest performance. When we approach any record session, I approach it with an open mind.

At this point in our career, we have such a large discography. We’ve all had input throughout the course of that trajectory. I don’t typically dwell on performances. I like to get in and lay it out, because I know once we start playing these songs they will change. Ideally I wish we had an album that you could tour and then record. Maybe one day we’ll do that. You guys just gotta bear with us, we’re gonna play half this album tonight, and over the course of the tour, we’re gonna do this whole album that you’ve never heard. That would be incredible I think, to do at some point. We’ve done a lot, but that’s something we’ve never done. I would love to do something like that.

What was it like getting a shout out from John Oliver on Last Week Tonight? Being called The Beatles of Rap/Rock must have pretty awesome.

Oh yeah that was great. I didn’t see that episode, but I started watching him after that. I really dig his show. Nick and I were on that show Animals. It’s been interesting the past couple years. You have all these thirty-somethings, who were maybe fans of the band, some obvious fans of the band, now in these positions in entertainment, and have been reaching out to us, so that’s been pretty cool.

Catch 311 at the Wellmont Theater in Montclair, NJ on Saturday October 28. Click here for tickets.

 

Al Mannarino is the associate editor and photographer for Pop Break. He is also host of the News Over Brews Podcast, Loot Care Unboxed, Backstage Break, and the producer of Behind the Brews. He graduated Rowan University with a degree in Radio/TV/Film & History. When he isn’t writing he is either trying to build his own TARDIS or taking a nap. Follow him on Twitter: @almannarino. His photo website is: http://alfredmannarino.com

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