311 Talks "Universal Pulse," Rocking For Positivity, and "2011: A Space Odyssey"
Mon, 27 Jun 2011 06:36:45
"We're all about bringing people together," declares 311 vocalist and guitarist Nick Hexum.
311's tenth studio album, Universal Pulse [due out July 19th], makes that connection to the audience stronger than ever before. 311 preserve the hallmarks of their sound—sly funk beats, heavy rugged guitars, rich bass wizardry, and hypnotic vocals—while immensely progressing at the same time. Songs like "And A Ways to Go" and "Weightless" flutter into space rock territory with an ethereal elegance that's utterly breathtaking. Meanwhile, the first single, "Sunset in July", is one of the group's catchiest anthems to date. This is a new classic for 311 and one of the best rock releases of 2011. Fans will be able to feel Universal Pulse all summer when the band hits the road with Sublime with Rome…
311's Nick Hexum and drummer Chad Sexton spoke to ARTISTdirect.com editor and Dolor author Rick Florino in this exclusive interview about Universal Pulse, getting spacey, rocking for positivity, and some favorite flicks.
What was your overall vision for Universal Pulse?
Nick Hexum: We're out on the road all summer, and the music was made for that. We realize we're going to tour, and we're going to work the albums around that. It gets to that immediate one-to-one communication between us and our fans. We're making music for them to listen to and dance to. They feed off of the energy as much as we do, and that's the core of what we do. The album was meant to support that rather than the other way around.
Is it important for you to incorporate a visual sensibility in these songs?
Nick Hexum: Lyrically, I think there's a pretty wide variety on the record. Some songs are extremely personal, while others tell stories and create images. Then other songs are basically talking directly to our fans about what it's like to be in this band and what we do. Songs will be hatched many different ways, and the lyrics will also come up in many different ways.
What fosters that visual sensibility for you?
Nick Hexum: An idea can be hatched out of anywhere. At one point, we were talking about going into more of a trippy, space travel direction. A song like "And A Ways to Go" or "Weightless" were meant with that image in mind. Then, we're such multi-faceted people that we didn't just want to pigeonhole the whole record as that. Ideas just pop up. It's hard to say where they come from. Sometimes, they'll come from a discussion within the band. It's pretty cool to be a part of. I know I get quite a buzz when I've got an idea for a new song and I'm so excited to go demo it. Then, I'll be listening to the demo over and over again. Every time I get in my car, I'll crank my own demo and think, "This is going to be so neat for the rest of the band to get on, record, get out to the fans, and see people rocking to." That whole arc from nothing to something is a pretty amazing experience.
What's the story behind "Sunset In July"?
Chad Sexton: It's just a song about what we do in the summer. We're usually playing shows while the sun's going down, and we like making people happy when we play music. That's our perspective, but it can also come from a fan's perspective as well. They're at a show watching the sun go down, and they're around people who are rocking with them. It can be taken many different ways. That's where the general idea was.
Nick Hexum: That's right on! You can see the facial expressions from the people in the first few rows. They have big huge grins, and they're lost in the music.
You manage to wrap a positive message within heavy music. Is that balance a crucial element of the sound?
Chad Sexton: We're rocking for positivity. We always did that when we were young. We like being happy. We're fans of happiness, and we like walking that fine balance of hard rocking and beautiful. That's where we think we're nailing our stride.
Nick Hexum: Back in the day, we were always like, "We love heavy music, but it doesn't have to be necessarily associated with the anger and bitterness that metal was at a certain time." We just did what feels right to us, but we love heavy music. We can also combine it with whatever sentiment we want at that time. We don't have to be pigeonholed in any sort of attitude.
Did you immediately know "And A Ways to Go" would be the album's finale?
Chad Sexton: The tracklisting gets put together as we go. There are more songs than we have on the record, so it develops as we go. It was very natural to have that be the finishing touch.
Nick Hexum: Over the years, we've had a few songs like "Sometimes Jacks Rule the Realm" and "There's Always an Excuse" that go through bunch of different phases. They started as demos lying around that we found ways to fuse together. "And A Ways To Go" is an example of that. When P-Nut does his bass solo on stage, he does this tapping thing where he syncs up his delay and goes with this wah sound. He gets into this crazy, rhythmic arpeggiating passage. I was like, "We've got to use that on the record!" So that little piece of a bass solo became the basis for that tribal dancing outro that closes out the album. It starts chill and spacey. Then, it gets heavy and rap-rock. After that, it goes into the "get-down".
What was your goal lyrically on that song?
Nick Hexum: It's like space travel as a metaphor for personal growth. Look how far we've come and also there are so many new things to understand about yourself, demons to face, and truths to find out. It's like this spiritual journey that we're realizing we're somewhere around the middle of this big, long learning edification process that someone goes through in life. It's a look-back and a look-forward at the same time.
What's up with "Time Bomb"?
Nick Hexum: "Time Bomb" is a direct thank you to the fans. It says, "Let me introduce you to the excitable crew". A long time ago, I had thrown out something like, "This one is dedicated to the excitable ones". Some of our fans call themselves that. "311 Nation" is a bigger name for all of our fans, but a certain crew of hardcore fans is known as "The Excitable Ones". The chorus opens with a shout to them because we realize they've enabled us to do what we do, and it's a thank you to them. "Universal heart pulse" is the lyric S.A. says in "Time Bomb". We're all about unity and bringing people together through music. When you hear a beat and people start moving, and they're having a non-verbal communication, it's almost like a spiritual experience when everyone's grooving together. Universal Pulse is like the pulse of energy running through everybody and the way people can become unified through music.
If Universal Pulse were a movie or a combination of movies, what would it be?
Chad Sexton: Maybe 2001: A Space Odyssey…
Nick Hexum: That's what I was thinking. It's got its trippier moments than any of our stuff has had lately.
Chad Sexton: 2001 is about life and the cycle of life. Universal Pulse is the same way.
What are some of your favorite movies?
Nick Hexum: Chad was just telling me I need to watch Moon! Adaptation is one of my favorite movies of all-time. It's about the creative process. This guy is in the middle of an artistic block, and he's writing the movie that you're watching right now. It's a movie about the writing of the movie you're watching. It goes inside the rabbit hole. It's pretty trippy.
Chad Sexton: I'm a Kubrick fan. 2001 is one of my favorite movies. I did recommend Moon to Nick because I think it has some scenarios that are impossible to propose in a movie, but that does. Lately, I've been getting into documentaries and some comedy like Bill Hicks, George Carlin, and Sam Kinison.
Are you excited for Universal Pulse? What's your favorite 311 song?