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  • Interview: 311

    Wed, 27 May 2009 09:35:21

    Interview: 311 - 311 singer Nick Hexum discusses creating <i>Uplifter</i>, fan fervor and why "Unity" is his favorite word...

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    "I'm just dying to hear what people think of Uplifter," exclaims 311 vocalist Nick Hexum with a smile.

    It's been four years since 311's last offering, Don't Tread On Me, but Hexum has absolutely nothing to worry about. In fact, Uplifter may very well be 311's most epic record. It combines the soulful, lush melodies of From Chaos with Music's metallic bombast, and it paves the way for a very bright future for Omaha's finest funk-rock-soul collective. In fact, things in Nick's world are brighter than ever. He's got his first baby on the way, and Uplifter hits shelves on June 2nd. Plus, 311's once again headlining this summer's Unity tour. In between everything, Nick set aside some time to talk to ARTISTdirect.com about Uplifter, the cult of 311 and why Unity is the best word ever.

    Uplifter feels like your most cinematic record. Would you say that's the case?

    We did sort of let our emotions go and have more dramatic and lush arrangements with a lot of suggestions that Bob Rock would make. We had these keyboard days where we would come up with different sounds that you don't hear out front, but they add a big-ness to it.

    It feels like 311's most epic record.

    Yeah, even though I hate to say it, "Golden Sunlight" is the most like a power ballad. There's a spiritual feeling to it. "Epic" is the word that we felt when we finished it too.

    Does anything go musically for 311?

    The approach is creativity first. We try and keep the marketing element out of the studio and just do good work. That's all we know. We simply follow the muse wherever it may lead and leave the radio format or any of those concerns out of the studio. After we have that approach, then it's comfortable for us to have a song like "Too Much, Too Fast," which is really bouncy and fun, next to something super-heavy like "Something Out of Nothing," which is more the type of sound that Bob was going for.

    The closing track, "My Heart Sings," basically sums up the album in terms of dynamics.

    That's cool. I appreciate that. I've only read one review, and the guy was like, "That's a really weird way to close an album." [Laughs] It just felt right to us. We really tried to go with a feeling of following the emotions rather than saying, "What will people think?" We have to make a record from the heart. The title "My Heart Sings" came first after I wrote the riff. The music has such a lush feeling, like my heart is singing. I turned that into a chorus and a hook. Having the emotion lead the way is kind of a different approach for 311.

    It seems like 311 has always been open to whatever inspiration comes though.

    That's how we talk! We let the energy guide us and tell us what the music calls for rather than being all cerebral or thinking about what people will like. We just let our hearts go and follow the music wherever it leads us. In a time of more confidence, we went through a lot on this last album. We thought, "Okay, we don't need to rush out another album. We can keep touring in the summer and make a living off that because our touring business keeps getting bigger no matter how the last record did." We came from a position of confidence like, "We'll put out a record when we're good and ready. We just have to make sure it's great." Because of that confidence, we allowed ourselves to try new things and have a new approach and not be in any kind of rush. That's why it took those four years in between records, whereas maybe at other times we felt like we had to hurry and write a record. We didn't want to let the momentum go down. We kind of pushed out Don't Tread On Me too quickly because of those types of things. Coming from a position of confidence and peace within the band really translated in the music this time around.

    311 has such a positive effect on everyone that's a 311 fan, and they're all true diehards.

    I think that we got more in touch with that. 311 is more of a spiritual movement than just a band. Our fans see our band as something positive to believe in and as a refuge from all of the negativity and troubles in the world. We realize that we are that to a large number of our fans and became more comfortable with that. We're kind of a different entity [Laughs]. When we have our 3-11 day show, our fans completely take over New Orleans. You look around there and see that this is more of a movement. It's really an honor to be a part of that. Not to make that into a shameless plug, but it's really cool that the Road to 311 Day DVD, that comes with the album and shows all of our fans in this totally positive hysteria that takes over when we have our 3-11 day show, is a pretty amazing thing.

    We just let our hearts go and follow the music wherever it leads us.

    You give fans something to look forward to every summer, when you do your annual tour.

    That's why I love calling the summer tour The Unity Tour. "Unity" is like the coolest word. It's always been associated with our band. It was an album before we got signed, and then it was a song. We're about bringing people together and unifying them through music, period. That's our mission, that's our message and that's what we do. Whether it's going to be this huge worldwide thing or more of a cult following, that's not up to us. We just know we're going to go out there and do our best.

    Uplifter sonically feels like the culmination of everything from Music to From Chaos. All of these sounds swirl together, and in many ways it represents your whole career.

    There's a turning of the page. I see that we're getting into this middle period. I feel like the band is working so well together that we can move into a really prolific time where I've already got ten new song ideas and this record isn't even out yet. I feel like there's a musical high going on. It's hard to describe. It feels like turning the page.

    311 has more of a '60s or '70s vibe—you crank out records and tour. At this point, a lot of fans have even grown up with you.

    It's a really cool thing to see that there are multiple generations of people coming to shows. People bring their kids to 311 shows. It goes along with the Unity idea. We're not only trying to have this certain small demographic of hip people, we want to have all walks of life. Being from Nebraska, we didn't have an elitist attitude that sometimes can make people jaded and whatnot. We're like, "The more, the merrier." It's really cool to hear stories about people that have grown up with our music or families that have 311 as a rallying point that they all like together. The record is an Uplifter. It's something positive. The lyrics say, "I need an uplift myself," and we want the record to be an uplift. Whether or not it's going to be this huge uplifting thing for a lot of people or a cult thing is really out of our hands. All we know is that we're going to sing our asses off on stage.

    What's next for you guys? Are you constantly creating?

    The summer tour is definitely always a highlight for us. Rain or shine, we'll tour every summer. We booked the summer tour a little bit earlier this year because I'm expecting my first child in August, so the Unity tour is coming a little earlier. It's going to be an awesome time. I Twittered about this the other day. I'm often in awe that I get to do this for a living. It's something we would do as a hobby for fun anyway. We're very blessed.

    Well, music is something you need to do.

    That need for self-expression. We're expressing what people feel as well. Somebody pointed out to me that the point of a relationship is to relate. Humans need to hear other people that they can relate with and have similar thoughts and feelings. When you can provide that through art, when people say, "That's the same way I feel," then that's a masterpiece. The more honest we get with what's going on in our hearts, the more people connect with it and feel it.

    —Rick Florino

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