311 :: Fox Theatre :: December 11 ::
311 releases don’t tread on me, dodges storms and gets comfy after 15 years
By Timothy Dwenger
For more than 15 years the band 311 has been at the forefront of the genre melding craze that has swept through the music industry.
While the band was in the midst of three consecutive sold-out shows at The Fillmore in San Francisco, The Marquee caught up with singer Nick Hexum.
311 was born out of two groups of friends who went to high school in Omaha. “Three of us went to one school and two went to another. Me, Tim (Mahoney – guitar) and Chad (Sexton – drums) were buds, and then we met P-nut (bass) and S.A. (Martinez – vocals) later on,” said Hexum.
After playing in various combinations, in bands such as Unity and Fish Hippos, 311 became official when they played their first gig under the moniker in 1990. Though Martinez wouldn’t become a full-time band member until 1992, he sat in often in the early days. “What was really good about developing in Omaha is that the people of the city were really open-minded about our crazy and unique blend of music. Putting rap with reggae with rock really wasn’t done at the time,” Hexum said.
In their first two years of existence 311 released three records on Hexum’s own What Have You Records label. “I started the label back in 1990 to put out our first three independent records. I was the sole employee, doing everything myself,” he said. The records made their way through the Omaha scene and 311 developed a significant local following.
In 1992, feeling they had outgrown the music scene in Omaha, the members of 311 packed up their lives and moved to Los Angeles to pursue a major label record deal. “One of our Omaha records was just kinda passed through a few different guys and eventually it got to an executive at Capricorn who loved it,” said Hexum. “He wanted to see us live before we signed so we decided to go back to Omaha, where we could draw a packed house. We chose Sokol Hall, where we had played our debut show opening for Fugazi in 1990. The showcase came off very well and they were sold on us.”
Music, 311’s major label debut, was released by Capricorn in February of 1993. About a year later Grassroots hit the shelves and the band began to see some national press. Things were about to explode. “The beginning was slow going for a while, as far as getting on the radio and that kind of thing. We just stuck to our guns and around 1995-1996 radio and MTV came around to us,” Hexum remembered.
Much of the credit for the explosion of 311 goes to the single for the song “Down,” off of the band’s third album, 311 (The Blue Album). The song went to #1 and the album was eventually certified triple platinum. The band had come a long way from its days in Omaha.
The most recent studio effort from 311 may remain focused on the sound that got them started, but also shows the great leaps in maturity that the band and its music have taken. Don’t Tread On Me has enough energy to make people believe it was released by a group in their early 20’s, however the lyrics are tackling much more mature issues. Hexum was proud to say, “The album is about freedom. Personal freedom. Freedom from any kind of oppression — political, religious, or social.”
Don’t Tread On Me comes more than 15 years after their first gig and Hexum is quick to acknowledge one of the secrets of the band’s longevity. Giving a nod to the many bands that broke at the same time and have long since disbanded, he mentioned that all five of them recognize the significance of keeping the important things in life in focus and getting some time apart. “I like to go down to The Keys and fish, and other people have their own different things that they like to do. However, we miss it pretty quick and want to get back to making music together. I feel like we stumbled on something really great with this line-up and I don’t see any end in sight. Right now I wouldn’t change a thing,” Hexum said.
To facilitate his love for fishing and relaxation, Hexum recently gave in to temptation and purchased an island get-away just off Key West. “It is a six-acre island with a 4,000 square foot luxury home on it. It is my absolute dream and I kinda stumbled upon it,” he explained.
Unfortunately, the retreat was ravaged by the recent hurricane that swept through the area just days before Hexum sat down to talk with The Marquee. “It took a pretty bad hit during Hurricane Wilma. It blasted my dock away, and this is such a heavy duty dock that it actually had a heliport on it,” he said. “The storm surge and the waves were just unbelievable. It blasted out some walls on the ground floor.”
In the meantime, Hexum is focusing on the current 311 tour and reviving What Have You Records. “It is a tough process, setting up a new label and breaking new artists, but I really believe in this music.”
The music he is talking about is that of his younger brother, Zack. “Zack is the only one on the label right now and I have kinda decided that if a guy as talented as him can’t make it then I really don’t want to be involved in that side of the business. I am busy enough with 311 and I have enough opportunities to remix and produce other artists,” Hexum said.
Zack Hexum opened for 311 on the first night of their stand at The Fillmore in San Francisco and was warmly received. “A lot of 311 fans have become Zack fans,” Hexum said. “He is a solo artist and his music incorporates elements of Coldplay and The Beatles with an indie feel.”
Fresh off a summer shed tour that brought them to the relatively intimate confines of Red Rocks Amphitheatre, 311 is scaling things down significantly on its current tour, going even more intimate with smaller club venue gigs. It has been nearly six years since the band played the Fox Theatre and Hexum is very excited to be getting back to the intense energy of smaller clubs that he says pushes his band to another level.
311 :: Fox Theatre :: December 11 ::
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