From dominating alternative radio to soundtracking your favorite movie about brain injury to chartering your incredibly specific cruise, 311 are nothing if not incredibly diverse. Here Stereogum commenter at-large Raptor Jesus gets the inside scoop from frontman Nick Hexum on 311’s new album Mosaic (out this Friday), the band’s secret influence on new artists, and the definitive answer regarding the alleged collusion between 311 and the Hold Steady.
STEREOGUM: Are you familiar with Stereogum?
HEXUM: I’ve definitely heard of it and then as I was dialing I was trying to place it. So tell me a little.
STEREOGUM: It’s a music website that also has a comment section with a very active community. One thing we like to do in the comment section is reference 311 in conjunction with any numbers that come out with respect other musical artists. It’s one of the things I’ll ask you about later but it’s kind of this conspiracy thing we have going on.
HEXUM: [chuckling] Cool.
STEREOGUM: I’ll start with an easy one. True or false: Do you own a private island?
HEXUM: Not currently. True, I once did, and false, I do not currently.
STEREOGUM: Gotcha, because there is a new song on Mosaic called “Island Sun” and I didn’t know if that was influenced by it or not.
HEXUM: That song is really about the experience of the cruise and going to an island with 3,000 new and old friends and having the time of their life.
STEREOGUM: I was going to ask you about the cruise later, but staying on Mosaic for a quick second: New album, 17 tracks, and it’s the first time in 311 history it contains two songs that are longer than five minutes. Do 311 have an aversion to long songs or is it a goal to make most 311 songs three minutes and 11 seconds?
HEXUM: That was one of the alternate stories that we told about the title of our band, that three minutes and 11 seconds is a great length for our songs. But we’ve been getting more into doing … “epics” is what we call them. Just songs that have a lot of different new parts and don’t follow a traditional song structure. Yeah, there’s been like one on every album and now on this album there are two with “Too Late” and “Wildfire.”
STEREOGUM: I just heard “Wildfire” from a sampler, and you got that awesome solo at the end. I always pegged 311 as influenced by psychedelic music and I figured you would have ventured past that five-minute mark more often.
HEXUM: Yeah, I think that maybe we will more. I’ve had the idea of doing a crazy concept album where kind of the whole album is linked together. It’s a space where you can really let your creativity flow but it also demands a lot of the listener. I was listening to a podcast about why do bridges exist in music. It’s because people like a certain amount of repetition and then they want to get away from it and then they want to come back to the familiar. That’s just a natural human instinct. But in an epic you’re just moving on into new section after new section, which might be a little scary.
They’ve actually done studies that when a person is hearing new music for the first time sometimes it lights up the fear part of the brain. Like, “uhhh, what is this? This isn’t … does not compute.” But after repeated listenings and after you get used to it for a while, then it can become really refreshing to go into new section after new section.
STEREOGUM: One thing that jumped out to me about Mosaic is that it will be on a different record label than your previous LP STER3OL1TH1C, which was released on your own 311 Records label. Why the change and what happened to 311 Records?
HEXUM: 311 Records is still there. We just felt like some of the promotion … we were prepared to do our next record on 311 Records. But when you have a promotion team like BMG that is very excited and has the resources yet still gives you a reasonable, good record deal, sometimes there is benefit to farming it out. Because when it’s 311 Records it’s basically a ton of stuff right on our manager’s shoulders because they become the label.
STEREOGUM: 311, the number and everything the band does, has become quite ubiquitous over the years. As you mentioned earlier there’s the 311 cruise, you have a 311 Amber Ale, a 311 Grassroots vape pen, and of course 3/11 is 311 day. Does having your own holiday cement 311’s legacy and do you have more ideas to expand 311 Nation?
HEXUM: That is just a really happy thing that we stumbled on of having our own day. Because the number can be construed as a date. So it’s something we just kind of stumbled on. We didn’t used to define exactly how the name came up. So that’s why there are a lot of different, crazy rumors. The true story is that was from the police code from indecent exposure. One of our friends got a ticket for skinny dipping and was brought home in handcuffs to his mom. Was a minor probably at the time. They gave him a ticket and the code was 311 and we thought it was hilarious. Also there were a couple big bands with numeric themes that we dug like 24-7 Spyz and 3rd Bass, and they were starting out right before us and we love those groups. So we just kind of like having a number so it can have a lot of different meanings and so it’s funny to hear different meanings people put on it. Unless they come up with something so stupid as the referencing the KKK, which is just totally annoying — to have something that is the opposite of us.
STEREOGUM: You still have that statement on your website denouncing it. I remember when I was wearing a 311 beanie in middle school some dumb kid said that and I said, “NO IT’S NOT!” It’s amazing how rumors got around in the ’90s pre-internet.
HEXUM: Yeah! It was accepted as fact by some stupid people including at my high school. The T-shirts were banned because the teachers believed it. Then my brother, who was at that high school because he’s younger than me, he was a conscientious objector and wore our shirts and he got in trouble. But he was like, “No, you guys are wrong. I’m wearing the damn shirt.”
STEREOGUM: Last year 311 were a musical guest on The Eric Andre Show season finale. Can you walk me through the steps, in detail, between the phone call inviting you on the show and then right after you getting waterboarded singing “Down”?
HEXUM: [laughter] I didn’t actually get waterboarded. That was video magic. But he did mess with us a lot. He had been mentioning us on the show over and over again. Tweeting, making it clear he’s a huge fan and wanted us for the finale. Our manager said, “He’s going to really mess with you guys while you guys are playing.” We were big fans of all that [comedy] genre, which to me started with The Tom Green Show, then Jackass picked it up. And then there’s just been a long lineage of…
STEREOGUM: Tim & Eric did it for awhile.
HEXUM: Yeah, so to me it’s like, “OK, I can kinda stand to get hit by a rubber bat.” But what’s the big deal? It’s hilarious and everybody can benefit from being taken down a peg and letting your ego get messed with by putting yourself in that kind of situation. To me it was a kind of funny exercise, but he did jab me in the balls with a rubber bat while playing. Blindfolded.
STEREOGUM: It looked like it hurt.
HEXUM: It’s more startling. It’s very startling while you’re playing, there’s no question about that. So after we get done, I’m like, “What the fuck Eric?” And he was like, “OK, you can get me even.” And he holds out his finger, which has been recently stitched up because of some of his shenanigans, but it looks, like, half-infected. He was like, “Go ahead, flick me. Flick me.” And I like, flicked with my fingernail as hard as I could to this half-healed wound of his to even the score. It was all in good fun. I know it definitely brought us to a younger audience that watches that show. I’ve heard from other journalists, like, “Hey I’m a millennial and a lot of my friends saw you for the first time on Eric Andre.” So it’s like, “OK cool. We did it.”
STEREOGUM: It came across that you and everyone in 311 must have incredible senses of humor.
HEXUM: We try not to take ourselves too seriously.
STEREOGUM: Well that’s awesome because I do have some questions to ask on behalf of the Stereogum comment section now.
HEXUM: Oh God. OK!
STEREOGUM: Have you ever heard of a band called the Hold Steady?
STEREOGUM: Well, two weeks after 311 released STER3OL1TH1C in 2014, the Hold Steady released their new album, Teeth Dreams. One of our commenters named Donny noticed some hidden messages suggesting a 311 connection. I don’t want to bother you with all the math and evidence, but for the record: Have you or any other member of 311 ever been associated with the Hold Steady?
HEXUM: [pause] No. I know of them, I like what I’ve heard, but that’s the first I’ve heard of any kind of connection.
STEREOGUM: Over the years Stereogum commenters have gone on and on making these type of connections, thinking that perhaps newer artists are paying tribute to 311 in secret with coded messages.
HEXUM: This is interesting.
STEREOGUM: Migos, the rap group best known for their triplet flows, are three rappers and they’ve already had the number one album and number one song in the country this year. Do Migos want to be creatures for awhile?
HEXUM: [laughter] Well, there is a bit of a connection because this guy I wrote a little bit with, for this album, also worked on Migos. Yup! That … it’s true!
STEREOGUM: Carly Rae Jepsen has 14 letters in her name. Three for her middle and eleven for her first and last names. Is amber the color of Carly Rae Jepsen’s energy?
HEXUM: Well, I would say that my three daughters always wish that she would call me maybe. So yeah, there’s a connection there.
STEREOGUM: Beach House named their most recent album Thank Your Lucky Stars, which is also the title of a 311 song from 2005’s Don’t Tread On Me. Do Beach House long for the flowers?
HEXUM: [sustained laughter] Yes, they long for the flowers and a song sang from the showers.
STEREOGUM: Finally, Mosaic has the potential to be 311’s 10th consecutive album to debut in the Top 10. Is 311 prepared to dethrone Kung Fu Kenny?
HEXUM: [sinister laughter] Well, we do have some combat skills of our own. So, yeah, I guess a light heavyweight match versus Kung Fu Kenny … that might be a fight worth seeing.
STEREOGUM: I think so too. Have you heard Kendrick Lamar’s DAMN.?
STEREOGUM: Me too, it’s pretty good. Well, Nick, that’s all my questions and just to end it, if I didn’t ever thank you, then just let me do it now. Thank you for being such a good sport and doing this interview.
HEXUM: Awesome. My pleasure. Thank you. Stay positive.
311’s Mosaic is out 6/23. Pre-order it here.