For almost 30 years, 311 has been fusing together more styles than most other bands will touch in their lifetime. With elements ranging from reggae to metal, frontman Nick Hexum and his diverse crew have pumped out song after song over the course of a dozen records, each one different than any of the others. As they’ve grown into adults alongside their devoted fanbase, 311 knows exactly what they need to do in order to keep true to themselves both as far as their sound and their experimental nature.
“We’ve always loved reggae, hip-hop, punk, and hard rock styles, so that’s really consistent all the way through,” Hexum says. “Within those styles, there’s always room to make new combinations and mixes. One thing that’s evolved for us is that my voice sounds different after singing 2,000 live shows. It’s more gruff and a little lower now, so I don’t sound like the kid I was on an album from 1992. To me, it’s just an exciting update instead of a whole new thing. If we did an album that was all jazz or who knows what, it wouldn’t satisfy people, but within our same ingredients, there’s always a new way to mix it up.”
With their new album, Mosaic, out today, the guys of 311 believe they’ve expanded their musical realm once again. Although the record is undeniably still the same band that released hits such as “Amber,” “All Mixed Up,” and “Beautiful Disaster,” Mosaic delves into some unfamiliar areas for Hexum and the rest of the group with lengthy adventurous numbers such as “Wildfire” and “Too Late,” and much of the hour-long record doesn’t necessarily follow the expected path or structure of a standard radio-friendly alternative album.
“We’re always trying to outdo ourselves, whether it’s new musical adventures, a new cruise experience, or just putting on a killer live show and making a new album,” Hexum says. “We’re always super excited to get into new styles and new territory, because when you’ve been a band this long, that’s what’s important. I think we really achieve that on this one, so I’m really excited for everyone to hear it.”
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But while 311 is supported by fans, promoters, and radio stations around the world these days, things weren’t always so easy. When the quintet first came to be in the late ‘80s, there weren’t a whole lot of bands looking to create reggae-infused rap-rock, and there were even fewer promoters and stations willing to touch a band that didn’t fit conveniently into one of the popular subgenres. After battling some industry resistance for about three years, 311 managed to break through (largely to their grassroots support when touring) along with some of the other now-legendary alternative acts that would define how the ‘90s sounded.
“We came up in a time when there was grunge and a lot of straight-ahead rock, and we felt like we needed something funky in there,” Hexum says. “There was stuff out there that hadn’t broken through all the way like Bad Brains, Jane’s Addiction and the [Red Hot] Chili Peppers, but we helped kick the door open a little more. Every artist is just standing on the shoulders of giants by building on your own listening experience, so we give props to the people who kicked the door open before us.”
Although most bands with as much success as 311 have significant followings, few have quite as devoted of a fan base as the reggae-rockers. After all, March 11 is widely considered to be 311 Day (although November 3 would make more sense in many international countries), and the passion carried by diehard fans rivals that of any legendary artist. In Hexum’s eyes, the musical group that began as a creative outlet has grown into something much larger and more meaningful than even he could ever imagine.
“It’s a lot of fun to have the band members to be the ringleaders of it, but it’s definitely taken on a life of its own,” Hexum says of the fanfare surrounding the group. “There are so many people who have met each other through our band. There are countless marriages, friendships, and families made around 311, and that’s a really cool thing. It’s a way of life and an attitude, and it’s bigger than our band. That’s a really cool thing.”