Nick Hexum of 311 on Fatherhood, Staying Together, and SunFest
Brian Bowen Smith
We all remember when "Amber" came out. It was a tune so catchy, it stuck in your head after the very first guitar lick. Men, women, cats, squirrels — everyone was whistling along.
But 311 has been plugging away for almost 25 years now, and that doesn't happen because of one song. With an impressive catalog to choose from, every show 311 plays is different than the last, keeping fans happy and coming back for more. The band will be celebrating its 25 year anniversary with an upcoming release of a very special box set, which according to lead singer Nick Hexum, will be "a hardcore fan’s dream."
Formed in the '90s in Omaha, Nebraska, 311 have released eleven studio albums and is currently working on its twelfth, which promises to deliver more of the hybrid reggae-rock tunes fans have come to love. Lately, 311 has been keeping busy with a sold out Jamaican cruise concert, more touring, and soon the band will be debuting its very own beer. Fittingly, it’s an amber ale that the guys made in collaboration with Tampa’s Cigar City Brewing & Rock Brothers Brewing.
311 will hit SunFest in West Palm Beach on May 1 as part of what's probably the festival's best lineup ever. We recently had the chance to interview lead singer and guitarist Nick Hexum to talk about the band’s new album, what he does to stay sane between shows, and the secret to keeping a band going for 25 years.
New Times: So what are you up to today besides our interview?
Nick Hexum: We’re going to get rolling in the studio again, work on some new riffs and plugging away at a new 311 album.
What can you tell us about the new album?
When I first got into the writing mode I really wanted to have more reggae songs. Our last album had a lot of great rock on there and some kind of weird unclassifiable stuff, and I kind of felt like the reggae side that we love to play live was kind of underrepresented. So I was really focusing on that. Now I have a bunch of those songs and I’m kind of going back into some weird innovative rock that combines electronic styles with rock.
You and the guys have certainly been keeping yourself busy. What do you do stay sane between shows?
Everybody in the band has said before that the best thing to keep a band healthy is to have time apart and breaks and have a separate home life. So when I’m home I’m super involved with raising the kids. Just making breakfast and taking the girls to school in the morning keeps me very grounded. And we like to do a lot of fun outdoor stuff. We live near the beach. I have a pretty normal life.
Do you have any rituals or traditions before taking the stage?
Everybody puts a hand in the middle and we usually say some funny chant that is made up on the spot to get us psyched up. We get together, have a quick little huddle, and go out and rock.
What is the weirdest or silliest thing you or one of the guys has requested on a rider?
I remember back in the '90s I told our manager just put it in there: a small bag of weed. Why not? And he said, well a rider is a legal document, so if you put something illegal in there it creates legal issues. So he made us take it out.
Tell me a little bit about the 311 Caribbean Cruise to Jamaica. What is it like being on a cruise ship and performing night after night?
This last one was great because it was our first time doing a cruise in Jamaica. It was our fourth cruise and the fact that it sold out in pre-sales really felt great, especially 25 years in as a band. Everybody says it’s the time of their life, and there are so many positive people there. Our fans are open and friendly and you see a lot of hugs and high-fives. It’s just a cool group of people. And we got to go to Jamaica and play the album Soundsystem in its entirety for the first time. That was an album that me and S.A. [311's Doug Martinez] had flown down to Jamaica to get inspiration for while we were writing it back in 1998. So to go back there and play that album in its entirety — it was just a really cool full circle event.
What can you tell me about your upcoming performance at SunFest?
Well I love South Florida. I used to have a place in the Florida Keys. I just love the climate and people. It’s just a fun stop no matter what. We’ve had great shows in West Palm, and we're looking forward to rocking with other bands. It’s always fun when you’re at some kind of festival.
What is one of the most memorable moments you’ve had while performing live?
Well let’s see. I remember getting hit in the head by a flying combat boot while playing in New Jersey. That was memorable for all the wrong reasons. I used to do a lot of crazy stage dives. My manager had forbidden me from doing that. I used to climb up on the lighting rigs and jump off, just like this big trust fall, hoping the fans were gonna catch me, and fortunately they did.
What do you miss most from home while you’re on tour?
My girls are all five and under. I have three girls, and when I’m gone for just a week, I come back and they look different. They grow up so fast. I don’t want to miss anything. Being part of my kids’ lives is definitely the hardest thing to leave.
A lot of bands have a hard time going the distance, they break up and get to the point where they just can’t stand each other anymore. 311 will be celebrating 25 years together this summer. What’s your secret to staying close as a band?
Well I think a couple things. I think we naturally inherited a work ethic where we don’t expect things to come easily. We work hard and we never take anything for granted. As far as the band relations, we all believe that we’ve stumbled upon a special chemistry and we do better together than we could ever do separately.
311 jamming out in West Palm Beach on its Unity summer tour in 2012.
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What do you see for the future of 311?
We’re putting our first box set out to commemorate our 25th anniversary together. It’s going to be a hardcore fan’s dream to have unreleased tracks and demos. We also have some cool products coming out. We have our first draft beer with Tampa’s Cigar City. So we’re looking forward to debuting that and having it available to our fans. And some other cool really kind of top secret lifestyle products that I can’t divulge yet. And then of course the new music, and writing our new album. That to me is the most exciting thing — to see it come from nothing, from just an idea and a guitar and then having the band play it, and then recording it and having the fans hear it, and then it becomes part of their lives. That’s just a cool creative process.
Artists will sometimes admit that there’s at least one song that they’ve performed so many times that they get tired of it. Do you have any songs like that?
There was a song called “You Get Worked” off the From Chaos album that we thought about dusting off. We played it once and we were like you know what, we’re not feeling it. Let’s just leave this one in the vault. I’d say certain songs fall in and out of favor. When we play for our hardcore fans, sometimes we can leave the hits out because they’ve heard them so many times. So we just kind of make the set list based on what we think will work the best and it’s always a moving, fluid kind of thing.
SunFest, April 29 to May 3, on Flagler Drive in downtown West Palm Beach. Ticket prices vary. A five-day pass is $80 at the gate, $70 in advance. A one-day ticket is $32 in advance and $40 at the gate. Kids under 5 are admitted free courtesy of Wells Fargo; kids 6 to 12 cost $10 in advance and $12 at the gate. Festival hours are: Wednesday, April 29: 5 to 10 p.m., Thursday, April 30: 5 to 10 p.m., Friday, May 1: 5 to 11 p.m., Saturday, May 2: Noon to 11 p.m., Sunday, May 3: Noon to 9 p.m. Make sure to get advance parking at sunfest.com/parking.
311 will be playing on May 1 at 9:15 p.m.
Visit sunfest.com for tickets and more info.
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