Smoke, nugs, and rock n’ roll. Genre bending power group 311 restate their claim in the world of innovating new sounds.
The lights from the main stage splash a purple hue across a sea of thousands and thousands of people. A haunting, melodic guitar line seeps out to the crowd through the speakers, drums start popping off, the bass line begins to move, then a voice shines through, “Whoa-oh, amber is the color of your energy.”
It sounded like the entire state of California was singing along. One Love Cali Reggae Fest at the Queen Mary in Long Beach, CA was a show to remember. The band was 311, sounding better than ever. They retained the same band members for the past 27 years. This classic group of innovative genre benders landed them on the cover of our March Music Issue. But, how the hell do you keep the same members in a band for 27 years?!
I joined singer, songwriter and guitarist, Nick Hexum of 311, in his LA Studio for a laid back conversation about music, cannabis, and life on the road.
How has cannabis influenced the songwriting and music of 311?
“For 311, cannabis and creativity have always been intertwined. What it does for me, is it creates new connections, opens new pathways, and I make associations I may not have made otherwise. That’s always what I’ve loved in 311, combining new things.
“I have a very wide range of listening habits. What we were doing in the 90’s was combining punk, reggae, hip-hop, jazz, and funk, which had not really been done like that before. I think cannabis was a big part of that. It’s a bonding thing also that our band has always had, whether it’s a rehearsal or a writing session. With cannabis it used to be bongs and joints, now everyone likes to vape. It’s clean and easy. Cannabis is forever intertwined with what we do,“ says Hexum.
For the band, before it was legal, how did you guys keep smoking on the road?
“We played our first hempfest in Omaha, Nebraska in 1991, and even back then I knew what we were doing wasn’t wrong. It was not morally wrong. Even in the times when I’d get heat from the police, I’d stand my ground and let them know they’d need a warrant if they were wanting to search me. That happened a couple times. Now, not even having to worry about that is really nice.
There was a time in Colorado, ironically, where I had been pulled over, we had just got done smoking hash, out of a can. I was really, really high. The reason we got pulled over was because I was driving too slow. He said, ‘would you mind if I search your vehicle?’ I said ‘no, I really would rather you didn’t.’ He replied that he was going to get the dogs.
I just said, ‘well, you gotta do what you got to do’. We stood there for 45 minutes, and come to find out they didn’t even have dogs, it was just a bluff. So we stood there, and it was a standoff. Eventually, he let us go. We had plenty of stuff in the car, so it would’ve been bad. I sing about that on the Grass Roots album called ‘Offbeat Bare Ass,’ where I have a verse about that whole thing.
Society eventually evolves in the right direction. It was just a matter of time before people realized it is not worth anybody’s time, or tax dollars to go after stoners.
I’m a huge believer in the medicinal benefits of cannabis. My mom has undergone stem cell therapy and chemotherapy for cancer and we’ve been able to help her with CBD. Being able to help her with the pain and nausea that is associated with that has been a Godsend.”
There’s been rumor of a new album, could you tell me a little bit about that?
“Stereolithic was our last album, and that was for the hard core 311 fans. It was a bit of a throw back. We didn’t have any concern about singles, it was just sort of an in-house thing that we did with Scott Ralston, who’ s our producer and soundman. Coming off that, we were like, it’s time to move forward, it’s time to innovate, get into some more modern production styles. I have the blessing of loving all kinds of music, even things that are knocked by purists. I love electronic music, there’s stuff in every genre. We’re experimenting with things like builds and drops, even for our live stuff. Building this upcoming album has been a lot of fun. This new album is called ‘Mosaic’ which is new territory, but it’s keeping with what people already love about us.”
When did you guys decide to launch the Grassroots Uplifter?
“So about 3 years ago, I realized vaping is such an innovation in how to use cannabis, as well as nicotine. I said if somebody really nails vaping for cannabis, that’s going to be huge!
At the time, I went around and picked up what was already available, and saw that there was a lot of ways to improve on the experience. So, me and my partner started developing our own pen by breaking down what was available and finding ways to make it better. Hundreds of drawings, while we were seeking out a solid manufacturer. Hundreds of emails, pictures, videos, changing this and that, we eventually came out with the Version 1 Uplifter. Basically right after that came out, we changed out all the plastics, made it all glass and stainless steel with a super high power battery. Way cleaner taste. We love the CO2 extraction method so we partnered with Evergreen Extracts in Washington to get the cleanest, truest taste, and experience possible.”
When are you guys hitting the road for another tour?
“One of the great things that our fan base has allowed us to have is to keep being creative through tours, whether or not the last album did well, we go out and we tour, no matter what. Being a band for 27 years, we took one summer off in 1998. Other than that, I’ve never been home for the month of July. It’ s really hard to be away from the wife and kids, but it’s a great way to see the country and stay in touch with our fans.
This summer’s tour, we got the band New Politics, a fun exciting band from England. This summer’s tour is a little longer than the last one. We’re going out for over two months. We’re really excited to drop the new album and get out there. New music to play. You’ll hear the familiar songs, but then there’s also going to be deep cuts that will satisfy the hard core fans. There’s jamming, the drum line; we work hard to make these shows exciting and dynamic. I think this tour is shaping up to be a special one.”
Find 311 on tour across the country this summer, go to 311.com for more details. Check out the pen at grassrootsuplifter.com, and look for their new album entitled “Mosaic.”