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26 Feb 2016

Innovative Omahans: After 11 Successful Studio Albums, 311—Headlining the Rhythm, Wine and Brews Experience—Preps for a 12th

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311. 311.

Before nu-metal was even a thing, 311—out of Omaha, Neb.—was creating music that combined funk, rap, punk rock and reggae. After forming in 1998, the band built a legacy in the 1990s, eventually finding mainstream success.

The band will be headlining the Rhythm, Wine and Brews Experience on Saturday, March 5, at the Empire Polo Fields.

During a recent phone interview, 311 frontman Nick Hexum said he continues to be amazed by the band’s accomplishments.

“What a long and strange trip this has been,” Hexum said. “To just go from an idea, in the basement set up next to the pool table in my dad’s house, to … where we have our own holiday, our own cruise, our own festival—we’re really grateful to be able to do this. We keep that attitude instead of a sense of entitlement.”

Hexum said the band did not find it all that difficult to make its brand of innovative music in Nebraska—not exactly known as a musical hotbed.

“I guess maybe there was a resistance in some places to what we were doing,” he said. “Like, you had to be from a certain place to be cool—but we blasted through that with the energy we put into our music and did the most wild live shows at the time. It didn’t hold us back, even though geographically, we were in the middle of the country. We were also playing influences reaching to Jamaica for reggae, hip-hop from New York, punk rock from Los Angeles and hippie music from San Francisco. We were in the middle of everything stylistically.”

311 was criticized in some circles for ripping off bands such as the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Fishbone—even though much of the band’s music was more creative and innovative than that of their contemporaries.

“I felt it was unfair,” Hexum said of the criticism. “The Red Hot Chili Peppers, Jane’s Addiction, Fishbone and those bands changed things for us—but we were also using reggae and different heavy guitars, and I feel we were different than them. I felt like we were different enough that we could hold our heads high, and weren’t ripping anyone off. Everyone is standing on the shoulders of giants and building off the work of others—and that’s always been true in art, music, science and anything else.

“It’s nice when we hear younger bands that have been influenced by us, and some have come out on tour with us. We’re just part of one big family tree that goes way before us and will keep going after we’re gone.”

After building an audience for close to three decades now, the members of 311 have started to notice a new generation of fans—with parents bringing their kids to shows.

“It’s nice that it’s become a multi-generational thing where both parents and kids will come together,” Hexum said. “We’ve always been about the unity. We’ve never been anything elitist where we only wanted one type of people.”

311 has released 11 studio albums and is preparing a 12th. Hexum said he’s proudest of some of the music that was not necessarily the most popular.

“One of our albums that’s not hugely popular is Evolver,” he said about the band’s 2003 release. “To me, that was a breakthrough in creativity for us. I was finding my stride as a songwriter. Transistor (1997) was a really wildly creative album. We were like, ‘Anything goes!’ It sounds very different than the self-titled album before it. We had the right attitude as artists and weren’t trying to re-create ourselves and keep cashing in. We were really just stepping forward into new production styles. That was a great moment for us.”

While 311 is appearing at a festival featuring beer and wine, the band is known for advocating another substance: marijuana. After all, the group once recorded a song called “Who’s Got the Herb?” Hexum said he’s happy to see marijuana use becoming more accepted.

“I think it’s very exciting,” he said. “I really do support it, and we’ve always been proponents of legalization. I think recreational substances will always be part of our culture, and having them safe and legal while kicking out the crime element is a no-brainer. I’m looking into some different ways to be involved in that. I think there have been a lot of medicinal sides to marijuana that have been squashed, and it’s only been recently that people are realizing there are some anti-seizure, anti-cancer and other properties there. No one in the world is going to say that while you’re going through chemo, it doesn’t help with nausea and things like that. It’s something that we’ve been for over a long period of time.”

What does 311 hope the future brings?

“I think that hit songs and so forth is sort of a crapshoot, and you don’t really know what is going to connect you to what’s going on,” Hexum said. “I wouldn’t rule it out, and I do know that the new music we’ve made and haven’t put out yet … is very innovative. It’s very modern, and it feels like a big step forward. So I’m definitely optimistic.”

311 will perform with Matisyahu and other groups on Saturday, March 5, at the Rhythm, Wine and Brews Festival, at the Empire Polo Fields, located at 81800 Avenue 51, in Indio. Tickets start at $70. For tickets or more information, visit rwbexp.com.

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