If ethnomusicologists ever attempt to pinpoint the best representation of popular 1990s music, 311 would be Exhibit A. The Nebraska five-piece was one of the first bands to perfect a hybrid of rap, reggae and rock. And while they definitely projected a heavy vibe, their music was laced with positive currents and good energies, unlike often-reviled contemporaries and imitators such as Duval dudes Limp Bizkit. Instead, 311 enjoys massive respect from fans and critics. They began life as a fully independent, self-sustaining band — a rarity in the late ’80s. Their first show was an opener for punk legends Fugazi in 1990. 311 annually puts on marathon 3/11 Day shows on March 11, performing upwards of 70 songs a night. And they’ve sold more than 8,000,000 records while becoming one of the only American bands routinely selling out tours in the summer “off-cycle.”
Folio Weekly chatted with 311 founding frontman Nick Hexum about eclecticism, Unity Tours and the wonder of natural childbirth.
Folio Weekly: What inspired you to start the Unity Tour and bring Slightly Stoopid along this year?
Nick Hexum: Live music is the focus of any great band, so we’ve toured every summer over the past 20 years except for one, in 1998. Ten years ago, we started branding our summer tour as the Unity Tour, and we always pick a band that lends itself to that concept of bringing people together through music and spreading good vibes playing outdoors in the summer evenings. Slightly Stoopid fits that bill perfectly: They have a really similar attitude to [ours], doing a lot of their own business and maintaining a direct relationship with their fans. It was a perfect match.
F.W.: 311 has maintained relationships with record labels of all sizes in the past. Are you happy being fully independent today?
N.H.: Absolutely. It was good that we had a smaller label like Capricorn in the beginning that didn’t have a lot of resources and said, “You guys are going to go out and break yourselves touring.” That’s what we did, and through word-of-mouth, things just grew incrementally. But we were always very protective of creative control — that earned us a reputation for being a little difficult, but we had to be true to our art and to our fans.
F.W.: You were one of the first bands to successfully mix hip hop, punk and rock ‘n’ roll. Have your musical tastes changed as you’ve gotten older?
N.H.: We started with hip hop and rock, but there’s reggae, jazz and Latin styles in there as well. We always had the philosophy of putting anything our hearts desired into the music. Our last album was more straightforward rock, so I’m looking forward to getting back to a slightly more eclectic mix next time around. But that’s the fun of being in a band: People will say, “I can’t wait to see where you go next time,” and I’ll say, “Yeah, me, too — I have no idea how the band is going to evolve.” That’s the fun of the journey.
F.W.: You’re releasing some live show recordings soon through your website, right? Has it been fun listening to those old tapes?
N.H.: It’s been really cool to see how our style has evolved. In the early days, it was all energy and less precision, but after performing night after night, we became tighter. Our fans are going to have a lot of fun combing through that stuff.
F.W.: How much does the band love Florida? The inaugural 311 Pow Wow was held at Spirit of Suwannee Music Park last year.
N.H.: We definitely have affection for Florida. I owned a house in the Keys for quite a while; there’s so much beautiful shoreline down there that you can really find your own piece of heaven.
F.W.: Twenty years on, has your dedicated fan base become more multi-generational?
N.H.: It’s cool to see families coming and bringing their kids. There are a few that go show to show for their summer vacation. And now that I have two kids of my own, it’s especially cool to see the younger generation getting into 311.
F.W.: You and your wife delivered your daughter, Maxine, at home last year without any assistance. What was that like?
N.H.: Crazy. I’ve always been a thrill-seeker, going hang-gliding and bungee-jumping, but the rush of delivering your own baby beats them all. After our baby was out safely, we were like, “What just happened?” The coolest thing is, the midwife showed up a few minutes later, cut the cord, filled out some paperwork and went home. We never even had to go to the hospital.