An Interview with 311
There are rock stars, and there are rock legends. That very fine line between the two is where 311 comfortably sits.
For the past two and a half decades the band has weathered trends and battled a failing industry with little change to its sound or lineup. Aside from Doug “SA” Martinez, who joined the band a few years after its inception to add a turntable dynamic, the group has played and made music together since 1988. It sustains its success with a unique sound and hooking anthems that define generations.
311 signed to Capricorn Records in 1992. The backing enabled the band to release a few albums to relatively conservative success, but it wasn’t until the 1995 release of its self-titled album — often referred to as The Blue Album for its minimalistic, though immediately recognizable, cover — that the band achieved praised status. That album includes “Down” and “All Mixed Up,” which still are timelessly used for party ballads or nods to the summer seasons. That self-titled venture is certified triple platinum and remains as one of the most successful in the post-Napster world of numbers and downloads.
While in the process of recording a new album, lead guitarist Tim Mahoney reflects on the overall successes of the band.
“The first time we ever played at Red Rocks was one of the biggest things for us in all time,” said Mahoney.“Things like that throughout our career are great. The fact that we’re on the phone here and still playing and still happy playing is a great success. There are still other things we’d love to do, but being inspired and playing my instrument and being with these guys enjoying it and knowing we haven’t written our best songs yet, it’s like a science project.”
Scott Ralston, who last was seen in album credits for the “Transistor” album, is recording the band for its newest fare. He has been critical in producing and mixing the unparalleled tone the band is known for. An official release date has yet to be set, but all energy and hopes point to March 11, 2014, a date that rarely falls on album release Tuesday.
“Scott knows us better than anybody,” said Mahoney. “Not too many bands get to play with the same group of people that long and get to know them well. As time goes on, it’s becoming a strength as far as knowing each other, and it helps us work together even better. As long as everyone’s inspired and on the same page of being happy and wanting to play music together, it will keep evolving in a positive way.”
The act not only sustained impressive careers, but created a movement in the process. March 11, or better yet 3/11, has become its own creative monster, a special date the band celebrates and uses to give thanks to dedicated fans. The band held 3/11 this year in Las Vegas at the MGM Grand Arena over the course of the weekend with a two-day, 79-song concert.
“A long time ago we felt we had to take advantage of being able to celebrate on this day,” Mahoney said. “It just kind of coincided with a day we were playing once, however many years back. So then we just started using it as a holiday for us. We do things like maybe play a bunch of songs we wouldn’t normally play or just do special things to celebrate the fact that, hey, we’re here another year!”
In addition to 3/11, the band experiments with displays outside of the normal street tour. A cruise line party and the Pow Wow Music Festival showcased the groups live performance with other notable bands. Recently, 311 took to its social media to inform fans of the unlikelihood of the festival’s return in 2013. That bad news aside, the cruise remains an important facet of appearances. For its first of three undertakings, in March of 2011, the band hit the seas on what was to be an annual gathering of like-minded individuals enjoying time and culture with the music.
Though it managed to do both the cruise and 3/11 this year, Mahoney said it may be a little much to ask of fans, and the band, to pack so much into such a short time. Efforts will be arranged differently next year, possibly resulting in a short hiatus for the cruise while the group throws more energy to the now-iconic 3/11 celebration. Though much loved, the cruise wasn’t without its problems.
“The weather this last time was not good,” Mahoney said. “It was odd, there was no sun. The first time we played, it was real rocky and there was lightning, so we had to get used to that. It was the roughest seas we had been on, so you jump in the air and the boat moves, so you land and both feet are closer or farther away. The power is different, but it’s nothing you can’t adapt to.”
For now, the band’s immediate focus lies on its popular summer tour schedule. This summer’s Unity Tour will visit 26 cities across the country, including Red Rocks in its 11th straight year. Along to provide musical support this time around are the band’s good friends and long-time collaborators Cypress Hill, and G. Love and Special Sauce. As the name suggests, the tour sticks true to positivity and never wanders from band members’ desired achievements.
“It’s kind of always been the same, to just go out and celebrate music, really just to spread some positivity out there and have a good celebration in each town we hit,” said Mahoney. “(Red Rocks) is the best venue ... I think that I’ve ever been in. It draws the best music out there, everybody wants to be able to come through there and play. Great vibe though, what a spot.”