[pullquote quote=”One of P-Nut’s friends was arrested for skinny dipping in a public pool…” credit=”Nick Hexum on the genesis of the band’s name.”]As part of a unique program available to students and faculty of the Musicians Institute in Hollywood, acclaimed artists are invited to be part of their Conversation Series, which includes a discussion and Q&A session with members in attendance. Previous guests include [lastfm link_type=”artist_info”]Ziggy Marley[/lastfm], Adrian Young of [lastfm link_type=”artist_info”]No Doubt[/lastfm], [lastfm link_type=”artist_info”]Nikki Sixx[/lastfm], among others. Most recently, Nick Hexum of [lastfm link_type=”artist_info”]311[/lastfm] participated in this exciting event, sharing his knowledge, personal stories, and words of wisdom.
[photogallerylink id=153465]Being a HUGE 311 fan myself (which is evident though some of my previous posts), I was stoked for this opportunity to hear what Nick had to say.
Ever wondered where the band name 311 comes from? In the late ’80s, Nick Hexum, guitarist Tim Mahoney, and drummer Chad Sexton performed under the name Unity. A few years later, they were joined by bassist P-Nut and vocalist S.A. Martinez. Chad got the reformed band a gig under a new name — The Fish Hippos. Nick suggested they should probably come up with a better name, to which P-Nut proposed 311. Throughout the years, there have been many fan speculations about how they got the name, but Nick explains, “One of P-Nut’s friends was arrested for skinny dipping in a public pool and was brought home to his mom in handcuffs — naked. He was arrested for indecent exposure. The police code for indecent exposure is 311. And that’s the real story behind the name.”
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Most of the audience in attendance was MI students, ranging from performers, sound design students, audio engineers, and many more studying fields within the music industry.
Nick’s stories of how 311 got their start proved to be inspiring to the audience, especially to those who are currently trying to make their own projects successful. Nick discussed how the band’s start was “definitely a grassroots thing,” as they recorded their own music, three records, with two going to tape only. Their first EP, titled Downstairs, was recorded in Nick’s basement in Omaha, Nebraska in 1989. They later independently released the album Unity, which Nick proudly recalled, “[We were] the first local band to record to CD, that was a huge thing in 1990!”
[pullquote quote=”We lived out in a little house in Van Nuys, and you know, tried to grow weed, play basketball, and practice music over and over.”]The band re-located to Los Angeles in 1992, moved in together, and completely devoted themselves to their music. Nick recalls the early days saying, “What was cool was that it just made it so we focus one-hundred percent, and just practice all the time. [We lived] out in a little house in Van Nuys, and you know, tried to grow weed, play basketball, and practice music over and over. It was a cool bonding experience.”
After ten studio albums, one live album, countless tours, including their annual summer Unity Tour and 311 Day celebration, just how does 311 account for their longevity and success as a band? Nick shares his thoughts, saying, “A lot of it is we’re just very blessed, and there’s definitely an element of luck. But I think that we’re really dedicated to our musicianship, we really focus on playing our instruments and working on our tones and chops, and being well rehearsed when we play. We always put a lot of energy into our live shows, that’s always been the thing for us, a very cathartic release, and really just exploding when we hit the stage. I think that was something that set us apart [from other bands] early. The thanks also goes to our fans. We have amazing fans that’ve stayed with us a long time and we don’t have to put a lot of pressure and worry about how our [next] single does or whatever because we’ve got a direct, long relationship with the fans.”
[pullquote quote=”We stay grateful. Some bands start to, you know, take things for granted.”]311 has had a notable bond, which has allowed them to stay united for so long — often an uncommon trait in rock bands. Nick expressed why he thinks the band has worked so well together, saying, “We knew we had something special early. I can tell that it’s a good relationship because I’ve wanted to strangle every one of the band members, but I’ve also felt like best friends with every one of the band members. We just get along really well and it’s just a lucky chemistry that we have. I think there’s a gratitude that we know we’ve stumbled on a special chemistry with the five guys that we have, and that if you change any one of us it would definitely not be the same. We stay grateful. Some bands start to, you know, take things for granted, and we actually talk a lot about how this is so cool that we have this as a day job. We keep focused on that gratitude and that keeps us going.”
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[pullquote quote=”The way you’re screwed in music is if you think you don’t have anything to learn…there’s always new frontiers to check out.”]Nick also had ample amounts of advice for up-and-coming musicians, as he explained how 311 found their sound, as well as what he has learned throughout the years as a musician. Hexum says, “The great thing about music is it’s a never-ending journey…the way you’re screwed in music is if you think you don’t have anything to learn…there’s always new frontiers to check out. Our approach has always been to practice a lot …and putting in the time. Hard work is more important than any sort of natural gift. Honing your originality and finding that thing that’s weird and different about you. And naturally, you’re gonna start out with some amount of imitation..thats gonna happen for anybody, you gotta learn by copying your heroes and then finding that thing that’s your niche, and getting as weird as you can with your own personal style.”
[pullquote quote=”People always tell me, ‘I’m excited to see where you guys go next,’ and I’m like, ‘I am too!’ I have no idea how it’s gonna turn out when the five of us get together.”]So what’s the deal with new 311 music in 2012? Will 311 be releasing a new album this year? Hexum answers, “We haven’t worked on anything yet, so it’d be tough to say that it’s definitely gonna come out this year. But we’re not gonna wait as long as we have between some albums in the past. I think it is important to take a little bit of downtime, because if you go right back in, it might sound too similar. So were kind of in this gestation period, and we wanna make sure that we come out with something that blows people’s minds. So were not gonna rush it, but definitely new music coming eventually. People always tell me, ‘I’m excited to see where you guys go next,’ and I’m like, ‘I am too!’ I have no idea how it’s gonna turn out when the five of us get together.”
Nick also shared with the audience what music he’s been digging lately, as he talked about how currently he’s in a funk phase. “I’ve been all about the funk and jazz, and [from] back in the late ’90s this ‘acid jazz,’ … there’s a lot of underground funky music. This record I’ve been spinning is from this band called [lastfm link_type=”artist_info”]The Bamboos[/lastfm]. I’ve got a really badass Pandora station, everything from [lastfm link_type=”artist_info”]The Meters[/lastfm], to [lastfm link_type=”artist_info”]John Scofield[/lastfm], to [lastfm link_type=”artist_info”]Greyboy Allstars[/lastfm], [lastfm link_type=”artist_info”]Groove Collective[/lastfm]… I’m gonna look into sharing my Pandora station, because I’ve been thumb-upping and downing things so much that its become really refined to what I like to hear.”
Other fun facts Nick Hexum shared:
Most meaningful song: “”Beyond The Gray Sky” is a really heartfelt song for me because it was written after the passing of my friend, a guy who took his own life. It’s kind of a summary of our fight to keep a positive attitude and seeing beyond the grey sky, seeing beyond the clouds. It’s a very emotionally cathartic thing for me, and a special thing when we play it live.”
- Favorite film: “I suppose if I’m gonna give the ‘cool answer’ it would be Taxi Driver. But one of my favorite movies of all time would be Adaptation…I also liked I Heart Huckabees.”
- Guitar of Choice: Gibson ES-355, 335
- Pedal of Choice: Analog Man ‘King of Ton’ Overdrive Pedal
- Amp of Choice: Mesa Boogie