“I would say a good year and a half ago we realized it was time. We had a 25 Year Anniversary to commemorate!” says vocalist Nick Hexum of 311. We caught up with Nick in a call lasting 30minutes discussing the release of Archive in celebration of the groups 25 years as a band.
June 10th, 1990 was the first show 311 ever put on. That was 25 years ago. That was 11 studio records, multiple live albums, DVDs, and a Greatest Hits release ago. Rather than putting out another Greatest Hits album, 311 decided to empty out the archive in a release depleting the vault of their material and they aptly titled this special release, Archive.
Archive is a box-set of 81 tracks including unreleased songs, B-sides, bonus tracks, pre-production recordings and demos. As Nick told me over the phone, “this was pretty much all of it!” This is all of what 311 has and as a 311 fan, you are caught up to date with all of their music. This is good timing because they’re currently in pre-production on a new album, but we’ll get to that later…
Archive spans a collection of music housing 81 total tracks from over the last 25 years. Nick explains that 311 drummer: “Chad (Sexton) has always been our bands archivist; so really, a lot of it fell on him to go through everything and get it all together. He was very involved in the re-mastering. It was a big job, but we definitely needed to do it for posterity.”
In addition to the music, the Archive package also includes a 60page book full of rare photos, flyers, memorabilia, and artifacts from the bands personal collection spanning 1992 – 2014.
Going through more than 20 years of music and memorabilia took the group a year and a half to put together. What seems like another book of pictures actually entails so much more. With 5 members over 20 years, I’m surprised they were able to condense it down to just 60 pages. Nick Hexum’s collection alone seems quite taxing to go through.
As Nick tells us, his keepsake showed up to be quite extensive: “Well I had 2 boxes of keepsakes, where I would just toss everything in from press clippings to laminates to lyric sheets to photos and these are really heavy boxes by the way. Our manager was saying ‘Okay, I need old photos and stuff’ and I was like, ‘Well you can go through my keepsakes boxes.’ [Haha]
“Those boxes have been sealed for probably 10 years, so it was really ancient stuff. He opened it and he said this was like an archaeological dig! [Haha] There was pony tails from when I had long hair on the Music album: there was wisdom teeth, tons of pictures of girls – Just tons of photos of us partying; all of us in the studio, lots of pictures of us smoking. So there was a bunch of things from that I included in the photo book. It’s a fun peak inside the history of 311.”
If you look at the cover of the album, you have a plain white backdrop with hexagon shapes coming together to make a central image that kind of looks like a bee-hive with ‘311’ and Archive centrally located at the top. It’s symbolism to the bulk of the music on Archive coming from their home studio called The Hive.
“It was just about the coming together of a place that’s always been the center of our activity,” Nick says of the symbolism with Archive cover-art. “We always run into each other at the Hive, it’s just our energy center. Most of what you’re hearing is from the Hive and then it also goes way back to our home-studios.”
One of those home studios includes a house they owned in Van Nuys, CA which Nick describes as “a tiny house for 5 people, yet it had a swimming pool and that’s all we cared about.” It was while living there in Van Nuys that the group made albums Grassroots and Music.
Going through and finding that there were 81 various tracks to put out for the fans, Nick acknowledged that he was most excited to see “Week of Saturdays”, which was an Uplifter B-side, as well as “Pass The Grass” finally get released to the fans. Nick explains that “Pass The Grass” would eventually turn into ‘Strong All Along’ off their album Soundsystem.
“Very different lyrics and it’s a really playful, funny demo and it changed a lot,” says Nick of the song, ‘Pass The Grass.’ “For people to go back and hear what became ‘Strong All Along’, I think that may be a trip.”
As for the rest of Archive, the album includes a bit of everything as Nick explains, “I would say there’s a good dose of reggae and more of the unclassifiable shit that we cant really say exactly what style it is and maybe it was a little too weird to go on a album. A lot of them are early versions of album songs too, so its just kind of all over the place.”
You can pick up Archive now by clicking HERE!
25 Years of 311
It’s hard to enough to make it in the music industry, yet alone survive in a band for 25 years while maintaining the same line-up in the process. Coming up from Omaha, Nebraska in the ’90’s, Nick explains that “there was this sort of viral reaction to our music where, just through word of mouth, we were up-selling Michael Jackson and U2 at the time.”
It was at that time that the group knew they were on to something as Nick described 311’s live shows as a sold-out mad-house full of slam dancing fans, but the challenges of making it as a band in 1990 are far different than the challenges bands face today. This was before social media, iTunes, sharing MP3’s, and during the early 90’s, cassettes and mix-tapes were common place and your best music resource was the closest Record Store. CD’s were coming up to be the next big thing, but not everyone could afford CD players in 1990 and not many up and coming bands were able to print their music to CD. At the time, if you were a band able to press your album onto cassette and CD, then chances are your band was doing really well, but that didn’t mean distribution came easy.
“Back then it was a challenge with distribution and it was a lot of me driving around to different record stores to drop off cassettes to be sold on consignment… When we finally made it all the way to CD on the Unity album that was just such a triumph on our own to make it all the way to CD. But back then distribution was the trick. Trying to get the labels to listen to the demo, to get national and international distribution, I really had to be totally relentless and keep harassing these people. Like I’d wake up each day calling A&R people asking, ‘Hey did you listen to the tape yet?’ So its very different to today where everything just moves so differently.”
Since 1990, we’ve seen tapes and CD’s get replaced by MP3’s and digital downloads with a resurgence for Vinyl records. Before being an independent artist was as common place as it is in today’s digital era, 311 established a Do It Yourself independent work ethic that earned them distribution from major labels with their ensuing collection of releases. Nick explained that you have to stay wildly creative and understand how to promote within the given environment.
“Back in the old days, you would tour at a loss, just to promote your album. These days, you put out an album that may be a loss just to promote your tour. So it’s turned 180 on how it used to be. Luckily we’ve always been, primarily, a live band. We came up from a jam-band standpoint, as far as a business level, and this was maybe 15 years ago we were like: We’re a live band, we’re not going to let the record company, or anyone else, dictate our schedule. We’re going to go out in the summer and tour and we’ll work our albums around that, rather than making everything about an album cycle – similar to the jam-band scene.”
To say 311 would later develop a cult following would be a bit of an understatement. To go with all of their celebrated releases and archive of live music for free download on their website, March 11th is celebrated every year as 3/11 day with bi-yearly 311-Day performances that trade off with their bi-yearly cruises. With all that the band has accomplished, 311 has new territory to seek and conquer.
“There’s still a frontier that we feel we’re pushing with our music. That’s any band that’s going into double digits with an album. That’s one of the challenges, to not just keep repeating. I’m so stoked on our current batch of music because we’re as excited about it as we were on ‘Grassroots’. So that’s why we’re very fired up that we found some exciting new territories to go into.”
Just a couple of those new territories include 311’s Amber Ale craft beer in addition to 311’s partnership with BK Racing in support of cars #23, #26 and #83 in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series sporting the 311 logo.
With the release of Archive and going through more than 20 years of demo’s and B-sides from various releases, Nick acknowledged that moving forward, “I think that we’re going to have more of a ‘let’s just put it out’ attitude so there won’t be as much stuff held back as we’re learning from this process because we’re seeing how much creativity there is in all of the songs.”
With Transistor, the group recorded as many as 30 songs and released an album with 21 tracks. With Stereolithic, nothing was held back as everything was put out from that 15 track album session. The band will cut their summer tour shorter than usual this year to allow them to get back to the studio to finish new material for a 2016 album release.
Without giving away too much, Nick explained that the newer material is “very innovative, very futuristic. I think we’re really in the creative zone and everyone’s very fired up about it. We had a band meeting where we told the manager: ‘Hey, after summer tour, let’s not add a lot of fly dates because it’s going to be time to really get this album into high gear.'”
After 25 years, 311 are showing no signs of slowing down as they embark on the next 25 years as a group. “We know we’ve stumbled upon a special chemistry that would not be the same without the 5 of us. So very glad everyone is still healthy and together and it’s just… we’re very blessed.”
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