311 talks streaming shows, 30th anniversary, COVID in career-spanning interview

311 will play its first three albums at three live streamed concerts — Music on Nov. 11, Grassroots on Dec. 11 and their self-titled blue album on Jan. 11.

311 was supposed to be on tour. They were supposed to be celebrating their 30th anniversary.

They had big plans for 2020. But like many of us, 2020 didn’t care about our plans.

The multi-platinum rock band — whose hit songs such as Down, Amber and All Mixed Up expertly blend charging rock, rapped lyrics and head-bouncing reggae — has instead been mostly holed up at home. After the band’s 3-11 Day celebration in March, they didn’t play another concert, and the band’s members didn’t really play together until a couple weeks ago.

And how did it feel to be back in the room together again?

“It was just bliss,” bassist P-Nut told me. “We make magic when we’re together.”

In a wide-ranging interview, I caught up with P-Nut and singer/guitarist Nick Hexum before the band was set to launch 311 Streamsystem, a trio of streaming concerts featuring the 311’s first three albums in their entirety broadcast from the band’s studio space, The Hive.

In the interview, we talked about making music during a pandemic. (P-Nut: “If you’ve got new music, sharing is always the right thing to do in our collective.”) We talked about how music is a necessary party of life. (Hexum: “Live music is an essential part of the human experience.”) We talked about responsibility. (P-Nut: “We need to be smart about this, or it’s gonna last forever.”) We talked about making 311’s first three records. (Hexum: “To do all that touring, and writing and recording, that’s just some serious youthful energy.”)

And of course, we talked about 311’s first concerts in eight months: A few drive-in concerts in California and Arizona and a series of streaming shows from their studio, The Hive. (Hexum: “I’m gonna just go for it and rock really hard.”)

All three streaming shows will be broadcast via 311streamsystem.com. They’ll play Music on Nov. 11, Grassroots on Dec. 11 and their self-titled blue album on Jan. 11.

Ticket packages, $20 for individual shows or $60 for all three, are on sale at 311streamsystem.com. Each ticket includes an hour-long pre-show stream of behind-the-scenes goings on at The Hive as well as an “open-forum hangout” with the band. Each show will also be rebroadcast four times after at scheduled intervals. There are also merch packages that mimic a live date with items like “ticket stubs,” tour T-shirts and posters.

It’s not what the band had in mind when planning its 30th anniversary, but it’s about the best option they have right now.

Let’s get into it.

I wanted to start by talking about the band’s 30th anniversary. Obviously you guys have a lot of stuff planned. What’s has it been like to have to shelve those plans?

Nick Hexum: It just is a reminder of how you have to be flexible, and roll with the punches.  We went from planning to do 50 dates and 50 states to now — the first shows that we’re going to do since our 30th anniversary are a live stream shows from our studio and, and drive-in shows in a completely new format. So you just have to be be flexible and roll with it.

When everything kind of came down, what was that conversation like? 

P-Nut: Did we even talk? I don’t think it was such a it was such a hard-line decision. There was no conversation involved. You know, it was just like, Oh, you know, we’re done. We’re done until we until responsible say responsible people say we can get back to work.

Hexum: It was definitely the weirdest time, like just just even focusing on adjusting to home life. At the beginning of the quarantine, I called it like a Little House on the Prairie with iPads because the family was home all the time. Dad leaves once a week to go get supplies, and other than that we’re just home all the time. So it was such a huge, you know, gear shift from normal life to that. We made the best of it. There was some huge pluses to so much family time like teaching my youngest daughter to read and ride a bike and just so much time to like, let’s do stuff we haven’t done before. Let’s play board games. I’m going to teach the kids kickball, which is, you know, a huge part of my childhood. Just different things like that. That was the was the upside of the whole weird summer.

P-Nut: Being home’s been great but  you never know how much you’re used to traveling, you know, over the course of a 30 year career as a touring musician and a touring band. It’s been weird, but it’s been great at the same time. I feel my muscles relaxing in ways that they haven’t been able to relax, you know, ever. So it feels really good.

But getting back in the room with the band on Monday, and then yesterday, was just was just bliss. Just incredible. To get all together, because we make magic when we’re together. And to be away from it for that long, and not share it with other people has been, like a phantom limb. And you can feel it, but it’s not there.

I was thinking this must be the first summer in I don’t know how long you guys weren’t out all the time.

Hexum: 22 years. ’98 was the only summer that we’ve taken off until now.

That’s insane. Had you guys not really seen much of each other? 

Hexum: I don’t see much of anybody. I have a little agreement with our pod, which is two other families that have kids around our same age, and we’ve just made an agreement. Like, we’ll only hang out with each other to limit possible spread and stuff like that. The band, we all got rapid tested when we showed up for band practice on Monday, I like that we’re doing our part and being responsible, because it’s a time when we have a duty to try and keep other people safe by making good decisions.

Was that the first band practice in months? 

Hexum: Seven or eight months, yeah.

So P-Nut was saying, you know, the phantom limb thing. But what was it like playing again? Was there any rust? Some of those songs, I’m sure you couldn’t forget them. 

Hexum: We hit the ground running to the extent that Scotch, our sound man and often producer, was like, “So you guys don’t need to rehearse,” because we just threw down so hard. But my voice is feeling a little right now. I mean, it’s a muscle. Even though we totally rocked that first day, you got to get your muscles used to it. I mean, P-Nut said his fingers hurt a little.

You never play as hard on your own. Even though I was playing and singing all summer, you never sing as hard and play as hard on your own as you do when you’re live. The streaming show is going to be really fun if we go at it with the same intensity that we do when the audience is there with us. So I was like, “I’m gonna just go for it and rock really hard,” and it takes your body a little bit of time to get used to used to that.

That’s awesome. Are you practicing Music first?

P-Nut: We’re just getting ready for the streaming shows. We played through Music a couple of times, making sure that that’s correct. And it’s a great way for us to start because those are songs that we toured on back in years where we played 150 shows a year. So we know those are the songs that we can’t help but play well.

It’s a full circle when we play those songs, too. To play them as an album is really a good reminder of how we came out and what our foundation is in — eclecticism and not being afraid of trying everything out. If it feels good for us, we know there’s an audience for it. We knew it before there was an audience and and just how fun that is. It’s just like a musical shot across the bow that I’m really, really proud of, and it’s really fun to revisit.

Hexum: It’s it’s a great workout because the majority of the songs are pretty high energy but then there’s also some pretty moments like My Stoney Baby and Paradise and stuff where I get my croon on! So there’s a range there. But it’s so familiar like putting on an old comfy jacket.

Some of those songs even go back to your Omaha days. So I’m sure you guys must know those songs like they’re a part of you.

Hexum: Everybody’s debut album is kind of a greatest hits of all their best ideas up to that point. And that’s why a lot of bands kind of go through a sophomore slump because you had, however many years, to come up with your debut album. And then then the next album, you only have a few months to put that together. So it it’s, it’s kind of like a greatest hits.

I was thinking about those first three records, because of the streaming shows. Those three albums came out in three years, right? You guys released those bam, bam, bam. 

Hexum: Yeah. ’93, ’94 and ’95.

So what was that like? You guys were just touring those first few records and recording them. It must have just been insane.

P-Nut: I couldn’t do it now!

Hexum: Yeah, to do all that touring, and writing and recording. That’s just some serious youthful energy to pack that much in a year. And then on the on the Grassroots album was where we gave up our little shared house in Van Nuys, and actually just kind of lived on the road. And when we get a few days off, we would just stay at some crappy kind of apartment-oriented motel. But we lived on the road. So that was, that was something you can kind of only do when you’re — what were we?— 23 or 24.

P-Nut: Yeah, that’s a commitment.

So how did you record the blue album?

P-Nut: We got our hero, Ron Saint Germain, behind the board. And I don’t even remember how we got ahold of him. But he was there, and we were all excited about working together and making it as powerful as we as we could while still showing off all the all the styles that we wanted to kind of throw into the mix.

I don’t know if that was a victory lap from all the touring, but we got a lot of experience from all the shows that we had been playing. We played hundreds of shows at that point, even five years into the career, and been all over the country a few times. And we’re ready to put down all that experience on the tape, working with a total hero of ours, Ron Saint Germain, knowing that we were in good hands, knowing that even though there was like a 20 year difference in our ages, he was probably the most excited guy in the room about making this happen and doing it right and keeping it inspired.

It was a great experience, and working with him set us up for a long career.

Hexum: I remember I called him. I had our manager get the get his phone number, and he was so excited to talk to us. I couldn’t believe it because we had adored him with his work with Bad Brains and Living Colour and, you know, different punk rock and jazz and bands all over the spectrum. He just had so much energy. He’s this wirey guy that always wears leather pants. He’s always in leather, and just has so much energy and you just you match it.

We called him “excitable one,” and that was our name for ourselves and our fan base as well. And so he just fit right in. It was just so cool that he was so excited to work with us, which was such a surprise.

That’s awesome. It’s easy to look back in hindsight knowing that that album became a hit, but did you have that feeling at the time that it was going to be something special? 

Hexum: Yeah. I had such a strong feeling about this song, Down. Because it was just like that chorus that sticks in your head, but plus so much energy in the verses, and I just kind of felt like it was, you know, the best of what we did. And there were so many cool songs. Then Saint helping us record all at once, so capturing that raging intensity.

And then we got away from that on Transistor. Then we did it again, a little later, on From Chaos, and we got back with Saint.

But on the blue album there was just definitely a lot of momentum. That was that we just could feel from the groundswell of Grassroots. When we would come back to a town, there was so many more people on each show. So you could just tell that it was a movement, because people would start moshing before we even hit the stage, just in anticipation. Then just the heat coming off the crowd and everyone was so sweaty and taking their clothes off. And you know, it’s such a young crowd. You could just feel the crescendo.

After you did Music, you played how many hundreds of times just that record. And it was the same thing those first few records, just playing those songs. These days, it’s kind of a career-spanning set. So is it fun to go back and play those songs that you once played a ton before but haven’t done all that much outside of, say, 3-11 Day shows?

Hexum: I had a blast. It was it was just, you know, just what we needed to have these rehearsals. Because, you know, like P-Nut said, we’re just used to doing it every summer. So there was something missing to not do it. And now that we’re kind of got our physical chops going by having these rehearsals, we’ll start to expand to review other material. We’ve got these drive-in shows coming up.

We’re just very, very blessed to get to do this for a living. It’s something that we would we wanted to do as first as a hobby. And then it turned into a career and that’s just living the dream.

Tell me about the drive-in shows.

P-Nut: We we stream on the 11th. We got a day off. We’re going to drive in the middle of the night to Arizona. And that’ll be the 13th will be Arizona. And then after those two shows, we’re going to drive to Ventura and do drive-in shows there on the 14th. It sounds exhausting.

Hexum: Bring it on.

P-Nut: I’m ready for being exhausted. I miss being exhausted. Although I’m kind of

You’re excited for the all night bus ride?

P-Nut: Yeah! You never know how used to all that discombobulation and togetherness you get. I mean, the good and the bad of all of it, we’re all so used to it. We’re all so used to being together and being around each other. It’ll, it’ll be great to get back to it. And I think the drive-in shows are gonna be really full of energy. And the streaming shows as well because we miss each other so much.

You’re playing the streaming shows in The Hive, so it will be cool to see you guys in your element, so to speak. 

Hexum: Yeah, and our road crew has stepped up with some really cool technology surprises, so it’s not just going to be a camera in a room. It is going to be some really cool stuff visually and to make it so it’s people be glad they tuned in.

With the drive-in shows, have you thought about how you’re going to perform? It’s not like walking out and there’s a crowd right in front of you. People will be sitting in their cars or next to their cars. 

Hexum: Yeah, honking to applaud? (laughs) You know, I haven’t, like watched a lot of videos or anything of what the driving shows are like, but my friend who came with us on the 311 Cruise is in the band Yachtley Crew, and he said it was just a blast. It was so nice to do it. He played the Ventura drive-in situation

It’s going to be such a difference, because when we’re playing at The Hive, it’s a relatively small live room, and I’ll have this like square where I can rock out. And then on the drive-in shows, it’s this massive stage in the round. So I’ll be able to do a lot of running. It’s going to be like from being in like a little dog kennel to, you know, having a ranch to run around on.

It’s been cool to see people figure out these clever ways to do shows. It’s been neat to see people find some way to do live music, because otherwise it’s just not happening.

Hexum: Nightlife is just a huge quality of life thing that people have. Live music is an essential part of the human experience. I’ve been reading books on musicology and the history of music where 100,000 years ago, they had rhythmic music, which was just beating on drums, and probably 50,000 years ago in came the melodic things with flutes and that type of thing. So it’s such part of our DNA and the human experience to get together and dance. And so I think that’s been part of the sort of depression that the world is, is going through right now missing that. It shows how it’s been kind of undervalued about what the service of live music and dancing and that that shared experience — the chemicals you get from it, that oxytocin and the bonding and the joy and the reflection that music provides.

Some artists are releasing pandemic albums. Have you guys have been working on new music? Not that you’re ready to crank out a brand new record right now.

P-Nut: No.

Hexum: (laughs) I thought you were going to talk about our song.

P-Nut: Oh, I will. But we released Voyager last year. Personally, I think it came out a little fast. I wish we would have put a little bit more time into it. So I don’t know how much people feel that. But I think it’s a general understanding in the band, that there’s no real reason to rush new creativity at this point. Especially with just everything being up in the air and trying to stay mentally solid.

If you’ve got new music, sharing is always the right thing to do in our collective. And what’s come out of that is me and Nick have been working on a song a month or two and really having fun with it. It can go it can go anywhere when it’s when it’s me and him.

(Working on this quietly) is just fun. We’re not really worry about when it’s going to be released or what it’s going to turn into and just kind of walking down the road together.

Hexum: I can only imagine what this kind of a forced break would be on a younger bands. If this had happened when we were on Grassroots, it would have just really changed the trajectory of our career. But also imagine people who are 16 or 17, when they’re just getting their first freedom to be able to go out and be with people all the time, and then saying, “You can’t,” and you have a canceled summer like that would be really tough.

But it kind of hit us at a decent time when we had been on a pretty busy album cycle. We put out, relatively, a lot of music over the past few years. So it kind of came at a decent time that we could just focus on being home with the kids. But now it’s good. We’re getting back to it.

I’ve been thinking the same thing. If this would have happened when I was 22, I would have been scratching at the walls to get out. But you know, being home with family, it’s not so bad to have a break.

Hexum: Yeah! Of course, we’re bummed when we see these college kids having huge parties and stuff like that. But it would be so hard to resist being together when you’re that age.

I’m appreciative of modern technology for being able to do things like this. I’ve had some just zoom calls with friends that I’m not able to see otherwise. But for music, you don’t have to get into a recording studio. Has it been beneficial to be able to lay something down and then trade trade files back and forth?

Hexum: Yeah. There was a time when we all lived within a one-mile radius of each other in the middle of the Hollywood Hills. And we were all really close. And that was at a time when the technology was that we had to be together. We couldn’t just, you know, email files and stuff like that. And now we’ve all moved kind of further away to the outskirts, and seems like that trend continues. So it’s really good that we have technology.

With the whole pandemic, can you imagine if this would have happened in the ’90s before everyone had computers and high speed internet connections? I mean, it would have been really, really terrible.

I know 2021 is still a question mark, but are you looking forward to next year maybe being able to tour? 

Hexum: There’s definitely tentative plans that we hope to be able to do. We’re talking what what kind of package can we put together? Where can we play? So yeah, we’re making tentative plans. But if you would be disingenuous to say we’ve got it all worked out, because you just have to see what happens with health and what what kind of concerts are going to be, not only allowed by laws, but just responsible to have, right. So we’ll see.

P-Nut: The 311 vaccine is coming out in two weeks. I promise. I promise. (laughs) Use my words against me. Hold me to it.

Yeah, a branded 311 vaccine. Just on the syringe. We’ll be good to go.

P-Nut: That’s what that’s that’s what we need to do. That’s innovation. That’s seizing the now. (laughs)

But yeah, I don’t I don’t want to be one of the Sturgis bands that’s responsible for a widespread, possibly the whole spread through the Midwest right now. I mean, what a stupid thing to do.

And I totally get it. I miss playing shows too. And we had friends that were on that bill. I’m like, “What were you thinking?” Oh, yeah, you’re thinking you want to play a show in front of an audience. I get it. But it’s just not it’s not the right time. We can’t we can’t be indulgent in our despair. We need to be smart about this, or it’s gonna last forever. You know? So that’s frustrating. We’ve got to plan for the future. We gotta wise up as a country, as a world, and figure it out together. It’s not happening to me, it’s happening to all of us. So if we can tackle it together we can we can take care of it better.

Hexum: I think for some people, it’s all theoretical, and they see it on TV, but like my friend, passed away from Oregon failure from the virus in March. That was at the very beginning, and it became incredibly real for me. So you just have to just think, think about the long game, think about other people have empathy and make smart choices.

We were joking with the with the 311 vaccine, but you do have a lot of branded products. Is anything new coming? 

Hexum: I was just looking over our our holiday merch line, there’s a very attractive dog collar on there that I want for my dogs and different things that I’m actually not supposed to announce! But yeah, we always want to have new kind of creative stuff for for our fans to enjoy.

P-Nut: And we’ve got a fresh supply of beer coming out. That’s not a constant, but it’s happening at a more regular interval. So you don’t have to age your beer in the fridge. You can drink it fresh.

Well, I’m looking forward to these shows. 

Hexum: We want to thank our fans for thinking of us and sticking with us when we, you know, couldn’t be there to light the fire in person, and we’re just looking forward to being able to be there with him in person when it’s safe to do so.

Editor’s note: This interview was edited for length and clarity.