The 411 On 311

The Midwest’s Ska/Punk/Rap/Rockers Take It to the Bowl

by Hudson Hornick

311-File-Web.gifTogether since 1988, 311’s career is
best described as a tour de force. In 18 years, the band has seen
17 songs reach Billboard’s Top 30 in the modern-rock genre (two of
those hit number one), stats that go nicely with their platinum and
triple platinum albums. The band’s lengthy career has been driven
by consistent success, occasional controversy, and ferociously
dedicated fans. The Omaha, Nebraska, natives headline the Bowl next
Saturday, September 9. Singer Doug “SA” Martinez gave me the scoop
on all things 311, including an always-evolving life on the
road.

In the band’s early years, 311 produced three albums as
an independent label before signing with Capricorn. What was it
like running your own record label, and why didn’t you stick with
it?
We had always sold really well locally. Our local
shows became more and more of a success and we tried to turn that
into something by ourselves, but never really pursued the business
aspect of it too much. By 1991, we had a great following in the
greater metropolitan area of Omaha, and decided to try our luck out
in California. That’s when we moved to L.A. and signed up with
Capricorn.

Isn’t that also when 311 bought a communal house and you
five lived together? Any wild stories to tell that involved
fires?
Uh, yeah; that was actually when we were touring in
an RV. We were touring nonstop and we were still up-and-coming. I
think it was in ’94, we were in this RV on our way from Springfield
to Kansas City and the RV caught fire. We all jumped out and were
fine but we lost all our stuff … like everything. Our friends who
had heard about the incident really helped us out. Our next show
was in Omaha, our hometown, to which we made it, but we had to play
on borrowed gear. Y’know, I suppose every band has its own
bump-in-the-road story, and I guess that one is ours.

I’ve heard Nick Hexum [311’s other lead singer] gave you
your name, “SA,” after a night of mushrooms. It stands for Spooky
Apparition, right?
Ha! Yeah, you know, I’ve heard that
stand for pretty much everything. I’ll roll with anything, and I
suppose that’s one of the acronyms around. Actually, Nick first
gave me that name because of our time in L.A. Out in L.A. we kept
hearing all these Mexicans call each other ése, and when we
returned to Omaha, I was the only Mexican Nick knew, hence, “SA.”
One of your most famous songs is “Come Original.” I think it would
be fair to argue that 311 has always “come original,” even through
the tumultuousness of pop culture in the ’90s. Yeah, styles change.
Everything changes. You can’t cater to radio, otherwise you’d lose
it trying to keep up. Being out on the road all the time is about
keeping your head straight. If you think about it too much, I think
that’s when people go crazy. We have always maintained what we do
all along, and fans appreciate it. We put out a high-caliber live
set and we can tell that our fans really support us.

That can be hard to do considering the potential egos of two
lead singers. Nick and I have a really important chemistry. This
band is really so privileged to be around for as long as we have
with no problems like that. We’re all friends and Nick and I get
along great. We work together and we each get our respective times
to shine. We balance each other as vocalists.

I’ve heard rumors of a solo project. Any truth to that? Well,
all the band members have something going on the side, but not
really  — not right now. I’m looking forward to the end of the tour
and meeting up with my nephew, who’s working on new music, and to
see how he’s progressing as an artist.

Is it hard to handle the stress of success? It’s good to take
time off the road, just to cool down for a bit. Just staying
level-headed on tour can be hard. So many things can go wrong;
we’re really lucky that they don’t. It’s important to stay grounded
and have fun with it. We’ve been on this tour since July, and Santa
Barbara is our last show. And you know, we love Santa Barbara 
— it’s a great venue. And seeing how Santa Barbara is your last
show, do you have any tricks up your sleeve for us? I never say
never, but things change. We’re planning an epic show because Santa
Barbara has always been good to us. It’s gonna be one to go down in
the record books.

4•1•1 311 plays the Bowl on
Saturday, September 9, 6 p.m., with the Wailers and Pepper. Visit
sbbowl.com.

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