For their ninth studio release, the boys of 311 decided it was time to switch things up in a very big way. Following a creative break of close to five years-the longest in the band’s almost two-decade history-the five-piece, made up of vocalists Nick Hexum and S.A. Martinez, bassist Aaron Willis, drummer Chad Sexton, and guitarist Tim Mahoney, brought in producer Bob Rock and boldly stepped out of their comfort zone. The result, Uplifter, contains 12 songs that manage to stay true to the band’s signature rock-meets-reggae-meets-hip-hop roots, while embracing a whole new world of sounds. Where “Too Much Too Fast” calls to mind the golden age of alt-rock (and draws similarities to the likes of Squeeze), “Something Out of Nothing” charges hard with Metallica-esque drum and bass.
This Friday, just three days after the release of Uplifter, the guys will return to the Santa Barbara for their annual Unity Tour. We recently caught up Martinez to discuss the band, the music, and why the new 311 DVD is keeping their drummer up at night.
You guys called upon Bob Rock to produce Uplifter. How did that vibe with 311’s already-established recording style? The thing about it is : we have to realize that there are certain patterns and dynamics that maybe need to change and shift. We had gotten into a bit of a comfort zone working with certain people for the same types of projects over the years, and a lot of bands do that, but it’s great to change it up. You get comfortable working with someone, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you’re getting the best results or that you can’t get better results and surpass things that you thought weren’t possible. It was the right decision going with Bob, and he really changed things up for us. You hear the results in the record.
Do you feel like the diehard 311 fans will be surprised by what you’ve done? The album’s got something for everybody on it-old fans, new fans, non-fans, whatever. It’s going to appeal to a very large cross-section of the music-loving public. I think all of our records have had that accessibility. It’s just a having great producer who’s able to buff that rock, that’s really what it comes down to-just polishing that whole gem of an album making that sucker shine. [Laughs.] You just can’t slight anything that’s come before; it’s all different, it’s all timing.
And I know the album is coming with a bonus DVD, which I haven’t seen yet. Would you care to tell me a little bit about the movie and its making? [Laughs.] That’s a good question because I haven’t seen it either. I’ll tell you this, Chad saw it and he asked everyone if they had seen it and no one had and he was like, “Watch it.” Chad said he watched it right before he went to bed, and after he watched it he said he couldn’t go to sleep because he was so pumped.
With nine albums under your belt, how do you put together set lists for a tour like this? This time out we’re really going to make an effort to push the new album, and we’ve never ever done that. We’ve always constructed the set to comprise elements from every album-and we’ll still do that-but we’ll be pulling less from previous albums. The thing is, going out next week to support this album, the true test will be next summer. Once people have lived with the record for a bit, then I think you can get a true gauge of where the audience is at. Some of these songs, like “Jackpot” for example, requires crowd participation, and I’m just not sure if it’s going to be there that first week. But you don’t know.
The Unity Tour always manages to pack such a diverse bill. I imagine it to be like a band of brothers when you guys hit the road. We fight with everybody. [Laughs.] It has to be-you’re seeing everybody every day. You know what’s funny? The funny thing is we’re going out with Ziggy this time and a few years back we took out The Wailers, and we had some : let’s just say we had some bitter former members of that Marley entourage. [Laughs.] But it’s so much fun meeting all of these people and going out with people like The Wailers and now Ziggy Marley-there’s such a legacy and heritage there.
The Santa Barbara Bowl will bop with the sounds of 311 with Ziggy Marley and The Expendables this Friday, June 5 at 6 p.m. Call 962-7411 or visit sbbowl.com for tickets and info.