Fans’ energy keeps 311 performing live
Slightly Stoopid is featured opener on band’s ‘Unity’ tour
Friday, August 31, 2012
If you go
What: 311 and Slightly Stoopid, in concert.
When: 7 p.m. Sept. 4.
Where: Sleep Country Amphitheater, 17200 N.E. Delfel Road, Ridgefield.
Cost: $48.45 through Ticketmaster, 800-745-3000 or Ticketmaster.
Information: Sleep Country Amphitheater.
After more than 20 years of touring and recording, 311 has its share of songs that have been played live hundreds of times. And considering that touring is hardly the fresh experience it was in the early years, it would be understandable if playing live has lost some of its luster for the group.
But singer/guitarist Nick Hexum said that hasn’t happened to 311 for one simple reason — its fans.
“I was reading Keith Richards’ autobiography and he really sums it up, that the energy from the audience comes back and makes it exciting and a new experience no matter what,” Hexum said in a recent teleconference interview with reporters. “Sometimes, when you’re out in a long tour and you haven’t had enough days off, the sound check might be very grueling, like, ‘How am I going to be able to do this tonight? I’m tired.’ Sometimes you get sick, whatever. But when you get on stage with the audience there, it’s a completely different experience. And you just feed off that energy.”
One thing that has also freshened up the touring experience was last year’s release of the CD “Universal Pulse,” which has given the band some new songs to incorporate into its set.
It’s a very up-tempo, hard-hitting CD. The reggae, world beat grooves and rap elements that have been part of 311’s sound since the band debuted with the 1993 CD “Music” still appear. But “Universal Pulse,” 311’s 10th studio release, is first and foremost a rock album -- and a catchy one, at that.
“I can’t think of a harder album, because this one doesn’t have any ballads,” Hexum said.
In approaching the “Universal Pulse” project, 311 again teamed up with superstar producer Bob Rock, who also produced “Uplifter.”
And as on that previous CD, Rock was especially involved in the pre-production process for “Universal Pulse,” as the band sought to refine the songs it had been working on for the CD. But Hexum said working the second time around with Rock was a more comfortable experience.
“The first time you work with a producer is like everyone is so excited and really working hard to bring their A game to impress this producer, especially someone that’s got so much history and sold like 100 million records that Bob Rock said he did, something ridiculous,” Hexum said. “And then, I think what was cool is that on the second time we worked with him, he knew that we knew what we were doing and he was able to pop in and out. Where he would have us get really good sounds, he would set up the mikes and get the sounds, but then he would be like, ‘Do your thing; I’ll see you in a week.’ So it was really nice to have that type of trust.
“He was really a great match, and I have nothing but great things to say about him,” Hexum said.
But it wasn’t just the band-producer relationship that grew on “Universal Pulse. “ Hexum said he feels he and his bandmates -- SA Martinez (vocals/deejay), Sexton (drums), Tim Mahoney (guitar) and P-Nut (bass) -- all took their talents to a new level for the new CD, beginning with the songwriting.
“I’ve learned to really open up to collaboration a lot more,” Hexum said in the teleconference interview. “Sometimes in the past, I was just trying to be really stream of consciousness and not really thinking about where the songs were going and just writing down whatever would come to my mind. But now, the other guys in my band, their writing skills have come a lot further. And one of the most fun things about recording “Universal Pulse” is that I found out that P-Nut -- who knew? -- was a really great lyricist and he and I would just sit down and bounce things back and forth. And that was the first time in our career that he’d ever written any lyrics for our band. Usually it was just SA and I doing it together. So just in general, learning to open up and collaborate more has made it exciting for me.”
Further studio work, though, is on hold for the moment as 311 embarks on the latest edition of its annual “Unity” summer tour. This year, Slightly Stoopid is the featured opener, and it’s a combination that Hexum feels is ideal for the tour.
The “Unity” tour has been all about bringing people together through music,” Hexum said. “We’ve always sought to find bands that embrace that philosophy of sort of the bonding power of music, and since we’ve been doing it over 10 years now, or right around 10 years, sometimes we hit the mark perfectly and sometimes the bands that we have are a little further from, not exactly what we’re looking for. Slightly Stoopid is exactly the vibe that we’re hoping to have. … I think the blend of the two bands’ music is going to be a perfect fit.”
Over the course of a career that dates back to 1995, Slightly Stoopid has become something of a rainbow coalition of music. While its sound started out being rooted in reggae-rock, it has grown into one of rock’s most eclectic groups.
Some might suggest that the varied nature of Slightly Stoopid’s music makes the band’s music unfocused and turns off some listeners that don’t like certain styles that filter into the group’s music.
Slightly Stoopid frontman Miles Doughty, though, thinks the eclecticism works in favor of the band.
“I feel like we have our own sound,” Doughty said during a mid-June teleconference interview with reporters. “For us it works for Slightly Stoopid. I don’t think it hurts us as far as creating our own sound and our own original music. I mean we’ve made eight records, so for us I think it’s going the way it should be. “
If anything, Doughty said, the variety might have helped the group appeal to a larger audience.
“I think even in like the live show, it’s something for everybody,” Doughty said. “Maybe not everybody likes reggae or maybe not everybody likes the blues music or the punk rock or hip hop.
“When you go to the shows, you’ll see people from age 12 to like 60 years old in the crowd. And it’s pretty insane,” he said. “And for us as musicians, it keeps it fun and fresh to play all styles of music.”
The group’s eclectic nature is apparent on “Top of the World,” Doughty said, the new Slightly Stoopid CD that was released Aug. 14.
Of course, there is reggae on the new CD (“Don’t Stop” and “Ur Love” are prime examples). But the CD branches out with songs like “Devil’s Door,” which leans toward funk, the title song, which mixes a reggae and hip-hop pulse in its laid back groove and “Way You Move” is a musical melting pot in itself, with elements of soul, funk and rock percolating through the song. The songs overall are relaxed and pleasant, and also spotlight Slightly Stoopid’s ever-growing talent for building melody into its songs.
While Doughty said he feels that the music shows the continuing growth and maturity in the songwriting of the band, the biggest evolution comes in the lyrics.
“I feel like we were more lyrically conscious on this record,” he said. “Not that we weren’t on other records, but other records it was more of like a party a lot, in the vocals. It was kind of talking about that kind of scene. And this, as an artist and as a songwriter, I feel like we kind of took the next step.
He said the shift toward more mature lyrics reflects how their lives have changed for some in the band, which includes Doughty (vocals/guitar/bass), Kyle McDonald (guitar/bass/vocals), Ryan “RyMo” Moran (drums), “Oguer “OG” Ocon (percussion), Christopher “C-Money” Welter (trumpet) and Daniel “Dela” Delacruz (saxophone) and Paul Wolstencroft (keyboards).
“Myself and Kyle and our buddy Dela in the band, we all have kids and we started families, and I feel like it really kind of helped us in our writing,” Doughty said. “You feel like your soul is kind of at peace, once you have children and you start a family, I believe your mind is kind of as whole as it will ever be. And I feel that helped us with the record and being able to do it in our own studio and really capture the vibe. “
The “Top of the World” project also gave Slightly Stoopid a chance to collaborate with a number of the band’s musical heroes and friends.
To start with, the band worked with producer Jay Whiz and El Brown (reggae legend Bob Marley’s original engineer), an experience Doughty said was amazing.
“Both those guys are top-notch, as far as engineers and producers,” he said.
“I mean, we took our time and recorded at our own studios in San Diego and we were able to really gel together and really kind of create a family atmosphere and make the right record for us at this time,” Doughty said. “I’ve got nothing but praise for those two guys and we’re blessed to be working with them.”
“Top of the World” also features guest appearances from an array of notable artists, including G. Love, Don Carlos, Barrington Levy and Karl Denson.
“For each one of those guys, they have their own flavor and it blends well with Slightly Stoopid,” Doughty said. “It’s an honor for us. It’s not like we want to put them on just for the sake of putting them on. They’re all incredible musicians, whether they’re singer-songwriters or guitar players, singers. Each one of those guys, honestly, brought the record to a whole new level as far as the collaborations that we’re able to do together. So we’re excited, and I think the fans will dig what they did and I hope that they like it.”