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Last year, guitarist and singer Nick Hexum took his first real break from 311 in 25 years by forming The Nick Hexum Quintet. The group released a well-received album titled My Shadow Pages that mixed even more musical styles than his genre-blurring day-job band usually does.
“I needed to take a detour for a while, and the Quintet was the perfect move for me," Hexum explains. "We did a lot of light, funky stuff, and then I was able to get back into some heaviness with 311. It’s good to keep another avenue open. If I’m working on something and 311 isn’t feeling it, I’ll have that other outlet. It just means more music for the fans.”
Hexum played a series of dates with Quintet earlier this year before throwing himself into the completion of 311's new album, Stereolithic. The 15-song disc is the group's most collaborative effort yet, with DJ and co-vocalist Doug "SA" Martinez, bassist P-Nut and returning producer Scotch Ralston all working with Hexum on lyrics.
Hexum talked to MusicRadar about the new record, reuniting with their trusty board man, prog rock and how The Beatles influenced one of his new songs. (You can order Stereolithic at iTunes.)
311 are one of the first bands to mix rock, rap and reggae. If you were a brand-new group right now, who do you think you’d be looking to in those respective genres?
“Oh the rap side of things, Kendrick Lamar is very quirky and weird and creative. I really enjoy what he does a whole lot. He’s got different side projects that are cool. He’s one of the few hip-hop artists that I still follow. I can get into the hits of the day, but it’s nothing like the conscious hip-hop of De La Soul, A Tribe Called Quest and Public Enemy. For me, that was the pinnacle of creativity in rap. There’s some good stuff now, but it’s become so materialistic that it turns me off.
“As far as rock music, the great thing about it is its long history. This morning I was listening to Who’s Next by The Who, and I was blown away by how creative and brilliant it was – and still is. I’ve been going through a lot of older stuff. Whenever I read a rock biography, I break out the catalogue of that artist. I just read When Gods Roamed The Earth, and then I immersed myself in Zeppelin for a few months.
“Rock radio has been overtaken by a lot of folky, vibey stuff that doesn’t rock super hard. I can get into it, but the stuff seems to come and go. I wouldn’t say that I listen to a lot of current bands. The journey continues there.
“On the reggae front, I’ll make a playlist of stuff by Slightly Stoopid, Cali Greens and different things that are things coming out of Jamaica. I wouldn’t say there’s any core artists I’m all about. There’s some American ones that are making some good, vibrant reggae music – Rebelution, Sublime With Rome, some of the bands we’ve toured with.
You guys strove to incorporate some new sounds on the record. How far do you think you can stretch what 311 is? After a certain point, fans tend to go, “Uh-uh. You went to far.” Like AC/DC – they can never change. Their fans won’t let them.
“Yeah, that’s interesting. AC/DC’s a good example of a band that people only want the tried and true classic sound from them. I think we were fortunate to always give ourselves a wide range of sounds, even from the beginning. In some ways, it started to get a little conservative, and that’s something I wanted to change. There wasn’t as much diversity on Universal Pulse – there were a lot of good rockers – but on the new record there are songs like Tranquility and Made In the Shade and Friday Afternoon that really expand our palette of sounds.
“Our fans can be pretty broad-minded and forgiving, so that’s a good thing. We want to mix it up and keep it interesting for ourselves, and hopefully that’ll be interesting for our fans.”