Three Decades In, 311's Nick Hexum Gets Reflective

311 has been together for 30 years now and plays - along with the Offspring and Gym Class Heroes - Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion on August 5.
311 has been together for 30 years now and plays - along with the Offspring and Gym Class Heroes - Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion on August 5. Courtesy of MSO PR
What do U2, Radiohead and 311 have in common? On the surface, not a lot. Sure, each band is a respected mainstream outfit with a bevy of hit songs, but to classify any of those bands into one particular silo would be an odd fit.

Turns out, if any particular label fits those bands, it’s classic rock. That’s because 311, Radiohead and U2, along with other artists like De La Soul, rank among the most tenured bands with one particular lineup in tow.

“Well, we certainly have a love for what we do, but to get through this, it takes a lot of hard work and compromise,” 311 frontman Nick Hexum said on a recent phone call, regarding his band’s ability to keep the same lineup together for more than 25 years. “We know we kinda stumbled into a special arrangement here, and we’re better together than we are apart. We take care of that bond. We make sure not to get in one another’s way. It’s like a marriage; there are definitely comparisons there. If everyone works on their side of the street, that keeps things moving along happily.”

311, which formed in 1988 and adopted its current lineup in 1992, plays Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion in The Woodlands on Sunday, August 5. Joining them are fellow rock veterans The Offspring, along with Gym Class Heroes.

311’s commercial peak certainly came during the mid-90s and into the early 21st Century, when singles like “Amber,” “Down” and “Come Original” propelled their early records to Platinum status. However, 311 still remains relevant on the mainstream scene. In addition to continued radio play some 20-plus years after hitting it big, 311 has pretty much averaged a new album every two to three years since breaking onto the mainstream scene.

Each of those records has reached the top 10 of the Billboard Top 100 Albums charts.

“We keep an attitude that we are explorers musically,” Hexum said. “As long as you don’t repeat yourself, you can always find new lands to explore. It stays interesting, but you have to keep it moving stylistically. Now, you can’t all of a sudden change course and come out with a country album, but you do have to keep it moving and find new styles to explore. There are always new things to do and new people to collaborate with.”

311 experienced a modicum of success with its new permanent lineup after 1992  before its first big single, “Down,” hit No. 1 on the Billboard Alternative Rock Charts and propelled the band's self-titled third record to multi-Platinum status.

To hear Hexum tell it, the band may have been a somewhat slow build in terms of record sales and radio play, but band members knew they had something special the moment they stepped on stage.

“We were lucky enough that our debut gig was opening for Fugazi,” Hexum said. “We whipped that place into a frenzy, and it was a great launching pad. Even when we just jammed together, there was so much explosive energy. We weren’t that tight yet as a band, but we had such high energy, just totally unleashing and going crazy, flailing, headbanging, state diving.”

Twenty-plus years later, and having grown up and aged quite a bit during that time, Hexum and crew perhaps aren’t quite as wild as they used to be. And they certainly understand the nostalgia factor many in attendance on August 5 will seek. This probably helps explain why the band paired up with the Offspring, having previously joined up with Incubus and once discussed a co-headlining tour with the late Chester Bennington and Linkin Park.

If anything, at this point in his career, and with 311 possessing both quality new material and an arsenal of hits to its name, crafting a setlist that satisfies all masters is an art unto itself.

“You really do have to have an artful touch with it,” Hexum said. “A lot of people show up and wanna hear ‘Amber’ or songs they grew up with, and other people wanna hear songs from the new album. You have to balance that out. We’re going to play the hits, but for the more hardcore fans, we’ll dig a little deeper.”

311, The Offspring and Gym Class Heroes are scheduled for 7 p.m. on Sunday, August 5 at Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion in The Woodlands, 2005 Lake Robbins. For information, call 281-364-3010 or visit $27.50-$85, plus fees.
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Clint Hale enjoys music and writing, so that kinda works out. He likes small dogs and the Dallas Cowboys, as you can probably tell. Clint has been writing for the Houston Press since April 2016.
Contact: Clint Hale