Eighteen years after their major-label debut, 311 is still down
By Jasen T. Davis
They weren’t the first band to combine rap and rock (Rage Against the Machine, Limp Bizkit) and they weren’t the only act to steep their musical stew in reggae and dancehall vibes (read: Sublime, No Doubt), but 311 has managed to remain a highly successful and distinctive powerhouse since the group exploded in the ’90s. With a diehard following and an annual 311 Day held every (you guessed it) March 11, the Nebraska-by-way-of-L.A. band (which also features vocalist/guitarist Nicholas Hexum, vocalist S.A. Martinez, drummer Chad Sexton, bassist P-Nut and guitarist Tim Mahoney) is successful on its own terms. The band just kicked off their Unity Tour and is performing Aug. 20 at Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre in Irvine (alongside Sublime with Rome, DJ Soulman and DJ Trichrome.
CULTURE recently got the opportunity to speak with P-Nut (real name: Aaron Charles Wills) about a new album in the works and his expanded role in its creation—he’s writing songs!
311 got big through self-promotion before the Internet became the monster it is today. Do you think bands today have it a lot easier compared to how it once was?
I don’t remember how we got the money to do all that. It was just dumb luck. It was an exciting time, being able to go to high school as a junior and sell a CD of my band when most people I knew didn’t even own a CD player. Now, so many bands can promote themselves on the Internet. I hope that helps things to become more independent and less corporate.
What would you like to say about the next big album?
I’ve been let into the sacred circle of songwriting, so I’m enjoying writing lyrics for the band, and I’m very proud of what I’ve done. It makes me feel appreciated. That was a point of tension, but now it’s been released.
I had once wished the album were a little longer. Chad, our drummer, has always been down for short albums while I am more for longer albums. We’ve always respected each other’s opinions and now I totally get it. There’s no need to have a gigantic album. This is a great album because every song deserves to be there. I totally get it now.
Maybe I’m just more excited about the continuation of our career, but the new album really feels like a return to form for us. It feels like it’s the band at full power. Before, we could be excited about chords and quick changes, but there’s something really special about everything in this album.
Let’s talk about 311 Day.
311 Day started by word of mouth. Fans would get together and listen to 311 every March 11. It was just, “Let’s hang out and listen to our favorite band.” In 2000, we did our first 311 Day. We played 46 songs for one show just to see if we could. We did 68 songs in a row in Vegas last year for 311 Day. When I’m onstage all that emotion coming from the audience, all that intensity . . . it makes me get stronger. I could play all day if I had to.
What are your thoughts on cannabis?
I dedicated our second album (Grassroots) to Shiva, the Indian god who brought cannabis to Earth. I wanted to help people look at it from that perspective.
Right now, by imprisoning people for using cannabis we aren’t taking care of those who grow up in a terrible situation, and it’s easier to imprison them instead of informing them. When you send people to prison, you are making them into better criminals. Concentrated criminality.
I can understand a person abusing marijuana. I don’t mind that I will probably not use it as much [now] because I’m a father, but I wouldn’t have been the same person if it wasn’t for having used marijuana.
If I choose to relax in a certain way, who is the government to tell me how I should do it? I’d smoke out in front of the President. Well, that’s a terrible quote, but you know what I mean.
Even the most casual music fan can figure out that 311 has been herb-friendly since day one. Their major label debut, 1993’s Music, featured tracks named “Hydroponic” and “My Stoney Baby.” The follow-up album was called Grassroots, and contained a track that showed the band’s activist streak when, on the song “Offbeat Bare Ass,” co-vocalist Nicholas Hexum declared: “You got a gripe/With the way I get high/Graffix bong sing along with a cry of a/Mandatory sentence for a crime with no victim” and “The war on drugs may be well intentioned/But it falls fucking flat when you stop and mention/The overcrowded prisons where a rapist gets paroled/To make room for a dude who has sold/A pound of weed/To me that’s a crime/Here’s to good people doin‘ time, y’all” And did we mention 311 covered the Bad Brains song “Who’s Got the Herb?” for a NORML compilation?