311 (1993)

Originally published in The Columbus Edge (Issue 28, Sept. 24 – Oct. 7, 1993)

Let the games begin …

Columbus has a large concentration of 18-to-25-year-olds, but no radio station to cater to these members of Generation X. Most Columbus radio stations think the term “modern rock” refers to music made in the late ’80s. There is a station in Cleveland, 107.9 WENZ (“The End”), whose definition of “modern rock” includes Smashing Pumpkins, Matthew Sweet, Blind Melon, Paul Westerberg, Urge Overkill, Stone Temple Pilots, etc. So when a new group such as 311 plays Cleveland, the band’s single is sure to be played on The End, which also heavily promotes the show. The result – the Agora Ballroom packed to the rafters with sweaty kids bobbing up and down to the infectious sounds of one of 1993’s best-kept secrets.

Since you won’t hear anything from 311’s debut, Music, on the radio in Columbus (at least for another fire years, when Columbus radio stations decide to catch up with the rest of the country), let this be your introduction to the band.

On God, I can’t believe it …

311’s recreational vehicle (hey cowboy, that’s an RV to us Midwesterners) glided into its parking spot in front of the Cleveland Agora with a flat tire and full potty four hours after its original estimated time of arrival. Seems the boys ran into some problems in Belle Valley, Ohio around 5pm, the same time I was sitting in the Agora lobby waiting to interview Nick Hexum, 311’s lead singer.

A few months ago, the band’s RV, with a van in tow, caught fire and burned to the ground. “We lost about, definitely, over $30,000 worth of stuff, including the RV and all the equipment,” explains bassist P-Nut. The “new” RV, which actually was built a few years before anyone in the band was even born, is owned by the band.

“If that fucking happens again … that would be pretty bad,” P-Nut jokes. “All my satanism will come out. Bad blood if we lose equipment again.” (Don’t worry moms and dads, he’s just kidding)

Groove as your soul sings, Spinnin’ all around as we dust a melody …

“It’s like a rock, reggae, rap hybrid,” Hexum says in explaining 311’s sound. It’s the kind of music both frat boys and skinheads can get into. “311 is down for the unity,” Hexum sings on “Unity”.

Hexum and S.A. Martinez trade off lead vocal duties, playing off each other like Chuck D. and Flava Flav, only more hardcore. Guitarist Tim Mahoney has a distinctive style, combining straight-ahead rock riffs with laid-back reggae grooves. Whether it’s laying down some gentle funk or pounding the four-string till his fingers bleed, P-Nut is one hell of a performer, both aurally and visually. Drummer Chad Sexton, with his brand new signature series drum sticks, keeps the beat going as the pulse of the band.

This is my favorite city, pity everywhere the enemy …

Omaha, Nebraska isn’t exactly known as a musical hotbed, but don’t tell that to the guys from 311.

“It’s a small, cool scene that really nobody has put on the map yet,” Hexum adds. “I don’t think there’s an Omaha sound at all.”

Hexum says some people are surprised to find out 311 is comprised of a bunch of white kids from Nebraska, but, “we have the same records and really do the same things people do in other areas. We never attempted to say we’re gangsters or anything like that.”

311 has been around for the past four years and has built a large, local following by performing its own shows and opening for big-name acts Fugazi and Smashing Pumpkins. By 1991, the band “really didn’t have any other frontiers to conquet,” according to Hexum, so it moved to Los Angeles. “Where we live, in the valley, it’s actually kind of similar to Omaha. It’s peaceful, and people mind their own business,” Hexum says.

I can’t survive on a stupid nine to five, I’d rather be poor …

“We got signed through giving this guy a tape,” Hexum explains. “He called us up and said, ‘If I get you guys a deal, can I be your manager?’ We said, ‘yeah’. Then he got us a deal (with Capricorn Records), but I think Capricorn didn’t want him to manage us, so we just … we paid him off.”

Capricorn, a division of Warner Brothers, is home to bands Widespread Panic, Col. Bruce Hampton and the Aquarium Rescue Unit, and Hank Williams Jr. So where does a young reggae rap n’ roll band fit into the scheme of things?

“The Warner Brothers people are already working for us,” Hexum explains. “It’s like a joint venture between Warner and Capricorn. It’s not like this is the farm team and we’ll move up to the big leagues; this is the big leagues.”

I heard it, he said it, I heard it …

“I love you man, you guys rock,” – A passerby

“He just farted on you.” – S.A. (describing P-Nut’s reaction to what the passerby said)

“What the hell did you guys eat in here? It stinks!” – 311’s roadie, self-explanatory

“I don’t like them. They kind of bore me” – P-Nut on Rage Against the Machine

“It was originally brought from a police code. It meant indecent exposure, but we don’t endorse that method of thought anymore” – P-Nut on the band’s name

“We never had a techno band open for us before” – Chad on the first band on the bill

“Rage Against the Machine’s okay” – P-Nut ten minutes later

“We have been pronounced ‘Bomb'” – Hexum, after returning from the backstage area

“That would be cool if you could send out tapes of the whole interview. You wouldn’t have to write shit down” – P-Nut offering a new journalistic idea

“World Party blew!” – P-Nut giving his opinion of the band 311 once played with

“Which one is S.A.? Is he the short singer?” – The Cleveland Plain Dealer’s Jane Scott, affectionately referred to as the Rock n’ Roll Grandma, during the show

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