July , 2012
By David Huff
Riding High And Feelin' Groovy
JAM Magazine Interviews Nick Hexum and Miles Doughty
For Omaha, Nebraska rockers 311, spending the better part of their musical lives traveling the country has earned them a well-deserved reputation as one of the most entertaining bands on the road today. The fact this group is still together, after two decades of literally sharing everything in their lives with one another, is also another testament to their fortitude.
This summer, singer / songwriter Nick Hexum, guitarist Tim Mahoney, bassist Aaron Wills, drummer Chad Sexton and deejay / backing vocalist Doug Martinez will embark on yet another one of their annual Unity Tour extravaganzas. This time, however, the group has upped the stakes by inviting an equally entertaining group, Slightly Stoopid, to share the stage with them.
This San Diego based outfit readily admits they play music to have a good time. The band, i.e. Miles Doughty and Kyle McDonald, started the good times rolling back in high school when they were discovered by Bradley Nowell of Sublime. Intrigued by their music, he signed the duo to his independent label. From that point on, these childhood friends would eschew the realities of actually working to earn a living and concentrate on music. To shore up their sound, or in this case, wildly diversify it, the pair recruited like-minded musicians with similar bohemian ambitions. Seventeen years later, their wildly diversified musical tastes have created a unique sound they describe as acoustic rock, the blues, reggae, hip hop and punk.
The intense grass roots following both bands enjoy hasn't come easy. Non-stop touring over the years would have taken its toll on lesser bands. For 311 and Slightly Stoopid, however, it has just been one adventure after another. Their summer tour together will be a first, and who knows, probably not the last. In fact, Miles Doughty and crew are celebrating this particular road trip by releasing a new album, Top of the World, in Augustust 2012. It's their first recording of new material in five years.
JAM: Nick, the last time I interviewed 311, your RV had caught on fire a few months earlier. So I'd say a lot of things have changed with 311 since that time. Could you talk a little bit about the challenges you have faced as a songwriter in this new era of music, where it's easier for bands to be heard but more difficult for them to get noticed?
Nick Hexum - Yeah, boy, you're talking about the old days when you mention the RV fire. That occurred on our first year's spring tour in 1995. Everything we had burned up, including all our instruments and clothes. That was probably, when it comes to picking up the pieces, borrowing equipment and moving on from that, the biggest single challenge in our career. But anyway, in regards to your question, I think that for me as a songwriter, I've learned to really open up to collaboration a lot more. In the past, sometimes, I was just trying to really be the stream of consciousness. I wasn't really thinking about where the songs were going and just writing down whatever would come to my mind.
JAM: What surprised you the most on your last album?
The other guys in my band, their writing skills have come a lot further. One of the most fun things about recording Universal Pulse was finding out that P-Nut was a really great lyricist. I mean, who knew? He and I would just sit down and bounce things back and forth. That was the first time in our career he had ever written any lyrics for our band. So just in general, learning to open up and collaborate more has made it exciting for me. I've also enjoyed collaborating with various writers outside the band. Going back to your original question, it would be a tougher time for 311 to get noticed today because there are so many bands and the music business has changed dramatically. Even though the Internet has had a lot of artist's revenue because of piracy, it has also allowed us to have more and more of a direct relationship with our fans. That is very important. In that regard, the trade off with the Internet has resulted in a bigger gain for bands rather than any kind of loss. We are definitely grateful to have so many fans wanting to hear the next thing we do after so many years.
JAM: Miles, I want to congratulate you on talking the 311 into taking all their sound and lights on the road so you the only thing your band as to do is show up and play every night. That move is anything but 'slightly Stoopid.'
Miles Doughty - (Laughing) Well, thank you for that astute observation. Honestly, everyone in the band is really stoked to be on this tour. It is going to be the first summer in a long road of touring for us where all we have to do is go out and play. Afterwards, we get to hang out, party, and listen to 311 perform on stage. You couldn't ask for a more stress free tour than that.
JAM: On a serious note, Slightly Stoopid, was a real recording machine between 2003 and 2008 with live recordings and studio albums. Then the band went cold until this year with Live at Roberto's. Now you've got one coming out in August. From a layman's point of view, it appears the creative juices appeared to run dry and now the well is full again. Am I reading it right with you all?
No. I wouldn't say that. The thing about us is we were on the road 200 days a year playing live shows. Then Kyle and I both started families. The two of us had a couple of kids and kind of just laid low a little bit. We actually started our own studio in San Diego a little over a year and a half ago. The band decided to take its time to record this album. Since we had been on the road so much touring the States, Europe and Asia, we didn't want to be on a certain time table as far as making music.
JAM: So what did it basically boil down to?
For us, we wanted to make the right record at the right time after we had settled down with our families. That is exactly what we did with the recording of Top of the World. We are excited by what we did on that album because we were able to work with a lot of cool people, a lot of great guest stars. Let me tell you, the collaborations on this record were awesome. I think the overall vibe will speak for itself. It has a nice organic feel and we're really excited about it. It kind of sucks it took the band almost three and a half years between studio releases, but honestly, for us it worked out great. Like I said, we've been on the road for a very long time and the fans have been awesome. They are looking forward to hearing the new music, and we're excited to start playing it. .
JAM: Nick, it is one thing to be on the road as a young band because everyone is free-spirited without a care in the world but your music. Twenty years into it, you find yourself facing a whole different set of priorities. Is growing up in the music business all it's cracked up to be, especially in terms of responsibility, which I'm sure has evolved into a whole new meaning for all of you today?
What we have accomplished as a group has been a dream come true for all of us. Certainly this life doesn't come without challenges. Our RV catching on fire when we first started out was a critical one. The thing is we have been able to make a living being creative and entertaining people. How many people can actually say that? I call our concert tours musical vacations. Everybody gets carried away and lost in the music. That is a privilege to get to do that as a career. I was just thinking about what Miles was saying on your previous question. It's really important, like you mentioned, for the first few years of the band to tour, tour, tour, record! Then you have to develop a life outside of the band or this life can become too much of a pressure cooker. The five of us also went through that period where we needed to take a little time to put roots down and live life a little bit.
JAM: How did that work out for you?
Well, there has been a total of five 311 babies born in the past three years. There's definitely a lot of home life and stuff like that being developed outside the band. It's important to take time to do that. Outside of the band, I think it's nice to have various, creative endeavors to help you explore the different artistic things that you want to do. Even if some fans get a little impatient between albums, it really is important for the longevity of a band to take the time out to do artistic things that in the long run, benefits the band as a whole.
JAM: Miles, over the years, Slightly Stoopid has seamlessly weaved in and out of various musical styles with the greatest of ease. Ryan Moorin said the band could probably turn into a salsa band one night, a jazz band the next and maybe even an 80's group if they so desired. Because of the collective musical knowledge the band possesses, I'm curious, can too much knowledge be a deterrent when it comes to creating original music more than an asset?
Honestly, for us, what you have referred to just comes out the way it sounds. There is no preconceived notion on our part when it comes to creating music. We have seven guys in the band and everybody has a different style of music they really enjoy listening to. When you listen to the music, you can tell who is bringing what to the overall sound, even in reggae songs. With a keyboard player and horns, you are always going to here a little bit of everything in our music. It's no secret this band doesn't necessarily play standard stuff. That approach keeps the music fresh for us. Our live shows have something for everybody, you know what I mean? We know everybody isn't going to like reggae, or the blues, but when you mix it in with punk rock or hip hop; it certainly throws a curve ball at people. By taking that off balance approach with our music, in our minds, it has kept this band fresh and exciting.
JAM: I take it your audiences are a reflection of your music?
You're right, they are. We play a little bit of everything. When you go to our shows, you'll see people from age 12 to like 60 years old in the crowd. That age difference is pretty insane. Honestly, this band is pretty much blessed to be doing what we're doing. For us, as musicians, by playing all different styles of music, this approach has kept if fun and fresh for us. You know what I mean? We're fans of all musical genres, so it is nice not to be classified under one style of music.
JAM: But does that approach to music hurt the band when it comes time to create music?
I don't think it hurts us at all because we've been creating original music for 19 years. The new album we have coming out in August will be our eighth record. For us, I can confidently tell you we have our own sound and it works for Slightly Stooped. This band has a similar vibe with 311. Again, introducing various style of music into our own songs doesn't hurt us as far as creating our own sound. To date we have made eight records, so for us, it's going the way it should be.