Name Origin: There was this band in Omaha called Unity with a guitarist Jim Watson. One night Watson was arrested for skinny-dipping in a local pond. Naked and handcuffed, Watson was taken to his parent's house and issued a ticket with 311 on it - the local police code for indecent exposure. Bassist P-Nut suggested making that the name of the band.
It's rare good friends make a successful group. Usually, there's a weak link and its either time to say goodbye or that person drags the show down. A group also puts pressure on relationships that make it all the more difficult. But 311 is one of the few groups that's managed to maintain a stable line-up.
Forming in Nebraska's music capital, Omaha, in '90, 311 is a collection of "friends for life" according to singer/guitarist/spokesperson Nick Hexum. The other "friends" were Rapper/turntable wiz Doug "S.A." Martinez, bassist P-Nut (a.k.a. Aaron Willis), guitarist Timothy J. Mahoney and drummer Chad Sexton.
A year later the Alt./Rap/Rockers bounced to L.A. where they signed with Capricorn Records. Their debut "Music" rolled out in '92 with "Grassroots" showing up the following year. But it was their self-titled third release (a.k.a. "The Blue Album, " due to the deep blue cover) that served as their breakthrough with the mid-tempo "All Mixed Up" and the sonically denser and driving "Down."
Amid a frantic year of touring the group produced what was essentially a home movie of their life on the road. "Enlarged To Show Detail," filmed in Kansas City and Denver, sold over a million copies.
In '97, the double CD "Transistor" hit and 311 set off on a worldwide tour that resulted in the "Live" CD. '99 saw the release of "Soundsystem" with "Freeze Time" and "Eons."
311 confidently rolled through the early part of the century with a quartet of releases. "From Chaos" was on the shelves in '01. It was followed two years later by "Evolver." '04 had "311 Day: Live In New Orleans." Then the group issued eighth studio album, '05's "Don't Tread On Me." The title track went to #1 on the Billboard Modern Rock chart and #1 on Radio & Records (R&R). Subsequent singles didn't fare nearly as well.
After a break, 311 recorded a cover of Toots & the Maytals "Reggae Got Soul" for the "Surf's Up" soundtrack.
"Uplifter," containing the single "Hey You," arrived in '09. "It's definitely more Rock than our last two records were," said Sexton. "We explored the sounds that we've done and a few new ones. Our Reggae stuff is on there, our hard Rock stuff, some Funk going on." Martinez called the set "our finest album yet" while Hexum claimed it was the "heaviest 311 has ever been." It made its debut at #3 on the Billboard 200, the band's highest chart position in the U.S. to date.
Produced by Bob Rock, the set was available in a standard version and a deluxe edition that included a DVD documentary titled The Road to 3-11 Day. 311's month-and-a-half-long Summer Unity Tour commenced in Bakersfield, CA - a day after the album's release.
311 issued their 10th studio effort, "Universal Pulse," in '11. First week sales put in album in Billboard's Top 10.
Live311, a site where live concerts were made available for download in multiple formats, also arrived.
Hexum took a solo turn in '13 when he released "My Shadow Pages." He worked on the album with his brother Zack, a singer songwriter who played both guitar and saxophone. The set blended Pop, Jazz, Funk and Classic Rock.
"Stereolithic," which P-Nut said had "darker themes," was also slated for release in '13. But 311's first fully independent effort since their early days was held back until early '14.
2001 From Chaos
2005 Don't Tread On Me
2011 Universal Pulse
Give it to "311" and "From Chaos" as the prime albums. Interestingly, Ron St. Germain produced both. "311" has the early hits. "From Chaos" features the Grunge-to-Rap title track, "You Wouldn't Believe" and "You Get Worked" which is in the same vein as "Down" (from "311"). Albums recorded between '95's "311" and "From Chaos," six years later, chart the group's transition from Funk (though they still incorporate many of those elements) toward Metal. "Soundsystem" stands as the best from this era. But the indulgent "Transistor" should be avoided. The twenty-one tracks jam styles and influences without much cohesion or effectiveness. Of 311's early '90s releases "Music" is the one to get.
Jumping forward, it's hard to believe that some guys from Nebraska reinvented 'beach music'. In its original incarnation 'beach music' wasn't a collection of songs about the beach but rather music perfect for listening to while at the beach. "Stereolithic" which is not radically different from other 311 sets, is an upbeat, obliviously breezy stylistic syncopation. There are even songs titled "Sand Dollars" and "Made In The Shade." That seals it.
"Universal Pulse," is a good album though it's more of a placeholder. A concept album was abandoned prior to the recording of "Universal Pulse" (which certainly sounds like a concept album title). So the plan may have been to forget the 'big idea' and put together a set referencing career points to coincide with a summer tour. In that context it works.
"Uplifter" is aptly titled. "Hey You" leans toward riff-Rock but not at the expense of bouncy feeling - instantly appealing. "Too Much Too Fast" melds mainstream Rock with Art Rock embellishments but keeps the latter in check for another winner. The surprise is "Daisy Cutter" which sounds like it could be a Wallflowers song while the Reggae infused "It's Alright" is the set's 'feel good' track.
Of course, 311 still gets down and dirty on "India Ink" "Something Out Of Nothing" and the Rap-Metal "Jackpot." These dense, Nu-Metal tracks, off-set the lighter moments but doesn't obliterate them.
"Don't Tread On Me" is a friendly, melodic Rock album with Reggae, Punk and Rap influences. It's accessible, catchy and fun with songs "Thank Your Lucky Stars," "Waiting" and the title track. Rap/Rocker "Solar Flare" is upbeat and edgy but hardly angst riddled.
The earlier "Evolver" has a tougher sound in "Creatures (For Awhile)," with a Stevie Wonder type synth percolating through it, and the mainstream Rock song "Reconsider Everything."