311's Chaos Tempers Testosterone With Trippy Harmonies

Sixth album strives for combination of 'balls-to-the-wall' rock and ambient beauty.

On their latest album, 311 managed to pull off a feat many bands with five albums under their belt fall short of accomplishing: while blazing ahead, the Nebraska natives haven't lost sight of their past.

From Chaos, released Tuesday, contains tracks clearly sprung from the band's rock roots as well as songs that continue to mine the melodic reggae that dominated the group's last two albums. Although it seems like the band was a bit confused, 311's mixed message was completely intentional.

"We know that on Soundsystem (1999) and Transistor (1997) we made good albums, but they were so experimental that they left some people looking elsewhere," singer/guitarist Nick Hexum said. "This album is faster and harder and simpler, and more people like that, but we had to experiment [on a few tracks] to get that out of our system."

Hexum said the group originally wanted to give its sixth album the hard-rock feel found on its early LPs Grassroots (1994) and Music (1993), making a "hard, fast, jump-up-and-down, go-crazy album."

"And then halfway through we realized that there are so many bands doing that and that the one thing that we can do [differently] is pull off harmonies and more beautiful moments and make a love song or something like that," he said. "We wanted to show both sides, so our focus changed to 'let's make the pretty stuff more beautiful and trippy and ambient, and the lyrics that are really coming from the heart.' But then also [we have the] balls-to-the-wall [stuff] on the other end, trying to take both to new extremes."

From Chaos's debut single, "You Wouldn't Believe," with its wiry metal riff and smooth lyrical flow, is making a strong impact at radio. Currently #14 and rising on Radio & Records' alternative airplay chart, the track was written for one of Hexum's pals, but it contains an optimistic message applicable to anyone in need of a confidence booster.

"'You Wouldn't Believe" is a song I wrote about a friend who was going through a breakup, getting dumped," the platinum-topped frontman explained. "He was really bummed, and I was trying to tell him he's got a head full of ideas that you wouldn't believe. I was just trying to cheer him up."

For the song's video, which shows 311 performing in the Long Beach, California, airplane hanger where Howard Hughes' Spruce Goose was built, the band called in a small favor from a big friend (see "Shaq Goes 'Psycho' With Members of Korn, 311").

"In the middle [of the song], there's an instrumental break, and we were like, 'We need something to cut away to, so lets have a basketball hoop,'" Hexum said. "[The other members of 311] were like, 'OK, we just did Shaquille O'Neal a favor, let's see if he'll come be in our video.' He was like, 'Sure, they hooked me up, so I'll hook them up.' So he came down and we played a little one-on-one."

311 will begin a five-week run in a headlining slot on the Vans Warped Tour on Friday in Phoenix (see "Warped Tour Adds Rollins Band, Lists Dates, Cities").