LOS ANGELES — "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times."
That oft-quoted line from Charles Dickens' "A Tale of Two Cities" is how 311 singer Nick Hexum described his autumn, in which he and brother Zack hit the campaign trail in support of John Kerry (see "311 Singer Nick Hexum Hits The Road To Send Bush On His Way").
"The month of October we were so optimistic and we felt so good about what we were doing, and it was an extreme disappointment after the election," Hexum said. "But you know what? I've moved on, and I've just immersed myself in our new album, our eighth album, and it's coming along well, actually."
311's as-yet-untitled follow-up to Evolver will mark yet another turn for the band, which will develop the funk/reggae hybrid it explored on "First Straw," one of two new tracks recorded for a greatest-hits compilation released last summer.
"Our past reggae hits, like 'Amber' and 'Love Song,' have been kind of sleepy and mellow, but I want more danceable, funky reggae," Hexum said. "And then we'll still have the hard rockers in there and the never-heard-before styles. We're just gonna continue the evolution. True 311 fans enjoy the journey.
"I don't mind when people say, 'I love your old stuff,' 'cause that's good enough," he continued. "But I love it when people say, 'I love your latest stuff,' 'cause they're really listening with an open mind. You're obviously gonna have a certain amount of young spunk and energy on your first couple of records that you never exactly get back, but that's why you gotta keep progressing."
Hexum said 311 are looking to U2 for inspiration. "My favorite stuff is like Achtung Baby, Zooropa and even their last album," he explained. "You have to be able to evolve and keep moving to remain relevant. If you're just trying to keep recreating whatever was your first success, then that's a sell-out move, 'cause you're just making a business out of it. We're artists. We really try to stay true to our hearts and make music for our hearts and kind of ignore the marketplace. Even if funky reggae isn't what's on the radio, that's what we're gonna do 'cause that's what we're into."
David Kahne, who produced "First Straw," will return to the fold, along with longtime 311 producer Ron Saint Germain.
"David's done three albums with Paul McCartney, he did Sugar Ray and Sublime, he's a composer, he plays every instrument, so that's fun for me to have someone that can really come and help with that part of it," Hexum said. "And then we've got Ron, who's like the master-engineer-mixer guy. It's kind of a dream team of two producers working together, so it's gonna be kind of a first for us. Hopefully they get along!"
So far 311 have written about 10 tracks and are just waiting for their producers' schedules to clear up. In years past the group has played special shows on March 11 (last year's five-hour extravaganza was recently released on DVD), but 311 will skip their self-declared holiday in 2005.
"We're not doing 311 Day because we don't want to delay the release of the album," Hexum said. "We wanna make sure we get out an album in time for our big summer tour, 'cause that's the best, playing outside. And we'll probably do a fall tour and then do a big 311 Day in 2006. Really, to play a five-hour show takes a lot of conditioning, it takes a month of rehearsals and then at least two weeks of warm-up dates to be really physically ready for that — your throat, your calluses, everything."
Not that he has any regrets from last year. "It was one of the greatest sights of my life, 'cause the fans were up on their feet, rockin' out for all five hours and 68 songs," he said.