SAN DIEGO — The original plan for 311's eighth album was to pair producers Ron Saint Germain and David Kahne, but when the latter signed on to helm the next Strokes album instead, 311 turned to the next best thing: themselves.
"It's still two great producers: Ron and 311," bassist P-Nut joked backstage at the recent San Diego Street Scene.
311 co-produced their last two albums as well, but with the just-released Don't Tread on Me the band focused more on returning to its roots than pushing the envelope (see "311's Nick Hexum Cures Post-Election Depression By Diving Into New LP").
"We kind of go through this cycle of one album really trying to reinvent ourselves, which is albums like Transistor and Evolver, and then other albums where we don't try to overthink it and we just let it flow, and that's where we're at with this one," singer Nick Hexum explained. "We actually recorded this album in a third of the time that it took to do Evolver, so it's really a fun summer album with uptempo grooves, the reggae and the rock."
Highlights include "Frolic Room," about Hexum's favorite Hollywood Boulevard dive bar, and "Speak Easy," which features P-Nut on a fretless bass. And there's also a few diversions.
"We've got the slowest 311 song ever, called 'Solar Flare,' which is a scathing political rap that [vocalist] S.A. [Martinez] puts over a really slow, heavy thing," Hexum said. "And then there's also a really fast one called 'It's Getting OK Now,' which is [guitarist] Tim Mahoney channeling Dimebag Darrell [Abbott of Pantera]."
"It's a challenge because there's, like, a really fast [guitar] run," P-Nut added of the latter. "Me and Nick and Tim are all doing it at the same time, so we think we're Van Halen or something for a second. It's great."
The first single is Don't Tread on Me's title track, a reggae jam reminiscent of "First Straw," off the band's Greatest Hits '93-'03.
"I just love the phrase 'don't tread on me,' and it usually has political connotations, but in this particular song, it's not a political song, it's more about feeling frustrated and feeling volatile and just needing some space," Hexum said. "It's a very personal song. But then titling the album Don't Tread on Me and the artwork, there's a few pretty scathing political comments made on there. We didn't want to go all political, but I think in this day and age you kind of need to say what you think about things 'cause it is such a crisis situation."
Hexum has spoken out against President Bush and the war in Iraq (see "311 Singer Nick Hexum Hits The Road To Send Bush On His Way"), and those issues are addressed on the album.
"What's made us such a success over the expanse of time is that we give people a break from all of that, but nowadays we do have to say something about it," P-Nut said. "S.A. and Nick have such right ways of going about it. Instead of just being frustrated and focusing on that, it's about solving problems and being a little upset about what's going on. I don't think anybody really feels in control, and that's one of the scariest things, and how do we deal with that comes out really well."
311 just shot a video for "Don't Tread on Me" with a team called Colourmovie, who filmed the band in front of a green screen for the entire shoot. "They are going to be superimposing all of this really weird atmosphere that we're going to be performing in, so it'll be a surprise to both you and us to see how it turns out," Hexum said.
In the meantime, the band just launched a tour with Papa Roach and Unwritten Law that will last through mid-September (see "311 Take Papa Roach And Unwritten Law On Their Road Trip").
"What I really like about the package is that Unwritten Law was first a straight hardcore band and now they've gone more modern rock, and Papa Roach was like a rap-rock band and they've gone more melodic rock, and I love to see bands that have a second wind and dare to expand their horizons," Hexum said. "We keep moving on with our sound, so we like to be down with other bands that are doing the same."
A college-market winter tour, a spring trek and a summer 2006 tour are also in the works, with the spring dates to include a massive festival March 11 in New Orleans for the band's own annual holiday, 311 Day.
"We found out recently that the past 311 Day [festival] had over 60 percent people from out of state coming there, so obviously it's a destination people like to go to," Hexum said. "And why not go to New Orleans?"