For a band that hasn't released a shred of new material in over three years, funk-rock outfit 311 are certainly busy. They'll be spending much of this summer crisscrossing the U.S. with Snoop Dogg, co-headlining a tour that runs through August 16 in Waikiki, Hawaii, and not surprisingly, tickets are selling fast.
In a world where attention spans are rapidly shrinking, how does a band like 311 — who have successfully toured the states every summer since 2005's Don't Tread on Me — still pack arenas while staying musically dormant? Drummer Chad Sexton thinks he's got the answer.
Sexton said that, over the course of 10 albums, they've managed to assemble a rabid fanbase who've supported the band through thick and thin. They're a loyal bunch, and their devotion rivals that of even the most die-hard Deadhead.
"I think we have the same appeal as a band like the Grateful Dead," he explained. "We have some Deadheads in the band, and when they stopped touring, Phish kind of took over for them, and maybe Dave Matthews Band has some of that same appeal as well. We can jam on our [songs] like those bands, but I'd say we're kind of a band between — and I'm not comparing us to these bands, but just in the level of status and accomplishment, and that they're still together — U2 and Phish. It's somewhere in the middle of that, and we're hoping to define that a little better over the next couple of years. It's a weird phenomenon: We keep playing, and kids are having a great time every summer.
"We've picked up a comparable following, I guess," Sexton continued. "We wanted to make sure we tour every summer, regardless of our records, because we're here to play live music. We don't want to spend a summer getting away from the people."
But 311's fans will wait just so long for a new record, which Sexton said the boys have been working on for the last year, with former Metallica producer Bob Rock at their side. 311 are recording a number of new tunes and, following this tour, will return to their Hive Studios to finish tracking the rest of the LP — which they'd like to release early next year.
"I don't know about other bands, but we get tunnel vision if we just sit around and keep writing and keep recording, so it's very healthy for us to get out and play in front of people," Sexton said. "So far, [the record is] sounding like 311, just with Bob Rock helping us get the roadmaps and the energy of the songs down, in how he's recording it. We've experimented a lot in recent years and shifted this way and that way, and with the current climate out there, with record sales, it could be a coincidence that [our sales] just went down, down, down because of the Internet, or maybe we've been too experimental. Maybe we should get back to the basics — the 311 basics."
To that end, Sexton said the new material's got a Music and Grassroots feel.
"I would think that the last three records were our growing pains," he added. "We figured, 'Why not get back to basics?' We can experiment further with our sound, but we've been doing that for a while now. We forgot to take a look back and say, 'Let's do that again,' because all of a sudden, going back to that original 311 sound is new to us again. Some characteristically 311 sounds come out when we do get back to basics, and we're probably putting our best foot forward with this album. Sometimes it's important to see where you came from. We went back and explored what we did [on those albums], and we're concentrating on that energy."
Before 311 began writing this album, Sexton said they created a list of producers they wanted to work with, and the one name they could always all agree on was Rock.
"We remembered how we felt when we first heard [Metallica's self-titled LP, a.k.a. The Black Album], and he's just so smart," Sexton said, adding that Rock has helped the band be a better band. "One of the things he's helped us improve, and it's hard to put a finger on how it will affect the music, is our communication as a band. And so I would say, if I were to pick — and I'm not being hard on us — but the last three records, maybe the communication wasn't as solid. ... Recording has been a lot easier this time. It's always challenging, but I'm loving what we're getting."
Sexton said 311 hope this summer's trip with Snoop yields some kind of collaboration, either onstage or perhaps recording a cover in the studio. Teaming up with the D-O-double-G would work best on this summer's tour, Sexton said, because 311's forthcoming LP will be the band's most mature effort to date.
"I think people will be surprised by how nice and solid it will sound," he said. "There's something you can't really vocalize or explain about the experience behind what's going on. But I'm thinking people will think it sounds really solid, which comes from being in a band for 18 years."