Time tested 

311 keeps going and going with no end in sight

Almost everyone with a radio has known 311 since "Down" first rocked the air waves in 1996, which was already many years and several albums into the band's lengthy career. Yet with the recent boom of rap-metal and other forms of crossover rock, one can't help but feel that 311 has been left out of the proverbial circle. Combining beefy metal riffs, rap vocals, reggae, punk attitude and tripped-out psychedelic jams, 311 has been playing the crossover game since 1990, when today's most popular acts were still angst-ridden teenagers in high school.

Yet despite paving the way for many of today's bands, the group often receives significantly less attention. However, they seem to want it that way. "I can't really complain," says singer and guitarist Nick Hexum, now 31 years old. "We have been successfully making a living at doing something we love for a long time now. These bands that we're 'competing' against are still on their first explosion, so you can't compare the sales of us to those new groups that are just busting through."

311's longevity is time-tested, a claim that few modern rock groups can make. Possibly the single most important cause of the group's long career is their highly loyal but extremely diverse fanbase. "Our fans are one of the things we have always taken pride in," says Hexum. Whereas many artists can group their fans into a particular category or clique, the 311 maniacs come from a variety of age groups, races and backgrounds. At any stop on 311's tour, one is likely to see rap fans, punks, hippies, metalheads and stoners alike, all enjoying the musical vibes the band puts out.

"One of the main reasons for that is because we draw influences from so many styles of music," he says. "Some bands claim, 'We'll be an angry band,' and they end up representing just one emotion, just one feeling. But 311 is displaying a full range of emotion, so we don't hook ourselves in with just one crowd."

The band's all-inclusive musical philosophy has proven to be a successful one. Although 311 has received moderate rotation on MTV and modern-rock radio stations across the country, they are not a group propelled by singles. Rather, their 10 years of relentless touring have earned them the reputation of being one of the best live bands of the '90s.

Currently, the band is taking part in the Vans Warped Tour, a four-stage traveling punk festival featuring acts such as Rancid, the Vandals and Less Than Jake. The high number of rotating acts allows only for 30-minute sets, but 311 doesn't seem to mind. "It doesn't bother me much," says Hexum. "On this tour, we're basically playing a best-of set. We thought it would be a perfect tour for us because we get to play in front of people that might not have given 311 a chance to begin with."

But die-hard fans shouldn't worry. After the festival and a brief European trek, the band will return stateside in September and October for a headlining tour for which they hope to bring along up-and-comers Alien Ant Farm, who also play on the Vans Warped Tour. "We're definitely looking forward to our own tour, where we'll be playing our normal 90-minute sets."

Just recently, 311 ended ties with Atlanta-based Capricorn Records, a label they had been with for nearly a decade. During that time, Hexum says, Capricorn's many changes in distributors didn't always allow for things to go smoothly with album releases. "We were not benefiting from the effects of strong distribution. With Soundsystem [a 311 LP released in 1999], we had good airplay and radio support, but it wasn't translating into sales at all."

Conflict between the band and the label continued to swell, Hexum says, when the group requested it take part in the decision over who would be Capricorn's next distributor. "We had some meetings that disintegrated into shouting matches. It was a very frustrating time for us," says Hexum, "and we felt there was no other option than to sue to get off the label." Volcano Records eventually purchased Capricorn assets, including 311's contract, and Volcano has since released the group's new album, From Chaos.

So now, it's time for the clichéd question that is asked of established rock groups: where to from here? Hexum knows a good situation when he sees one, and because of that, 311 won't be stopping any time soon. "I have no end in sight," he says. "It seems like we could do this forever. We'll take breaks to build houses, do side projects and just chill, but any vacations we take would be merely temporary."

311 plays on the Vans Warped Tour Wed., July 25, at HiFi Buys Amphitheatre.

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