We’ve had to deal with 311 a bit longer than everyone else. For most of the music-listening world, 311 seemed to start around 1995, with the release of its self-titled album that contained the mega hits “Down” and “All Mixed Up.” But by the time the rest of the world was like, “Hey, have you guys heard…”, we were all able to interrupt and say, “Yeah. We know.”
Getting its start in 1990 (the band claims a gig opening for Fugazi as their first show), the greater Midwest area started getting acquainted with the band sometime around then. The band started getting serious radio play in the area right around 1994, and when it broke into the big time a year later, there was that warm feeling of regional pride. Sure, 311 was from the wrong side of the Missouri, but still. Midwest represent.
Even though the band has long since relocated to California, it is still often referred to as a “Midwest band.” And, after nearly a quarter-century of making a particular brand of music, it has also slid into the realm of loathing and derision that most long-running, vaguely jammy bands eventually occupy.
But it’s something that 311 has learned to embrace as a band. After 24 years of doing the same thing and doing it pretty damn well, you get to be fairly comfortable with who you are. Nobody survives long with an identity crisis.
“People will think, ‘Oh, that reggae band 311,’ ” said vocalist Nick Hexum. “Or ‘that hippy jam band 311’ or ‘that heavy rap-rock band,’ I mean honestly, we are none of those things, yet we are all of those things. We like a lot different styles of music, and back in the early days the idea was, anything goes. Just any really weird style we liked, we would go for and throw it in there. In some ways we would automatically fall into certain grooves or routines. For us it is really important to try and break those patterns and just keep exploring our music.”
The band is always striving to keep things fresh, or at least not boring. To that end, the band employs a heavy tour schedule, and has long been known as one of the more entertaining live shows around.
“The way I look at it, every night you’re playing to someone who has never seen you,” said DJ Doug “SA” Martinez. “Of course you’re gonna have fans who’ve seen us many times, fans in the audience who’ve seen hundreds of shows, but for a good many it’ll be their first time. I think it’s very important to make an impression for those people.”
“We really are known for our energy level on stage,” he continued. “Without question, not many acts can bring that level of energy night after night, and play a different set each night. We’re not a band that plays the same 20 songs. Over the course of the summer, we’ll play a hundred different songs. I think that’s one of the keys to our longevity.”
Omaha’s prodigal sons now return to the Midwest, if only for a night. And while the band might no longer have houses and families here in the great No Coast, there’s that old saying about taking the boy out of the place, but not taking the place out of the boy.
“I’m a Midwesterner at heart,” Hexum said. “Definitely. I think wherever you grow up, that place is really going to shape your character. So it’s always good to come back.” CV