All else aside, it’d be difficult for me to find a band that influenced my youth more than 311. On the way to buy tickets to see White Zombie, my buddy Brandon popped in a copy of their first release on Capricorn Records, “Music,” and it was all over… Fandom can strike mighty hard, and this was one of those times. After a few years, they broke through the mainstream ceiling with their self-titled “blue” album, and every college kid around the country fell in love. I hated it, but you can’t keep a secret like 311 quiet for long.
If you’ve never seen them in concert before, 311 shows are like one big party. Their high-energy delivery, positive vibe, and catchy songs make for a great day of entertainment. They’ve had the pop hook down since the early 90’s, incorporating a heavy blend of funk, rock, punk, reggae, ska, and hip-hop into a hearty dose of sonic euphoria. Their music means many things to many people, and has helped a lot of people through difficult times, this writer included. They’re living proof of the motivation and attitude change that music can bring forth.
Now in their 22nd year as a band, 311 still pushes the boundaries of performance, culminating in a 5-hour concert dubbed “311 DAY,” taking place on, you guessed it, March 11th. Currently out on a 40-date run of the US with Slightly Stoopid, The Aggrolites, and SOJA, I got a chance to speak with singer/DJ SA Martinez on the phone to discuss their latest album, touring life, influences, and how they’ve managed to sustain such a lengthy, productive career. Excitable ones unite!
G- Hey SA and thank you very much for taking the time to speak with Live High Five! You are about on embark on a 40-city tour supporting your latest album, “Universal Pulse.” What have you been up to since your last tour, and are you as excited as we are for you to get back on the road?
SA- Since last tour, gosh. As you mentioned, a few of our event shows have gone down. I had a new addition to my family…
SA- Thanks! You know, a train is always moving and at some point, we come to a little halt here or there, but not for long. It’s been going great, man! Like you said, we just embarked on this latest summer edition of the Unity tour, and it’s going great. Super hot, I’ll tell you that. Things are good, man.
Last night we were in Dallas, and it was just do unbelievably humid, and the 311 faithful were just having a ball! I mean, it’s really unbelievable subjecting yourself for something that means so much to you, and it’s inspiring… It makes for a great show and keeps s on our toes, and it’s just been a whirlwind… We’ve been busy.
G- Yea I’ve been listening to you guys since 1994, and it’s great that you are still doing it! You released “Universal Pulse” in 2011, and generally release albums ever few years. You’re up to 10, if you don’t include the early and live recordings. Tell us a bit about the new(ish) record and how it compares to 311’s previous output.
SA- Well, you know, at the time we were working on it, we opted to work with Bob Rock again, just because we felt that we still had some work to do with him, and it worked great. You know, we got to the sessions, and it was all about trimming the fat and making sure every song counted. It’s not as if we don’t do that going into every record, but with this one, we just focused on the songs we had the time to work on… There were no B-sides. The intention was to put out a really concise, compact package together, and we achieved that.
The plans after the summer is to take a little break, and then get things cooking again late fall and in the winter. I’m not saying we’ll have something ready again, but regardless, it’ll be a great 311 record that everyone could get into, if you’re a 311 fan or not.
G- They’re all live, so whatever it is you guys are doing, keep doing it. You provide the high range vocal backups in the group, as well as plenty of your own rapping on top… How do you keep your throat in good shape while on the road, and what tips can you give singers out there to not blow their voice out?
SA- You have to be mindful of how much you’re using your voice. When speaking throughout the day, I just try to be as relaxed as possible. I try not to talk too much…
I start laughing, and then we both start laughing, as this is a phone interview.
SA- Well it’s true. You know, after a show, when we’re playing our bigger shows, like when we are in Omaha or LA, obviously we have a lot of friends in both locations. After that show, you’re night can drag on for another 3 or 4 hours. So the key is just to pace it. Alcohol… I try to abstain from alcohol. The dehydration factor… Try to stay hydrate with fluids, and warm up your voice. Nothing crazy, but something you should try to do everyday.
But you’re right, but what helps it to is being outside. You’re not in a room where air is being recirculated. It’s a lot easier just singing outside in the summer. That’s the best time.
G- Nice good tips. 311 has recently seen the vinyl releases of “Music” and “Grassroots” for the first time. Can we expect to see the rest of your output on vinyl?
SA- Well, yea we will eventually get to everything. I think “Evolver” is the only one left, and that’s going to come at some point down the road on vinyl as well. And I know we’ll get to all the B-sides. It’s just a matter of time.
But you have to space these things out, and not all at once. Also, there is the idea of some sort of box set. For sure we’ll have something that in the future as well.
But yea I’m a vinyl lover. I’ve always collected my entire life. When we did the first album, I was like ‘We should put this on vinyl,’ and no one got it. No one was into records. Now, everyone in the band understands the allure. I grew up with records in the house. If you’re into records, you’re into records, and there’s no going back!
I love going through my collection and rediscovering things I forgot I had. So everything we have put out will eventually be on wax.
G- Great! So, you guys call your fans “Excitable Ones,” after a lyric in one of your songs “Tribute,” which I still haven’t heard live in concert yet! How has the interaction between your fans changed over the years? Do you still bring out a lot of first timers, or is it more the long time fans such as myself in the crowd?
SA- It’s a great mix of everything. Of course we have the hardcores come out year in and year out, but we also have people that won’t catch us for a couple years. Every night, you’re playing to people who haven’t seen you, so we keep that in mind as we’re building our sets, and I know a lot of our hardcore fans are getting tired of hearing some of the staples, but we really do that just because there are fans out there that have never seen us and just know us from the radio.
But, we do mix it up and dig deep and have an extensive catalogue, as any 311 fan knows, and the goal this summer is to play about 100 different songs over the course of the tour. So, if you’re catching us for a few shows, you’re definitely going to see a unique shows, no matter how many shows that is. And that’s really one of the jobs for the band. It’s good to be on the edge and not know how something will go off.
G- As you said, you have revolving set lists at most of your performances, and have a very large catalogue of songs to choose from. How do you go about selecting many of the tracks you play every night?
SA- After sound check, we all gather in one space and we work it out. I mean, sometimes we’ll sit there for minutes and not make much progress (laughs). Other times, it goes by so quick. It just depends, you know.
We’ll also have last year’s set list to make sure we aren’t doing the same show, you know. And this year, we’re looking at some records that we’ve neglected on tour. It’s time for some of those songs to make it into the set. It’s an ever-evolving process. There’s an art to making a set, and we’re still learning those things, you know.
G- Cool, man. So, everyone who knows 311 knows that you guys are into the weed. Let’s call this “The Stoner Chronicles” for a moment… When was the first time you got high and what did you do?
SA- (laughs) I was in 6th grade, and a buddy of mine… I was over at his house, and I’l never forget. In front of his mom, he asked his mom for money to buy weed.
We both bust out laughing again.
SA- And I could tell that his mom was embarrassed, number 1, and that he wasn’t supposed to say that in front of someone who wasn’t family. She obviously smoked weed, I gathered right there. At that time, I was just blown away! My parents weren’t of that era. So I was completely flabbergasted.
So he bought some weed, and we smoked, and I honestly didn’t feel anything. But a year later in 7th grade… I definitely hooked up with the stoner crowd then… we were playing basketball, and someone suggested we smoke this bong. We did that, and go back to play basketball, and it just hit me. It was the most stoned I have ever been in my life and the ball was just floating in my hands. I was amazed at how I was able to bounce it. Yea… That was quite the memory that I’ll never forget.
G- (Laughing) Nice! 311 Day is now an almost annual event, and you’ve recently added cruises and an entire festival to your itinerary… Is there anything you are still trying to do, places you’re trying to go, or musical mission you’re trying to complete? Rather, what do you hope to accomplish as a band from here on out?
SA- I think, for us, those are all great things. Those events, they take a lot of work, planning and preparation. Going forward, I think we’re going to space things out because it is a lot to ask of our fans.
At the same time, it’s options, too. If the band wants to do 311 Day, there’s that. We might wanna do the cruise. Not only is it a lot to ask the fans, but it’s alo tto ask the band, too. There’s so much prep that goes into these things, so it’s a learning experience and it’ll be the sort of things where it’s one or the other on any calendar year. We’ll still do all those things, just not all in one year (laughs). We’re open to a lot of things.
G- Right on. So I wanted to ask your opinion on your favorite 311 album, and can you tell us why?
SA- Hmmm. Good question. Gosh, man…
G- How about this… If you were to introduce 311 to someone who had never heard your sound before, what album would you give them?
SA- Well, that’s a great question, man. It’s so hard (pauses)…
G- Did I stump you?
SA- (laughs) There’s just so much! The easy way out is just ‘Here’s a copy of the greatest hits,’ you know. That’s a good cross section of material, but yea… You’re neglecting so much. It’s… arg I just can’t answer it!
G- Yea I would personally say start with the bottom up, like I did. But you can also start from the top down because, regardless, you’re going to want to hear more of the tunes.
G- And that’s the goods right there! So, between opening up for Fugazi for your first show, which is nuts, and all the other shows you’ve played, can you discuss the craziest or most memorable show that 311 has played to date? Where was it and what was it like?
SA- Craziest or most memorable. Well, one show that comes to mind is when we were overseas, and I guess it was our first time in Glasgow, and we were playing a show with Shootz Groove, and um the same night public Enemy was playing in town. The promoter was like ‘P.E. is in town, and we’re gonna put you on before Public Enemy,’ and we were like ‘That’s great!’
We did that, but there was a political protest in town, and I forget what it was over, but it was one of those days. We had never played with public Enemy before, but we were this huge band and I’ll just never forget. We actually opened the show. Between that crowd, and seeing one of our heroes that night, it was just great! It was one of those ‘We’re doing it’ moments, and it doesn’t really get any better than that. That’s what it is all about. It’s just been a never-ending dream!
G- We you guys started form the road, and it just caught on. I could talk forever and it’d be great to hang with you guys, but I have one last question. You put your heart and soul into this, so what advice can you give some of the young, up and coming bands out here who want to make it in music, on the road, and as a professional musician?
SA- You just have to be persistent and patient. Nothing happens overnight, and we’re a perfect testament to that. We floundered for several years before we took off, and it’s all about building. You can’t just expect it all over night. It’s a slow process, but if you’re patient, persistent, and believe in yourself, and put it out there and perform wherever, whenever, that’s the key. Get in front of people! That’s what is has always has been for any artist that has done it. If you got it, get out there. Once you do it a few times, you gain that confidence and belief and everything that comes with it. And just be your self and embrace this life… Good things will come from it!
Check out 311 on The Unity Tour right now in a city near you!
UNITY TOUR 2012
311 and Slightly Stoopid, with SOJA and The Aggrolites on select dates
7/8 Sioux Falls, SD W.H. Lyons Fairground
7/10 St Louis, MO Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre
7/12 Dallas, TX Gexa Energy Pavilion
7/13 New Braunfels, TX Whitewater Amphitheatre
7/15 Houston, TX Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion
7/17 West Palm Beach, FL Cruzan Amphitheatre
7/18 St Augustine, FL St Augustine Amphitheatre
7/20 Tampa, FL Ask Gary Amphitheatre
7/21 Atlanta, GA Aarons Amphitheatre at Lakewood
7/22 Charlotte, NC Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre
7/24 Virginia Beach, VA Farm Bureau Live
7/25 Raleigh, NC Time Warner Cable Music Pavilion
7/27 Philadelphia, PA Festival Pier at Penn’s Landing
7/29 Bristow, VA (DC) Jiffy Lube Live Amphitheatre
7/29 Gilford, NH Meadowbrook U.S. Cellular Pavilion
7/31 Bethlehem, PA Sands Casino
8/2 Holmdel, NJ PNC Bank Art Center
8/3 Wantagh, NY Jones Beach Amphitheatre
8/4 Boston, MA Comcast Center
8/6 Hartford, CT Scion Festival Stage at Comcast Center
8/7 Pittsburgh, PA Stage AE Outdoor Stage
8/8 Columbus, OH Lifestyles Community Amphitheatre
8/9 Cincinnati, OH Riverbend Music Center
8/12 Cleveland, OH Jacobs Pavilion
8/14 Indianapolis, IN The Lawn at White River State Park
8/15 Detroit, MI DTE Energy Music Theatre
8/17 Chicago, IL Northerly Island
8/18 Bonner Springs, KS Summerdays Festival Sandstone Amphitheatre
8/19 Morrison, CO Red Rocks Amphitheatre
8/22 Salt Lake City, UT Usana Amphitheatre
8/24 Irvine, CA Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre
8/25 San Diego, CA Cricket Amphitheatre Chula Vista
8/28 Mesa, AZ Mesa Amphitheatre
8/29 Santa Barbara, CA Santa Barbara Bowl
8/31 San Francisco, CA Shoreline Amphitheatre
9/1 Las Vegas, NV The Beach at Mandalay Bay
9/2 Reno, NV University of Nevada – Reno
9/4 Portland, OR Sleep Country Amphitheatre
9/5 Seattle, WA Marymoor Amphitheatre