311. I fucking love ‘em! You may already know that from my previous interview with SA Martinez back in 2012, but just in case you forgot, allow me to reiterate: I LOVE 311!!! As a 20-year fan and listener, it’s safe to say the band members, their infectious songs, and their positive vibes have burned themselves into my heart and mind for good.
I do have a gripe though, but not with the band. It kills me to see these guys get labeled as “90’s Rockers” in almost every mainstream media outlet I read about. 311 isn’t booking shows on the “Bands of Yesteryear” tours we see all the time now; They’re booking their own cruises, like 2015’s Caribbean Cruise heading to Jamaica in early next year. Or they’re hosting 311 Day, where they play 60+ songs for over 5 hours in one evening. Or they’re hitting the studio and releasing banger albums like Stereolithic, which dropped just this year in 2014. So please, PLEASE, don’t pigeonhole this Los Angeles-by-way-of-Omaha, Nebraska 5-piece as a “90’s Rock” band, because all it’s going to do is make you look silly, and annoy all the fans who still get it.
In yet another stroke of good fortune, I managed to make my very first interview as a resident of Austin, Texas my second with SA Martinez prior to their performance at Moody Theater on July 29TH. We talk about Stereolithic, their insane career in the music biz, 2015’s Caribbean Cruise, and how the current tour is treating all the Excitable Ones. “Tribute” for Live High Five in Austin, please!
G- Hey SA and thank you very much once again for taking the time to speak with Live High Five today! What were you doing 10 years ago yesterday?
SA- (laughing) Oh I don’t know. Where were we 10 years ago? It’s been a minute, man. We’ve been doing the same thing, man, pretty much every year. 10 years ago yesterday, I was probably on the bus talking to someone like yourself.
G- Right on. Well I know just where I was because I was watching 311 rock out at Jones Beach in Long Island, NY!
This run, man… You guys are still out there just crushing everything… How’s everything been going on the current tour, man?
SA- It’s been great! We just did a 2-night stand in Atlanta and, man, it was just beyond, man. The energy, the crowd… It was just amazing. Really great!
G- Dig it! And of course, you’ll be in Austin on Tuesday, and we’re ready to rage with you guys again.
SA- Oh yeah!
G- You just mentioned the 2 nights in Atlanta… Would you say that’s been your favorite show of the run, or have there been any cities that have really gone off hard for you this time around that you’d like to shout out?
SA- I mean, that was just a phenomenal show. Atlanta has such a long history with our band, being one of the first to embrace us. But yeah, it was a great show!
Honestly, all of shows have been pretty phenomenal, man; The crowds are great! We scaled it down this year and we wanted to do something different and play some different venues, give our band something different. We’ve been doing a lot of the same things, as far as venues go, for years. You mentioned NY, and we just did a new venue there the other day and it was just amazing, man. A great, great show!
So yeah, the energy has been great, the venues have been sweet, and the crowd has been giving us nothing but love, man.
G- Love it. That’s what we like, and that’s what we do!
So, let’s talk about Stereolithic, the 11th album of your lengthy career, not counting the early stuff. There are a bunch of nasty tracks on there… Which ones have the fans been feeling the most that you’ve played so far, and what’s your favorite one to play in front of them live for the first time?
SA- Well, the crowds have been reacting tremendously to the new stuff, which is great. Like you said, it’s our 11th record and, you know, this has to be one of my favorite records that we’ve done. That’s saying something, because we have some good ones, and it just all came together. A lot of things were just lined up and the reaction has been phenomenal.
Honestly, I enjoy playing all the songs off this new record. We just covered all of them in the 2 nights we played in Atlanta.
SA- Yeah, man. It’s been great. I can’t pick a favorite as far as one that really gets it going, but “The Great Divide” has been a great one.
G- Right on, and it debuted #6 on Billboard, so you guys are still knocking the Top 10 pretty hard with each release.
You know, this is also the first album 311 has independently released since Unity was back in ’91… How was it doing everything yourselves again after so long and what did you take away from it that may have varied from your last few releases dropped on labels?
SA- Well, I think the change in the music industry… We benefited from the label system without question, but it’s just not the same. It’s not the same type of system anymore. There are so many other variables that are at play that make it. I think the insiders are trying to figure out daily how to navigate the market, and how to release music and what not. There are new ways of doing so, and we’re sort of doing the same thing.
Nowadays you have multimedia, so we use that to our benefit. We have a tremendous fan base, so all that is utilized in getting the word out, spreading the music, and that’s the biggest difference. It’s less people handling more jobs. (laughter)
SA- You can say that is kinda happening, too. So, it’s been a learning experience. At this point and time, we’ve been around for 20-some years. Of course, there is a new generation always emerging that is just discovering the band but, for the most part, people already know the band already, and have an opinion, and I think us being independent is where we should be right now.
G- Dig it. Well, keep a little bit more money for yourselves as well… You guys are the ones doing most of the work, all the work this time around.
Now, the band has been around for a long time and you’ve been headlining shows for decades. But on a lot of your billings, I see you still manage to toss some local acts on a lot of your shows, like Fear Nuttin Band in Connecticut a few weeks back, who are a great bunch of guys. I know that they were beyond excited to share a stage with you guys… Have you been checking out any of the acts before your set, and are there any groups or artists you want to shout out?
SA- You know, all of them have been great! Fear Nuttin Band, Passafire, Bally Hoo… They ALL have brought something to the show that has been great and has added something to the uniqueness of this run. There’s so much music out there to discover, and we have such a great base of fans that appreciate those bands, and there’s a reason why they are on those bills, you know?
G- For sure! And as always with your annual, or at least semi-annual, extravaganza, 311 always brings the firepower, and 2015 will take the band, and several others, on a Caribbean Cruise to Jamaica! I hope I can afford to get on that!
It’s quite an appropriate place for the band and fans… How did you guys pick the destination and how many acts are you going to fit on the boat this time around?
SA- I don’t know. We haven’t decided and it hasn’t been finalized, but Jamaica has been a destination that we’ve all wanted since we’ve done this cruise. And yeah, it’s fitting.
We’ve been inspired so much by the Island Nation that, you know, you can’t say what it’s meant to us musically. So culturally rich! The size of that place and yet all the music that has come from it… It’s really special. So yeah, it’s gonna be great to go there and I think our fans are going to love it! I’ve been there close to a dozen times in my life and I love it there, and I think our fans are really going to enjoy it.
G- Nice! And of course, you’re promising a full run through on Soundsystem for the show, too! Will this be the first full live run through of the album?
SA- Yeah, first time. I can’t recall us ever doing that before, and I’m sure it would’ve been pointed out, so yeah that’ll be the first time.
You know, Nick and I went to Jamaica and wrote “Come Original,” and it’ll be cool to go back and play that song there. It’s just a cool thing, man. It’s a cool thing to be a part of!
G- And speaking of albums played in full, you guys recently performed Grassroots in its entirety in your hometown of Omaha, Nebraska for the 20th anniversary of the album. It’s in my car right now and I wish I could’ve seen that show… How was it to go back home and play that album for all those original fans, and probably some of their kids?
SA- Right. That show ROCKED, man! That was one of the great ones of the tour. It was pretty cool.
You know, we don’t play in Omaha a lot, and just to go there again, at a new venue, to rock Grassroots with the downtown skyline in the back… It was just one of those special nights, man. Tons of friends and family came out, and so many of our hardcore fans made the trip to Omaha. We have an amazing fan base. We see so many faces night after night on this run, and people are trekking along with us. Man, it is just… I don’t know how they do it. I know what it takes out of us, but I can only imagine what it takes out of them.
Kudos to all of our supporters, man. Seriously, we have the best fans in the world.
G- Right on.
Now, I was going to ask you about Ghostwolf, and nick’s got the quintet, and the other day you hit me across the head with Los Stellarians. New album on 8/26? Kinda out of nowhere for me with that one… Tell us about it!
SA- Yeah man. I’m a big record collector, and I’ve been huge into Soul for all my life. The really obscure stuff, I really got into when I started going out in LA in the clubs back in the 90’s and what not, and I’ve amassed a great collection. I listen to it and I just think ‘These songs are great,’ and really outside the record community of dudes and gals, called Solaros and Solaras, in Southern California anyways.
But outside of that group of people, these songs really aren’t known, and they’re great! They’re just part of our cultural heritage, if you will, and they don’t get the respect they deserve. A lot of these acts maybe just did one 45 because that might have been all they had money for. Maybe they only had 2-songs, you know what I’m saying?
SA- And there’s so much great music in our country’s history, and we just don’t respect it enough. I think a lot of the younger generation, you know.. I don’t know if there is the attention for it anymore, but if you just sit and listen, you can’t help but say that ‘That is some good stuff, man!’ So I just wanted to do something; Put out a record of songs, do some covers of these great tunes that I think are hits. All of them, all of them are hits to me, and really just give our fan base something else to listen to and maybe turn them onto other stuff they might have missed out on, because they shouldn’t. There’s just so much out there.
G- Right on. Excellent! So Los Stellarians coming on August 26th, folks, so be ready for that. Another goldmine of history mixed with the current!
So I wanted to ask one weed question: On those older 311 albums, you guys were a fan of… Pot. We all know this.
And I have to ask this because on “Offbeat Bareass,” Nick has a great line in there that made a lot of sense back then, and it makes a lot of sense now. (see below) States are starting to come around to the idea of legalization, or at least relaxation of harsh penalties for small possession. Does 311 have a stance or thought on the matter? Was it just a matter of time? Do you think the potential of legalization offer solid economic rewards in your opinion if it finally comes to fruition?
SA- Well, it no doubt will, and that’s the thing. There’s so much benefit from, and there always has been uses for the plant. It’s just been… It’s a control thing is what it comes down to. The gatekeeper, if you will, can’t deny it anymore: We need this to stimulate the economy.
G- It’s true.
SA- It’s a no brainer, so yeah it’s just a matter of time. Dominos will fall. And it’s a way of moving forward, too. There’s been prohibition on this plant for how long?! Let’s lift the veil off of that one and be done with it and get on with our lives because it’s a positive thing.
It’s a matter of how you look at it and your perspective. Of course people want to color it in various ways, but so many things out there are available and far worse for you and like I said, this is a positive thing.
G- Right. You know, I hear a lot about these EDM festivals where a teenager is buying a bad batch of some awful powder and hurting themselves with it. The only thing that ever got hurt on weed is a bag of Doritos.
SA- (laughing) Pretty much!
G- And to finish up today, we talked about your favorite shows back in 2012, but as a core member of 311, and the group seems very far away from having an “Old Timer’s Day,” but what is it that you hope to take away from your long career of music and positive influence on myself, all your fans, and just what legacy do you hope to leave as a professional musician?
SA- I think you just want to leave positive energy, man. You want to leave good energy and when people listen to your music, you want to uplift them, man. Music is a medicine in it’s power, and it empowers you and gives you all sorts of great benefits, and we all benefit from it. It really can make a person healthy.
So, I think that’s the lasting legacy, not just of what we do, but all great music. Just to have the impact on people and when people come up and say how much you’ve meant to them, it’s the best thing, man.
G- Well, it means a lot to me and has for a long time, and there are a lot of fans across the world, the country, and especially here in Austin, that are ready to see you guys again on Tuesday. It might be a little tough going to work on Wednesday, but it’s gonna be worth it!
I want to say again, great band, love you guys, and thank you so much for taking the time to speak with Live High Five again! Hopefully we’ll do it again in 2016!
Play hard, tour safe, and we’ll see you on Tuesday. Play “Tribute!” Have a great day!
SA- (laughing) You too, man. Later homie!
“The war on drugs may be well intended, but it falls fucking flat when you start to mention an overcrowded prison where a rapist gets paroled to make room for a dude who’s sold a pound of weed. To me, that’s a crime. Here’s to good people doing time, y’all.”