Even with a multiplatinum album under their belts, a well-established name and one of the sturdiest fan bases around, the members of Los Angeles-based, Omaha, Neb.-bred 311 haven’t lost sight of what got them here: the fans.
That’s the main reason the band opted to record its new set, “Transistor,” due Aug. 5 on Capricorn, as a double-album on one CD, priced as a regular-length disc. The 21-song album, which will be simultaneously released on double-vinyl, is the follow-up to 1995’s “311.”
“311,” or “The Blue Record” as it’s commonly called, sold more than 2.2 million units, according to SoundScan, peaking at No. 12 on The Billboard 200 and spawning two modern rock and mainstream rock hits, “Down” and “All Mixed Up.”
Not only did the band want to give the fans 10 extra songs for free, but it also insisted that a bonus track, which has multimedia capabilities and is at the beginning of the album, be included only on the finished CDs, not advance copies. In addition, a limited-edition sticker will be included inside the CD.
“There are two reasons, really, why we did a double-album,” says Chad Sexton, 311’s drummer, who writes many of the songs. The other members are lead singer/guitarist Nick Hexum, guitarist Tim Mahoney, bassist P-Nut, and singer/ turntable maestro SA Martinez.
“We didn’t want to decide against any song until we heard it in the final version, so we recorded a total of 29 songs,” continues Sexton. “We’re only contracted for 11 songs; we don’t get paid for more than that. But we wanted to give them to our fans rather than just the 11 songs, because they’ve waited awhile for new songs from us.”
The other reason for the extended album is obvious: It’s been two years since the release of “311,” and the band has always been prolific.
“We released our first record, ‘Music,’ then toured for five months. The next year (1994), we released ‘Grassroots,’ then toured. Then ‘311,’ then toured forever with no new record out,” says Sexton. “We had a lot built up. So, when we started to record it, we just decided to do them all.”
There are no real surprises for 311 fans on “Transistor.” The band stays true to its core-rock-meets-rap-meets-reggae-with-a-pop-sensibility sound. However, “Transistor” offers more melody, more dub reggae (or “space dub rock,” as Sexton says), and an overall trippier vibe.
The album also has more of a live feel, which is the result of using 311’s live sound engineer, Scott Ralston, as the main producer instead of someone who is “outside the 311 family,” according to Sexton.
Out of the slew of rock bands that have broken through to the masses and achieved commercial success in the past few years, 311 is on the short list of those that truly earned it the old-fashioned way: touring.
Radio and national video outlets didn’t catch up to 311 until some miles were logged on the road with the likes of Cypress Hill, plus time spent on the H.O.R.D.E. and Warped tours. The band has also headlined tours of its own.
In fact, 311 and its booking agent, John Harrington at Variety Artists, are in the early stages of creating an annual summer package tour called the Unity Festival, which is slated to begin in the spring or summer of 1998.
“In the early years, we tried to get them on some festivals but were never successful,” says Harrington. “We’ve seen a lot of these things driven by corporate greed, and we want it to be more musical and fun. It will be a multiband festival that will raise money for a charity - something that’s fun and comes from the heart.”
Surprisingly, Sexton says he doesn’t feel much pressure going into this album, the group’s seventh. The band self-released three albums (1990’s “Dammit!,” 1991’s “Unity,” and 1992’s “Hydroponic”), which are now out of print.
“Our touring has always been what’s important, and we’ve already sold out Red Rocks (in Colorado) two months ago, and the show isn’t until August and radio stopped playing ‘All Mixed Up’ maybe in January,” he says. “Touring is how we’ve always made our money anyway, and we’re pleased with the music we’ve made. That’s how we judge our success, not by album sales.”
As expected, the band already has touring plans mapped out for the next year. On June 17, 311 left for a few weeks of shows and press and radio promotion in Europe. The first U.S. gig is the Melee Festival Aug. 2 and 3 in Hawaii with Wu-Tang Clan, NOFX, and Incubus.
Then, 311 embarks on the first leg of a U.S. amphitheater tour Aug. 5. After that, 311 will go to Europe again for a few weeks in October and do a U.S. West Coast tour from Halloween to Dec. 15. It tentatively has plans to hit Japan and Australia in January.
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