311’s new album, “Mosaic,” has the veteran rap-reggae-rock outfit excited. But the group with Omaha roots would be touring even if it didn’t have any new music to bring to the fans.
“That’s just what we do,” singer Nick Hexum said in a recent phone interview. “We decided we were a touring band and we want to stay connected with our fans. We just refuse to be caught in that album cycle that some bands get caught in. We put touring first and, fortunately, our fans are there for us, whether we have a new album or not. But there’s more excitement when you have a new album.”
The band, now based in Los Angeles, will play one of the new Club 5 configurations Wednesday night (10/18) at the U.S. Cellular Center. It’s a general admission show, limited to standing room-only on the arena’s main floor.
“Mosaic,” released in late June, is a record that Hexum believes will catch some ears who might have ignored earlier 311 music.
“I would say it’s a big step forward as far as modernizing our sound,” Hexum said. “We wanted to pursue ideas and sounds that felt fresh and new, but there’s classic elements in there with hip-hop and reggae and rockin’ riffs.”
Those elements will allow the “Mosaic” songs to easily fit into the 311 live show, even though Hexum said it’s hard to say which of those songs, or any other from the band’s quarter-century long catalog will be played on any given night.
“We custom make the set each night,” he said. “After doing this for so long, you kind of have a vibe for each town — there will be a lot of new people here or it will be filled with old fans, that kind of thing. After sound check, we have a set list meeting where we get on one bus and talk it out. I think it would become stale if we had the same set every night. If it’s new to us, it’s new to them and it keeps it fresh for everybody. On our very first tour, we just had the one album, so that was kind of set. But we’ve been doing it since then. For a while, I wrote out the set list every night and then we made changes to it. Now we have 150 songs to choose from and we’ve been doing the full band set list meeting for seven, eight years.”
311 was formed in Omaha in 1988, taking its name from the police code for indecent exposure. When Doug “SA” Martinez joined in 1992 to sing and work the turntables, the band’s lineup of Hexum, guitarist Tim Mahoney, bassist Aaron “P-Nut” Wills and drummer Chad Sexton was set, seemingly for good.
“We’ve always felt we stumbled into a special chemistry with the five of us and we’ve stayed together,” Hexum said. “We take good care of that band we have. ... The fact that the five us in 1992 loaded up in a Volkswagen van and Buick Monte Carlo and drove out to a little house in Van Nuys, Calif., that right there was all-for-one, one-for-all. It’s always been the five guys in 311 and, hopefully, it always will be.”
311 brought its signature mix of reggae, rap and rock with it from Nebraska to California, honing the sound on its 1993 debut album “Music” and 1994’s “Grassroots” before making its popular breakthrough with 1995’s triple-platinum self-titled third album that yielded the hit singles “Down” and “All Mixed Up.”
“We came up at a time when grunge was really big,” Hexum said. “I respected that music. But for me, it wasn’t funky enough. To only have a rock influence felt very limiting to me. There were bands in California — the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Fishbone — that had a funky sound and they inspired us. But we had a separate mix with the dance hall reggae.”
“Growing up in Nebraska, geographically, we were in the middle,” he said. “But it seemed like musically we were in the middle too, with very long arms to reach out and pull in reggae from Jamaica, hip-hop from New York, punk from L.A., grunge from Seattle, and bring them together.”
Along with bringing the new musical mixture, 311 also has been preaching the pro-pot gospel for decades and is now seeing that effort pay off with marijuana legalization in states across the country.
“Bands like us and Cypress Hill, we were carrying the cannabis flag when it was really risky to do that,” Hexum said. “We had instances where we had cops on the side of the stage. We were conscientious objectors. We were about cannabis and using it there, to show the absurdity of the laws.
“I guess I didn’t feel like this was going to happen in my lifetime,” he said. “But evolution, enlightenment always goes forward. I always thought it would happen eventually. I’m happy it happened when I’m still here.”
Now, 311 is in the cannabis product business, with a vape pen, called Uplifter, set to go to market when marijuana becomes legal for recreational purposes in California. That’s just one of the products Hexum is helping to design.
“It’s fun to split up my time between making music and developing cannabis products, which is creative, too,” he said. “With recreational use in California starting next year, it’s kind of like the Wild West, where everybody’s getting their piece of the pie. It’s fun to be an entrepreneur and in a band that’s been there all the way.”
For the fall, however, 311 is all about being on the road and bringing together its loyal fan base that congregates at shows, on the band’s annual cruise and on “311 Day,” much like Deadheads.
“Like other sort of cult-following bands, it isn’t just about the music,” Hexum said. “It’s a lot about the community. It’s the bond people have with each other that started out as fans. The show is important, but also the hang is important. I went to Dead shows as much for the parking lot as the show. We know that’s how it is for people who come to our shows and we love that.”
WHAT: 311 with opener Tropidelic
WHERE: Club 5 at U.S. Cellular Center, 370 First Ave. NE, Cedar Rapids
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday (10/18)
TICKETS: $36.75 general admission, standing room, main floor only
BAND’S WEBSITE: 311.com