Q&A — 311’s Nick Hexum Talks Honoring the Band’s Past While Seeking Evolution Ahead of Red Rocks Show (Exclusive Interview)

Legendary rock band 311 is set to make a triumphant return to Colorado with an unforgettable night of music at the iconic Red Rocks Amphitheatre on June 29th. As part of their upcoming tour, 311 will celebrate this special occasion with their fans by performing their classic album, Grassroots, in its entirety, along with many other fan-favorite songs from their extensive catalog. This special show, marking the band’s 18th performance at Red Rocks, promises to be a nostalgic and electrifying experience for all in attendance.

In an exclusive interview with 303 Magazine, lead singer and guitarist Nick Hexum shared exciting details about their new album set for release in September, providing a glimpse into the band’s creative process and their collaborations with new producers. Nick also reflected on his favorite memories of playing in Colorado, his innovative new business venture, SKP.IO, aimed at helping independent artists, and so much more. With such a large history and a big wave of inspiration, 311 is certain to deliver a night that fans will remember, furthering their connections with one of the most legendary venues of all time.

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303: So you’ve been in 311 since 1988, which is absolutely amazing. What continues to drive the band and gets you guys excited to stay together? What’s the main thing that keeps on motivating you guys to continue?

311: So our official start date was 1990 on June 10th, when we opened for Fugazi, but Chad, and Tim and I did have a band that was the precursor to 311 called Unity. As far as the longevity, I think that we’ve always stayed a little bit underground. We’ve always had the grassroots philosophy that we basically committed to on our second album and always stayed with, which just means we’re going to have a direct relationship with our fans fostered through touring and having the tour be the center of what we do. We tour every summer, rain or shine. It doesn’t really matter where we are on the album cycle. And we work the albums around that because some bands only tour when they put out a new album or something, but we take more inspiration from like the Grateful Dead, the people that put touring first.

We’ve always stayed a bit under the radar, always hungry, always grateful. We often just openly talk about how lucky we are to get to do this and never take it for granted. And then, as far as the ability to get along, we respect the democratic process. Sometimes, you get outvoted and don’t get your way. You don’t throw a fit. You just accept the functions. And it’s been working pretty good.

303: That’s awesome, I love to hear that. Yeah, it seems like you guys are really well-connected, especially since I’m pretty sure that everyone in the band is an original member. So it’s really cool to see that bond and just that family-like atmosphere that you guys have going on. But with that being said, How’s this recent tour been this far? And have there been any highlights that you can note? You know, it’s very exciting to see you guys making a big stop at the legendary Red Rocks here in Colorado.

311: Yeah, in our first home video called “Enlarged to Show Detail,” there was the scene there where we played Red Rocks for the first time and I told the story of when, in 1992, we all packed up our possessions from Omaha and moved out to LA but we stopped at Red Rocks on the way out. It’s a park and it’s open and we were even able to just walk right up on the stage. We just stood there and said, “One day, man, we’re gonna rock this place.”

I had made road trips to go and see The Cure and other great bands there when I was in high school. That was definitely a huge dream of ours. And now, I think this coming show is our 18th. I have to check that, but it’s well into the teens of the number of times we played there.

303: Amazing. I mean, that is truly special. The fact that you had that aspiration that early on is just awesome. You last released an album in 2019. However, you most recently released a new single and music video in June of this year. Can we expect any other releases coming up? Possibly a new album may be in the works?

311: Yes, the new album is completed. We have not picked the title yet. We’re shooting for September, that’s sort of the unofficial timeline, and it’s just a really badass collection. I feel it’s an inspired set of songs that really sound like we’re in a new lane where we want to take our music further. We worked with some new producers and we’re very, very excited about it.

303: Yeah, that’s so cool, man. What would you say your creative process typically looks like when writing a new album? And specifically with this one? Do you prefer to do it at home? Or do you prefer to do it away? How does that work for you?

311: Well, you know, when you’re in your early 20s, you’ve got so much to say, and I would just sit down and write a complete song by myself. As time goes on, we move more and more to collaboration, where we’ll sit down and just sort of brainstorm something, and then kind of talk it out with people suggesting different things. There are still songs that are maybe one person’s vision. But generally, we move more and more towards collaboration. It looks like sitting down and maybe I’ll throw out a title that has a backstory to it and then the guys helped me flesh it out.

We’re also finding new collaborators, like the producer on our new album, Collin Britton. He’s a super-talented dude who really injected a lot of enthusiasm and new techniques into what we’re doing.

Photo by Nikolai Puc

303: I can’t wait to hear it, man. You’re releasing music after all this time, it’s so special to see and hear, especially considering your first album came out, I believe in 1993. Would you say you still get excited playing the older stuff when performing live? And what do you feel drives the band to dig through that older stuff and the catalog and connect with that music again?

311: Well, I think that it is important to rotate songs in order to have the band members fired up. But more, mostly, I see that we’re there being of service. We’re there to scope out the bands. And, to me, the biggest satisfaction is just seeing people rocking out or swaying or just singing along, clapping their hands like that. To me, that’s like a musical tradition that has existed for probably fifty thousand years, to where the roots of melodic music started, where some musicians would play something and other people would dance. It’s almost like a sacred ritual.

Of course, you can go and watch stuff on YouTube, but it’s never the same as being there. Especially with a band like us that has the history. We just had our 34-year anniversary since our founding gig. There’s a kind of magic to it. I just get off on seeing the fans stoked.

303: Yeah, and you really do connect to the live audience. I had the pleasure of seeing you last year and you guys were awesome. So, going back to your live music and the shows we were touching on, it’s very exciting to have you back in Colorado. I’m really looking forward to the show. Do you prepare or do anything different when performing at a venue like this? This is one of the most historic, beautiful venues in the United States and I’m wondering if there’s anything that goes into it that might be a little bit different or a little bit more special than your normal shows?

311: Yeah, Red Rocks has its own unique vibe. We pick the setlist that’s going to lend itself to the beautiful, natural majesty of that place. It’s one of a kind and I do have the scoop for you that we have not announced yet, but we can here. We’re looking for something special to do for this show. We’re going to play the album “Grassroots” in its entirety, as well as a bunch of other songs. But since we’re on our 30-year anniversary of that, we realized that would be a great way to make it a night to remember.

303: Damn, that’s awesome and we appreciate the scoop. Well, we’re very excited to have you. Do you have any favorite places you’d like to see or visit when you’re in Colorado, maybe like a hiking spot or a bar, restaurant, you name it?

311: Man, I just love to walk around and have fun. Like, rent a scooter and scooter around. I love the riverfront walkways that they have in Denver. So, to me, that’s just one of the great perks of being in a touring band: getting to be able to cruise around and take in the local color, local food and the vibe and Denver in the summertime is just incredible. Very much looking forward to the trip.

Photo by Nikolai Puc

303: That’s really cool. I know you talked a little bit about sort of your documentary earlier, but I was just curious if you have maybe a memory or something that stands out to you from playing a show, or maybe even a fan experience, you name it. That really sticks out to you from previously being in Colorado or just Denver, and what that means to you?

311: Yeah, I would say, road tripping to see The Cure at Red Rocks was incredible. Road tripping to see The Dead at Fiddler’s Green. I think that was my first Dead show. We all dropped acid with hippie people with weed all night. It was a transformative experience.

303: You’ve had a legendary career, but is there something in your career you haven’t done yet that you still hope to accomplish one day?

311: Yeah, I think there are always frontiers to explore, getting into just writing super kind of quiet and acoustic songs on my own as a complement to the whole band and rockin 311 situation.

There’s also a lot of overseas goals that we’ve had. We just went to Europe for the first time in 22 years because we just kind of got out of sync with what’s going on there. It was great to get back and play some big festivals and to have to start over and win crowds over. It’s been 22 years and pretty much everyone there is seeing us for the first time. It’s a good way to stay humble and really have to earn it. We had some great shows and they all sing along really loud in Europe. It was a very nice, pleasant surprise when they knew the words to the songs.

303: From your outlook, what would you say have been some of the biggest changes you’ve seen within the music industry since you started?

311: In the early ages of 311, basically, the labels would subsidize the tour just to get you out there. So then they can make it up on CDs, and then after the collapse of the CD business due to piracy, then everything changed to your only source of real income was from touring. Fortunately, we had already made that shift to being a touring-first organization. So, it was okay for us.

I’m also starting a music business tech company called SKP.IO, which is like a platform where artists can get the promotional services they need without having to get ripped off by a label and help artists be able to stay independent and go on a platform to hire publicists or radio promotion people or all the different things that a label does. So that’s kind of a cool way for the whole band to be involved, to give back because of our legacy of what 311 has done.

303: Could you tell me any more details? Will you be collaborating with other artists on that project? When can we expect that to come to fruition? What does the timeline look like?

311: Well, we did use the platform for the new 311 single and album. So that’s like our first release. We’ve been talking to a lot of big artists from just a wide variety of genres. I probably shouldn’t say names yet. A lot of artists are moving away and it almost becomes like, “You’re still on a label, like why?” It’s not really necessary anymore. Labels used to have a stranglehold on the ways to get out to the people. But now that’s changed. Accelerating that disruption is what SKP is all about. It’s in the name, “SKP.” We’re helping artists become major label escapees and escape.

303: Wow, that’s really cool. What would you say has been one of the biggest lessons you’ve learned from your career as a musician?

311: Enjoy the process. There’s no finish line. There’s always new things to explore. the great Broadway writer Leonard Bernstein said, “An artist is just the sum total of their listening experience.” It’s very important to keep checking out new music. And honestly, that’s the one thing that digital has been such a huge help for, because I can make a Pandora station with a few key tracks and then it’s going to show me a whole bunch more that I haven’t heard yet.

I’m always in my happy places too. I usually put on sports on the TV, but put it on mute, and then just have new music playing. Usually, I like to play along on my guitar to really absorb it and be present and just keep taking influence and inspiration because the only thing that you can really screw yourself with is if you feel like you’ve seen it all. It’s a never-ending journey and there’s no finish line.

Photo by Nikolai Puc

303: The band has been around for over three decades. Is it safe to say we can expect another decade, maybe three more decades of 311 to come?

311: Let’s see. I’ll be mid-80s in three decades. You never know. Basically, as long as the universe allows us to do it, we’re gonna keep doing it. You don’t see a lot of people retiring unless they have to. You know what I mean? Like Paul McCartney is still out there doing gigs. He doesn’t need the money, but he just enjoys it. And we’re definitely at that same moment. This is a privilege and something we get to do. So I would definitely consider us going for more decades.

303: You’ve hosted the 311 cruise and the Pow Wow festival. You’ve hosted some super awesome stuff and a lot of great artists. Is it possible that any of those events could make a comeback?

311: Oh, yeah! The next cruise is already booked and sold out. And that’s happening in March of next year. Basically, we just rotate. One year, we do 311 Day, and that was this year. That’s like our convention on our own holiday that’s been in Vegas for a long time. It started out in New Orleans. It was in Memphis one year, but since then, that’s the one where people come from all over the world, so we dig really deep and play songs that no one’s ever heard before and do covers and different things.

Next year is the cruise. That’s — just like everybody says — the ultimate vacation for 311 fans because you’re just there with all these positive people and everybody’s really kind to each other and you get to go to the Bahamas. It’s got a couple of different destinations planned. It’s just a fun thing to do. I think this one is our eighth. We were one of the first bands to get into the cruise scene and we weren’t sure how it was gonna go and we’re like, “This is awesome. Let’s keep doing this.”

303: I just want to say sincerely from the bottom my heart, man, thank you so much for the conversation. So excited to see you at Red Rocks and thanks for coming to Colorado. We love having you and I hope to see many more decades of 311 to come.

311: Thank you so much. This was a fun chat. Have a great day. Take care.

All Photography Courtesy of Nikolai Puc

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