Nick Hexum sure does have a lot of labels. Singer. Guitarist. Frontman. Trailblazer. Environmentalist. Entrepreneur. Midwesterner. Transplant. Los Angeleno (once removed). The list is long. But, perhaps, the most important thing you could call the 48-year-old Madison, Wisconsin, native is “family man.”
You see, when Hexum isn’t hard at work with his literal band of figurative brothers — brothers of band? — in the genre-blending rock mainstay 311, he’s at home with his lovely wife, Nikki, and three adorable daughters: Echo, Maxine and Harlow.
While the affable performer and musician can speak at length about many things with a great deal of earnest passion, there’s just something extra in his voice, a special lightheartedness — call it the vocal equivalent of a twinkle in his eye — when he’s talking about his little ones.
It’s sweet to hear Nick step outside the California-cool vibe one programmatically expects when talking to him. Unlike some of the band’s contemporaries, 311 has always been more about the feel-good flow than the angst of grunge or the aggro posturing of rap-rock, which is completely apparent when talking to its longtime vocalist.
Over the course of nearly three decades, Hexum — along with bassist Aaron “P-Nut” Wills, drummer Chad Sexton, guitarist Tim Mahoney and fellow mic-man and turntablist Doug “S.A.” Martinez — has been doing his thing with 311. The results? Fourteen studio albums (with one in the chamber), five EPs, a live album and a few dozen singles.
In the last 10 years or so, he’s added one spouse, three little girls and family that sounds pretty great to the catalog of his life (too cheesy? too bad, I’m leaving it).
But don’t take it from me; he’ll tell you all about it himself below.
— 311 (@311) June 10, 2018
Kevin Tall: Hey Nick, how are we doing today?
Nick Hexum: Is this Kevin? I’m doing just fine
KT: This is Kevin. So, gearing up for a summer tour, some people might not realize 311 has been around, in some form, for 30 years and you’re pushing the 28th Bandiversary on social media right now. Looking back on three decades of making music under this moniker, and looking forward to touring, how does that feel? Three decades of 311.
NH: Man, what a long, strange trip it’s been. It’s something that started out as a hobby, and if you get to make a career out of your hobby, that is just such a blessing. So we don’t take anything for granted. There’s often talk in the band about ‘how awesome is this?’ you know? Some bands might get a sense of entitlement and stuff, but we work really hard to keep an attitude of gratitude.
KT: Your lineup has been a constant for 26 years. Looking around the industry, in which other bands’ lineups change, things don’t work out, fistfights happen and egos get in the way, what does being a part of these same five guys working together for so long mean to you?
NH: It makes it more special to have that family aspect. We’ve realized that we stumbled on a special chemistry and that we’re better together than we could ever be apart. I’m grateful that [the band] has stayed with the original members. There are very few bands that have us beat as far as longevity of the original lineup; I think Radiohead and U2 are a couple that have had their original lineups longer than us, but not many [more]. It makes it a lot of fun. If you could imagine how many inside jokes we have, how many references we can have like ‘Remember this crazy person or this weird situation?’ The reminiscing is a lot of fun and if you have a revolving door of sidemen or whatever, you don’t have that kind of rapport.
KT: To what do you accredit the band’s success and longevity?
NH: I think we have a Midwestern work ethic that we keep with us. We just don’t expect anything to come easy; we expect to work hard. We make sure that we’re having constant improvement in all areas of the band. So whether it’s rehearsing a lot for a tour, or coming up with new ideas to make the show special with production, or working really hard on new music, keeping our bodies and brains healthy — it’s work, but it’s a labor of love.
KT: Bear with me on this next question, because I’m going to hate myself forever if I don’t just ask it: Have you ever made out in a dark hallway?
NH: And displayed a kiss that made my day or say? I think SA [Doug Martinez] has, but no, not me. I’m like, ‘I like to make out, but I’m scared of the dark, so please turn the lights on.’
KT: I’d promise that’ll be the last stupid joke I make, but ‘Today seems like a good day to burn a bridge or two.’
KT: What can I say? ‘Some people really suck.’ OK, I’m done! Back to serious, real actual questions. You’re gearing up for a few dozen dates with the Offspring starting at the end of July. Some people would say that’s the hottest ticket of the summer, 15 years ago. I think that’s still the case and I’m hoping you can tell me why.
NH: Y’know, great music is timeless. As far as bands that really have great songs and great energy, there aren’t that many left. It’s a special pairing, so we’re doing it again. It’s just going to be the party of the summer.
KT: Do you have a favorite band to tour with over the span of your career?
NH: Man, we’ve had so many good pairings and made a lot of good friends. We used to have some really fun tours with Incubus, back in the day, that would be a fun thing to rekindle. There have been so many of them. Just a lot of like-minded… the reggae bands of the world. Pepper, Dirty Heads, Rebelution, all those kinds of groups are a lot fun to tour with because there’s a family vibe.
KT: 311’s kind of transcended or blurred lines all over the genre map. What kind of band do you think 311 is or aims to be?
NH: I would say ‘rock’ would have to be the first word because of the energy and the distortion guitars. I would say reggae and hip-hop are probably the second and third ingredients, but mostly a rock band, just in our approach and starting in the basement or the garage.
KT: The band hasn’t gone more than 4 years in between albums since you began. I assume that means we can expect something new by around 2020, with Mosaic coming out last year. But it sounds like you guys are putting out fresh content and making new music all the time.
NH: Yeah, you know, I would say, even if I don’t have a project to write for, if I have a free day, I’m going to just start tinkering with ideas. I’ve learned that you have to get them down, so I have this massive glut of demos and files and stuff that I can go through at any time and so do the rest of the guys. We feel like we’re on a roll right now so we were thinking we might get an album out this year, because we have a bunch of good songs that we’ve been working on. And then we were feeling a little burnt out, so we could slow down a little bit.
So now, when the next release is coming is a bit up in the air, but there’s a slight chance it could be in 2018, which would be crazy. In the early days, we were coming out with a record every year. Now, these days, if we keep it within two years, that’s awesome.
I feel like with ‘Mosaic,’ we kind of kicked open a new door stylistically, production-wise, so that just kind of opened the floodgates to a lot of new ideas that we wanted to pursue, so I think morale and momentum feel pretty high right now.
KT: A lot of bands write while on tour and do the Pro-Tools thing. Do you prefer that or kind of organically tooling around at home or more of a traditional, studio-based writing and recording process?
NH: I bring a little mobile rig, so If I have a day off… I don’t want to be, like, ‘All work and no play,’ but after maybe I go spend some time at the pool or whatever on a day off, I’ll set up a studio and play with some ideas. If it’s a rainy day, I might just write music all day long. And then sometimes we’ll have some collaboration sessions, where Scotch [Ralston], our producer and also sound man, and P-nut will come and we’ll just talk out some lyrics. It’s fun, we keep the creativity fun, and I think we move more and more toward a collaboration thing so there’s also kind of a social aspect to it, whereas, maybe once upon a time, I’d like to just write songs by myself. You find new things when you talk it out amongst friends.
Click through to the next page to see what Nick had to say about working with a talented young group of girls.