In honor of 311 Day, I'm posting an interview I did a few years back with guitarist Tim Mahoney. It originally ran in issue 12 of Planet Verge. If you have yet to fall for 311, all I ask is that after you read this, you go to www.myspace.com/311 and give them a listen.
* By Joelle, who used to have a notebook filled with 311 lyrics from every album that inspired her.
Is it emotion? Or music? For 311’s Tim Mahoney, its a grassroots blend of both
I think that's more important. The music's always first. It's not about our image, or other stuff that's secondary. It's always the music's first, and creating quality music and quality records. -Tim Mahoney
Anyone can write words, put music to them, and call it a song. However, it takes a true artist to blend the lyrics and instruments in a way that can evoke strong emotions in those who listen to it. There’s no better example of this than 311. Fifteen years after their formation, these Omaha, Nebraska natives (Nick Hexum-vocals/guitar, SA Martinez-vocals/scratches, Tim Mahoney-guitar, P-But-bass, Chad Sexton-drums) continue to be pioneers in the music industry.
Every one of the band’s eight albums has a different sound than the one before it, yet all encompass the rap-rock-reggae-dancehall-ska blend for which they’re famous. 311 have earned themselves a triple platinum album (311), one Platinum album (Transister), three Gold albums (Music, Grassroots, From Chaos), and a dedicated fan following, all without help from the mainstream music media. Yet, Mahoney says, chart topping albums aren’t what the band feels their greatest accomplishments are.
“We’re most proud of our longevity. We’ve played a lot of great shows with a lot of great bands and those are memories I’ll always have, but just the fact that we play music for life, really-it feeds us, it clothes us-is our greatest accomplishment. It’s what we always wanted to do our whole lives. It’s still work, it’s a lot of work, but we earn our money going out and playing live. We take it really seriously, but not too seriously, because it’s all about having fun.”
Planet Verge spoke to Mahoney as 311 was home in Los Angeles, preparing to embark on a headlining tour with Unwritten Law and Papa Roach, in support of their then yet to be released album, Don’t Tread On Me. “We’re about two weeks into rehearsal and we leave in about less than two weeks. We’re clearing out all the cobwebs, reviewing songs. We haven’t played a lot of these songs since the last summer tour. We finished in the beginning of August last year and then started working on the record. So it’s been almost a year since we played any of the old songs. We’re just kinda doing a mental workout right now.”
When it comes to live performances, very few bands come close to putting on a show like 311. In 2004 on 3-11 Day in New Orleans, the band played a legendary five-hour, 68 song set. But, understandably and unfortunately, not every show can be so extensive. The band tries to incorporate as many old songs for the longtime fans, as they can, into their set. “We always try to get at least like one ‘Summer of Love’ or something from a long, long time ago. There are no songs that are off limits. Each day we make a set list for the next day and throw a bunch of songs on there. We’re gonna try to get through most of them. Transistor is the hardest record for us because there are so many songs.”
As they say in one of their songs, 311 makes music for your mind and your ears. The message of positivity is always clearly evident, and it’s one of the reasons why people can connect so easily with their songs. Mahoney says having fans love them because they want to, and not because the media is telling them to, is really important.
“That’s ideal for us. The lyrics these guys are writing, we really do care a lot about music and trying to influence people in a positive way through sound waves. It’s something we take really serious, and it sounds corny to say spirituality and all this and stuff, but it’s true. I think that a lot of our fans are those kinds of people, too. I’m the same way with music and bands that I like, and what music does stuff for me and helps me. It’s more like therapy for me, in a way. I think that’s more important. The music’s always first. It’s not about our image, or other stuff that’s secondary. It’s always the music’s first, and creating quality music and quality records.”
Although Hexum and Martinez are the lyric writing team, Mahoney says, “They always explain how we all feel as a band. We stand behind them and we’re proud of the fact that they always, rather than bitching about a situation, draw light on it, and try to take a positive mental attitude towards things to make a change for the better. They both have that mindset and it’s really reflected in their lyrics. I’m proud. I wouldn’t be able to get up there and rock out if I didn’t believe in what they are saying or feel the same way as them about their lyrics. If they were talking about a bunch of wack stuff I didn’t endorse, we wouldn’t be able to be a band. I’m proud of them for that. It’s easy to not put as much thought into it. Writing music and writing lyrics-I can write lyrics, but I don’t know man, that’s an art form all to itself.”
Through the years, numerous Top 40 acts have gotten their start thanks to 311. “We always joke and say we’re like the springboard to stardom, but I don’t think that’s the case. I think that we’re fortunate to make friends and travel with bands that have gone on and blown up,” shares Mahoney.
Among those bands are the Deftones, Korn, and Sugar Ray. “No Doubt, the first tour they ever did outside of California was opening for us. Then they went on to be huge,” recalls Mahoney. “The Incubus guys, they’re really good guys, I love them. I don’t even think they were old enough to drink when they were opening for us. Some of them were minors, so we were probably breaking the law by providing them with beer. It’s cool. It makes me happy to see all these bands do good.”
It wasn’t until 1996, five years after they began, that the media began to pay attention to 311. Fourteen months after their self-titled album was debuted, “Down” was released as a single and quickly climbed to #1 on the Billboard Modern Rock Chart. “All Mixed Up” scored the #2 spot when it was released soon after. The really big break didn’t come until 2001 with From Chaos, thanks to the single, “Amber,” which reached #10 on the Billboard Modern Rock Chart and #30 on the Billboard Modern AC Chart.
“It’s always been just a slow, steady pace for us,” admits Mahoney. “We’ve just always done our own thing, and the climate is always changing. When our first record came out, it was almost grunge era with Nirvana and Soundgarden and those bands. We’re more proud of our longevity and the fact that we’re still happy playing music together and enjoy making music together and traveling and playing shows together. Although it would be great to have as many fans as No Doubt has, because you want to touch as many people with your music, but all bands are different. We put out these singles, and more recently, the radio has been a lot more friendly to us. At first it was a struggle because any time you have any sort of reggae or rap music mixed in with rock-especially back when we first started, it was really only the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Urban Dance Squad, 24/7 Spies, were the only kinds of hybrid bands.”
Through releasing their first three albums independently on What Have You Records, to playing in front of 10,000 people in Japan, 311 are a true musical success story. They use their public position to help make the world a better place- like taking the Museum of Tolerance out on tour with them, or most recently, donating proceeds of merch sales toward hurricane relief in Louisiana, the state that proclaimed March 11 a national holiday.
It doesn’t matter if they’re the headlining act, or out there opening up for old friends, 311 love what they’re doing and fans love them for that. Mahoney concludes, “A few years ago, Incubus took us to Europe to open for them, so we were kinda reflecting on all that. It’s pretty funny, it’s strange. This is our fifteenth year now as a band, and we’re just as happy, if not happier now. That’s exciting.”