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Interview: Nick Hexum On Going Solo, Trying Dubstep & Making 311’s Next Album

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Scott T. Sterling
Scott T. Sterling Scott is the rock associate producer for Radio.com....
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It’s been more than 20 years since Omaha band 311 released their major label debut album, Music. Combining elements of ska, funk and reggae into their grunge-inspired guitar rock, the group went on to score a series of hits, including “Down,” “Amber” and a cover of goth legends the Cure‘s 1989 single “Lovesong.”

After building a fan community that supports regular 311 cruises (four so far) and even the band’s own annual “day” (yes, it’s held every 3/11), frontman Nick Hexum has ventured outside of the fold to record his first solo album, My Shadow Pages, working with a variety of collaborators to create his own jazz-pop sound for the Nick Hexum Quintet.

“The initial seeds of the project was when I’d been working on my guitar-playing a lot, and my brother Zack and I — Zack is an amazing jazz musician so I’m learning a lot from him — we had planned to have like a just for fun kind of jam band,” Hexum told Radio.com. “We just did some instrumentals kind of in the style of [bands] like the Meters and Medeski, Martin & Wood. We’d also been doing outside songwriting for whatever artist was looking for songs at the time. I was like, let’s just combine these two concepts and write songs for this funk project. So it was real organic.”

Hexum used the opportunity to partner with a number of different collaborators, including Sugarcult‘s Tim Pagnotta (who produced two songs), Better Than Ezra‘s Kevin Griffin and New York songwriting duo S*A*M and Sluggo, who’ve worked with The Academy Is… and Gym Class Heroes.

“I picked up a lot of new tricks, a lot of new funny little phrases, like Tim would say, ‘When we get to the bridge and it gets quiet, that’s the panty-drop section,'” Hexum joked.

While the 311 frontman claimed not to trust himself when it comes to picking singles (“I kind of leave that up to management and the radio team that we’ve put together”), he said that for this album, the reggae-tinged lead track — “Super Natural” — seemed to be the most obvious choice for the Quintet.

“The chords are based on Pachelbel’s classical song ‘Canon in D,’ which is often played at weddings, so it’s a romantic song right there,” he explained of the tune’s easily recognizable refrain. “Once I realized it was this classical song, I started quoting the melody in the guitar solo and stuff. So it’s a bit familiar, because it’s this song that’s been embraced for hundreds of years, but then having it with a very organ-heavy, kind of jazz band, but then it’s a reggae groove, so it’s a new combination for me. People were connecting with it, so I decided that would be the single.”

When it comes to the most personal song on My Shadow Pages, however, that would be “The Dreamer.”

“It really personifies My Shadow Pages, which is expressing a new side of myself that’s coming out of the shadows,” he said. “I realize that my head is in the clouds a lot of time, and I just have this artist mentality that’s [often] irresponsible. I never plan on a rainy day, so just revealing these things about my personality that I’m realizing makes it a very personal song. That one definitely came from the heart.”

Though My Shadow Pages came out just two weeks ago, Hexum is already thinking about his next foray into solo territory, with recent talk suggesting that he might be considering a move towards dubstep in future solo endeavors.

“My latest dubstep favorites are Dada Life and Krewella,” Hexum said. “I wouldn’t say that I would go full-on dubstep. I think it’s just going to take a step towards more modern production. On My Shadow Pages, every instrument that you hear existed by 1975. It’s all jazz guitars, pianos, organs…there’s nothing modern on there. So I think that my next thing is getting into more modern beats and slightly more modern production styles. I’m interested to see how it comes out.”

Before he gets too deep into the next phase of his solo career, Hexum and the rest of 311 are preparing a new album that already has a release date.

“Currently, we’re working on the 311 record, which is slated to come out on 311 Day [2014], which is either ballsy or stupid to announce it before we’ve even recorded it, but we’re recording it now, and it’s an amazing group of songs,” he said. “I think it’s kind of like I can put out my own record, put out a 311 record, and then maybe my own. I realize that with having this more do-it-yourself approach, you don’t have to wait and have a major label cycle that takes a long time. I can put out more music more often, and that’s just more tunes for the people.”

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