Uplifter is the ninth studio album by American rock band 311, released on June 2, 2009 by Volcano Records. It is the band’s first album in nearly four years, the longest gap between albums in 311’s career. Uplifter was produced by Bob Rock, famous for working with other bands such as Metallica, Mötley Crüe, and Bon Jovi. It debuted at #3 on the Billboard 200, their highest position to date. Below is a little Q & A session before the album’s release.
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Nick Hexum (vocals, guitar)|P-Nut (bass)|SA Martinez (vocals, dj)
Tim Mahoney (guitar)|Chad Sexton (drums)
1. Uplifter marks the release of 311’s 9th studio album. What has enabled 311 to thrive, achieve such longevity as a band and now celebrate a 9th studio album?
NICK: I think we’ve had such longevity for a few reasons. First, we’ve always put music ahead of lifestyle. People get sick of artists who put style above substance. Second, we enjoy the process of music-making so much. We’re always interested in bettering ourselves as players and writers. And I think the personal growth we’ve all been going through definitely shows in the quality of the new album. And…lastly, we feel we’ve stumbled upon a special chemistry of people in the band. We know we’re better together than we would be apart so we try to keep the inner-band workings healthy.
TIM: I enjoy playing music more now than ever. As time passes playing music becomes more spiritual and about love and transmitting positive vibes. About learning and growing and about getting out of the way. And it seems the band is continuing to grow as a unit, and each of us individually. I’m blessed to have found four brothers to play music with, who I can relate to and enjoy their musical styles. It’s a glorious science experiment getting to play music with the same four brothers over these 19 years.
P-NUT: We’ve lasted this long because of our fans and their ability to ride our diverse wave of influences and come out to the shows.
CHAD: We all have a love and appreciation for music and what it can accomplish. We’ve been fortunate enough to have good communication, dedication, hard work, perseverance, will, and luck to survive with the same members after 19 years.
SA: It’s really hard to pinpoint to one thing and say “this is the key to longevity”. It’s obviously a combination of many things and sometimes it just comes down to what is meant to be is meant to be. No rhyme nor reason but simply what is is and what isn’t isn’t.
2. Was the approach to writing and recording this album any different from your past experiences?
NICK: Yes. There was a feeling of going back to the drawing board. We decided to take our time to somewhat reinvent ourselves this time around. The addition of Bob Rock provided a fresh approach. He got in there and had us really hash things out. We would try any idea no matter how crazy. Another way this session was different is because we broke up the recording in two halves with a tour in between. We thought we had ten keepers in the first batch then we went on tour. While on tour we wrote eight more songs which kicked the first batch’s ass! All eight of the second batch made it and only three or four of the first. We absorbed energy from our fans when touring and put that energy into the second batch. Also, we used a chant that our fans spontaneously do before shows as the intro to one song. That’s a unique thing to have the fans write a part. (Thanks y’all!) This recording cycle has been our most enjoyable for me since the blue album in ’94.
P-NUT: On this album, I think we were all more open to eachother’s ideas, so a good idea was further developed through open-minded discussion and experimentation.
SA: The biggest difference on this record is the collaborative effort we shared with Bob Rock. Every record is different as much as every day, every moment is different. The musical stew that is Uplifter was just enhanced with the seasoning of Bob Rock. I mean when your last name is Rock, well, that’s just a lot of minerals.
TIM: Working with Bob was great. I enjoyed the process of making this record and feel he really pushed us and got the most potential out of us.
3. How does Uplifter stand apart musically from your previous releases?
NICK: We made an effort to make the music flow. Rather than having music that comes from intellect we tried to make it a bit more primitive. It’s more danceable and simple. It’s more from the gut and heart than the head. There is a joy in the music on Uplifter that was missing on Don’t Tread On Me. The title really fits the uplifting nature of the new music. To me, the music is positive and fun. It reflects the mind state we were in when we made it. We were in a good place. There are themes of personal struggle in the songs, but as always with 311, there is a resolution. No wallowing in self-pity for us. There are songs about relationships. Straight from the heart. There is a trio of songs on the album that are about what it’s like to be in this band. There’s a balls-to-the-wall burner about the fun of touring. It’s a thank you to the fans that is destined to be an anthem. There’s a heavy song about the magic of creativity. One song is an ode to music itself. Music is our constant companion and personally, I’d be fucked without it. I’m so excited for you all to hear the album and to rock the songs live this spring & summer!
CHAD: The main difference is the ratio of rock songs to other songs. We have not had this many rock songs on a record since the Blue record.
TIM: It’s a good representation of where we’re at right now as a band.
4. Are you pleased with the final results?
NICK: Happy as a clam. Clams are always smiling.
P-NUT: The final results are undeniable, yes, I am thrilled with our work, and our collaboration with Bob Rock. I couldn’t be more pleased. We really pushed ourselves to a new place (as I know our fans would want us too). We have reached a new level in creativity, openness, variety, and I believe skills.
SA: Very much so. You never know what to expect honestly.
TIM: Hell yeah, GUITORCHESTRA!!! I can’t remember having as much fun making a record. We’ve really grown as a band, and hopefully it shows on this album. Oh hell yeah!
5. What can listeners expect to hear? And what will listeners be surprised to hear?
NICK: To me, it sounds simply like 311 taken to the next level. The reggae, rock, and hip hop are there, but there is new guitar textures and tones that will surprise people. There is a funkiness to our reggae that I love and a danceable-ness to our rock that is new. Space in the riffs make you want to move your body. There is also a new creativity in the overdub phase. Bob and I would have keyboard days where we would set up and make up parts on the spot. We’d drop in counter-melodies and flourishes that give the tunes more emotional impact. Bob would also do that with Tim on the guitar. This recording session felt like we were letting go. It didn’t have to be planned or rehearsed. Our playing is to the point that we can “throw and go.” Set up and see what comes out. The level of creativity was much like the early days because we were not self-conscious. In the early days we had so much creative spunk in us we would explode on tape. The challenge back then was to attempt to tidy it up because our playing was not at this level. Now we’ve learned to trust ourselves and just let our unique vision unfold. Now we know who we are. There is a confidence to this album that is new. It was exciting to see the whole thing unfold.
P-NUT: Listeners can expect to hear a fully realized and operational 311 machine. Throughout this collection of songs you are going to hear inspiration, invention and power.
SA: Well, it sounds like 311 I think it’s safe to say. This might be our most balanced record. Above all listeners will hear a deepening and a refinement of our sound.
TIM: I think all the songs sound like 311. It’s been years since our last record, so hopefully folks will dig where we’re at now.
6. How was working with Bob Rock? What did Bob bring to the table for this album?
NICK: Bob was a perfect fit for 311. He’s a full serve guy. He’s a true song guy, an amazing engineer, and a great mixer. He introduced us to a lot of techniques and equipment as well as bringing in a new approach. He was a unifying force because everyone likes and respects him so much. We’d say, “Let Bob be Bob.” He would help us take our original ideas to a new level. He made no attempt to change us, but he helped us bring out our 311-ness. Bob is a pro and a gentlemen and it was a real pleasure. I’m looking forward to working with him again.
P-NUT: Bob brought freshness to our routine of making an album, and his experience and communication led us to great musical feats. I believe together we’ve actualized the best album we are capable of. This has been a super-fun recording experience. I can’t wait to play these new songs for all.
SA: Bob doesn’t bullshit. Not to say we’ve worked with anyone who does, but it’s more of a style and approach. Bob was the wise elder in this endeavour. Let’s face it, he has years of experience of working with a wide variety of acts. He’s a maestro when it comes to teasing out what will work in a song and what won’t. He was a calm and reassuring presence and it was a real pleasure working with him.
TIM: It was a great experience working with Bob Rock. We have a lot in common when it comes to music, guitar tones, favorite guitars and guitar heroes, gear, etc. I really enjoyed working on guitars with him. I learned a lot. He’s a very creative guy.
7. Any interesting stories behind the making of Uplifter?
NICK: The making of the Guitar Hero spoof video was a blast and very out of the ordinary. I think P-Nut and our manager, Adam, came up with the concept. We’ve never really done any kind of acting before so the real challenge was keeping a straight face. We made up the dialogue on the spot. Director Joe Lynch was great to work with. We kept suggesting different funny things and Joe was like, “Hilarious! Use it!” I was happy to be able to keep a straight face though and stay in character. . One of my only other attempts at acting was playing one-on-one with Shaq for the “You Wouldn’t Believe” video. I couldn’t get the huge grin off my face and it was supposed to be a big mean showdown so all of my hoops footage had to be cut. I think we’ll do some more humorous videos because we like taking the piss out of ourselves.
P-NUT: We crafted a song from a bass line that I wrote at Bootsy’s house (Bootsy Collins) over the summer of ’08, I played it for Bob at our show in Maui, and he said, “remember that”, I told him not to worry. When we got back together after the touring we worked out verses and the structure, making what I believe is one of the many highlights on the album. The original bass line inspiration is now the bridge which turned out to be along the lines of Graceland by Paul Simon, which still surpirses me to this day. I love not planning things out and basking in the results, 311 is capable of almost anything in those moments.
8. Do you have any favorite songs or favorite moments on the album?
NICK: The bridge on the first single, “Hey You” is a fav of mine. It goes into a whole new world. The song is an ode to music itself and how it can be a friend and take you to different places. So, to me, that bridge is an illustration of that. Everyone kicked ass on that track. SA’s bridge to “Golden Sunlight” is another highlight. He pulled it out of thin air. The way he poignantly envisions his future life over Tim’s hippy-turned-heavy riff is something special.
P-NUT: Working in the studio with Bob was a real lesson in listening, he kept telling me that I wasn’t, hehe. Which was true, I have up to this point more just played my part while keeping time with Chad. But during the Uplifter sessions, I really, really listened to what was going on, I was forced too, and reacted accordingly. The outcome is a real air-tight locking in with the beats. We are in a new era of musicallity and cooperation, which the fans who have been with us for years will hear right away and be thrilled with, I do believe.
SA: This is a strong album. There is something for everyone, from the rockers to the ballads, to what’s in between. I have many favorites and I’m just going to leave it at that. Trust me.
TIM: Right now I’m into the album as a whole. I really enjoyed the process of making this album, and I’m proud of the way we all worked together.
9. The band continues to draw huge crowds, many shows drawing in excess of 10,000 fans…and it seems the shows are getting bigger over the past few years. What do you attribute such touring success to? How does the 311 touring machine continue to get bigger and stronger over the years?
NICK: I think that we maintain an attitude of gratitude and that comes through in our playing and performance. We’re happy to be there and that’s something you can’t fake. I get wound up before the show in anticipation and just un-bottle it in a punk rock explosion.
P-NUT: I attribute our continued success for larger shows in the fact that we bring a positive message and we play our asses off every night. And the truth that can only come from word of mouth. We are still a grassroots machine depending on our fans to support our touring and albums.
CHAD: About 4 years ago we wanted to get back to our roots of playing music together. Playing music is the reason we started a rock band. We thought we should make that our focus since sometimes in the industry, the reasons
to go on tour are based around selling/releasing records. I think we needed to “hit a reset button” to get back and understand that playing live is one of the most important events in a society, always. We want to be a positive influence on the people of the world and one of the ways people understand our vibe and celebration of life, is to play our music in front of them.
SA: I think our success on the road can be attributed to what it’s always been – our show. The consistency from night to night, the energy level, the songs etc. I strongly feel we deliver the biggest bang for the buck in comparison to other tours out there. Plus we’re extremely lovable.
10. Are you excited for the upcoming tours? What can people expect from the shows?
NICK: We are very excited. It’s a new era, in my opinion. We have not had new material we were this excited to play live in quite a long time. The excitement will translate into our performances. What to expect? Crazy ass-shaking, sing-along rock music!
P-NUT: I can’t wait to play some shows, people can expect to feel our excitement in bringing new tunes to the stage for the first time in some three years.
SA: I’m so excited for the shows coming up, to present these new songs, it’s truly going to be an experience. Of course our production will be unique. More than anything I’m excited to reconnect with our fans / friends again.
TIM: I can’t wait to get out and play. Just want to keep on growing.
11. Summer 2009, 311 celebrated 19 years of existence. What do you see for the future of 311?
NICK: I predict we our entering a new era of prolificness. I would imagine we will stay productive and not wait so long between albums. I’ve already started a couple new songs and this record isn’t even yet out. Music is a never ending journey. There is no finish line. The goal is to enjoy the process and remain teachable and curious. I think we’ll be going for a long time.
P-NUT: I see more of the same for 311, I do think that Uplifter has a chance to bring in new fans, but, I love that we are as consistent as we are, so, I am thankful for what we have.
SA: This summer will mark a generation of our existence as a band. That is truly something to contemplate. Of course it doesn’t feel like that much time has elapsed since we began this journey. But that’s the nature of time isn’t it? It just keeps slipping away. Therein lies a key component to our strength. To remain intact over such a duration when so many trivial things pop up along the road that upend relationships. That just says to me it’s always been about the music, it’s the music that brings us along and is the happiness in our souls.
CHAD: I believe 311 will make music for a long time.
TIM: Continuing our evolution. I’m enjoying making and playing music now more than ever.
12. Any words to your fans?
NICK: We never forget why we are here and that we have a great debt of gratitude to our fans. 311 shows have turned into a big positive gathering. A celebration. It has gone beyond just the music. I think we’ve tapped into an energy that wants to come out in everyone. We are as entertained watching the crowd as they are watching us. We want to take this thing as far as it can go and take it all in with eyes wide open. This is a privilege to get to do this for a living and for that we are very grateful.
P-NUT: I can’t wait to hear the fans thoughts on all of our hard work and to see the excitable ones out on the road, nationally and internationally. We are out to make the world feel us, be our foot soldiers, tell them we’re coming!
SA: Much love to all of you and again thank you. For everything. We’ve just finished what is perhaps our finest album yet. I can’t believe more than three years have passed since our last record and that we are on the verge of releasing our NINTH album. Wow. What a ride it’s been and it’s all possible from the support we receive from the best fans in the cosmos. That’s right. I’m going to include any and all civilizations that are out there. Honestly though, thank you. It is a true symbiotic relationship we share. On the touring front – well, you know how we do. We’re going to bring it and rock and continue to refine. Transforming as always with substance AND style because it is REAL and there is no way to stop it. Sharing music and celebrating this thing called life. Sounds like a 311 show to me. Who’s in?
CHAD: Turn off the TV.
TIM: I’m very proud and thankful to our fans for making it possible for us to play music. Muchas gracias hermanas y hermanos.
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