Busy summer, huh? Take a gander at your city’s summer guide – that is, if you live in a place that’s even slightly considered a metropolis. What are you looking for? Talent. They’re all there. Everyone. This summer, all bets are off and everyone’s on the road or doing something. Why? Perhaps they want to take advantage of the blistering sun. Or, maybe they just want to party. For 311, it’s a little bit of both.
These Omaha rockers aren’t just soaking up the sun and what have you, they’re throwing an endless soiree for their devoted fanbase. Today, they released their 10th studio album, Universal Pulse, and currently they’re on a headlining tour with Sublime with Rome. But that’s not all. In August, 311 will launch Pow Wow Festival, their very own three-day fiesta in Live Oak, FL, featuring fellow acts like Deftones, Murs, Reel Big Fish, and more.
But, why now? In recent interviews, the band has discussed that they’ve been working with a different swagger and momentum these days, one that they haven’t felt in a while. Luckily, we were able to chat with bassist Aaron “P-Nut” Wills to hear all about it.
I can’t lie, man. I’m a big fan. I’ve been following you guys since 1995’s 311 and have never looked back…
I love how people think that’s our first album, since it was self-titled and the first one everyone heard.
Yeah, that’s definitely the first one I heard, and then I backtracked. You guys have been together for nearly 21 years. How do you manage to keep it fresh?
I mean, that’s probably up to debate. [laughs] Probably, with other writers at your website, too, the most recent “Sunset in July” comment is “Hey, it’s the new 311 single, and it sounds just like the other 311 singles.” [laughs] So, I don’t know. I think our nuances are missed by many, many people. But they are caught by certainly enough people for us to sustain a 21-year career. We’ve been playing amphitheaters every summer since ’97, only taking the summer of ’99 off. For any band to be able to do that, we must be doing something right. For me, it feels really fresh, even after 21 years, probably mostly because of being a father now.
I’m nine months into my most important job, and that’s changed my perspective a good bit. It’s made every little thing really important. Like, as soon as my son, Falken, was born on September 3rd last year, about two weeks later we were in the studio rehearsing new tracks and doing pre-production. It was so profound. I felt like my whole life was changing and is changing. All of our lives are, but when you go through something like that, the huge rite of passage, the responsibility level goes infinitely more intense. There I am, in the studio, playing with my best friends, and we’re playing only new songs, not playing old stuff. It was great. I think it has a lot to do with how excited I am about this new batch of songs and going out on the road and doing our Pow Wow Festival and maybe another cruise in the future. Just how lucky I am, and how hard work does pay off and all these things. Being a father makes being a musician really, really fun.
You talked about change. I read in an interview with Nick Hexum that you were going to be part of the lyric writing process on this album. What was that like?
It was great. It was my favorite kind of creativity. [It’s] the same reason why I still love playing shows. Every night, it’s a little bit different. I really like making eye contact with people in the audience, and I feed off of that kind of immediate one-to-one interaction. So, I’m leaving the studio to go home one day, and Bob [producer Bob Rock] is still hanging out in pre-production time, and he’s like, “You’re gonna write some lyrics today.” I’m like, “Oh, sweet. Call my wife. Tell her I’m gonna be a little late.”
Sat down, Nick is like, “What do you wanna talk about?” He points right to me, and SA [DJ SA Martinez] is there, and Bob Rock, and we’re just in this room, and we’re gonna write lyrics. [laughs] It was great. So, I was like, “Let me introduce you to the excitable crew.” I wanna talk about the fans. I wanna recognize them as being just as important as the band, as far as keeping us around. We just built the song, maybe about two and a half hours after that first line got spit up. There have been a couple of different versions, but most of it we wrote right there, sitting down with Bob Rock in attendance, and he helped, too. He helped bridge some of the ideas. It’s just so much fun. With those two hours we had what I think is a great road song and one of the best songs off of Universal Pulse, “Time Bomb”.
The album itself is only 8 songs…
Was this a quality over quantity decision, or was there more that just didn’t make the album?
That was what was really interesting. The more interviews I do, the more I get to reflect on the process, and I’m realizing that sometimes you have to do that, I guess. [laughs] I’m realizing that we had a batch of songs before this batch of songs, and we pretty much scrapped all of them. You hear record labels telling bands to do that, or they used to when record labels had power. You know, I always thought that was such a, like, “Wow, you’ve got a lot of balls to tell the artist what to do.” You know, a bunch of number crunchers and stuff. But, a lot of times, the albums you would hear by the bands doing that would be great. We kind of did that on our own, and the quality is amazing. It would have been tough to release some of the songs. It would have been a real uphill struggle. We agreed that all of these songs should be on the album, and the fact that there’s only eight and it’s a click under 30 minutes? It’s going to be tough for some people to swallow, because they want so much new stuff. But, you know, it’s going to make it so playable. You’re going to play it on repeat. You’re going to want to start it over again. It won’t be long enough that it will ever be a drag. This is our point of making a short album that’s all stuff that we really believe in. We will hopefully do the same thing every 14-15 months, like every year and a half or so. Get out and make another 30 minutes worth of music.