Rock Candy Interview: Chad Sexton of 311

Chad Sexton of 311

When 311 hits the stage this week in town, thousands of fans will be there to greet them.

Amazingly, the Omaha-bred band has outlasted many other groups of its heyday and has managed to keep its fanbase intact – a fanbase so rabid that they travel every year to see the band at its own cruises, festivals and celebrations.

I’ve always been impressed that the band has stuck together this long and still produces quality music. Sure, they don’t always get the radio play any more, but they haven’t stooped to doing covers albums or (even worse) doing no new music at all.

On Friday, the men of 311 – Nick Hexum, Chad Sexton, Doug “SA” Martinez, Aaron “P-Nut” Wills and Tim Mahoney – come to Stir Cove for a hometown show that will prove to be a good time. (I’ve seen them many, many times and it’s always fun. I’ve even heard from people that don’t like the music that the band’s concerts are still a blast.)

Sexton called me the other day to talk the band’s longevity, its fans and the possibility of hearing new music on this tour.

Kevin Coffey: Hello?

Chad Sexton: Hey Kevin, it’s Chad Sexton.

KC: Hi Chad. How are you?

CS: Pretty good, man. How about you?

KC: Not bad. It’s hot, hot, hot in Omaha.

CS: Really? Oh man. How’s the humidity level?

KC: Really high. And you guys are playing outside, so have fun with that.

CS: Aw damn. We’ve had a couple summers like that. One recently where it was like a string of shows in the south where they were just, man, brutal. We probably had 7 or 10 shows that were 100+ that year. It was just, man. This year might be the same. Who knows?

KC: You guys are doing rehearsals now, right?

CS: Oh yeah. Been rehearsing since last week – just trying to organize everyone’s schedule. Everyone’s pretty busy doing this and that. We started last week and been hitting it every day this week. We’re trying to pull out some different songs from the last three records that we’re not normally playing, so some rehearsal is definitely needed. (laughs)

KC: Is there a lot of stuff that needs brushing up?

CS: Yeah. For whatever reasons, tendencies happen or we forget or it’s just a save, but we have a lot of songs. We try and rotate as many as we can, but even patterns develop when you’re trying to be random. We’re trying to break that pattern as well and pull out some songs from the last three records that we haven’t been playing a lot.

It relates to sports guys, too. The championship basketball team isn’t the same team when they have their first game the next season. They haven’t been developing their physical skills and it’s the same thing with musicians. The first thing that happens you stop doing it is your muscles start losing that memory, and you kinda have to work to get it back, which is kinda strange.

You were doing it by nature and now you have to get it back and you have to think about it. It’s a challenge. That’s why we rehearse.

KC: Do you guys rehearse the drum solo?

CS: Yeah, it comes  together. We’ve been doing this one for about a year, year and a half now. We plan to hone in on it on our production rehearsal in St. Louis. We’re concentrating more on songs we haven’t played in eight years or something like that and try to get comfortable doing that.

We always have some stuff going on. I was going to try to change it a little bit, but we only have limited rehearsal. You just keep trying to push forward and be creative.

KC: At your Pow Wow Festival last year, you did “Transistor” in full and this year is the 15th anniversary of the release of that album? Do you think you’ll do anything like that or pull any songs from that album?

CS: With the 311 Day and the cruise, we’ve been pulling out a few deeper cuts off that record and we’ll probably do the same this year because it’s one of our fans’ favorite records.

We also did the new record in its entirety at the Pow Wow as well. We’ve done that before. On our 10 year anniversary, we did a couple shows where we did the blue record in its entirety.

I can’t recall… “Grassroots” maybe, too? We played “Music” as well before. I can’t remember now. (Laughs) It’s been a long period of time.

KC: You guys have a day off around Omaha, so I imagine you’ll do some stuff with family and friends while you’re here.

CS: Yeah, I’m gonna have some dinner with my friend Greg Ahl who’s a drummer and Joe Voda – two of my friends. I’m gonna have some dinner with them and most likely while we’re playing the show or on the day off, I gotta go hit my favorite pizza spot – unless it’s a Monday because that place is closed on Mondays.

Nick and I were back in Omaha in April to play with our high school jazz band (at Westside High School) and to see our jazz band teacher, Mr. Roger Groth – to see him off because he was retiring. That guy has really done wonders to that musical program over there. They always produce a great jazz band. I went back and we played and there were some great players there. It’s really impressive.

Nick and I were back there and really enjoying the city and seeing how much has built out and seeing some old friends. It’s pretty gnarly what’s happening to Omaha, not only the west part but around Mutual of Omaha and stuff and obviously the baseball park that we played last year is pretty cool, too.

KC: You and Nick played in the band at Westside and that had to have a big influence on you. You really learn how to play an instrument when you’re at it day after day.

CS: It was amazing because when I went back there, I saw Dr. Steve Raybine who teaches at the university there. I saw this guy Bryan Morhardt who teaches drum lines and taught hardcore drum lines as well. I saw Steve Thomas who was my first drum teacher. I saw Mike DeLuca who let me play his drums while he left when I was 13, I covered for him in a bar.

I saw all these people when I went back there and what you’re saying is exactly true. I can’t believe how much I’m influenced by all these people that helped me. I took lessons from everyone one of those people: I took lessons from Steve Raybine, Bryan Morhardt, Steve Thomas, Mike DeLuca, my high school teacher Roger Groth, my junior high teacher was there – which blew me away – Jim Johnson. I really thought, “Oh my God, I am standing on these guys’ shoulders. I would not be what I am today without all of these individuals.”

I didn’t think of that going there. That kind of happened while I was there. I was like, “I’m made up because of all of these guys teaching.”

There are other things: my drum corps experience, my self teaching drum lines and being in some orchestras and playing. Different things obviously influence you, but the people that slowly through time, day by day, help build you into what you can become. Boy, it was a great experience to go band and such a humbling experience.

It was awesome to play with that jazz band. God, I haven’t played with a jazz band in forever. But it was such a big band and they were so good.

It’s funny. I suppose there’s a lot of high school students that are going there and they’re just playing music and they don’t realize this is a level that not every high school jazz band is at. What’s funny is they don’t even kind of know that and they just play this difficult stuff and it’s really, really impressive.

KC: Have you guys been making new music?

CS: Not from the band. I believe it’s still in the individual phase just coming up with ideas. We plan to put it more together after tour.

KC: Do you have time to put that stuff together during soundcheck?

CS: Sometimes, we can put an idea together. Sometimes we just have a long, abstract ambient jam where we create different tones and just kind of creation from tones. Sometimes there will be a beat and sometimes it will be just things.

We have a great time during soundcheck getting everything out. Then we actually do songs after that. Sometimes we work out ideas though

We used to do it all the time in the ’90s. And then the Internet came in. If we’re writing something, we don’t want someone to record it and put it somewhere before it’s finished.

KC: Playing the drums is really physical. Do you do stretches before a show?

CS: Yeah. I stretch a little. I just slowly warm up a bit. I don’t do anything fancy. It’s basically like getting the muscles moving, get the hands moving, get the blood moving. And then make sure that they’re ready to play. Just make sure that when you’re ready to push it, you’re not going to stress something, but you’ll have the capacity to kinda push and do that. If you do that cold, you can kinda do it, but you are hurting yourself. All it takes is one of those times to injure yourself. You don’t want to injure yourself especially when it’s your career.

KC: You’re not too old, but has it gotten harder to play as you’ve gotten older compared to when you were 18?

CS: Harder? I don’t know if it has. You notice differences that might equate to somebody as more difficult. Like more pain or more soreness. But I don’t find – yet – that there’s anything that I can’t kind of take care of. If I’m sore, I have to stay more hydrated and I better stretch a little bit more. I still find at this age you’re able to overcome that.

You’re not going to do it and be perfect. Just like sporting guys again, there’s going to be a little bit of pain somewhere, but once again, you’re just hoping that it’s soreness and you hope not to injure yourself.

We joke about it at rehearsal. “Oh man!” After you finish a song, “OK. Wow. Here we are using our muscles.” It’s kinda funny to see it.

I don’t think it’s more difficult. I think I have a better grasp on it now and I think I’m playing better than I used to play. So far, so good. I don’t know when that peak happens, but hopefully not for awhile.

KC: You have a quite a large drum kit. Do you change it often or add to it?

CS: It was a completely evolving thing. Even if you go look at my set in 2008 or 2009, it’s completely different from what it is now.

The one I have now, it’s my favorite setup that I ever had. It’s probably my favorite kit. I probably have 20 or 21 drums around that thing and I have these different electronic apparatuses that I use. It’s a fun thing. In my opinion, how I grew up, it’s a drummer’s dream.

You gotta make sure you play all that stuff, utilize it and have fun with it. I’m almost there. I’ve been improving lately on the electronics and I hope to do that way more this year.

It’s a fun thing. The kit I have now is really great. I don’t know how it’s gonna evolve. I’ve evolved the kit and then I’ve been playing with this for about a year. Now I’m adding. I’m redoing the cymbals up top right now. You kinda slowly piece it together. And then after you get it perfect, you get a new drum set. (Laughs)

KC: Do you still have Chad Sexton’s Drum City?

CS: Yes. And in probably about a month, I’m opening my webstore connected to the drum store. It’s sitting down there and selling parts and goodies for drummers. We’ve done pretty well this year. We’re excited to launch our webstore.

KC: I’m told it’s one of the few dedicated drum stores around and I’ve heard that a lot of drummers hang out because they can talk shop. That seems like it would be a cool thing.

CS: Yeah, that’s why it was put there. Not every drummer is built around that, but I know if another guy built a drum store and it was dedicated to drums and variety of product, I would go in there because that’s how I grew up around Joe Voda’s Drum City.

The drum store’s went through some different phases, but there’s some real famous guys who hang out there that everyone’s probably heard of. It’s a blessing. It’s an honor to be around these guys and watch them play. It’s a good hangout place.

KC: In the last year, you guys did another cruise, did 3-11 Day again, had the Pow Wow Festival. You have such a dedicated fanbase and not a lot of bands are able to do that. It must be flattering.

CS: We are completely blessed with that. It’s a symbiotic relationship. They’re amazing, high-energy, very positive group of people that love to have a good time and love step out of the normal life box of going to work and this and that and try these events and have a good time.

It’s just a blessing. We can’t do it without them. Especially in these days with the Internet and record sales the way that they are that you mostly rely probably on your tours to keep your band expenses afloat. Without that, you can’t do it in this world.

We’re gonna be here as long as they’ll be there. That will decide whether we do it or not.

We’re just blessed. They’re just a great group of people and all seem to get along really well. Not really super competitive but just looking to have a good time. It’s the exact fan base I would wish to have.

You go on the cruise and people high five each other even if they don’t know each other. So much so that the next time we did the cruise, this banner the cruise made said “Be prepared to be high fived.” It’s that kind of party. It’s an unbelievable spectacle. I don’t know if you’ve gone, but you should.

KC: Do you think you’d do a festival like Pow Wow again?

CS: We’re looking into it. We’re not sure. That’s gonna be something we decide if to do it or not next year sometime.

KC: You guys have been a band for more than 20 years and with all of the same band members. How do you guys maintain that and be friends and keep making music?

CS: The parts of it that have been in our control – because I do find that some of it is not in our control – we’ve just been lucky that it’s rolled this way.

It’s not like we ever haven’t disagreed and it’s not like we ever haven’t strongly disagreed. (Laughs)

There is no right answer. It’s a multitude of parameters that equate to us continuing this long. To generalize it, I think it comes down to when it’s up to each individual in the band, you would more likely than not move on with the band  and history and see how far it can go and see what happens.

That overrides anything else that would break it up. When you get down to the nut of it, that’s what it is. There’s a lot of things going on. We’re lucky. We’ve worked hard, so we want to keep this together. Getting through our 20s and through our 30s and now in our 40s, you probably think about thing differently. Once again, we seem to be blessed in that area.

You try not to think about it too much and just move forward. To not jinx anything, you’re like, “That sure is neat. Let’s keep doing it.”

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