Even while its members are off making solo albums and side projects, 311 is still going strong.
The Omaha-bred rock band continues to serve its rabid fan base with summer tours, cruises and 311 Day (its epic biennial March 11 concert and fan events), but Nick Hexum and other band members stay busy with other projects.
Today, The Nick Hexum Quintet released its debut album, “My Shadow Pages.” A blend of jazz and pop is exactly what you might expect if you know Hexum’s 311 compositions, such as “8:16 A.M.” But 311 has mostly moved beyond that sort of music.
“Where the band wanted to go is more rocking the crowds and playing more arena rocking tunes. That’s what we do,” Hexum told me. “The quintet is less rocking. There are no heavy guitars on (the album).”
Hexum’s tunes have a funky groove to them with keyboards, Hammond B3 organ and electric guitar sans-distortion. “Once in Your Life” is perfect for a drive down a coastal highway in the summer. “Somewhere in the Middle” has a smooth pop guitar groove and a singalong hook of “nothing ever seems/to work out perfectly.”
I called Hexum while he was at The Hive, 311’s recording studio, to make the band’s next album. He was happy to tell me that 311 is still his main focus but that the band’s activities still allow him and other members of the band to do side projects.
Singer S.A. Martinez made an album with the band Ghostwolf, bassist Aaron “P-Nut” Wills played with an improv band called Hollows Follow, guitarist Tim Mahoney participates in regular jams, and drummer Chad Sexton has an online drum store called Chad Sexton’s Drum City.
“I think it’s very healthy for the band to have other outlets. If we had one outlet, there’s more pressure,” Hexum said. “If I have a song I really like that doesn’t work for the band, I can put it out elsewhere. It takes pressure off the situation.”
The album “My Shadow Pages” developed out of a songwriting project that Hexum started with his brother, Zack Hexum.
Hexum began trying his hand at writing for other artists. Record label reps told him how much they enjoyed all of his songs, but only one ended up getting selected. (Victoria Justice’s “Freak the Freak Out” was co-written by Hexum and his brother and was incredibly successful.)
“I probably tried 20 more songs that didn’t go anywhere,” he said. “It’s not really true art for me … but the good thing about that is those are melodies you can use somewhere else.”
Hexum kept at it, but he had no deadline or goal in mind. The album title, “My Shadow Pages,” alludes to writing in the shadows, he said. No one really knew he was working on the music. He eventually had enough finished songs to make a record. But Hexum told himself that if he didn’t like the finished product, he wouldn’t release it.
Hexum worked out the songs with his brother and teamed up with producer Jim Scott, who has worked with Tom Petty, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Carlos Santana and the Dixie Chicks.
“I don’t remember making a record this good and this quick,” he said.
Hexum eventually hopes to play a few concerts with the quintet, but there are no set plans, especially with 311 Day and a new album on the horizon.
“It’s a creative renaissance,” he said. “Chad’s got the drums done for the new songs, and P-Nut’s doing bass today at The Hive. We’re gonna put that record out on 311 Day. It’s either ballsy or stupid to announce it before you’ve recorded it, but we feel great.”
My column, also cleverly titled Rock Candy, appears every Thursday in the GO magazine of the Omaha World-Herald and on Omaha.com/GO. It’s reprinted here on (usually) on Fridays, but sometimes I ignore that rule and do it whenever I feel like it. (So there!)
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