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About a dozen years ago 311 finally put their priorities in order. After forming in 1988, the band found themselves on the constant treadmill of writing and recording an album, following it with the usual promotional duties, and touring with no end in sight. But, according to singer/guitarist Nick Hexum, that all changed around 2002. “We’re a live band first,”

Hexum says. “I think we decided that about 12 years ago. We said, ‘You know what, we’re going to go on tour every summer and then we’ll work the albums around that.’ A lot of bands will say, 'No, we’re not touring this summer, we’re busy recording,’ but we don’t do that. We believe in touring first and recording will fit around that schedule.” As a result, Hexum, guitarist Tim Mahoney, bassist Aaron “P-Nut” Wills, drummer Chad Sexton and turntablist/ vocalist Doug “SA” Martinez are once again on the road this summer, at least until Aug. 15 in Salt Lake City.

Although the veteran rap-rock outfit may be best known for its run of Modern Rock hits in the '90s, with tracks such as “Down,” “All Mixed Up,” and “Come Original,” don’t get 311 confused with some touring nostalgia act. The band continues to record and release new music, only now they’re doing it on their own label and own timetable. On March 11 – the band’s annual 311 Day – the group released Stereolithic, their 11th album and first independently released effort since 1991’s Unity. It debuted at No. 1 on Billboard’s Independent, Modern Rock/Alternative and Rock albums, while bowing at No. 6 on The Billboard 200. While it has yet to yield a radio hit, that’s not a major concern for 311. “I like radio,” Hexum says. “It’s free music for the people. In spirit, it’s a great thing. I listen to radio and I’m all for it, but we don’t really change our music to fit in to that. If we get [airplay], we get it, if we don’t, we don’t. That’s basically our philosophy.

Sometimes we’re making what radio wants to hear, other times we’re not. We just keep doing our thing.” For Stereolithic, the members of 311 did their thing a little differently. After the initial demo sessions at the band’s studio, The Hive in Los Angeles, they all went their separate ways to complete their individual parts. “Chad does the drums over at his house and sends the drums over to us to add bass, guitars and vocals,” Hexum explains. “So we’re sending hard drives all over. We had to work to keep everything in sync so everyone had the latest version, but it worked great.”

Adding pressure to the sessions was a deadline. The band wanted to make sure they had the album ready for release on March 11 – 311 Day. “Sometimes when you have your own label there are no deadlines and you can spend too much time,” Hexum says. “But this time, we had the self-imposed deadline, so we could put the record out on 311 Day, so we had multiple studios going at the same time, so we could make the deadline. I think to get 15 songs recorded in a couple months is an amazing accomplishment.”

To oversee the sessions, the band called on Scott “Scotch” Ralston, who honed his chops working as an assistant and engineer on early 311 releases dating back 1993’s Music. More recently he reconnected with the band manning the sound board for their live gigs. “He just had so much excitement about new music, it was kind of a no brainer,” Hexum says. “Although at first, I was a little hesitant, because I like to bring in new blood, but it turned out to be the absolute best thing we could do. I’m super stoked.”

Not only did Ralston produce the album, but he has a co-writing credit on all but three of the album’s 15 racks. “He really added a lot to the songwriting, which we normally don’t have a producer do,” Hexum confirms. “He was really like the fifth band member.”

With Ralston manning band’s live sound, 311 also stages at least one special event every year, aside from their summer tours. In 2000, the band started the tradition of hosting a massive 311 Day concert. “It just kind of happened through our scheduling,” Hexum says. “We were like, 'Wow, on March 11 we have this big gig in New Orleans, let’s call it 311Day.’ We played for three hours on that first one and then we just kept topping ourselves over and over again. It’s really cool to have one day where we pull out all the stops and try a bunch of new production things. This time we had an orchestra for the first time ever and it was really cool.”

Those 311 Day performances have become Springsteen-like marathons over the years with the set from the last event stretching out to five hours and 66 songs. “It takes a lot of training,” Hexum admits. “You have to make sure your voice and chops are in shape. And it’s a lot of re-familiarizing ourselves with songs. We’re pulling out a lot of rarities. I heard Joe Walsh say once in an interview, 'Just because you wrote 'em, doesn’t mean you can play them at any time.’ You got to be ready.”

Alternating yearly with 311 Day is the band’s annual cruise, the next of which will set sail for Jamaica on Feb. 25, 2015. “That’s the first time we’re headed to that destination,” Hexum says, “and it’s perfect for the band.”

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