It’s hard to peg, yet easy to pigeonhole, 311’s sound. A sonic stew with a watered-down stock of pop, heavy peppering of reggae and punk with just a sprinkling of hip hop, or more specifically “rhyming over beats,” that screams the aesthetics of Limp Bizkit with lyrics that fail to objectify the female form a la the mook-rock stalwarts.
With the release of From Chaos this summer, the Los-Angeles-based, Omaha-bred, five-piece stepped back into studio “together” for the first time since 1995’s “self-titled” gem. The past two records, Transistor and Soundsystem, allowed each member to stake a musical claim individually, with a post-production “assembling.” Both albums tanked, and 311’s future looked bleak. Enter super-producer Ron St. Germain, who, along with crafting From Chaos into the group’s most superior work to date, unified the often Nick Hexum-centric creative process.
Recently, bassist P-Nut spoke to The Badger Herald about Bad Brains, Punisher War Journal and Shaq’s lyrical talents.
Badger Herald: You use the credo “from chaos comes clarity” as seemingly the overall theme of your latest album. How does this relate to the recent events on the East Coast?
P-Nut: We have always been a positive group, so it feels like now is our chance to show people the difference between bitching about problems in the world that don’t mean anything and then actually dealing with big, huge problems that do mean something.
BH: Have you thought about changing the theme of your tour (from chaos) after the events, be it your merch or laminates or stage banners?
PN: Well the laminate that we came up with for the tour is a burning building. And it is a little weird, but if anyone has ever heard our lyrics, they won’t be suspect. And to change everything, and the way everyone is being careful about the jargon that they are using, it’s weird. It makes you see how important the little words change everything. We are trying not to be afraid of it. We are trying to accept it and see what we can do to make sure that it never happens again. Even though it is going to be weird to get up on stage, you see the kids in the audience having a good time, even though you know what is in their mind.
BH: Does the depressing nature of these events suppress your creativity?
PN: It definitely puts a blanket on everybody’s mind. If you are creative, it’s going to stop that. I couldn’t imagine being a teacher at this time. I mean throw your lesson plan right out the window.
BH: Talk about your touring mates, One Side Zero?
PN: This was another part of the chaos that lead up to the tour. We wanted a bunch of different bands, and not that we didn’t want these guys, but they are so new and you can’t really have an opinion about them. I guess they are a darker band. Some of the band members protested it. All of us would rather tour with our friends.
BH: So who are your friends?
PN: I have always wanted to get back on the road with the Deftones on like a co-headlined bill. Maybe some gigs with Incubus. Both are the future of music.
BH: Was the Warped Tour as bad as everyone says it was?
PN: It was a little strange. Just doing 30-minute sets and not knowing when you are going on each day. We wanted to get in front of a different audience. If we did a normal tour, it would be like spinning our wheels. We wanted to get in front of a different audience and then do what we consider a normal tour so hopefully we will bring out people who wouldn’t come normally.
BH: So did you hang out with Sum-41?
PN: We talked to them a little bit, mostly it was because, not their main singer but their secondary singer, was like consistently wearing the same T-shirt as me. I would have my Punisher shirt on, and he was wearing the same thing, and I was like, “You bastard.” And then I would be wearing this great Iron Maiden shirt, and there it would be. I was like, hold on a second.
BH: So he was sneaking a peek when you were dressing each day. Did this weird you out?
PN: I just think we have similar tastes. I hope.
BH: Do you like Punisher? I was a big fan of War Zone and War Journal along with those comprehensive armory issues. You know, the ones that detail all of his weapons.
PN: That was actually the first tattoo that I got. He is so hard-ass. I like him because he is one of the only non-mutant superheroes out there. And the whole retribution and revenge issue is great.
BH: What does Ron St. Germain bring into the studio that gives him the touch of gold?
PN: First off, he comes in with so much energy and passion. He is the biggest music fan who just like us got lucky and considers himself blessed for being in the music business. All engineers and producers and live sound engineers are some of the weirdest people, and they have to be because they think about the littlest, tiniest things and make it a big deal. [This attention to detail] can make the difference between a good show and a bad show and a good album and a bad album. He makes us work twice as hard; he forces us to be in the studio together as opposed to recording our tracks separately. So the only albums that we have recorded together are the albums we have done with Ron. I personally want to keep this up because you can really feel the difference.
BH: What’s the deal with Shaq?
PN: We had a friend who worked for his label. So he kind of did us a favor. Shaq wanted us to do music for his track “psycho,” which we didn?t have time to do. So Chad and Nick ended up producing the track that already existed instead of going into the studio and laying out a bunch of new stuff. But Shaq wanted to pay us back, so he did the video and performed with us at the KROQ Weenie Roast.
BH: Did you break into freestylin’ battles, sparring and such?
PN: It was great being with him. He is the coolest guy. We rehearsed a little bit at our studio to make sure that when we did the weenie roast show, that it went off well as it did. But no freestylin’.
BH: What about his flow, is he tight?
PN: Well . . . it is something that anybody can work on. Not that he should, because he is so busy with basketball. I think it was cool helping him live a dream.
BH: What is your ultimate goal after recording an album?
PN: I want people to learn as much as they can when they sit down and try and figure it out. Kind of like the same way I felt when I sat down and learned Pixies songs when I was a kid. It strikes you, like the first part of one Pixies song is a half step lower then the second part. And if you play those patterns over the wrong part, it sounds completely like shit. So I try to think of things like that with the tricky slap-bass parts. I want to move the crowd, and I want the musicians trying to copy our music to have the hardest time.
BH: What about current releases, are you feeling the new Afroman?
PN: I’ve heard just the smallest blurbs. I don?t want to knock the guy, but it does seem kind of like a novelty thing. You really will be able to make your judgment on the next single. It’s super fratty, a sign of the times: here today, gone today.
BH: What about Pete Yorn?
PN: I just think it is funny when MTV2 tries to tell us what the next big thing is going to be. I got nothing against the guy, but it ain’t gonna be Pete Yorn. And it’s not going to be Fuel, and they are pushing these bands like they are the next big thing. And when it comes down to it, these releases could have come out during the ’70s and ’80s and still been boring. We are in a band that tries to constantly change. I just don’t understand these bands. It’s so simple and makes me want to write the most complex music ever.
BH: What?s you’re most influential album?
PN: “Quickness” by Bad Brains. Probably the most well-rounded album if you?re into punk-rock speed. It’s perfection and was one of the reasons we wanted to work with Ron St. Germain, because he had everything to do with putting them in the right headspace to record that album.