If you’re need proof that the music industry is going through some changes, look no further than 311. The superstar rock/reggae/ska band that sold 3 million copies of its 1995 self-titled album and put eight subsequent albums into Billboard’s Top 15 is without a record label. But if you’re looking for a band that will vent its spleen about the state of things in interviews, you’re looking in the wrong place.
“You don’t really have to pay for records any more. They seem more like an advertisement for your band,” says 311 guitarist Tim Mahoney. “We own the studio space we work in, so we don’t have to go anywhere to record; we only have to pay off the mortgage. That makes it affordable for us to work on our own.”
As it turns out, that’s exactly what 311 is doing right now. They’re finishing up a new record with veteran producer Bob Rock (“It’s seven-eighths done!” says Mahoney, chuckling) and getting ready for a three-week tour that opens at The Joint on Feb. 19. Mahoney is hopeful that he’ll be able to fit some of that new, low-overhead music into a set that’s sure to include such hits as “Beautiful Disaster,” “Down” and “Amber.” “We’ve been playing the songs so much lately that it’d be an easy thing to play them [in Las Vegas],” Mahoney says. “But I’m not sure of the rest of the band’s comfort level with that.”
The record promises to deliver more of 311’s tried-and-true rocking and grooving, though the volume may be turned up a bit. “We’re big fans of reggae and dancehall; the beats and riffs seem to go together for us,” Mahoney says. “But this new album is very rock. There’s a mellow reggae track, but even it has rock parts to it. They’re all upper-tempo numbers that are made to be played live.”
Keeping the tempo up and the energy-level high is kind of 311’s thing. The band’s last Vegas appearance on March 11—for the band’s biannual “311 Day” show—was an epic 60-song set and a laser light show. This week’s show probably won’t be nearly as grandiose, but the bar has been set: 311 has demonstrated just how far it will go to satisfy its fans, even if it takes five hours and four intermissions.
“I enjoy [playing] more now than I ever have,” Mahoney says. “It’s challenging, because we’re getting older and we have to stay inspired. But I think it’s still there. I think everyone’s happier now than they ever have been.”
The fans would seem to agree. One recent comment on a 311 video on YouTube could have been written by a copywriter for 311’s last major label: “Every time I hear this band, I wish I had a beer in my hand and my feet in the sand.” “Ah ha ha, yes!” Mahoney says in response. “That’s awesome. That’s what music should do. That’s how I use it.”