There aren't many bands that can say they've reached twelve records, let alone toured eighteen consistent summers across the United States while still managing to crank out new material, bring out fans by the thousands to their shows, and sell over nine million records. The Omaha, Nebraska (now Southern California-based) five-piece known as 311 are currently touring on their twelfth overall studio record, entitled Mosaic. It's a record that's truly a celebration of their long-lasting career and the fans that have allowed them to bring their music to life, night after night.
The band will be making a stop at the Bay Area's own City National Civic in San Jose, CA tomorrow evening, August 16th. We caught up with vocalist S.A. Martinez to talk about the process of bringing Mosaic to life, what it feels like to be twelve records into a band like 311, and much more.
Mosaic is the twelfth record you guys have put out. Huge congratulations on that, first off. Having been twelve albums deep with this incredible career, and a touring schedule that really hasn’t slowed down, what would you say is one of the biggest things you’ve learned from being with 311 and releasing twelve records after all of these years?
It’s interesting that you put it like that, because we’ve been going so long for so many years, and it just doesn’t seem like it’s ever not been happening. You know what I mean? I see it as one continuation. I know we’ve had phases within that whole span of time, but it doesn’t feel like that. It feels as if 1993 was just the other day, to be honest. (laughs)
The fans love the new stuff, but we obviously play some of the older stuff and they go nuts for that, too. We’re a unique band. There’s not many people that have that niche of, you know, fanaticism over such a long period of time that still feels fresh. It’s interesting. And believe me, I know that there’s lots of bands that have amazing histories and fanbases as well, but I always think of ours as being special.
There’s something very special about the fact that every time you guys come through on tour, there’s always super packed crowds that come out in droves to see you guys. You can’t always say that about bands that have been around this long.
Yeah. I mean, we have had mainstream success, don’t get me wrong. But it’s not like it’s over-the-top, or “in-your face”, or oversaturated. I just think it’s amazing that we’ve been able to continue the level of touring that we’ve been able to do for so long. I think we put on a great show, and people love that about us.
This is your eighteenth consecutive summer headlining the United States. I mean, holy shit.
Yeah! We only took off one year, 1998. From 1993-1997, those were the major hectic years, as far as touring goes. In those days, we were literally going nine months out of the year. It was just tour, stop, make a record, tour, stop, make a record (laughs). It’s mostly in the summer months, but this year we’re actually going to be doing a fall run! We thought there was some more excitement with Mosaic, and we’re trying to reach some of the places that we haven’t been to in awhile.
Given that you’re a band that has a heavy touring schedule, are you a band that writes on the road, or do you set aside a certain period of time to write during the year? What’s the process like when it comes to a record like Mosaic?
Well for me, I write whenever there’s inspiration. It could be in a hotel room, at home, wherever. As far as the band, we write when we’re off the road. We don’t really get ideas there because there’s not really any time. As far as Mosaic, we had been working with those songs for a couple years, actually. It seems as if it was a quicker process than it was in actuality, but it took a little over two years to put together. A lot of it kind of came together in the tail end months last fall and winter. We put about five songs together within the span of a couple months. It was crazy, but those songs were dope. We went with it.
The writing process can take all kinds of different twists and turns. Typically, the more time you spend on something, the better the product. Not all of the time, but some of the time.
You guys worked on this record with producers John Feldmann and Scotch Ralston, with Ralston having produced a few very iconic 311 records. Having both someone new and someone who you’d worked with in the past, what were the biggest contrasts and the difference in processes working with each producer? What did they each bring to the table?
Well Scotch is someone that we’ve known forever. Whenever you work with a producer, they’re basically another member of the band. But Scotch has been a part of the band for so long. He hasn’t been a part of every record, but he was a part of our first record as an engineer, and then he produced Transistor. He knows us so well, maybe better than anybody.
And then Feldmann, honestly, he's a peer of ours too. He fronts the band Goldfinger and we toured with those guys a little bit, years ago. We definitely knew him, and he was one of us. Yet he has a different energy, and another kind of focus that is laser-like. He works very fast. He works with so many people, so he has a process and a method that is mad. But it’s great at the same time. It’s a shot-in-the-arm type of energy, and it’s what we needed at that point. We only really worked him on a few songs. Going forward, we’ll want to tap back into that, because we definitely did not run that dry. There’s more to be done there. I’m really looking forward to working with him again, because he is inspiring. He’s just a great energy to be around. It was great for the band to do that because he’s out of our comfort zone, but not really. Like I said, he’s kind of one of us, so it made sense in a lot of ways.
If you look at his career, he fronts a ska-punk band, and then he’ll go into the studio with bands like Blink-182 and Five Seconds of Summer, and then he’ll go and work with a band that has a different twist like Panic! At The Disco, and then over to 311 and so on. I feel like he kind of has to work that fast to get through the number of bands he has lined up.
(laughs) He moves at a million miles per hour. And I thought we were fast. I was like, “Oh my god.” I was definitely on my toes working with him. It was good, and it was good to shake things up.
In terms of the album title, what does the album title Mosaic represent for the overall theme of the record?
Honestly, it makes a lot of sense because, like you said, we’re twelve albums in. You don’t get to be twelve albums in unless you have an insane support network underneath that. What is a mosaic? It’s this portrait comprised of many, many, many pieces. That’s what this band is. We are a five-piece band, but there is so much more to us than that. The fans make up this band, too. Getting them involved with the album cover and the artwork was amazing. We’re working on a video, where we’re going to have them singing the song “’Til The City’s On Fire” at the shows, in their home, wherever. We want to get their involvement too because that’s just a continuation of what Mosaic is.
It’s been an incredible journey, but yet it still feels new in many, many ways, which is interesting. We have a lot of fans that I know by name! And I know a lot about who they are as people that have been coming for years. But yet I’m still meeting people who are saying “Oh yeah, this is my first show, or my second show, or it’s my third time seeing you guys”. We’re making new fans and new connections. That’s the exciting thing. It’s like, “wow. How far can this go?” As a band, you’re always trying to reach a new audience. That’s the name of the game, because it’s about staying in it. Generations come and go, so if you can connect with people that are coming of age now, well then that’s saying something about what you’re doing.
Spiritually and energetically, I come from this place where it’s kid-like. I’m having fun! That’s what kids do, you know? Yet, I also have that perspective of being an adult, whatever that is. Just the reference of time, history, and experience. All of these things combine to unfold art and keep expressing. That’s the beauty of it, because we can all make connections to things that inspire us and resonate. That is what is cool about all of it.
All of that is the sign of a band that will last. At least from what I’ve discovered, the goal seems to be to last and have that impact and have fans that are still listening in twenty years, fifty years, one hundred years.
Yeah! We met this young lady the other day, and she had this shirt on that said “311 Baby”. And I was like, “well, what does that mean?” And she said, “well I was born, basically, to Transistor.” (laughs) I’ve heard things like that, but you don’t see it all the time. On occasion, we’ll run into people. We’re just like, “Wow, you don’t really think about that.” (laughs)
All of this is a blessing, man. We’re so lucky to be doing this. We’re meeting families now, with Dads bringing their daughters where they’ve seen half a dozen shows now. It’s a beautiful thing man. It’s music, it’s uplifting, it gives people a positive perspective, and it keeps people engaged.
What kind of music, if you have one, would you like fans to walk away with after listening to Mosaic?
For our new fans, I think it’ll be interesting if they tap into the catalogue. Does the music hold up for them? You have a lot of people that you meet through the years after having so many records throughout the years. You’ll meet fans that say “Oh, I jumped in at Sound System,” or “I jumped in at Transistor”. You get all of these different perspectives. Young people or older people who’ve been around and have heard of the band, but haven’t really listened to the band. That’ll just be really interesting to hear about, what people thought of the music that came prior.
I can’t really say what that might be for them, or what I could hope other than having it be uplifting or something meaningful that compliments their life. That’s what music is for me. Music is something that I look forward to and am listening to all the time. Life is so fleeting, man. Time is fleeting, and I want to make the most of all of it, be it spending time with my loved ones or engaging in the world of art. Most of the art that I love is music-related, but I love all of art. Human expression is just…we’re creative people. And the more creative we are, the better off we become. I think, you know, there’s not enough of that in the world.
If you listen to Mosaic, I hope that people get the same feeling that they enjoyed Mosaic from the rest of the catalogue.
I had the last question ready, but you actually answered it during that last answer (laughs). It was: what does music mean to you?
(laughs) Well, I’ll say one other thing! This is about San Jose [the show is Wednesday, August 16th at City National Civic]. There’s a very big Chicano community there, very into the low rider scene. I’m so into that. What I love about that is that there is such an appreciation for music of the past. In our culture, America at large isn’t really a culture that revers a lot in its history. You look at our cities; we love to tear down historic places, we put our elderly to the side. But the beautiful thing about where we’ve been is that there’s so much to glean from that, spiritually. I don’t mean, like, anything religious. I’m just talking about being awed by it. That’s the beauty, for example, of low rider oldies. All these connections that people made with this music and passing it down to their kids and playing it in parks. That’s awesome! Like, I would want to be a part of that and do that every weekend! (laughs) That’s the cool thing about San Jose, man. There’s a connection there that’s still alive and kicking. I have a side project called Los Stellarians that’s all about that. That’s my homage to that style.
Music to me is ever expanding, and I’m still discovering things that came about twenty, thirty years ago, longer even. How lucky we are to be alive at this time, because of how easily accessible all of this stuff is. That’s pretty special.
Mosaic by 311 is available now. Tickets for Wednesday's show at City National Civic in San Jose (with support from New Politics) can be purchased here: http://bit.ly/2x28lZ8