The Midwest’s Ska/Punk/Rap/Rockers Take It to the Bowl
by Hudson Hornick
Together since 1988, 311’s career is best described as a tour de force. In 18 years, the band has seen 17 songs reach Billboard’s Top 30 in the modern-rock genre (two of those hit number one), stats that go nicely with their platinum and triple platinum albums. The band’s lengthy career has been driven by consistent success, occasional controversy, and ferociously dedicated fans. The Omaha, Nebraska, natives headline the Bowl next Saturday, September 9. Singer Doug “SA” Martinez gave me the scoop on all things 311, including an always-evolving life on the road.
In the band’s early years, 311 produced three albums as an independent label before signing with Capricorn. What was it like running your own record label, and why didn’t you stick with it? We had always sold really well locally. Our local shows became more and more of a success and we tried to turn that into something by ourselves, but never really pursued the business aspect of it too much. By 1991, we had a great following in the greater metropolitan area of Omaha, and decided to try our luck out in California. That’s when we moved to L.A. and signed up with Capricorn.
Isn’t that also when 311 bought a communal house and you five lived together? Any wild stories to tell that involved fires? Uh, yeah; that was actually when we were touring in an RV. We were touring nonstop and we were still up-and-coming. I think it was in ’94, we were in this RV on our way from Springfield to Kansas City and the RV caught fire. We all jumped out and were fine but we lost all our stuff … like everything. Our friends who had heard about the incident really helped us out. Our next show was in Omaha, our hometown, to which we made it, but we had to play on borrowed gear. Y’know, I suppose every band has its own bump-in-the-road story, and I guess that one is ours.
I’ve heard Nick Hexum [311’s other lead singer] gave you your name, “SA,” after a night of mushrooms. It stands for Spooky Apparition, right? Ha! Yeah, you know, I’ve heard that stand for pretty much everything. I’ll roll with anything, and I suppose that’s one of the acronyms around. Actually, Nick first gave me that name because of our time in L.A. Out in L.A. we kept hearing all these Mexicans call each other ése, and when we returned to Omaha, I was the only Mexican Nick knew, hence, “SA.” One of your most famous songs is “Come Original.” I think it would be fair to argue that 311 has always “come original,” even through the tumultuousness of pop culture in the ’90s. Yeah, styles change. Everything changes. You can’t cater to radio, otherwise you’d lose it trying to keep up. Being out on the road all the time is about keeping your head straight. If you think about it too much, I think that’s when people go crazy. We have always maintained what we do all along, and fans appreciate it. We put out a high-caliber live set and we can tell that our fans really support us.
That can be hard to do considering the potential egos of two lead singers. Nick and I have a really important chemistry. This band is really so privileged to be around for as long as we have with no problems like that. We’re all friends and Nick and I get along great. We work together and we each get our respective times to shine. We balance each other as vocalists.
I’ve heard rumors of a solo project. Any truth to that? Well, all the band members have something going on the side, but not really — not right now. I’m looking forward to the end of the tour and meeting up with my nephew, who’s working on new music, and to see how he’s progressing as an artist.
Is it hard to handle the stress of success? It’s good to take time off the road, just to cool down for a bit. Just staying level-headed on tour can be hard. So many things can go wrong; we’re really lucky that they don’t. It’s important to stay grounded and have fun with it. We’ve been on this tour since July, and Santa Barbara is our last show. And you know, we love Santa Barbara — it’s a great venue. And seeing how Santa Barbara is your last show, do you have any tricks up your sleeve for us? I never say never, but things change. We’re planning an epic show because Santa Barbara has always been good to us. It’s gonna be one to go down in the record books.
4•1•1 311 plays the Bowl on Saturday, September 9, 6 p.m., with the Wailers and Pepper. Visit sbbowl.com.