311 have always been a band that’s defied easy description but Uplifter, the band’s 2009 album, finds the group harder than ever to pin down. What other band releases their riskiest, richest record after almost 20 years together? What other band had its biggest radio hit in the mid-90's but is more popular than ever a decade later, selling out amphitheaters even when they haven't had a new album in almost four years? What other band is so intent on challenging themselves while inspiring listeners to have an open mind? Clearly, there are no other bands that are quite like 311, a band that blurs borders between styles so thoroughly that they wind up blurring preconceptions of what a rock band can be. Uplifter, their ninth studio album, stands as the best evidence of 311’s eclecticism and is, in many ways, the boldest, best music they’ve ever made.
“We hit the restart button,” says drummer Chad Sexton. “We thought our last album seemed a little forced, so why force it anymore? Let’s get back to basics.” Reconnecting to their roots has revitalized 311, giving Uplifter a kinetic charge. “I honestly feel this last period in the studio has been a real rebirth,” continues vocalist/guitarist Nick Hexum, “when the dust settles, this is going to be the beginning of a new era for 311. It feels like we have the excitement of when we first started the band.”
But Uplifter is more than exciting – it lives up to the hopeful promise of its title, giving off a positive, inclusive vibe. “I think the music is inspiring,” says Chad. “It’s a breath of fresh air right now.” 311 has always been energetic and positive but Uplifter reaches new heights, sounding so fresh it could be mistaken for the work of a new band…that’s because, in a way, it is. For the first time, 311 took an extended break, taking four years to deliver a follow-up to 2005’s Don’t Tread On Me, but just because there was a break doesn’t mean the band was idle: they spent the time taking their music out on the road via three headline amphitheatre tours, and taking the time to get their new album right. They took the time because, as is the case with any long-term relationship, 311 needed some time apart in order to grow together.
With the juices flowing, 311 brought in a rock heavyweight to help the band channel their creativity: legendary producer Bob Rock, best-known for his blockbuster work with Metallica, Motley Crue and Bon Jovi. “It was a perfect match with us and Bob,” says Nick. “He has such a wealth of experience that we could ask him to do anything musically and we all trusted him so much that he became a real unifying force.” Chad takes it a step further: “He’s kind of like Phil Jackson, the coach of the Lakers – he’s a Zen master, nothing ever gets out of control, just calms everyone down.”
The key to realizing the band's potential didn't lie in changing the band, but rather strengthening their existing identity. “We were trying to be bold and expressive, never compromising and being as eclectic as possible,” says bassist P-Nut. Chad recalls, “Bob said 311 is a band that has a characteristic sound and he wanted to take those characteristics and enhance them and simply bring out the best of 311.”
Nick agrees: “We explored our diversity with hard rock, reggae, power-pop, etc. To me, the music is positive and fun. It reflects the mind state we were in when we made it. There are themes of personal struggle in the songs, but as always with 311, there is a resolution. There are some songs about relationships (“Two Drops in the Ocean”) that are straight from the heart. There’s a balls-to-the-wall burner about the fun of touring (“Never Ending Summer”), a thank you to the fans that I think is destined to be a live anthem. There’s a heavy song about the magic of creativity (“Something Out of Nothing”). And our first single, “Hey You” is an ode to music itself…our “constant companion.”
Nick continues, "To me, it sounds like 311 taken to the next level. The reggae, rock, and hip hop are there, but there are new guitar textures and tones that will surprise people. There is a funkiness to the reggae that I love and a danceable-ness to the rock that is new. Space in the riffs that makes you want to move."