311 hit the charts in the early 1990's, a midwest band hailing out of Omaha, Nebraska. Since their debut Music under Volcano/Capricorn, the quintet had a busy decade releasing more than a half a dozen records to date. Today I got the chance to talk with S.A. Martinez from 311 about everything from the new album to what he wants in his Christmas stocking. Enjoy!
Tim: On this Monday after Thanksgiving, what corner of the nation can we find you guys in?
S.A.: We are in the Southeast.
Tim: Are you guys down in Baton Rouge?
S.A.: Yes, we are. We are down in Baton Rouge today. We're doing a make-up Katrina show. (laughs)
Tim: Oh really?
S.A.: It was the show that we had to cancel because of the hurricane.
Tim: With a little less than three weeks left on this current tour, how's everybody holding up?
S.A.: [laughing] Everyone's holding up pretty good!
Tim: One question that everyone wants to know is what the band plans to do for "311 Day" this year. And, I guess its even more fitting since you guys are down there today! Since New Orleans has gone through so much, could Chicago possibly be the home of "311 Day" 2006?
S.A.:Well, we're definitely gonna try to have it in New Orleans again this year. But um, as far as, you know, if there is ever a problem with holding the venue in New Orleans then, ya know, we'd have to find another venue. Possibly another city. But um, yeah, I mean Chicago would be a great place to have a show of that nature. And, so, it's a possibility one day!
Tim: Excellent. How do you feel that the "311 Day" DVD turned out?
S.A.:That was great! I think it was like the fastest to go platinum music DVD that year or something. So it did really well and it turned out great. And, ya know, we'll do something similar again this year. Or next year, rather, for 311 day. Another recording video...
Tim: Going back in the time machine a little bit, you guys played a show here for Q101 called Twisted Christmas about two years ago. It was actually December of 2003. The power went out a couple of times. I'm not sure if you remember...
S.A.:Yeah, Yeah, I totally remember that show!
Tim: You guys played right through it. A lot of bands like Limp Bizkit got a lot of heat that same year for walking off stage (Summer Sanitarium Tour). I thought it said a lot about your band. How does an instance like that speak to the character of 311 as a band?
S.A.: Well, I mean, it shows you how easy-going we are. (laughing) We are. Yeah, you get thrown into all kinds of situations on tour. And um, ya know, you just can't say nothing. The power going out? That shit happens!
Tim: Sure does!
S.A.:When people over react to things like that, obviously those people are a little too full of themselves...
Tim: Well put. I was doing some research and in 2000 LAUNCH did an interview with Nick and P-Nut and they were talking about where they get advice from and where people draw from both musically and beyond. Nick mentioned his buddy from Grasshopper Takeover (who recently toured with 311 this fall at Northern Illinois University).
Tim: Curtis Grubb was the guy he mentioned. Is there anyone who you draw upon for musical advice? Or, in general, just who you go to for perspective?
S.A.: Um, (laughs) honestly, the guys in the band. Ya know, if I have a question or I'm working on a song and I want some advice on it, I'll take it to Nick and be like, "Yo, ya know, what do you think about this? And, I'm thinking about doing this here. What do you think about that?" Yeah, he's really good about... I mean, I think he's one of the greatest songwriters of our generation. I think as far as our genre is concerned, then definitely so. Um, so yeah, I'll go to him! (laughs)
Tim: No, definitely! Yeah, I'm always impressed.
S.A.: ...and Chad too. Any of the guys in the band! I have no problem going to them for input or whole direction on something if I'm stuck or need some ideas or something like that.
Tim: Cool. Keeping the theme and moving on to the new disc, you seem to have the mose lyrics as opposed to other 311 albums in the past. Did you have free reign on Don't Tread On Me?
S.A.: Well, it was more of the fact that... I took more of an active role as far as asserting myself a little more on this record. And, ya know, bringing more to the plate as far as we're concerned and whatnot. So, it was more or less me finding myself with a lot of ideas and then finally having the time to put those ideas together. We were supposed to start working on the record in October of last year and what happened was Nick went on this tour with his brother and so it gave everyone else in the band a lot of time to put our demos together. And, so what I did was put my studio at home together and I got to work on all the ideas I had been collecting in putting songs together. I really took that opportunity to string it along like that. When it came time to present the demos, I had something that I thought was worthy. So, that's really how that all came about.
Tim: In reading the lyrics to "It's Getting OK Now," the song speaks to death and someone's last days on earth. Can you tell me where the inspiration came from in writing this and who, if anyone, this song refers to??
S.A.: It's really something that I'll find myself thinking about on occasion. Ya know?
S.A.: It's impossible not to think about the obvious. It's a democratic thing because we all do it and it all happens on the solo tip. Do you know what I'm saying? It's just one of those things that's very unsettleing and at the same time you have to find, I think... I think it would be great if there was in our culture, something in place where we actually practiced death. (laughs) Ya know? I think something like a ritual act or something that would alleviate the fear of that. So, I guess it's more or less something I try to work out in my own mind and find, or try to place the meaning to it.
Tim: Definitely. It's one of those topics that's always a conversation piece.
Tim: Excellent. After reading some of the album reviews, people were talking about Solar Flare as being something you could have drawn on Rage Against the Machine for. Can fans expect to hear more of that tone in upcoming 311 albums? Or, in general, how did that song factor into the whole disc?
S.A.: Well, that was a song we had been kinda working on for a little bit. And, in the writing sessions that we had and full band sessions that we had, it was a song that we were just stumbling on as far as lyrical ideas were concerned. Finally, one night I was at the Alleman and I was listening to it over and over and, you know, it just kinda hit me like this is really what it brings out in ME. And, at the time you had the election going on and war in the background. There's just like, uh, we had to. It was like that perfect song to apply it to. And really, once that decision was made, lyrically it just flowed from there. I think it was the angle we were not sure of, basically. Once it was more concrete and became more apparent, it just went from there.
Tim: Do any songs on Don't Tread On Me mean more to you than the others? If so, why??
S.A.: Um, really "Getting Through To Her" would be the one song that brings out the most emotion in me. It's about someone I really care about deeply. This song is meant to reach somebody who is going through a very tramatic experience. I know its not an inspiring topic, but what brought about the song was child sexual abuse. That's something people don't really want to talk about because its difficult too. Understandably, its ugly and it wrecks havoc on everything about a person and their consequent relationships. You name it, you can go down the list and it affects everything about the victim you can possibly imagine. And, so, that song is about reaching and trying to get through to somebody who I care about and love that it happened to. So, to get back to your question... Yeah, (laughs) that would be the one song that speaks to me most out of any of the other songs on the album.
Tim: Here's an easy one, what is your favorite 311 song to play live?
S.A.: Well, ya know what, we've been dusting off some songs recently and one song we've been playing a few times on this tour now is a song called "Mindspin" off of, I think it was on Soundsystem (1999). And, that's a great song! I really forgot about that song completely until someone posted it on our bulletin board and we had a petitition going about for that song in particular and would we play it. So, we sound checked it a few times and...
Tim: Just went with it?
S.A.:Yeah, we played it like four or five times. It would be hard to say what songs out of all the songs we play live that I like the best but, recently, that song is a standout.
Tim: Very cool. This seems like an excellent point to work in a question from one of our readers. Kariann from Chicago had this question for you What's one song in history you wish you could take credit for writing?
S.A.:I would say (long pause)...something by George Harrison. "Something in the way she moves attracts me like no other lover." I believe its called "Something."
S.A.:Yeah, that would be the song that I'd like to take credit for! (laughs)
Tim: If you weren't in this band, what would you be doing today?
S.A.: We get asked this question. I never know the answer to that one. Because, I think Nick put it best once time when he was asked a similar question he was like, "If I wasn't in this band, I would be trying to start this band." (laughs)
S.A.: So, I always thought that was a great answer to that question. If I wasn't in 311, I'd be trying to find something like it!
Tim: Well, on that thought, are there any new bands that catch your ear? Or, that you might want to tour with that you haven't yet?
S.A.: Gosh, I am so out of the loop when it comes to new bands. Let's see, hmm...that we haven't toured with...
Tim: Even if you have, just in general...
S.A.: Well, I like The Mars Volta. I'd love to play with those guys some day. I've never seen them live but I hear great things about their show and I love their songs.
Tim: I saw them open for System of a Down...
S.A.: Yeah, them and ummm...them! (laughs)
Tim: OK, that works for me! Final question here. What does S.A. Martinez want in his Christmas stocking this year?
S.A.: In my Christmas stocking this year...
Tim: Sure, tis the season!
S.A.: I want a reliable cell phone with great self-service! (laughs)
Tim: I second that! Couldn't agree with you more! Well, thanks again for the interview. I appreciate your time and have a great show tonight!
I would like to thank S.A. Martinez of 311 for his time and willingness to chat with UnRated Magazine. Thanks also go out Steven Savoca at Zomba for making this interview a reality. Also, check out my live concert review of 311 at Northern Illinois University from the current fall 2005 tour and email me at Tim@unratedmagazine.com about anything at all!
Live Review, DeKalb, IL, November 6, 2005