If 311 had one plan of action going into the making of its current album, “Stereolithic,” it was not to have a game plan.
“Our manager was trying to get us to sit down and talk about what kind of an album we wanted to make,” singer Nick Hexum said in a recent phone interview. “I remember (drummer) Chad (Sexton) saying ‘Don’t try and do that. We’re going to get in there, and we’re going to write songs. It’s best if there are no rules and we just let it come out.’ So I wouldn’t say there was any real, like, mission statement except to do the best album that we can.”
The rock band, which formed in 1988 in Omaha, Neb., performs June 12 at Thunder Valley Casino & Resort. Pepper fills out the bill.
311 knew its choice of a producer would make “Stereolithic” a different kind of album project. Instead of bringing in a big name, the group chose Scotch Ralston, who for most of the band’s three-decade career had served as live-sound engineer.
Hexum and his bandmates – Sexton, SA Martinez (vocals/deejay), Tim Mahoney (guitar) and P-Nut (bass) – got more than they bargained for with Ralston, who produced and became closely involved in the songwriting for “Stereolithic.”
That brought some new dimensions to the songs, particularly in some of the lyrics.
“One characteristic I can pinpoint of Scotch’s is he has some clever wordplay,” Hexum said “I don’t necessarily know what it means, but it’s interesting wordplay.
“A song like ‘Made In The Shade,’ … he wrote more than half of the lyrics on that. And to me, it’s a lot of imagery, and then you have to kind of look further into it to even glean a message from it, where my stuff might be a little more obvious.”
Ralston also did what the group calls “gold mining.”
“He would go through the hard drives of old demos that we had and be like ‘You guys really have something here,’” Hexum said. “Then he would suggest a melody. I think that really helped us have a bigger output. Having 15 songs (instead of 10 or 12) was because of having that extra voice.”
As “Stereolithic” shows, 311 continues to weight its albums toward rocking – yet melodic – material.
Songs like “Five of Everything,” “First Dimension,” “The Great Divide” and “Ebb and Flow” are driven by gritty guitar riffs and hard-hitting drums.
Variety comes from tunes such as “Sand Dollars” (with its quirky guitar tone and grooving rhythm), “Friday Afternoon” (a tranquil ballad that segues into an edgier finish) and “Tranquility” (a ballad with a soothing melody balanced by just a bit of guitar grit).
While working on projects, the band keeps their live audiences in mind: “Like, ‘Oh this is going to rock a crowd,’” Hexum said. “Then we also just want to have some departures from the obvious things that are going to rock a crowd. … We don’t want a whole album of all rockers. That would just be too linear.”
He’s usually the band member pushing for, as he put it, the “more melodic, chill moments,” he said. Those departures are the most freeing and fun part for him, “to come up with songs like ‘Friday Afternoon,’ this really trippy epic journey, or something like ‘Tranquility,’ which feels like a real new sound for us.”
With 11 studio albums in its catalog (it also has two live albums and four compilations), 311 has plenty of song choices for its concerts and can cover lots of stylistic ground, and recent concerts have had a lot of ground to cover, stretching into the two-hour neighborhood.
“We make a fresh set list (for each show) after sound check.” Hexum said. “I guess it’s always tricky to find the right balance between classics, new songs, some for first-time fans who want to hear some hits. So we just find the right blend, and it’s a mixture of all five guys voicing their opinions to make that.”
- When: 7 p.m. June 12
- Where: Outdoor Amphitheater, Thunder Valley Resort & Casino, 1200 Athens Ave., Lincoln
- Cost: $30-$170
- Information: www.thundervalleyresort.com; (916) 408-7777