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311 goes either fast or heavy on new album

| Thursday, July 7, 2011

If the songs on the soon-to-be-released 311 CD, "Universal Pulse," seem to translate especially well to the live stage, it won't be an accident.

"There's been an awareness that 311 is ultimately a live band, and that's the most important thing for a band to be," singer/guitarist Nick Hexum says. The band performs Tuesday at Stage AE, North Shore. "We realize that's what we do. Record sales and all that comes and goes, but what's important is that we have an album that serves what we want to play live. So, this new album was very much customized to be really good to play live."

It's also a very uptempo, hard-hitting CD. The reggae, world beat grooves and rap elements that have been part of 311's sound since the band debuted with the 1993 CD, "Music," still appear. But "Universal Pulse," 311's 10th studio release, is first and foremost a rock album -- and a catchy one at that.

"I can't think of a harder album because this one doesn't have any ballads," Hexum says. "And I say 'Trouble' is the slowest song, but it's heavy. So, it's either fast or heavy on this new album."

The heavy category is represented by songs like "Sunset In July" and "Trouble," while some of the songs that move at a crisper tempo include "Wild Nights," "Weightless" and "Time Bomb." At either speed, the new songs some with big hooks in their choruses and plenty of crunchy riffs and beats all the way around.

"Universal Pulse" is also a notably concise CD, with just eight songs total. That was by design, after the band went four years between its two previous CDs, 2005's "Don't Tread On Me" and 2009's "Uplifter."

"I guess that was part of the awareness, that rather than taking a long time to make a long album, we realized that our fans, if they had a choice, they'd probably rather have a shorter album sooner." Hexum says. "And when we're out there doing three or four tours a year, we only have time to do so much. So, we just figured, 'Let's just pick the best of the best and go in.' "

And Hexum feels he and his bandmates — SA Martinez (vocals/DJ), Sexton (drums), Tim Mahoney (guitar) and P-Nut (bass) — all took their talents to a new level for the new CD.

"I just think that each person decided this time to step up, whether it was through re-doing their tones, the sounds of their instruments, (and) I've been taking guitar lessons, for example. Everybody's just been working really hard," Hexum says. "Then we also kind of changed the process a little bit, where we did a little bit more of a community writing where, for example, P-Nut helped write the lyrics for a couple of songs on the new album. Previously, it had been only me and SA that had done that. But now we just increased the cooperation and co-writing."

Playing live is what's coming up next for 311, as the group spends this summer headlining what has become its traditional summer outing, the Unity tour. This summer, the main support act is Sublime With Rome, which Hexum sees as an ideal group to have on tour with 311.

"I think it's kind of an obvious choice because there's always been a crossover of our fans and their fans," he says. "So, there's a commonality in the music that we have mutual fans. It's kind of a dream tour for fans of reggae and good-time summer music."

Additional Information:

311

With: Sublime with Rose

When: 5:30 p.m. Tuesday

Admission: $43

Where: Stage AE, North Shore (outdoors)

Details: 800-745-3000 or website

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