Now picture this. A band have just come off the back of a mammoth 40-date, coast to coast, sell-out nationwide tour across the theaters and arena’s of America. The bands who have supported them through various sections of the tour include Incubus and Alien Ant Farm and they, quite unsurprisingly given the former information, are a consistently platinum artist in their native USA. Can you guess the band we’re talking about? Limp Bizkit? Korn? Creed, perhaps? Now hand’s up how many of you said 311.
Basically, in the States, 311 are supernova. Today we take up residence with the bands drummer Chad, and even he readily admits that he can’t go for a hamburger without somebody asking for his autograph. But, unlike so many bands that triumph in the US and flop in the UK, 311 actually deserve the success that they have enjoyed. The are one of the most original and influential rock bands of the last decade. Before Korn or even Rage Against The Machine, 311 were blending a potent hybrid of rap and rock, the likes of which had never been seen. If you’ve ever seen the episode of The Simpson’s where Homer invents a drink and that drink is promptly stolen by his bartender Moe, 311 can tell you what it’s like to be Homer watching from the side-lines, while Moe got all the credit.
This isn’t to say 311 are a rap-rock outfit though my friends, far from it. You may recall Coca-Cola running a commercial a few years back, trying to get people to describe the taste the product brings. The same problems that faced those punters testing their tastebuds, come to anybody who tries to nail down what 311 sound like. Quite simply, they sound like nobody else on the face of the planet, pulling in styles from dub to punk via a route of hip-hop, ska and reggae.
"We’re always on the tip that we want to challenge ourselves and try and do stuff we’ve never done before" admits 311 drummer Chad, "Like we’ll put two styles together that’s never existed before and even though that’s not excepted on a big, wide level, we still enjoy it because it’s revolutionising music in a way".
And revolutionise it has, yet while consistently knocking out refreshingly unique music, the band remain something of an unknown entity outside the confines of the USA. 311 have shipped just over 4.5 million in the states, with current long-player ,‘From Chaos’, just about to go gold (500,000 units). With the current musical conglomerate in the UK, Rap-Rock is enjoying something of a heatwave but why has success eluded 311 so far anyway?
"The most part is that we haven’t put in the time touring over here that we have in the states". Sighs Chad, rather regretfully (Incidentally, tonight is 311’s first London headline show in their 12 year career) "We’ve played so many shows in the states right now it’s crazy, and I think this is only our fourth time playing here. We just haven’t put in enough time. We maybe didn’t do a good job overseas but we know we love music and we know we want to travel and build a fanbase and it is building. It’s amazing that after all this time it’s still building so we’re very fortunate in that and that’s where we keep our mindset."
With the lack of success overseas in mind, was there ever a question mark hanging over the heads of the UK tour with current global events?
"Probably in the beginning we were thinking whether we should do it for safety reasons but after the first week or so after the attack we thought that we’d be safe and it’d be fine to do the gigs. We have a positive message and we find it’s pretty important to be spreading that right now and we didn’t want the terrorist’s to affect our future plans or our fans coming to see us."
Well, there’s something you don’t see too often in this day and age, a band with a POSITIVE message. In a time when just about every band that emerges has a ‘troubled’ frontman or at least have some sort of whinging to get off of their chest, 311 are a refreshing break from the norm. No parental whinging from men who are, frankly, to old to be doing so, and no suicide bid’s. Just a band with a message of hope and prosperity.
"We’re kind of positive people and we don’t really find things in our lives to be upset at and we write music from an honest view and we’ll write music from how we feel. It’s just always been a philosophy of ours to just stay positive and have perspective and enjoy where you are in life and take the ‘It can always be worse’ attitude instead of ‘Woe is me’. In the long run you always enjoy life better if you have a positive attitude."
It’s mightily impressive for 311 to have a positive outlook when you look at how much influence they’ve had on the current music scene and how little recognition they receive in return. Do they consider themselves pioneers of the nu-metal explosion?
"I think we helped get the movement going" Says Chad, with a wry smile "And there’s other bands in that genre too like Urban Dance Squad and the Red Hot Chili Peppers to name a few. But we’re part of that select few that started merging those types of music and hopefully in the long run, we’ll be remembered for doing so."
Though, looking around at some of the band’s breaking through in nu-metal at the moment, maybe it’s better they haven’t been given the admiration they so richly deserve. Do you ever relate to Doctor Frankenstein when he sat and looked at the mostrosity of a man he’d created and exclaimed ‘I’ve created a monster’? What do you think of the current state of the Rap-Rock scene?
"It’s kind of generic. It was exciting at first with the energy and the mixing of different styles but I would have to say that to me, it’s a little bit stale. I think one thing that we do that we and our fans enjoy is bringing in beautiful melodies to our music. I think that’s a different aspect of rap-rock and, while there’s a few bands that can do that, there’s a whole bunch that can’t. But you never know it might turn around. It’s not the funnest to be the first and push some of those styles because you know, some of the other bands can ride the wave a little bit ,and go ahead, and well you know".
Swiftly, I try to coerce the man into withdrawing his teeth from his freshly bitten tongue. Do you ever feel there are band’s out there commercialising your style and making a hell of a lot of money off of your hard work?
"Well, I wouldn’t go that far, I would just say that we’ve probably influenced a lot of bands." Bugger. It was worth a go.
Still, none the less, there must be ambitions underneath the surface for the fame, riches and backwards red baseball caps of the big league. After all, there is no better time than right now, certainly in the UK, to break out into the mainstream.
"Overseas is still very trying for us and even though we keep a positive mental attitude about it we’re not big stars overseas so we still have those trying parts of our career." He digresses, "We have many more places where we can improve our career. For instance, we’re not over-played on radio or MTV so we can still do better that way but, where we’re at, I’m still comfortable being part of an underground movement."
But can you have both? Papa Roach were a pretty credible act when they were playing the same London venue 311 play tonight, but one radio-hit and a hell of a lot of new fans later, they find themselves the subject of ridicule for being ‘sell-outs’. Even a band as respected as Metallica are recognised as heroes until they are drawn in by the ‘evil’ clutches of radio and MTV. Would you really want to break out of the underground and have your face plastered all over MTV?
"I would hope, in our perfect career, that we do break out of that movement every now and then. I think we’ve put a lot of effort into touring so far, so if we were to have a hit single it almost wouldn’t be that it’s a total fan-base on the back of that song.’ Chad stops and looks a little uneasy. ‘It’s a little bit dangerous when the radio makes you a star, because the next year when the radio doesn’t play you, your fans aren’t there because they weren’t there when you were building your fan-base. They’re not there for the excitement of your live show, they’re there because they just want to see your face from being on TV. We don’t mind help from radio, we embrace that as well. Why we embrace it is that we know our music will stay the same, and that we really won’t sell out no matter what happens to us."
So what does the future entail? Will there be mass radio hits or will they remain, at least in the UK, recognised by those ‘in the know’ and hardly anyone else?
‘I think the only goal is just to do what we’re doing and do it for many more years. The strong point of 311 is that we’ve been going for so long and that we can stay together and still communicate as a band. We can still come together and agree on the same things still so we’re in a really unique place and we hope we can stay in this situation for a long time to come.’