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311

On today’s episode we welcome Nick Hexum and Tim Mahoney of 311. Nick and Tim grew up playing in bands together in Omaha, Nebraska. They soon forged the 311 sound and today, over 3 decades later, they’ve released 13 studio albums—10 of which reached the top 10 on the Billboard 200. Topics discussed include being rap-rock pioneers in the early 90s, breaking through to the mainstream in the mid 90s, band chemistry, influences, songwriting, pandemic life, distortion guitar tones, and much more.

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Transcript

Evan Ball:
Hello, and welcome to Ernie Ball's Striking a Chord podcast. I'm Evan Ball. On today's episode, we welcome Nick Hexum and Tim Mahoney of 311. Nick Hexum and Tim Mahoney grew up playing in bands together in Omaha. They soon forged the 311 sound and today, over three decades later, they're still going strong. We talk about the '90s music landscape and what it was like for them when their music broke through to the mainstream, then we go back further, talk about their pre-311 bands, the formation of 311, and their decision to move to LA.

We talk about songwriting, specifically their willingness to put parts together that are fairly different from each other, and relatedly, their unique ability to book shows with punk bands, jam bands, metal bands, rap artists, etcetera. We talk about their influences, tips for recording distortion guitar, what they've been doing during the pandemic, what they'll be up to soon, and more. Ladies and gentlemen, Tim Mahoney and Nick Hexum.

Nick Hexum and Tim Mahoney, welcome to the podcast.

Nick Hexum:
Hey, thanks for having us.

Tim Mahoney:
Yeah, happy to be here.

Evan Ball:
I actually had so much fun preparing for this interview because it totally brought me back to such great years of my life. I remember so clearly you guys break through in the mid '90s, and just the buzz in the air. I felt so close to it at the time, and music is just so good at bringing back memories and remembering what certain eras felt like. So yeah, looking forward to this.

Nick Hexum:
I love to hear that it evokes nostalgia, but I'm checking out your name. Are you Ernie Ball family?

Evan Ball:
Yeah, so Ernie was my grandpa.

Nick Hexum:
Ah, that's so cool.

Evan Ball:
Yeah. It helped getting tickets to your shows.

Tim Mahoney:
Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Nick Hexum:
It has many perks, I'm sure.

Evan Ball:
Yeah. Well maybe we can start there, like 1995, '96, if you guys don't mind.

Tim Mahoney:
Yeah, yeah.

Nick Hexum:
Sure.

Evan Ball:
You guys have, at that time, such a solid underground success. Music is out, Grassroots is out. Even the Blue album is out for a period of time before it really blows up. But when you do really break through, it felt like it happened pretty fast, to me at least. But I'd love to know what this period was like for you guys and how you reflect back on it.

Nick Hexum:
Time is all relative, because it seems like we packed so many memories into those first years, that when I wrote the song Down, "Changed a lot and then some. Know that we've always been down," it was like I'm looking back at this big era, but it was actually just a couple years, so we packed a lot. I mean, considering that in Grassroots we put all our stuff in storage and just lived on the road, and when we'd have a week off, we'd stay at some crappy Oakwood apartment building or something like that, but we just lived on the road. It's debatable, but we know we did at least 15 shows in a row without a day off. And we were just so excited to be there and had so much energy. We felt fairly invincible.

Evan Ball:
I know you guys are so active, so I'm wondering, to you, did it feel gradual or did it feel like a big ramping up once...I guess it was maybe the Down video that really pushed you forward. Was there something in there where you felt like, "Oh man, this is insane. It's happening"?

Tim Mahoney:
It probably, Down was the last release, right? We put it as a first single and then moved on and then came back to it at the end. Is that right, Nick?

Nick Hexum:
I think Don't Stay Home was first, then All Mixed Up, then Down was our third single, and then we went back and released All Mixed Up a fourth time. I'm not sure on the first two, but Down was our third because we were like, "Oh, well, let's just throw one more..." I mean, our label was like, "Oh, well, the first two didn't work, let's go ahead and do Down," and I had always thought that was the catchiest song on there. That's why we opened the album with it. But it felt like, why we said Grassroots on our second album was because we just went to a city and played for 12 people and the bartender, and then the next time we came through, it was packed, but we were still playing a little bar.

To our perspective, it was, I don't know if I would say fast or slow, but once we got that buzz clip on Down, that's when all of a sudden it was a sea of kids. And that's when a lot of our "OG fans" were like, "Oh, now there's all these kids at your shows," and we're like, "Well, that's exactly who we want, thank you very much. We're not freaking elitists that are only trying to have the in-the-know older people." We're here to touch humans and so we're happy to have all these new people there.

Evan Ball:
Of course, I know. People always seem to feel they have some ownership in the band if they're in early. So you guys were in your 20s when this is happening. Were you able to soak it up? Did you become rock and roll party animals? How'd you handle this period?

Tim Mahoney:
Yeah, I guess. No, we handled it, but we survived it, so that's good. But I think everybody left off after that, but yeah, I mean no one really had any family, weren't married yet or anything like that. To be able to travel around... We had an RV and then the Blue album, we switched over to a bus and then you don't have to drive or worry about anybody in the crew driving. So, we got to enjoy ourselves and just being that age and playing music and the freedom of traveling like that. I think everybody really enjoyed it. I mean, we still do. It's changed a little bit over time.

Evan Ball:
Did it feel like you were in the midst of a dream coming true? I mean, just growing up as a musician, it's something you dream of your whole life.

Nick Hexum:
Absolutely. There was so much smiling and celebration. Our bodies could take so much in our mid 20s that we need more recovery time. Our day on the road around that whole mid 90s era would be like, wake up, smoke weed, find some food. And then we brought weights on the road with us. We'd all work out really hard, and then we find some dinner or we'd soundcheck and find some dinner, and then we'd start partying for the show, do the show, and then party after the show for like four hours until we finally pass out in our bunks at like 4:00, so...

Evan Ball:
Yeah, who can do that anymore?

Nick Hexum:
It's not for someone in their 50s, that's for sure.

Evan Ball:
Yeah. Hey, fun fact, I was traveling around Europe when I was 18 or 19 and you guys happened to be playing at the hostel in Amsterdam that I was staying at that night. It was written on a whiteboard at check-in. Tonight's entertainment, 311. Does that ring a bell or did I imagine that?

Nick Hexum:
Yeah. Was it, not Melkweg, but something else like that in Amsterdam?

Evan Ball:
It was off the beaten path of Amsterdam. My buddy and I were traveling, we couldn't find a hostel within the city. We took a train to the outskirts.

Tim Mahoney:
I remember that because that was our first time to Amsterdam, I think, because Trevor, our guitar tech, the original brodel. I remember it was a big thing about melk. How they had at the coffee shop there M-E-L-K, melk. And some of the words were a little bit [different 00:07:35]. I think that was that gig.

Evan Ball:
That's funny. Yeah, because it was '95. We knew who you were, being from California, but it was so, so funny. Whoa, 311. You were written on a whiteboard.

Nick Hexum:
So random.

Evan Ball:
So cool. Just coincidence. I mean, I have to confess, I didn't actually see you guys play. It's a real quick story. Why not? I'm not really one to smoke the reefer, but that was with a buddy. So we're in Amsterdam in a cafe and he was smoking and when in Rome, I thought that's the culturally appropriate thing to do, but I was like, "I don't really even know how to smoke stuff, but I can eat cake. Sure, I'll have a piece of space cake."

Nick Hexum:
Big mistake.

Evan Ball:
Yeah, and it just kept ramping up. By the time you guys came on later -- I almost had a second piece because I thought it wasn't working, but thankfully I didn't -- my head was resting on the outside wall of the building you were playing in and envisioning my feet as cinder blocks and unable to walk the 25 feet to see you guys, and it's a regret.

Nick Hexum:
You got to start low and go slow on edibles, I always tell people, because so many people overshoot the mark and then they're afraid to ever do them again.

Tim Mahoney:
Right, the creeper, you double dose before you feel it coming in there.

Nick Hexum:
One more thing about Amsterdam, later when we played the Cannabis Cup, we were like, "That's going to be the wildest crowd." Everyone was so stoned that they were just standing there. We couldn't not be stoned. SA doesn't usually partake and he was like, "I was so stoned by the end of the show because everyone was smoking right in front of us." But they were into it, but they were not moving.

Evan Ball:
That's funny. 

Tim Mahoney:
SA, he was secondhand high, like super secondhand high. Yeah, I wouldn't have believed it but I saw it with my own eyes. How high [inaudible 00:09:29] everyone else smoking.

Evan Ball:
So he's not one to partake in those activities?

Nick Hexum:
No.

Evan Ball:
Not typically, yeah.

Nick Hexum:
We've gotten so much free weed now. He's like, "Now and then I'll just light up a joint, just as the sun's setting, just for something to do," but I don't think he really inhales.

Evan Ball:
Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Hey, so speaking of this era, before we move on, do you ever think why this didn't happen during, say Grassroots, your previous album? Was it more about the songs on the Blue album or timing, like the world needed a little more time to get in the mood for 311?

Nick Hexum:
I think that we wanted to just stick to our thing and wait for popular culture to come around because that's what U2 had done, started in the alternative. That's what REM had done, Nirvana... Even though we didn't sound like those bands, we were taking that approach of like, "Let's just do our thing and wait for people to figure it out. Let's not go to them. Let's let them come to us, however long it takes."

Evan Ball:
So you think it was more timing?

Nick Hexum:
Yeah. I mean, there only had been a couple rap rock songs before us, like Faith No More had that song Epic and Chili Peppers had some singles, but...

Evan Ball:
Yeah, was Rage like '91, that first album

Nick Hexum:
They came out at the same time as us on our first... I thought maybe they'd beat us by a month, a couple months, but I remember...

Evan Ball:
It was concurrently happening though.

Nick Hexum:
Yeah, and that wasn't on the radio except in LA so yeah, it was just this kind of almost controversy. What is this rapping and rocking in the same song? What's going on? And we're like, "Yep. That's what we do. The kids like it." You get into that generation gap where you hear older people criticize like, "Well that's not music like they made in my day," but you just keep doing what you do.

Evan Ball:
Yeah. I think you guys are really early on the realization that you can be heavy and catchy at the same time, too. Maybe not a realization, I'm sure it was just natural for you guys. But clearly, there was a room for that.

Nick Hexum:
Because we loved both the Bad Brains and the Beatles, you know what I mean? We want to put everything we love in our music.

Evan Ball:
Yeah. Well, it's interesting how you guys fit into the landscape at the time. I'm still thinking this '90s time, because you're on the heels of the grunge movement, where have a lot of underground scenes, like you just referenced, being elevated. You have in the metal realm, Deftones and Korn, you have the '90s punk ska scene that you guys inhabited, but you're also pretty different. Where did you guys feel most at home in that landscape?

Tim Mahoney:
Well, we've been fortunate because we even did some Warped Tour shows probably around that time. So we would go do Warped Tour and then go do a week of the H.O.R.D.E Tour.

Evan Ball:
What was the H.O.R.D.E. Tour? I remember the name.

Tim Mahoney:
H.O.R.D.E. Tour was Blues Traveler and I don't know if Ziggy Marley... I think Lenny Kravitz is on there. More on the jam.

Nick Hexum:
Rusted Root, that kind of '90s.

Tim Mahoney:
Root was on there. And then, I don't know if it's the same year, but around that time we went open for Kiss at Madison Square Garden. So it was, and even now, we play with Deftones up in Northern California, one of those metal fests a few years back, and then we'll do the reggae festivals and stuff, so...

Evan Ball:
That's awesome. That's such a nice perk, I would think, just to be able to travel in these different circles.

Nick Hexum:
Yeah. And that same year with hippies and punks and Kiss, we also did the Cypress Hill Pharcyde Tour, so also accepted in the rap scene. I think we're like the only band that could have done all four of those.

Evan Ball:
No, I saw you guys at a UCSB with the Pharcyde and yeah, Cypress Hill.

Nick Hexum:
I got to tell a story about that show. So it's Santa Barbara. Sen Dog had only made the first couple of shows on the Cypress tour. And then things got weird in the band and he just quit. So they had a roadie doing Sen Dog's part. But then at Santa Barbara, all of a sudden I'm walking back to the dressing room and I see this whole massive crowd of huge, scary looking gangsters walking down the hall with so much purpose that I flattened my back to the wall to let them pass. And just the energy in the room was insane. And it was Sen Dog and his posse coming to reclaim his place on the stage. And they went into one of their faster songs, Ain't Going Out Like That, or something like that and blew the roof off the place because B-Real and no one else knew that he was about to do this. So it was like this crazy reunion.

Evan Ball:
No way.

Nick Hexum:
Yeah.

Evan Ball:
I didn't know what I got to see. That's awesome.

Did you guys think you at that time, did you have more crossover fans with maybe more of the Warped Tour scene or do you think it was kind of evenly split around these different places?

Nick Hexum:
Yeah, I think that was our home scene was the whole, No Doubt, SoCal...

Evan Ball:
Yeah, because you have the reggae crossover bit. Do you know what I remember though, so clearly from that era is going to punk shows and it's 90% dudes. And then your shows were like 50/50 girls guys.

Nick Hexum:
Yeah. We love that.

Tim Mahoney:
Yeah. You know, I think these guys, Nick and SA, do a good balance of singing melodies girls might like and even some of the groove-oriented stuff and the reggae, it seems more like the girls might like that. And so it's been like that, I think, our whole career. It seems like we've been able to be in touch with the girls as much as the guys.

Evan Ball:
So good. Yeah. Yeah. There's so much there. Well, maybe we could back up even more. Did you guys all go to high school together, all five of you?

Nick Hexum:
No. Three went to one high school, two went to the other.

Evan Ball:
Okay, around the same time?

Nick Hexum:
Well, we all graduated or should have graduated in 1988. I graduated a little bit early, so I get out to LA and then P-Nut's the baby of the bunch; he went to school in South Hill with SA. But they were four years apart, so they didn't really go to school together, but he is the one that introduced P-Nut and Chad, but me and Tim and Chad were all pals at school. And then right after graduation, I came back for the summer and we made a band called Unity, where I was playing bass. And that's where the 311 sound was born with combining funk and punk. And we were into Prince and Jane's Addiction and Chili Peppers and all that stuff, and then floundered around with a few different locations and lineups and then settled into what we have here in '90, '91, something like that.

Evan Ball:
So Unity was just three of you or was it eventually all of you and then you changed the name?

Nick Hexum:
We had a keyboardist, right, Tim?

Tim Mahoney:
Yeah. Yeah. Ward.

Evan Ball:
So it was you two guys and then Chad was playing drums already?

Nick Hexum:
Yeah.

Evan Ball:
And was P-Nut in there too?

Nick Hexum:
No. P-Nut was literally 12 at that time because, he would have been 14, I guess. So, yeah. No, we didn't meet him until a couple of years later.

Evan Ball:
Okay. Then he comes on and then is SA last, or does he come on with P-Nut?

Nick Hexum:
I would introduce him, "Now. I'm going to bring to the stage, someone to drop some rhymes here." He would come on as a guest to do Feel So Good and Fuck The Bullshit. And then he was like, "I want to move out to LA with you guys." And I was like, "All right, let's do it." He was definitely adding to the band and could do the harmonies I want to do, which actually, Tim and Chad can sing harmonies. They just don't want to.

Evan Ball:
It's easier not to, right?

Tim Mahoney:
It's hard to sing and play. I did when we had our first band, Nick and I, the Eds, I did start out singing Boys Don't Cry by The Cure for maybe one or two rehearsals. And then I moved on to, I guess, Nick probably sang it or who else would even sing it? Ward or somebody, maybe, but I just remember that down in your basement.

Nick Hexum:
So funny. I didn't know you ever sang that I wish we had a recording. "I would say I'm sorry...."

Evan Ball:
That's great. Well, yeah, because I remember hearing you guys talk about how you were into the Smiths and The Cure, bands that don't necessarily lead one to 311 sound. But yeah, you said there was a transition where you guys more turning towards Chili Peppers and Jane's Addiction. And I'm just always so curious how that comes together because you have the heavy groovy riffs. You have the melody, you have the harmony, you have the rapping. I don't know my question is. Here's a ques... Yeah, go ahead.

Nick Hexum:
I have a comment to make about your comment, that we always wanted to be super audacious and blend such disparate styles. If you take a song like Hydroponic, heavy, slow, grinding riffs and raps, and then you get to the chorus and it is like a Morrissey, "Jumping out my skin," and it is like Morrissey-influence chorus, even though the rest of the song sounds like fucking Black Sabbath with Deftones or I don't know what, but it's...

Evan Ball:
That's so funny. I'm going to think of that part differently now, hearing a Morrissey influence. That's interesting. Do you ever think about, I'm sure you do, the fortuitousness of having all the right characters around at a particular time and place to create just the right chemistry? I'm just speaking of how unique your sound is and you're all individually so talented, but you're also super lucky that you're all in the same place.

Tim Mahoney:
Yeah, no, no, I would agree. Yeah, just personalities that we still get along after all these years and one person would have been different. We might not be here 30 years in, still. And it is for me, I enjoy everybody's songwriting and what they're up to and it's been evolving over the years, so it's everyone's still growing and trying to write better riffs and melodies and whatnot. But there is something to be said about the magic of actually knowing each other back in Nebraska or wherever the band be from, but just the fact that to be able to get together and decide to make a band and then just to move forward with it and that's something special there, and I'm thankful for it. Probably a lot of these bands that we all listen to are in the same boat, but a lot of times they burn out and don't last as long as you would like them to, but we've been fortunate.

Evan Ball:
What are your thoughts on being an aspiring local band in a place like Omaha versus LA?

Nick Hexum:
Well, we wanted to make a big splash, so we would make our shows as crazy as possible. So the word got around until we did these all ages, Mondays shows, where they would be packed at the Ranch Bowl.

Evan Ball:
Was this in Omaha?

Nick Hexum:
Yeah. The Ranch Bowl was a unique place that was a bowling alley, music club, a pool hall, volleyball courts and a radio station, all in one thing. So we were actually really lucky to have a good relationship with Matt Markel, the owner, but he passed away and got paved over to make a Walmart there. So it was a very '90s-specific image, but we just wanted to make sure our shows were super wild and crazy so we could really create a stampede and we would hit the ground really running. We often would take a shot of beer a minute for a half hour before the show. And we would just go out there and just destroy, and...

Evan Ball:
Good for stage presence, right?

Nick Hexum:
Wild swagger, not good for tightness, but it was something to watch.

Evan Ball:
And so do you think that was a benefit, being in Omaha versus LA, do you think, just in those formative years or do you think it matters?

Nick Hexum:
I think there's more of a jadedness in LA that we did run into a little later when we moved out here, but we won them over and I think we would've done okay, coming from somewhere else, but everyone thinks you need to move to LA or New York to make it. And actually, we got signed from the demo record called Unity that we made in Omaha. And then we flew back to Omaha, so we could do a show in front of our home crowd and let them see the crowd go ape shit. So it really was just an Omaha-based thing. We didn't need to move out to LA in order to make it, so that was kind of surprising.

Evan Ball:
Yeah. On our last podcast, I talked to Death From Above 1979, they're from Toronto. But the bass player, he was talking about how fortunate they were that they could actually afford to live in these metropolitan areas at that time. And nowadays, he feels for aspiring talent, just not even being able to afford a place to practice. It's going to be coming from maybe these other cities that aren't so expensive to live in.

Nick Hexum:
Yeah, especially when there's not labels signing people like they used to, so you basically have to just make your own cottage industry, where you build it up on YouTube and stuff. So it's a totally different approach in that I guess we would embrace if we were starting out now, but it was all different when it was just handing cassettes to people.

Evan Ball:
Yeah. Speaking of, I handed cassettes to Tim one show when I was like 18.

Tim Mahoney:
I probably still have it.

Nick Hexum:
Is it your demo?

Evan Ball:
It was our home recordings. Yeah. It was in Santa Barbara. I got back there like, "Yeah, Tim Mahoney has our demo."

Nick Hexum:
Sometimes we were just like, "So here's our demo." "All right. You're signed." And we would just say that as a joke, like, "You're signed."

Evan Ball:
Yeah. "What am I going to do with this?" Yeah, but it was worth a try. So let's see, you guys moved to LA because you have a label in hand when you guys go, right?

Nick Hexum:
No, we were empty-handed for the first few months in LA and money was super tight like that other band was saying. We were all five living in a little house in Van Nuys, because it had a little pool. But we were begging money from our parents and they were sending us boxes of food, so it got lean. But then Capricorn Records came through and we didn't have any other offers. We didn't know much about Capricorn, but they were affiliated with Warner Brothers for only that first album. Warner brothers dropped them after our first album. But we were like, "This sounds good." And there was enough of an advance for us to buy a guitar amp and a guitar and be able to pay our rent and make it through. But it was just hanging on by your fingernails for a bit.

Evan Ball:
Yeah. Hey, how do you figure out where to live in LA? It's a big sprawling place. You're in Nebraska. How do you just find a place?

Nick Hexum:
I have a story about that. When I was 17, I was like, "I'm moving out to LA and I think I know where all the action has got to be, downtown." And in 1988, downtown was just Crackton. There was nothing there at all. It was very, very run down. So I realized quickly that I made a mistake and then I moved to being right by the Rock and Roll Ralph's and the Denny's and the Guitar Center Hollywood. And that was the place to be because there was just musicians everywhere. So I already knew LA and realized that the valley would be the best thing where we could afford a house with a pool. So...

Evan Ball:
So wait, were you pursuing a solo project that early on in LA?

Nick Hexum:
I think I always wanted to be in a band and then we had Unity and the same band name, but Tim was off at college and then Chad came out and joined me and we did some gigs at the Coconut Teaszer and maybe we made it to the Whisky, but a lot of it, you had to buy the tickets in advance, so it turned out to be pay to play a lot, which was just seriously bullshit. But yeah, so there was different lineups that didn't really work out and then I realized, well, Tim and the guys from Omaha were definitely the best thing I've done so far, so let's go to Omaha and start over. And then we did that for two years then we all came out to Van Nuys in '92.

Evan Ball:
I have a songwriting question I've wanted to ask you guys. I feel like you're bolder than the average band, as far as putting parts together that are they different from each other, parts you wouldn't think go together, but absolutely work. Do you have any thoughts on that?

Nick Hexum:
Absolutely. That's what the example of Hydroponic was. I've actually heard Metallica redone and it's hilarious, all in the major key, because it just sounds so weird to hear Metallica, they manipulated the audio to put it in a major key, but that's kind of what we are. We're heavy. Some of our music is very heavy, but we like uplifting melodies and more major key kind of stuff. So it's all about being audacious and just following your own, not doubting your vibe.

Tim Mahoney:
Yeah. You know, we have a T & P Combo where there were a couple of riffs here and a couple of riffs there. We're like, "Oh man, just let's put them at the same tempo here and just put them this one and that one. And then it might get [inaudible 00:28:01] but somehow it did.

Evan Ball:
It does. But sometimes it's not even the same temp... I was just listening to Grassroots. It made me think of this. I think it's the end of 8:16, right? You have the ending, that's just kind of out of nowhere, but it's totally catchy and works. You know what I'm talking about?

Nick Hexum:
Yeah. I think I wanted to end the song a little bit like a fIREHOSE's Brave Captain, which was a band we were really into in the late '80s. They were one of the funk-punk pioneers and I was just ready for a hard left turn in that song. So I tacked on a tempo change and distortion guitars totally different from the light funk that the rest of the song is.

Evan Ball:
Yeah, and it's so cool. For me, so much of the impact of a part is the change, how it plays off the part that came before it and how you feel when that change comes about, so...

Nick Hexum:
Yeah. The song Unity has three different tempos for the verse, pre-chorus and chorus, like did-it-at-it, did-it-at-it. And then bam-bam-ba-da-da, different feel and then dodododo, whoa, God, I can't believe... Every section has a different tempo. And whether it's the middle section is really hard, shuffling, swinging, really hard, and the other two are straight. So that was as disjointed as possible. But still to this day, we love playing it.

Evan Ball:
Somehow you guys know how to glue it together well because it doesn't sound disjointed. And I bet that even pays more dividends live. Those big changes, I think, come off well live.

Nick Hexum:
Yeah. You're not going to get bored.

Evan Ball:
So present day, you guys have been creatively staying active during the pandemic with merch, live streams. So as we finally emerged from this strange period, any thoughts or reflections on your experiences and any ways you think the music biz might be changed more permanently as we move forward?

Nick Hexum:
Well, we were forced to open our eyes to that streaming could be cool. I mean, right when the pandemic was first starting, I was like, "I just don't know if it'll be the same without the crowd." And it's not quite as good, but it's still definitely been worth doing. And we got over that there isn't a crowd there type aspect because we knew the crowd was watching so we gave a full energy, like we would at a show. So doing these live stream of... Now we've done our first, what five albums, and next is going to be our sixth and last of the series. So that's been a really cool way to...

Tim Mahoney:
It's been nice to stay in touch with the fans, too, just to let them know we're still around and playing music. But yeah, I would just echo what Nick said about it. Starting off, you just don't know what to expect because there's no crowd. And I think each one that goes by, we get a little bit more fine-tune at it, but it's been fun and like what you said about the music taking you back in your memories and things like that and how you felt back in those days. It's been interesting to go through each album like that because there is that memory and those sort of feelings. Some things I think about that I hadn't thought about since those eras from Music to Grassroots to Blue album, all these things. And so it's been really interesting and fun just from a personal perspective there. It's been enjoyable to get through them like that and play all those songs. And yeah, it's been fun.

Nick Hexum:
And to see that the shift that we took, from Blue album, which was just jam-packed with uptempo, great live distortion, and then to go to Transistor, which was so experimental and wasn't just punch, punch, punch. We tried different other vibes. And then now we're doing From Chaos next and that really has some unique stuff, especially towards the end of the album with Amber, I'll Be Here Awhile and Uncalm being the last three songs, not in that order, but it is cool to see like, "Wow, it took some kind of courage to create new stuff," so...

Evan Ball:
That's awesome. Yeah, like Tim said, you're bringing yourself back and you're saying, you're reassessing what you did, but because there's probably so many songs on there that don't make the normal hour and a half set list, right? So you probably haven't played them since you recorded them, I would imagine, a lot of them.

Nick Hexum:
Yeah. The one song that opens this next album, we turned against it. So we have not played that one in the sense that maybe, apparently, we played it a couple of times right after the album came out, but...

Evan Ball:
From Chaos, is that what you're talking about, the first song?

Nick Hexum:
Yeah. The song You Get Worked, we just never play live. But we will.

Evan Ball:
Okay. Yeah. And I'm sure you guys are looking forward to hitting the road again.

Nick Hexum:
We are so stoked to be able to get back on the road, doing a nationwide tour that we have announced, and it's at 311.com, and just grateful to be able to get back to see our peoples in person.

Evan Ball:
Is there any part of you that's enjoyed this respite from touring or is it kind of torturous and you're just ready to get back?

Nick Hexum:
When growing up in Omaha, we'd have a snow day where I was like, "Oh my God, no school, nothing to do, but just play." And that's what I tried to embrace at home with the kids, especially during the summer when we didn't have to have the distance learning and it was just like, "All right, let's invent stuff to make it fun." I did that series called the Do Stay Home sessions on my Instagram, where I sang a song with each of my kids and then a song with all of us together. And I covered some different songs. And that was a really fun thing that I wouldn't have done other ways. And then just little things like teaching my youngest how to ride a bike and tie his shoes and read. Those are really pivotal moments that I got to be there for us.

Tim Mahoney:
Yeah. We typically are always gone every summer. I think we had one summer off, maybe in the late '90s or something, we figured out on one of these past live streams. We must've been talking about it, but I don't know if this century we've taken the summer off. At first it's awkward, but yeah, I would agree. I think just being able to be with your family and knowing, okay, well, we can't go out and play and to take advantage of being at home and growing with your family and still doing music, but...

Evan Ball:
That's so great.

Tim Mahoney:
Yeah. It was, it was fun.

Evan Ball:
Do you both have kids?

Nick Hexum:
Yeah everybody except Chad has two or more kids.

Evan Ball:
Family's growing.

Tim Mahoney:
Yeah, man. Yeah. Probably everybody in the band is this way, but you're gone for a couple months out of a little child's life and they change so much. So, just to be able to be there every day for a whole straight year is pretty special deal.

Evan Ball:
That's great. I can imagine that would be probably the toughest part. Do you guys get the itch to get on the road though after, I mean COVID was kind of long.

Nick Hexum:
Oh yeah. Yeah. I mean, we got to do two drive-in shows, which was just really nice to just rock out, even though it wasn't the same because they were next to their cars and far away, but just still to do what we love. So now, they're talking about full capacity. I'm sure there will be some safety guidelines, but it looks like it's going to be a great summer.

Evan Ball:
Yeah, yeah. I just watched your, I forget what it's called docu, it's like over the 30 year span of your career, which is crazy. 30 years, so many highlights. Is there a low point for the band that comes to mind, not to be a downer?

Nick Hexum:
Well, I think we needed to take a break in '98 for what Tim mentioned, that we did take a summer off, put some roots down and get a little space and then we got going again. I mean, yeah, there's ebbs and flows in relationships where sometimes we're more synched up than others, but we just keep a attitude of gratitude knowing that we're very lucky to get to do this and things turn out okay.

Evan Ball:
So that was just overload in '98?

Nick Hexum:
Burned out.

Evan Ball:
Yeah. I can imagine. Alrighty. I have some shorter varying topic questions. Who are your biggest guitar influences?

Tim Mahoney:
Well, I got to make sure I give some props to Steve Lukather because during the pandemic, I've been watching a lot of YouTube and it's great for guitar watching and listening to all areas of music. And he's one of the guys I really enjoy, just being able to listen to him talk in interviews, but also play guitar. He's a great guitar player. It's fun to listen to, but...

Evan Ball:
Have you read his book?

Tim Mahoney:
No. You know what, I'll buy it today.

Evan Ball:
Yeah. It's good. The Gospel of Luke, I mean, he's just got so much history going through the '70s, '80s, '90s studio scene in LA. It's crazy.

Tim Mahoney:
Yeah. It was interesting hearing him talk about working, I guess, is it with Quincy Jones? Maybe they're doing a Michael Jackson record Beat It, maybe that he was talking about? The one where Eddie Van Halen played the guitar solo, and then it's fun to listen to him talk about that stuff. I'm a huge Jerry Garcia fan, but I love Dr. Know from Bad Brains, so many different wide spectrum of people. I think everybody in our band loves John Scofield. He's one of those guys that I know Nick likes, but also our drummer, our bass player love him too. And John McLaughlin, a lot of these great kind of fusion jazz players, but yeah, the whole spectrum. I love Willie Nelson, what he does when he start soloing. But yeah, wide spectrum and as time goes on, I know there's a lot of new guys that come up too, and I'm more out of touch with them, but...

Evan Ball:
Yeah, that's great.

Nick Hexum:
Scofield, I just checked his Wiki, has made 50 albums. So if I had to be on a desert album with one artist's catalog, it would be Scofield because it's just so much great stuff there. And then his later, more recent things like Uberjam and Uberjam Deux, the second one, and the Medeski, Martin, and Wood session, there's five incredible funk albums in his later work that just are amazing.

Evan Ball:
Okay. I'll check it out.

Tim Mahoney:
Yeah, he's great.

Evan Ball:
Okay. Any music you're listening to right now that stands out?

Nick Hexum:
There's this somewhat Tom Petty-ish guy named Rayland Baxter, who is just a really good song writer. I like Billy Eilish a lot, got into her through my kids. And there's a punk band Turnstile, that was my obsession towards the beginning of quarantine. And I covered one of their songs in my Do Stay Home sessions. So there's a few.

Evan Ball:
Billie Eilish, I'm totally in the same boat with my kids, coming across her that way. This actually also came up in our last podcast episode, but did you see the documentary that came out recently?

Nick Hexum:
Incredible.

Evan Ball:
So good. And it totally reminds me of what I was asking you guys about, like how fortuitous it was that you're all in the same place. How lucky they are to be brother and sister, because they both have so much talent and contribute in different ways. Being able to grow up in the same house, it was totally, I don't know if it could have happened any other way, but just that chemistry was so fortunate.

Nick Hexum:
Yeah. And it also makes the case for homeschooling because these kids had so much musical intelligence because their parents, that was a big part of what they did from day to day in their homeschooling, was learning music. And Billie did that Ocean Eyes song when she was 14. Her brother just made a track for her to do at her dance recital. And then she made some vocals for it. And then that became the 150 million spins on YouTube. They just put it on SoundCloud so it's a cool, modern story that couldn't have happened any other way, just so grassroots, this 14 year old kid could do that.

Evan Ball:
Definitely. All right. Any strange fan encounters?

Nick Hexum:
So many.

Evan Ball:
That you'd want to mention.

Nick Hexum:
We'd get people on acid towards the beginning, that would just be like drunk and on acid and not making any sense, but obviously so excited to meet us and talk about the lyrics. And this one guy, we were playing in Aspen or something. He was like, "Hey, look, I got my Doc Martins on. I'm ready to do some kicking," because that was a lyric in one of SA's rap, and just a lot of different intoxicated people that would just say crazy stuff and then becomes inside jokes for us to just repeat.

Evan Ball:
It seems like you guys handle it well from the videos I've seen.

Nick Hexum:
Yeah. We're definitely grateful to be able to do this for so long and super-stoked on our fans.

Evan Ball:
Anything for you, Tim, that pops out?

Tim Mahoney:
I don't know why I'm thinking of chicken and light beer. We once got paid and chicken and light beer and I don't know if it's the same gig or the guy throw chicken at our bus?

Nick Hexum:
No, it was a baked potato.

Tim Mahoney:
It's a baked potato. I don't know if he's like disgruntled or what happened.

Nick Hexum:
He just smacked the side of our blue filthy Phil bus with a big potato because, I don't know. We'd taken over the place and everyone's...

Evan Ball:
That's a little more aggressive than chicken.

Nick Hexum:
Yeah. Think it broke a window.

Evan Ball:
That's funny.

Tim Mahoney:
I was glad he baked the potato because if it would have been raw, it would have been...

Evan Ball:
Yeah. Yeah. That definitely would've crossed a line there. Hey, what's the key to recording a big distortion guitar sound without losing clarity? Any pointers you got there?

Nick Hexum:
Think Tim is very radical about it with multiple amps and stuff. Go ahead.

Tim Mahoney:
Yeah. I mean, we would typically use different amps and do a lot of double tracking, so we just try and get one amp that sounds good and then get another one that's got a [inaudible 00:42:50] contrast to it that sounds good. And then you try and double track them or record them both at the same time, and then also do a double track. Changed over the years, I guess, when you have the computer and some access to that. But it's still, I don't want to say a struggle, but every time we go in to do it, it's something we have to think a lot about and take our time and figure it out each time. And it changes each time, I guess. But typically, it's trying to get a couple different good sounding amps to do each part, but it's fun and we'll probably do to get back out of here pretty soon, but...

Evan Ball:
Yeah, no, I asked because I feel like you guys pull it off so well, so...

Tim Mahoney:
Well, we have two guys playing guitar, which helps. You get two different humans interpreting the parts or the same riff gets a little bit thicker and wider and that definitely helps. But we always looking to improve every time we go in there to do it.

Evan Ball:
Speaking of two guitar players, Nick, was there ever a time when you always had a guitar on and then was there a time when it got removed and says you're a straight front man without a guitar?

Nick Hexum:
No, not since when I was the bassist in Unity, the previous band to 311, and then I was like, "I want to just run around like a crazy man and not play the bass anymore." And then so P-Nut was a perfect fit. And then I actually, on one of our first tours, I brought a Rhodes electric piano to play on a couple songs and then that burned up in a fire. And then I didn't start bringing out a guitar rig until... I didn't have it on gra... Oh no, I did. I started playing guitar again. And then now it's more likely that we'll both play guitar just because I'm less interested in running around like crazy man. I'm more interested in making cool sounds, so I guess I've been gradually playing more guitar.

Evan Ball:
Okay. If you had a time machine, is there any advice you'd have for your 20-something-year-old selves?

Tim Mahoney:
Less sweets, maybe.

Evan Ball:
Yeah, get healthier earlier?

Tim Mahoney:
I could probably spend most of the day making a list to talk to myself. Yeah, I probably would have told myself maybe to practice a little more, but I don't know.

Evan Ball:
It all worked out, so...

Tim Mahoney:
Yeah, I guess just I am what I am, but...

Nick Hexum:
Since this is about guitar, my memory of Tim's journey was that when we moved to Van Nuys after the first two years in Omaha, the rest of us would be out playing basketball and swimming and Tim would be in his room jamming along to the Grateful Dead and that's when he really took a huge step forward at that time. So he was practicing a lot. But what would I tell my former self? I don't know. Don't buy stocks on margin.

Evan Ball:
Did you have a period of buying on margin?

Nick Hexum:
Oh yeah, the dot-com era.

Evan Ball:
Oh yes, when everyone was a genius because everything kept going up and up.

Nick Hexum:
Exactly.

Tim Mahoney:
Well, we probably could have told ourselves to buy gold instead of... What was the name of our buddy that grew weed, but I remember there was a time where we were paying more for an ounce of kush bud than it was more than gold. I guess gold was that cheap, or weed was that expensive, whatever, but had we been alternating buying an ounce of weed and buying an ounce of gold for the same price... Now going up through the roof so we could have spent money on gold instead of all that weed, but...

Evan Ball:
Well, we probably also would have just bought Amazon, actually, in the dot-com era. All right. Before I let you go, I got to ask, what gauge strings do you guys play?

Nick Hexum:
I like them a little heavier, 11s.

Tim Mahoney:
I use 10s but I've been, for at least the last year, I think even before the COVI, I've been flirting with the idea of getting one of my guitars, putting some 9s on them because, just to see how [inaudible 00:47:15] goes but I'll get to a 9 eventually. But yeah, 10s, I pretty much, for 30 years, been on 10s.

Evan Ball:
What's funny, we've actually seen a trend, people moving to lighter gauge strings towards 9s. Everything got heavier and recently, I'd say the past year or so, we've seen a shift back towards super Slinkies. Interesting.

Tim Mahoney:
Nice. Well, I better get on it because I can just feel some of these lower strings. I'm like, "I need just a little less there. Just a little..."

Evan Ball:
Regular Slinkies, the 10s, they're still the top dog but 9s are up there. And do you guys play the normal Slinkies, or Paradigms or some other...

Tim Mahoney:
Yeah, just standard, I don't know if it's just old and in the way or what, but I just [crosstalk 00:48:01] comfortable.

Evan Ball:
Well, they're standard for a reason. Well, I just want to thank you guys for really being model Ernie Ball artists. All your appearances at our NAMM booth and doing interviews like this and using our stuff for literally decades, so thank you guys so much.

Nick Hexum:
Yeah, it's nice to have a long relationship like that and you guys are always very helpful to us too, so thank you as well.

Tim Mahoney:
Yeah, we've been fortunate to hook up with you guys from when we were young and can't imagine it any other way.

Evan Ball:
All right, well, I can't wait to see you guys back on the road. Tim and Nick, thanks for being on the podcast.

Tim Mahoney:
Right on, brother Evan. Good to talk to you.

Nick Hexum:
It was a lot of fun. Take care.

Evan Ball:
Thanks for tuning in to Striking a Chord, an Ernie Ball podcast. Big thanks to Tim and Nick. I really enjoyed that one, as you all could probably tell. Don't forget to check out their tour schedule that they recently posted at 311.com. If you'd like to contact us, please email [email protected]

Nick Hexum:
I could step up the mike and I mean, if this sounds roomy, I could put on a really good mike or should we just leave it like this since Tim's on a room mike too?

Evan Ball:
I think it's fine. In the era of COVID, we've had all kinds of audio connections and this sounds pretty good.

Nick Hexum:
Well, the thing that bums me out is when they're in a totally bangy room with hard floors and hard walls and you can't hear what they're saying, but we don't have that problem.

Evan Ball:
No, no, no. We're good.

Tim Mahoney:
I still haven't fixed my smoke detector. It's been about a year now but that thing will chirp in the background, so I apologize.

Evan Ball:
No problem, just adding character.