311's Nick Hexum is high
December 8, 1999
By Jamie Allen
(CNN) -- Nick Hexum, the lanky bleach-blonde front man for 311, is talking on the phone at the production offices of House of Blues in New Orleans. It's a stop on the band's tour to promote their latest album, "Soundsystem" (Capricorn).
"Every time I'm here in New Orleans, I'm usually so (drunk)," Hexum tells a reporter, laughing. He's not drunk this time, though. From the stage on this 60-date tour, Hexum has been seeing things from a different perspective, one that isn't filtered through the haze of drugs.
"My goal was to do one whole tour sober," the 29-year-old says. "Basically, it will take me up to New Year's, so I guess in some ways my New Year's resolution is to drink."
But for now, Hexum is basking in clarity.
"I'll go out with the guys and check out a bar or something, but I usually only stay for an hour, tops, and go home and get a good night's sleep and wake up feeling great," he says. "I like to jog around each town just to take in the local landscape and get the most out of traveling.
"Now the highlight of my day is being on the stage," he says. "There's no comparison to the excitement of that. I remember the first show we did this tour in Nashville. It basically was just a blur. I had so much energy and I remember at one point sweating a crazy amount of sweat. I remember that my whole body was on total autopilot. I wasn't thinking about what I was doing at all. My limbs were just going to the music without any sort of thought to it."
OK, so it sounds like Hexum doesn't need to do drugs to rise to the occasion of 311's success. In fact, success has been the drug of choice for the band lately.
"Soundsystem" has already produced one modern rock hit in "Come Original," an offbeat rocker calling for entertainers to challenge their creative spirit. "Flowing" will be the second release from the CD; Hexum is currently studying video treatments for it.
"We want to make it something pretty trippy and pretty interesting," he says. "The song's about insomnia and it lends itself to make a cool video about dreams."
"Soundsystem," the band's fifth original Capricorn release, boasts new directions for 311, and at times those directions get interpreted in different ways, Hexum says.
"This album is more rock-oriented than any others we've done," he says. "But other people say it has a heavy reggae influence, so I find people taking a different summation, every different person that listens to it."
One thing is certain: The album is continuing a record-selling trend that 311 started in the mid-'90s. Their self-titled 1995 CD put the spotlight on the band's amorphous sound that mixes rock, rap and reggae. "311" produced a No. 1 Billboard single in "Down," and a No. 2 follow-up single in "All Mixed Up."
"Transistor," their fourth album (released in 1997), debuted at No. 4 on Billboard's Top 200 Albums Chart. The achievements were the antidote to the band's early struggles that began with their formation in Omaha, Nebraska, in 1990.
While vying for an audience, the bandmates resettled in Los Angeles and toured relentlessly. At one point during a 1993 tour, their RV caught fire and exploded, destroying all their equipment and personal possessions.
'More girls crying'
The early obstacles have been left behind by 311. Hexum's just happy to be on the road, after taking two years to make "Soundsystem." The fans seem to be happy to have 311 back, too -- most of the shows on the small-venue tour have sold out.
"It's just really a blast to get back," he says. "In some ways, absence has made the heart grow fonder -- of our fans towards us, and us towards our fans -- because there's this level of hysteria when we come out that's pretty awesome. There's more girls crying than ever before, for sure."
Also, "I'm doing a lot of good stage dives," Hexum laughs. "I've been getting a lot of good air, landing halfway into the crowd and getting passed around. But I've got to take off my necklace because I got choked one night by someone grabbing my necklace from behind. That was kind of irritating. But the audience gets so loud and there's so much energy when I do that, so it's a good way to end the show."
Clearly, Hexum is a guy that loves the high of performance. He's looking forward to New Year's, too -- not because he wants to drink, but because 311 is playing a New Year's Eve concert in L.A. with the group's musical heroes, the Red Hot Chili Peppers.
"To me, it's a perfect way to sum up all the work we've done in the 1990s," he says. "We started out in 1990 and we just loved the Chilis. They were a huge influence on us. Now, at the end of a 10-year mission, to be sharing the stage with them on pretty much the biggest night ever ... it is just a perfect opportunity."
'A strong, positive outlook'
Unlike some other planned New Year's concerts, this one is selling well. And Hexum will be sober to enjoy it. His sobriety -- temporary or not -- has a message that goes beyond his own personal challenges. And it has taught him a few things about being a musician.
"I really don't think any drugs enhance musical performance in any way," he says. "They can detract. So given that, my top priority is having a great tour and spreading positive messages. During our time off, I was reading fan mail and seeing how many kids were like, 'Your lyrics got me through hard times. I was depressed. I was suicidal. I listened to your music, I felt better.' And it's like I feel a sense of responsibility that there are a lot of people, especially kids, looking up to me and what I'm doing and following what I'm doing.
"Not that I wanted to lead by example, but I wanted to have a really strong, positive outlook."
New Year's Eve tickets go unsold
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