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Members believe 311's future looks bright

November 30, 2005 - With 15 years as a band under its belt, 311 is a veteran band by any definition.

But vocalist/DJ S.A. Martinez sounded more like a musician just getting his first taste of success when he was asked about the band as it exists today.

"I really think our writing has just, it's really growing, and I think it's something that is only going to get better," Martinez said in an interview just before the start of the band's summer tour. "I really think our best records are yet to come. I'm really liking the direction that we're heading in."

That direction, which is taking 311 more toward a grooving melodic rock sound and away from the rap-rock hybrid of the group's early albums, Martinez acknowledged, hasn't been embraced by some fans.

"I know some of our fans think we're be-coming too melodic or we're not doing enough rap or whatever," he said. "But honestly, we're just doing what's in our hearts and what wants to come out. I think that really makes us who we are."

In Martinez's view, 311 reached a stylistic crossroads before making the 2001 CD "From Chaos." By that time, 311 had seen its commercial fortunes level off a bit.

Formed in Lincoln, Neb., in 1990, 311 self-released three albums before deciding it needed to relocate to Los Angeles to pursue a record deal and take the next step up on its career path. The move worked, and 311 landed a deal with Capricorn Records.

The band's major-label debut, "Music," arrived in 1993, but the real breakthrough came two albums later with the 1995 self-titled CD that's commonly known as the "Blue" album. It yielded major radio hits in "Down" and "All Mixed Up," and sold more than 3 million copies.

But the next CD, "Transistor," which strayed from the group's hard-hitting rock/rap/funk signature to fashion a more relaxed sound, sold only about 800,000 copies. The next CD, 1999's "Soundsys-tem," did better, producing the hit "Come Original," while taking a step back toward the band's harder sound.

But Martinez said by that point, the group's members — Martinez, Nick Hexum (vocals/guitar), Chad Sexton (drums), Tim Mahoney (guitar) and P-Nut (bass) — believed they had reached an important point in their musical development. The next CD, "From Chaos," reflected this mindset.

"I think we were at a crossroads there where we were trying to recapture some of what we were known for early on, and then on the other side of that record we let ourselves go a little more," Martinez said of the "From Chaos" CD. "Some of the songs toward the end of that record were some of the best songs we've ever written — 'Am-ber,' 'Uncalm,' 'I'll Be Here Awhile.'

"We really just started to say this is really kind of what we want to do, as opposed to let's recapture our youth. Let's embrace the melodies and the things we really want to sing,'' he added.

Those three songs, which blended smooth flowing melodies with reggae beats, represented a sign of things to come.

The lilting mid-tempo "Amber" emerged as one of two top-10 modern-rock singles — "You Wouldn't Believe," a funk-edged rocker with a good deal of melody also was a hit — on the CD.

With 2003's "Evolver," 311 embraced melodic rock even more eagerly, and that shift continues with "Don't Tread on Me," which is one of the band's most focused and strongest CDs. The title track from the CD has gone top five on Billboard magazine's modern-rock singles chart, giving the CD a strong initial push.

The reggae element that was featured on "From Chaos" once again figures strongly in several songs, including the laid back "Speak Easy" and the harder-edged "Frolic Room" and title track. But punchy rock also is a primary element on "Don't Tread on Me." "Solar Fire" stands out as one of the freshest-sounding songs, as a hefty rock riff ignites this heavy anthem. "Long for the Flowers" is anchored in a gritty guitar riff that runs throughout the song. "It's Getting OK Now" rides a driving rhythm to lay claim to being the CD's briskest track.

The band, of course, debuted a number of songs from the new CD on the current tour. With 311 coming off what Martinez believes are the band's two best CDs — "Evolver" and "Don't Tread on Me" — he's not only confident about the quality of the current live show, but the future of 311.

"I think this really just gives us more life, even down the road," he said. "It deepens our catalog to the point where these songs, I think, are really going to grow on our fans and are just going to be fun to play live. And I think it just points us in the right direction."

311 headlines the Ho Ho Show 2005, sponsored by KPNT, Wednesday, Dec. 7, at the Pageant, 616 Delmar Blvd. Tickets for the 7 p.m. show, which also features Alien Ant Farm and Living Things, cost $35.

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