Writing, recording & touring ‘MOSAIC’ with Pnut of 311
Welcome to 311 week on Artist Waves.
311 recently celebrated 27 years strong— with all five original members. The band’s full ride is one of immense creativity and honesty, that ultimately has home-brewed a movement and way of life amongst their faithful hive. On Friday the 23rd, they release their 12th record, MOSAIC. In tribute and celebration, we have one unique feature per day.
Part 1: An interview with bassist, Pnut:
Nick (Hexum) writes everything, all the parts he wants to start out with. We’ll play around with them slightly. As open as Nick is to all our ideas, his first ideas are always so good. If there’s any stylistic change, it’s very subtle compared to what he originally comes up with. He can see the whole song. My songwriting ideas are usually a little less thought out because I want them to be more of a collaboration. I have tons of riffs, and usually we’ll work that around in a song, usually with Nick’s help. Chad and I write together on occasion. Nick and I have also had some # 1’s. We did “Come Original” and “Don’t Tread on Me”. It’s fun working with someone who has well-thought out ideas and still wants to collaborate.
Sometimes Nick will write a bass part and sometimes he simply provides a foundation. I can complement other people’s great ideas with my style of bass playing.
What Nick and I are doing more of lately are lyrics. Again, Nick usually knows what he wants, but he’s also looking for another flavor. We seem to finish each other’s sentences. It’s really fun like that. I often am in position to tell him that I think a particular lyric is going to work and you can feel it on multiple levels. Other times he’ll have me finish something or come up with a hook.
“Wildfire” off our new record, is a good example of our process. This is the second song on MOSAIC and the first song we wrote for the record. Nick brought that one in almost two years ago and it seemed perfect right away. I ended up writing some of the lyrics, but there wasn’t much that needed to be done with it at all. It was that good. It’s a five and half minute song with no breaks. It has constant changes and is not too drawn out. It’s a lot of fun to play.
The Recording Process:
Chad (Sexton) will do a batch of drums to start. I can blaze through songs, easily two or three a day. If there’s something I need to adjust we can fix it super quickly as well. I don’t mind taking my time, but there’s really no point.
The recording process starts off loose and then ends up being tight as we run out of time. It’s our comfortable way of doing it. Projects can take forever if you don’t have a time limit on them. We’ll start at a slow pace to get the ball rolling, then we’ll finish in a rush. There’s always an arbitrary time limit.
On MOSAIC, I did a lot more distortion and effective parts that are similar to a keyboard sound. I do that in my solo and have done it live, but have not recorded too much like that. It’s been a lot of fun to grow from what we did with Stereolithic, which to me, felt like a bit of a throwback album. MOSAIC is half that, half futuristic with more keyboards, samples and experimentation. I’d say it’s more like Transistor.
We’ve done it for so long, but we still have so much to say. There are new stories to tell.
The Basses I Used on MOSAIC:
I worked with a lot of different basses. I did “Extension” on a Warwick Star bass, which is a semi-acoustic with all hand-wound pickups. It’s a really old-school/modern sound. I rolled off all the high end and tried to get my reggae on. It’s a blast to play live. It’s only got so many changes and goes through a few chords, but the way we emphasize the accents makes it really cool.
I don’t know if I’ll bring out the Star bass on tour, but I’ll have something special that’s a little bit different than normal. I’ve got a 2008 “Pnut” signature series Warwick that I cannot beat. It sounds so perfect. On “Wildfire” I played a 1974 Rickenbacker. The break on “Too Much to Think” where everything turns off except for Nick and I, that was my ukulele bass. It’s an incredible instrument, I love that thing. I won’t be able to have it mounted on stage to play just those eight bars. But other than those three songs, I used my main bass for everything else.
A Diverse Record:
“Wildfire” has a lot of changes. The ending is really complex. It’s really me playing guitar parts, going over the whole chords and not just a third or fifth of the route, I’m showing off the entire shape. It’s fun to listen to, there’s just a million things going on. We returned to our classic form of songwriting with “Places That The Mind Goes”. I think we’re going to grab tons of people with that. It’s a huge rope of a song where you can fit in a lot of people. It’s so relate-able, it’s easy to listen to over and over again and it’s really great to be a part of it. It’s going to hit people really hard. I think it can be the standout on the album. It’s super different compared to the rest of the songs. I feel the same way about “ ‘Til the City’s on Fire”, but more in a rock format.
How I Prepare for Touring:
I used to not even think about it. There are still parts of it that fall into that category because it’s such a well-oiled machine. You can see it coming, so it’s easy to prepare for. Now that I’m 43 though, I’m into the longevity. I want to make it easier to tour by staying light and treating myself right. I make sure I do the things to enjoy it and not let it get brutal. I get outside as much as possible instead of locking myself up in the tour bus. Eating right is a big part of it too. It’s not a diet, it’s a lifestyle.
My wife introduced my to soul cycle about two years ago now. I’ve lost 20 pounds from indoor cycling and getting screamed at by the instructor. I like the gang aspect of everyone working out together and pushing it. Music is half of the class if not more. It’s such an amazing format where for 45 minutes you can feel like that.
On tour, as much as we move around at night, there’s a long day attached to that where we are not doing a ton. I want to teach myself to be an illustrator so I’ll use my time to focus on that. I’d love to start creating visual content for the band, I just need to teach myself to speak that language.
An hour before the show I will do a 30-minute yoga routine. I’ll stretch, get loose and quiet down. Sometimes I listen to music. I can do it anywhere, but I’m most comfortable in the front lounge of the tour bus, getting in people’s way. I do it every night. Then I get dressed and get ready to rock.
What’s Different This Year:
The bass solo is something I have to tackle by myself. I want to make that different every year. I’ve been working on it for a few months now. I want some of it to be improv, so that will be different every night. The rest of it will be something I’ve designed. I want to do a lot with looping this time around, maybe get the crowd singing.
I also love mixing with the guys in the band to try and make the setlist better. We all see it a bit differently. It’s one of the more frustrating things that I love. There are many different kinds of fans nowadays. We are at a point where we can craft any kind of setlist we want. Last year we played 98 different songs. I believe that’s the best we’ve ever done. We need to keep doing that. It should be easy with 17 new songs.
We are also doing a band bow this year at the end of the show. My routine will be exchanged out for it. For the sake of mixing it up, it will be good to do something different. I like bringing Chad out from behind the drum set. He’s got a brand new kit this year and we are doing a new drum routine. We’ve got a lot of tricks including visuals that pairs well with the new music. We leave it all on stage. Anyone who wants to see a good rock show when we’re in town, knows where to go.
Catch 311 on tour this summer, starting June 22nd in Cleveland, OH.
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In collaboration with/produced by Jeff Gorra