311 is a band that can be difficult to classify. Alternative, punk rock, hip hop, jazz, funk, reggae, ska, power pop, and hard rock. All distinct styles but 311 mixes them together into their own unique sound. Most bands choose one genre and stick to that for their entire career. 311 is one of very few bands that has found extensive mainstream success playing a wide variety of genres and having the freedom to evolve as artists. They’ve been an amazing source of exposure to broaden my musical horizons throughout my life. 311 is also known for their positive attitude which has also been a major source of inspiration for me.
I discovered 311 at a turbulent time in my youth: middle school. I was hanging out with some negative influences and experiencing general adolescent distraught and angst. I had always been fairly introverted in school as well. All my teachers could say about me in parent teacher conferences was that I was really quiet. I wanted to get along with everyone but for whatever reason my group of friends separated into cliques while I felt like I stayed the same. Kids can put each other down for anything as well. I wasn’t cool because I had a Mac computer, I didn’t wear Tommy Hilfiger clothes, I didn’t play sports and I was tall so people wanted to pick fights with me, which I refused to participate in. I didn’t see why any of those things were a problem but I was outcast from people I thought were my friends nonetheless. I spent a lot of time keeping to myself with music as my primary companion. I was lucky to learn of some great music growing up such as classic rock like The Beatles, Beach Boys and Moody Blues from my parents and alternative like Nirvana, Weezer and Nine Inch Nails from my older sister.
My first exposure to 311 was hearing "Down" on the local alternative station in 1996. I liked the guitar distortion but it took me a while to get used to SA Martinez's voice and figure out the lyrics. The song was everywhere that year so I let it pass and I didn’t think much of it. Revisiting the song years later, I really enjoy the rocking rhythmic guitar, bass and drums. They provide a great groove for SA’s funky rap delivery. I’ve always enjoyed the trippy effect on Nick Hexum’s vocals and like that the song is essentially a thank you message to their fans for sticking with them. Reflecting back on it, I consider “Down” a '90s alternative classic.
It wasn’t until I heard “Beautiful Disaster” that I decided I really needed to check out 311. I loved the rocking intro, grooving bass line, synced dual guitar solo before the verse, the funky drum beat throughout, the vocals drenched in reverb and echo, strange lyrics, and beautiful harmonies. Transistor was the first album I got, which is generally considered their most experimental and least accessible album. It was tough to digest compared to the more radio friendly material I was used to but something kept me coming back. It was my first grower album experience. You hear a song, may not care for it on the first listen but there's something about it that sticks with you. A lyric or melody gets stuck in your head that convinces you to give it another chance. Some that I really grew to love on that album are still favorites of mine today like "Use of Time," "Rub A Dub" and "Stealing Happy Hours.” It was very rewarding to take the time to understand the album rather than just give up on it.
“Stay positive and love your life.” The band’s hopeful message of positivity really spoke to me at the time. "Trust your instincts and let go of regret.” For an overweight introverted middle school loner, uplifting lyrics like that meant the world to me. It changed the way I looked at things. 311’s lyrics made me realize that even though I was subjected to bullying, teasing, rejection, depression and loneliness, I was lucky to come from a loving family and fortunate to be alive. A few months after I got Transistor I got the rest of 311’s back catalog.
311 was something I felt like I could call my own. I felt like they were my secret weapon that no one knew about. I felt like I made a discovery of something deeper than everyday life. I had gained an advantage in life just by knowing their music. The reality was of course, just me sitting in the library reading and listening to them during my free privilege period I earned for good grades. 311 taught me it's okay to be yourself. Bad things happen in life but it will be all right if you depend and believe in yourself, regardless of what anyone thinks. They also taught me that treating each other with patience, tolerance, understanding, and kindness is the key to happiness. Positive messages like this existed in their music and yet they rocked hard. I was inspired by their energy and unique style too. I didn’t get this from any other band I listened to.
I bonded with the few close friends I had at the time over video games, music and concerts. One of the first concerts we went to was 311 in fall of 1999. It wasn't long after that that my friends and I decided we should start a band. It took a year until we all had instruments, another friend with drums, a PA and a garage to practice in but we did it. I took up playing bass, inspired by P-Nut, 311's funkified bassist. Three of the four of us didn't know how to play our instruments and taught ourselves through two hours of band practice everyday after school for two years. We eventually ended up covering over one hundred songs and writing 25 originals. It was one of the most fun experiences I've ever had in my life. We mostly covered punk rock songs but would occasionally jam out on "Beautiful Disaster," "Prisoner," "Flowing" and other songs in between practicing our own songs.
I first heard "Amber" when I picked up 2001's From Chaos on release day. I enjoyed the chilled out vibe it provided in contrast to the harder rocking songs. It reminded me of some of their other slower songs like "Paradise" and "Lose”. I've always been a fan of Tim Mahoney's Jerry Garcia-influenced guitar effects as well as Chad Sexton’s poppy snare. My friends and I continued to go to more and more shows as well as play shows with our band once a month. We made no money but I couldn’t have been happier to get that experience.
After high school I went to college to study Digital Arts, inspired by my love of music and film. My 311 fandom continued as the band evolved their sound with each new album. I collected every 311 live bootleg and b-side I could find, traded vinyl with fans around the country, caught them live every time they came to town and even skipped a midterm to go to one of their special Halloween shows in Seattle. While in college I finally decided to address the weight problem that I lived with growing up. I lost 100 pounds over the course of two years. I definitely credit 311 with instilling the groundwork to increase my focus and self-confidence. I also began hosting rhythm gaming nights with close friends at my apartment three or four nights a week for several months.
I had so much fun with my band in high school and rhythm game parties in college that I decided to help start a Rock Band Night on the release day of the original Rock Band at Portland's Ground Kontrol Classic Arcade. Ground Kontrol is a retro arcade and bar in downtown Portland that also hosts special gaming events. I knew that their reverence for gaming would make Ground Kontrol a perfect spot for Rock Band and luckily one of the co-owners thought so too. It has been a huge success and continues to be as much fun for me each week as when it started.
Over the years the band started to hold marathon 3/11 Day concerts every other year. After seeing the 311 Day 2004 DVD where they played 68 songs in 5 hours, including tons of live rarities, I knew I absolutely had to go to the next 311 Day. I basically chose to go to this show over studying abroad, it meant that much to me. I flew across the country to Memphis by myself at 21 years old. I met and partied with other fans on Beale Street that flew from all over the world to see the show. They all shared the same excitement and enthusiasm I had for the band. It was an incredible experience. I didn’t know of any other band that would play a 5-hour high-energy show like that just to show their gratitude for their fans. I made lots of great friends that I am still friends with today. Since then I have been to three more 311 Day shows, one in New Orleans and two in Las Vegas. I even went on the 311 Caribbean Cruise last year, impulsively deciding to go only two weeks beforehand because I knew I couldn’t miss it. On board I saw tons of great bands, won the 311 trivia contest with some friends, sang karaoke alongside Olympic tennis champion and fellow fan Venus Williams and got my photo with the band. It was an unparalleled, unforgettable experience.
I’ve had countless good times through being a part of three great communities of music and game enthusiasts with 311, Rock Band, and Ground Kontrol. I couldn’t be happier or more excited to have all three of them come together this Tuesday!