Musical ground first broken by 311 is now well-tilled by other bands

September 23, 1999|By J.D. Considine | J.D. Considine,Sun Pop Music Critic

Being ahead of your time isn't always an advantage. Nick Hexum of 311 remembers the first time his band got played by MTV, back in 1993, on the channel's underground rock show, "120 Minutes."

"We were doing that rap/rock [fusion]," he says, over the phone from his Los Angeles home. "It was such a novelty, because most of the stuff they were playing at that time was the Seattle sound."

Now, however, the Seattle sound is passe, while the rap/rock approach is all the rage. But because 311 was on hiatus when Limp Bizkit, Korn and Kid Rock charged up the charts, some in the music industry say the band will be playing catch-up when it releases its new album, "Soundsystem," in early October. (The band will preview songs from the album at the HFStival in Washington this Saturday.)

Conjecture about 311's sales potential doesn't vex Hexum, though. "We figured that the best way for us to reclaim our spot is to really take our time and make sure that we're really stepping forward, rather than just rush through a record just to join in the excitement," he says.

Hexum adds that "people have been asking me a lot" if he or his band are bitter about watching other bands capitalize on a sound 311 pioneered. "We're definitely not bitter about it," he says. "I think it's really exciting to see hybrid music finally get its [proper respect].

"But I don't feel that we've been left out or anything. I think there are some bands that were real pioneers of this style that haven't gotten their due props. Like, the Deftones are probably one of the best at neo-metal with hip-hop styles thrown in, and I think they should be getting more credit than they are."

Besides, 311's music isn't just about rap meeting rock; it also involves a healthy dose of dancehall, a Jamaican style that uses sing-song rapping over a bass-heavy pulse. Barenaked Ladies recently incorporated a dancehall approach in the verse to "One Week," but 311 put the sound into the pop market first with its 1996 hit, "Down."

"That's where we kind of differ from most of those bands," says Hexum. "We're more into the melodies and the singing, the dancehall and the reggae. That's why it probably takes our singles a little more to get over. Because if you're mixing rap, which is accepted, and AC/DC, which is accepted, it's going to be easier [to get over] than if you're doing something like Chaka Demus and Pliers combined with Bad Brains."

Hexum and his bandmates aren't that concerned with having hits. "I can't deny that I hope we'll have hits [like 'Down'] again," he says. "But at the same time, we're not counting on it. Because we want to be a band like Led Zeppelin or something, that caters more to a full catalog of work, rather than 'We're only as big as our last hit.' "

311

What: HFStival, featuring Limp Bizkit, Chemical Brothers, 311, Filter, Everclear, Bush, Buckcherry, Fuel, Powerman 500, Uncle Ho, Bis, Jimmie's Chicken Shack, Staind, JACT, Splitsville and Sev

When: Saturday, noon-11 p.m.

Where: RFK Stadium, 2400 E. Capitol St. S.E., Washington

Tickets: Sold out

Call: 301-306-0991 for information

Web: www.whfs.com

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