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311: Omaha Stylee

story by tim mcmahan



Lazy-i: July 13, 2004

150! Birthday Festival: 311 Concert
w/Zack Hexum, Grasshopper Takeover
July 16
6 to 10 p.m.
Memorial Park
60th & Dodge Sts.
Admission is free

Want more? Check out a Feb 1993 interview with 311 and see where it all began.

So I'm talking to a friend of mine at the bar and ask him if he's going to the 311 concert at Memorial Park July 16. My friend joked in response, "Have they decided that they're from Omaha again?"

It wasn't the first time that I'd heard someone accuse 311 of denying their Omaha roots after they moved to Van Nuys, California, in 1992. It's an accusation I've never understood, and neither has 311 frontman Nick Hexum.

"Someone else from Omaha asked me about that the other day," he said via cell phone last week. "Why would we write a song called 'Omaha Stylee,' which is still a staple of our live show, if we were from LA? When people ask us how we've been able to maintain a certain fan base, we tell them it's because of our upbringing in Omaha. Omaha is a part of us. We wear it proudly."

Hexum recalled how 311 first got airplay in Los Angeles and how the jocks we're surprised that a band that played a style of music that fuses rock, reggae, hip-hop and funk could come out of Omaha. "We never considered denying our Omaha-ness," Hexum added. "It wouldn't work. It's such a part of us. We're just Nebraska boys happy to be able to do what we do."




From that standpoint, 311's concert in the park is a homecoming of sorts to a city the band has never forgotten. Hexum, who owns a house in the posh Hollywood Hills, visits his birthplace two or three times a year including Christmastime. The band had requested a Memorial Park concert years earlier, but was turned down by the city. Then out of the blue, 311 received a letter from Mayor Mike Fahey in care of Hexum's father, who works at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, inviting them to do Friday's show as part of Omaha's 150th birthday celebration.

"We said we'd love to do it," Hexum said. "The crowd won't be our normal audience of hardcore fans. We'll make it more of a show that'll be appropriate for all ages. People shouldn't be worried about bringing young kids. We know we have a reputation among some people as being bad boys, but this night will be an all-inclusive engagement."

Bad boys or good, the band has a rep as hit makers. In addition to Hexum on guitars and vocals, 311 includes fellow Omaha natives S.A. Martinez, who shares the vocal chores, guitarist Tim Mahoney, bassist P-Nut, and drummer Chad Sexton. Formed in 1990, the band quickly garnered a large Omaha following thanks to their high-energy, beat-heavy sound that doesn't encourage -- but demands -- listeners to jump up and down. 311 shows weren't rock concerts, they were sweaty mosh parties where entire crowds bounced to the beat as if on trampolines.

But despite their strong Omaha following, the band packed up and moved to Los Angeles in '92. Ironically, when Capricorn Records showed interest in signing 311, it was their Omaha fan base that sealed the deal.

"Moving to LA didn't get us signed," Hexum said. "When record companies wanted to see us play, we went back to Omaha because we didn't have fans here. Nothing about Los Angeles got us signed, it just strengthened our commitment to music. We were going 'all for one and one for all,' and practiced every single day. It made us better musicians. Only one label was interested in us, and they turned out to sign us. Without Capricorn (Records), the story would be different, but we never entertained the idea of moving back."

311's aggressive stance early on wound up being construed as arrogance among some back home in Omaha. The headline for one article written about them back in '93 summed it up this way: "Sometimes It Pays to Be Assholes." Hexum addressed the band's rep in that story, saying "Folks in Omaha have been great supporting us, but we've been faced with a lot of assholes, too - bands downtown who really wanted to keep us out. We were viewed as young upstarts. People accused us of having such a bad attitude. The fact is, without it, we wouldn't have a chance in hell in Los Angeles."

Hexum laughed when the quote was read back to him. "I think I was using hyperbole to say it like that," he said. "But the music business is so full of disappointment. You have to believe in yourself and have the self-confidence to withstand the constant rejection and be ready to go for more. A lot of people can't get through that. We had to have a strong sense of band self-esteem to convince someone to sign us, and I do think there's a certain attitude and confidence you need just to be a performer.

"I remember that article and that whole reputation thing. It's funny to think that we were once viewed that way. Today, everyone is like, 'These are the nicest guys in the music business.' We know that we're blessed and lucky to be doing what we do, and we let people know that. Back then, we felt we needed to be more outspoken to the point of obnoxiousness."








"Back then, we felt we needed to be more outspoken to the point of obnoxiousness."








"I've always felt that Omaha people try harder, and that's an ingredient of our success."



Fourteen years and phenomenal success have changed all that. The band's sales statistics listed on their one-sheet underscores their place in the music world: Four Gold records, one Platinum, one Triple-Platinum, a Gold and Platinum DVD; more than 7 million units sold in the United States; four albums in the Billboard top-10, six singles in Billboard's top-10 Modern Rock Chart, including two #1's -- "Down" and "Love Song," a cover of The Cure classic from the Adam Sandler film "50 First Dates," which held the top spot just this year.

The first portion of their career is summed up in Greatest Hits '93-'03. Released last month by Volcano/Zomba Label Group, the CD compiles the most popular songs from the band's first seven albums plus two new songs that Hexum says reflect their future direction -- the grinding, heavy "How Do You Feel?" and the laid-back, reggae-flavored "First Straw."

Hexum's future also includes supporting his brother Zack's career. Nick's What Have You record label co-released Zack's debut, Story So Far, in a joint venture with Trauma Records. The two will perform together at Homer's Orchard Plaza at noon July 16, the day of the park concert that Zack will open along with 311 friends Grasshopper Takeover.

"Zack's music is soulful, Beatle-esque, modern classic rock," said Hexum, who's eight years older than his brother. "He's very talented, but it's a long, hard road breaking into this business."

Hexum knows first hand, and says his Omaha roots have given him and his band an advantage in a cutthroat industry.

"I've always enjoyed the business side of the job, especially when it comes to hardcore negotiations where you have to play hardball," he said. "I've never been intimidated. I credit my parents, who raised me and believe I can do anything I set my mind to and told me to not be intimidated by anyone.

"When we moved out to Los Angeles, we said we were the kings of LA. It was a joke, but we were serious, too. We thought we were going to work our way to the top of the heap. I've always felt that Omaha people try harder, and that's an ingredient of our success."

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Published in The Omaha Reader July 14, 2004. Copyright 2004 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.