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311 Interview

311

Interview with Bassist, Aaron “P-Nut” Wills

 

By:  Nina McCarthy, Sr. Music Journalist

Boston Rock Radio

 

 

 

It was a great privilege to be able to chat with P-Nut  about the new album from 311, Mosaic, their tour, beer, cannabis and more!  Make sure to catch them this Fall on tour in a city near you.  

 

 

BRR:  I know it's been asked a million times,  but I think the story is hysterical about about the origin of the name 311.  Can you relate that story?

 

The band name came from an incident where a good friend of mine got arrested for skinny dipping in a public pool with a neighborhood around it and lots of wandering eyes.

 

BRR:  And you escaped by jumping over a fence, if I remember correctly?

 

I was smart enough to keep my clothes on. But yeah, we split when we heard the cops were coming or we saw a cop pull up and my friend Jimmy got arrested and brought home with a ticket that said “311” on it, which was the code for indecent exposure.

 

BRR:  You, Nick, and Chad are all members since the inception 27 years ago.  I see many bands go through various lineup changes. What do you think kept you together all this time?

 

The fans have kept us together for sure, but the fans wouldn't factor in if we didn't really love what we do.  I don't think we're good enough actors to pretend that we are enjoying this if it's not genuine.  We love it first and foremost and that's really our foundation and we really like learning from each other.  It's a constant in our relationships.  We're always testing each other or expanding each other's reality in one way or another, and that's great for creative people.  For us to be supported by the fans as long as we have, it is kind of the love triangle that makes it all worth it.  Of course,  we also have a great crew.  We've had some of our crew members for more than 10 years.  We love long term relationships.  It's one of those things that gets us through life with all the band members, and the crew members, and probably the fans.  It's just better when it lasts.

 

BRR:  That is amazing that, even with the crew members, to have that longevity.  I know in the beginning, Nick decided to start his own record company in order to get your music some initial recognition and you toured incessantly all on your own finances.  What do you think was the defining moment when you guys felt like, “We made it?”

 

The “made it” was a couple different places. I always think about Red Rocks (Colorado), the first time we played there in front of 7,000+ people was just incredible.  But signing a contract in ‘92 with Capricorn was also one of those moments.  That's one of those moments in a movie, like okay, you're signed now, but now you're in debt!  It cost a quarter of a million dollars, especially back then.  It was one of those, “We're going to dig our way out of it.”  Then the RV fire was kind of the opposite of the “we made it” moment, but if we lived through that we were going to make sure that we lasted.

 

BRR:  Yeah, that was horrible because you lost all your gear too, right?  But at least everyone survived.

 

Yeah, again another $40,000 in the hole of money we didn't have at all at the time.  We told ourselves over and over again that we had each other's back and with the fans as well, we can get through almost anything.  Those gigantic speed bumps that could have been career ending for other bands, really just turned into fuel for us.  We're probably still living that way, either by being supported by the people strong enough to give us a platform in the industry, like BMG now and our new management, Red Light Management.  Having that support is really great.  We could do it on our own but it would be such a pain in the butt, who knows if it would even be worth it.  So it's really nice having professionals working on the business side of things and the fans are awesome.  We are good at what we do and we love it.  I think we're getting better in ways.  We're getting good at grabbing people's attention for certain moments in the show and we're kind of holding onto that and making it play into other shows, adding to our old stuff.  It all adds to our longevity and it's worth it to stick around.

 

BRR:  You just took the words right out of my mouth that it contributes to your “longevity.”  Fans pass down the music from generation to generation.  Long time fans hopefully bring their kids to shows and you gain more fans every show.   Now, S.A. was originally just making guest appearances with 311.  How did you con him into becoming a permanent member?

 

It was a necessary part of the band.  There was no band without S.A.  There's some alternate reality where we made that bad decisions to not have him as a permanent member. I think he would have found his way.  He would have found our address in California and stalked us, and rightfully so because he has so much heart and such a grasp on the language and is totally unique but can convey these unique ideas in ways that bring people together.  It's pretty amazing.  We're honored and humbled to have his mind to kind of spill out in the audience.   S.A. will add to a lyrical content in a way that no one else in the world would and I really like that a lot. S.A. and Chad’s combination are one of my favorite spices in the band.  Then when me and Tim write together, it's really fun too.  Me and Nick have become writing partners on the lyric side of things, over the music kind of things over the past few years and that's been fun.  Those kind of dynamics and the changing of rolls, ever so slight or not ever so slight in some cases, add to the fun and add to the longevity.  It makes it interesting to stick around.

 

BRR:  Exactly, it makes the fans want to see what's next.

 

Totally.  When Nick calls and says he wants to work on a new song, those are the best calls I can get, business wise of course.  We never know what he is going to have in store for me and I never know what he is going to want from me and I have to be ready for a good contribution on both sides of things.  I must have done it enough times that I feel like I'm on the short list of phone calls that he's going to make out of a city of 6 million people to work with, he still wants to work with me, so it's pretty awesome.

 

BRR:  I bet!  In March of 2011, you began hosting a yearly Caribbean cruise.  Tell me about those and are they continuing?

 

Yeah, we've done five since then, I believe and couple times we heard from the cruise lines that we had more people on the boat than had ever been on the boat.  So there's a success story to that and an insight we would have never seen because the promotion company, Sixth Man, had approached us and thought we had a good audience for doing a cruise and entertaining a few thousand people on the water and bringing other bands.  They had the good idea and we met in the middle with them and changed the show, knowing it was going to be super deep with die hard fans, then playing new stuff here and there, making it special for people that are probably making it their one yearly vacation, with us, a very, very special one. It means a lot to us that people spend that much money and that much time with us because both are very precious.

 

BRR:  I would love to go on one of those.  Sounds like a blast.

 

If you love music, especially our music, it's an incredible experience.  It's something we could have never planned on, that we really enjoyed having on the calendar.  Most of the time people bring their kids and their wives and it turns into a working vacation for us.  Again, last long, live long.  You'd be surrounded by people like you, loving life and just wanting to take a break from the reality and just have fun for a few days in the sunshine listening to some loud ass music.

 

BRR:  It doesn't get much better than that!  In June of this year, 311 released their 12th studio album and 10th consecutive Top 10 album, Mosaic.  Since it has been out a few months now, what has been the response and reviews?

 

Everything has been great.  Everything from the fans has been fantastic.  I'd love to be selling more albums of course, wouldn't everybody?  But the fact that we are still pleasing our audience and extending our range.  We feel like we got one really, really good shot on this next collection of songs to really grab a lot of people and that Mosaic is a great step forward,  just like Stereolithic was another great step forward for us.  We're just enjoying taking our little creative steps that we might think are very large or small, time will tell.  Regardless, we'll be out on the road playing shows.  The fact that we have 10 albums that have been consecutive in the Top 10, at all, is pretty amazing.  The album before that, the farthest it got was 198, is where Grassroots debuted the day that it came out (1994).  So, it's pretty funny.  Things have changed a lot, up down, up down, up down but we'll still be here playing music enjoying every drop of sweat that we drip on stage.

 

BRR:  I think people are more apt to buy the physical CD at shows because after seeing the show they're all psyched up instead of them just sitting home.

 

It's true. We've definitely thought about that and it's something that record labels used to be totally against and now they're like, “Who cares?”  It would be smart if there could be an instant live situation that we haven't figured out yet, and the technology isn't quite there yet, but you hear about bands getting there,  offering a hard or digital copy of the show that the audience was just at,  upon exit available for purchase. That would be pretty amazing.  Sounds like some Buck Rogers stuff.  Oops, I just dated myself.  Buck Rogers was awesome, by the way, kids.

 

BRR:  Somebody should definitely come up with that!  Now this last album, Mosaic, was your first time working with John Feldmann as the producer.  How was working with him?

 

Working with John Feldmann was a caffeinated fireball of an experience!

 

BRR:  That's right. I remember you saying he drank tons of caffeine.

 

If his cup was empty, he was filling it up and if your cup was empty, he was filling it up and I bet he took drinks out of everybody's cup when they weren't looking.  He's jacked up and in the most wonderful way because he works really, really fast.   You've got to hold on and hope that you'll come up with good stuff because he'll call you on it.  I never saw anyone talk to Nick and S.A. like that.  It was so funny.  The only way it would have worked was with it being like a friend and that's kind of how it is.  He's a peer and a friend, but it's a working relationship too.  He can look at them and say, “No, do it again. Do it better.  This time do it good!”  It's funny and he doesn't mean it 100%, but he does, and he's kind of jabbing at them in the way that actually got some fantastic performances.  You hear about that in the studio.  I like us being on the friendly side of uncomfortable because there is something that can really come out of that.  If you're too comfortable,  you're going to cheese out and you're going to pillow something and make mashed potatoes out of a good idea.  If you're a little uncomfortable, you may surprise yourself and make a flying star out of a grain of rice.

 

BRR:  Right. It's having a healthy fear and pushing yourself beyond your comfort zone.

 

Yeah, jump! Jump off that safety net.  It's just music and they are just ideas.  You're going to use your tools and you can squash anything bad that comes out. The idea that there are only good ideas or you want to hear every idea is pretty cool.  If you hear 50 bad ideas, eventually you're going to get to something incredible because you've cracked the egg.  I don't know.  I love that process.  It's super fun.

 

BRR:  It's all the ideas that come together that make it so interesting.  The album artwork is really unique and a cool idea.  I know when we talked before you weren't thrilled about it at first, but came to like it.  Can you tell me about it?

 

I always liked the concept of mosaic as the cover art but I never really liked the picture that much, and I have come along to liking the picture enough that I've learned to live with it.  I always wanted it to be more a piece of art then just our bodies. As time goes on, I have embraced the idea that the audience is the band and the band is the audience, it's pretty cool.  It's simple and it's deep.  Just like the photography mosaic that makes the picture complete,  it's just a good idea and it doesn't need to be rocket science.  We'll leave that for the rocket scientists.

 

BRR:  And who came up with the idea?

 

Peter Raspler, one of our managers came up with it.  He's very inspired and he's knee deep with the fans all the time anyway, so I think it just made sense.  It was an easy “Yes!” from us because usually it's like pulling teeth to figure out album art and getting over that hump.  The writing is the easy part.  It was nice to have something laid out for us, even with my slowing it down a little bit.

 

 

BRR:  I'm going to shift gears a little here and change the subject to beer.  I want to hear about the 311 Amber Ale and where it can be purchased.

 

The Amber Ale can be purchased online through Rock Brothers Brewing.  It's a partnership with Rock Brothers and Cigar City Brewing, that are both in Tampa, and Nebraska Brewery, which is outside of Omaha I believe, and us, the band.  It was super fun working out the ideas.  I always wanted our Amber Ale to be a little stronger, but at 5.7, it's nice and drinkable.  It's hoppy, the water is incredible.  It's starting to be one of my favorite things about the beer is tasting a truly fresh beer out of the can.  Now that we have the Amber Ale cans, we can ship them everywhere, so that's why you can order it through them.

 

 

BRR:  I remember you telling me you had to buy a ridiculous amount to get it in cans.

 

When you go into cans,  you have to buy 100,000.  You have to buy a whole semi truck, so you have to be ready to pour some beer if you're going to make that happen.  I don't know what manufacturing operation they got a part of, but to make it all happen was an amazing circus of events that has to be more of a ballet to make it happen.  Just to get it into someone’s house is just a victory lap.

 

BRR:  Do you carry it on tour?

 

Sometimes at some shows.  It's still kind of disjointed.  I wish I had a better handle on when and where, what and why, but it is still a little out of my grasp right now, as we're trying to figure out the proper way.

 

BRR:  There's probably a lot of legalities involved with that too.

 

I think it's just totally easier for people to buy it online than for us to carry it around with us at this time.  It's only getting easier because every state has 50 breweries these days and another one opening everyday, so it should be easier for us to peddle our wonderful ale.  We are making a new one also coming out in November called Beautiful Disaster.  That is something I'm really excited about, being 11.3, speaking of strong, and made with kumquats.  It's going to be wonderful and super drinkable for something so strong- limited release in like two 22 ounce bottles with very cool art on it.  Again, super, super fun meetings we have trying out other Imperial IPAs and trying to see what people would like and what we like, what they could come up with.  It's so fun working with people who are passionate about what they do, good at what they can do and can follow through with all these good ideas.

 

 

BRR:  It must be a fun experience doing all those trial tastings!

 

It's incredible. It's one of the things we did on a couple of the cruises.  Some people won a chance to be some the first people to taste the Amber Ale and also try out what we were thinking for the Beautiful Disaster as well.  So the people who get to come on the cruises get special events outside of anything that they could plan because we have secrets and tricks.

 

BRR:  Cool.  Now that we have the beer covered, tell me about the Grassroots Uplifter.

 

Our Grassroots Uplifter is our hardware that we make for vaporizing technology of concentrated waxes and shatters, usually in the THC world, but it's also really good for CBD, but all in the cannabis world.  Remember in the ‘70s you had to say everything was made for tobacco but it wasn't made for tobacco at all. It never was.  They were all made for cannabis.  But the social mores that are decaying around the whole idea are just fantastic to watch, spiraling there way down the drain, because weed has always been wholesome.  It's as much of a gateway drug as oxygen is and for us to be able to make good hardware that lasts in an emerging market that we think we know a lot about is kind of just a natural progression for us to step outside of music, while we're making beer, to step into another world too that we're real friendly with - trying to add something good to the market.  People are throwing their names on all kinds of junk, but just like the beer, we got into trying out lots of different products and putting something together that will last a long time, so vaporers can enjoy their vapors as they want to.

 

BRR:  Here in Rhode Island, it's only legal medicinally, but neighboring Massachusetts recently became legal for recreational use.  I have my medical card, regardless, so I'm going to do some research on that Grassroots Uplifter.

 

Again, it's legally real interesting now, but only getting more and more popular.

 

BRR:  Back to the band… You're currently on a national headlining tour and you're playing a lot of smaller venues compared to the arenas.  What do you like or dislike about playing the smaller venues?

 

There's nothing like getting closer with the audience.  In the Fall, the shows are always smaller for everybody, unless you're Imagine Dragons--have you seen some of those pictures like the Pepsi Center?  Oh my gosh!

 

BRR:  Oh, I know!

 

But it's super fun.  The people are right there.  We get to play the setlist that we want to.  There's freedom in what we do at the size that we're at right now.  That should be like a blank check for us to be creative as possible and really enjoy all these moments while they do last.

 

BRR:  I enjoy the smaller venues, especially since I'm only like  5’1” and like to get up front to see without my view being blocked or getting pushed around too much.  So, I'll be seeing you in Providence on October 27th at The Strand.  Like I said, I'll be up front and I hope to get to say a quick hello.  

 

Great, can't wait. Please make your way to the front, wave or come backstage and say, “Hi!”  It will be great to put a face with your name.

 

BRR:  I'd love too!  Thanks again for your time.

 

Great talking to you again.

 

 

(All photos courtesy of 311)

 

http://www.311.com

 

10/20 – Louisville, KY @ Mercury Ballroom
10/22 – Cincinnati, OH @ Bogarts
10/23 – Nashville, TN @ Marathon Music Works
10/24 – Knoxville, TN @ The Mill and the Mine
10/26 – Bethlehem, PA @ Sands Bethlehem Event Center
10/27 – Providence, RI @ The Strand
10/28 – Montclair, NJ @ The Wellmont Theater
10/30 – Port Chester, NY @ The Capitol Theater
10/31 – Huntington, NY @ Halloween at the Paramount
11/02 – Baltimore, MD @ Rams Head Live!
11/03 – Athens, GA @ Georgia Theatre
11/04 – Tampa, FL @ Cuban Club

 

 

 

 

 

 

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