Nothing separates 311 bassist P-Nut from “World of Warcraft” — not even a tour.
In fact, he was immersed in the online computer game while speaking with The Gazette recently from a tour stop in Seattle. When asked what new music he had been listening to lately, he in turn asked his wife, who happened to be close by, to weigh in. Her answer: “Whatever music’s from ‘World of Warcraft.’ ”
“My wife’s giving me crap about playing ‘World of Warcraft,’ ” P-Nut said, laughing. “I’m just a modern man.”
Despite the rock ’n’ roll band and the pseudonym, P-Nut (real name Aaron Wills) does come across as simply a regular guy when he talks.
311, with Ziggy Marley, The Expendables
When: 7 p.m. Tuesday
Where: Saratoga Performing Arts Center, 108 Avenue of the Pines, Saratoga Springs
How Much: $38.50, $20
More Info: 587-3330, www.spac.org
His assessment of 311’s success — the Omaha, Neb., group has been together with the same five members since 1990 — and the group’s gradual musical
development, is equally down-to-earth.
“Some people want us to keep doing the ‘Grassroots’ thing all the time, the album that we wrote as early 20-somethings,” P-Nut said. “But we’re in our mid- to late-30s now, so that’s not really possible. We’re into changing things up and having fun; if it’s hit and miss sometimes, that’s just the natural flow of things. We accepted that a long time ago.”
With the release of its first album in four years, “Uplifter,” this month, things would appear to be on an upswing for the band — P-Nut, vocalist/guitarist Nick Hexum, vocalist/turntablist Douglas “SA” Martinez, lead guitarist Tim Mahoney and drummer Chad Sexton. The group is on the road for its fourth annual Unity Tour — with openers Ziggy Marley and The Expendables — which heads to Saratoga Performing Arts Center Tuesday night. The tour encompasses 28 dates, through mid-July.
At first glance, Marley and 311 appear to be an odd mix, but the two artists share a common influence — namely, Marley’s father, Bob. And although 311 more often than not mixes its reggae influences with hard rock raunch and hip-hop swagger, as P-Nut pointed out, philosophically both acts are on the same page.
“We, like [Marley], are allowed to make our own kind of future, just playing good music and putting on good shows,” P-Nut said. “I hadn’t before the tour had the opportunity to see him live, but we knew it would be a good fit just because of the philosophies involved; it kind of goes.”
Able to connect
“Oh yeah, man, it’s nice, nice people,” Marley said from another tour stop in Salt Lake City, speaking of 311’s audience. “We’ve got some of our peeps, too; some of our fans come by. It’s good to have a mix.”
For Marley, who in the past has toured with such disparate artists as The Black Crowes, Blues Traveler, The Fugees, Busta Rhymes and Marilyn Manson, things couldn’t have worked out better with this tour, as it allows him to expand his audience as well.
“For me, anything is a good fit,” Marley said. “Where there’s people, there’s music, and I’ll be there. Whatever fits, I don’t really check it; if people are gonna be there, I can connect.”
With his own album, “Family Time,” released in May, Marley has been experiencing a revival of his own, albeit in a genre he’s not typically known for — children’s music. One listen to the album, however, reveals Marley’s trademark reggae sound and vocal presence, heard throughout his long career with his younger siblings in Melody Makers, and his other two solo albums.
“The album is for family, really; it’s not kiddie music, not Mickey Mouse kind of music, not the Barney type thing,” Marley said. “It goes a little deeper than that. The music is made for people, human beings. The lyrics I wrote with children in mind.”
His shows with 311, however, focus on more adult fare, drawing equally from such Melody Makers classics as “Tomorrow People,” his solo material and his father’s songs.
“This kind of tour is very easy for me to do,” Marley said. “One hour, it’s nothing; I don’t even break a sweat yet. It gives me the opportunity to change up the set. I have more songs than I need. I can’t always put a song in there, but I like doing that; it’s cool.”
The juxtaposition of styles has been enjoyable for 311’s members, as well.
“It’s just great, just kind of like we expected — good vibes, great, easy on the ears music,” P-Nut said of Marley’s opening sets so far. “That allows us to come out with distorted guitars, power chords, slap bass, rapping, harmonies, stuff like that, and it makes it seem like we’re even more powerful than we think we are.”
311 sought to make a powerful statement with “Uplifter,” its ninth album. After the release of 2005’s “Don’t Tread on Me,” the band’s members decided a break was in order. It was the first time since the group’s 1995 self-titled breakthrough album, which featured the hits “Down” and “All Mixed Up,” that the band took extended time off, although they continued to play the Unity Tour each summer.
Recording began in earnest about a year-and-a-half ago. Amicably parting ways with longtime producer Ron Saint Germain, the band hooked up with Metallica and Motley Crue producer Bob Rock. The first batch of songs written in the spring of last year, according to P-Nut, were “a little hit and miss,” but after touring and hitting the studio in the fall, the band found its groove.
“Having worked with Bob for a little bit, we knew what he kind of wanted, and the songs were just a little bit more potent in the second batch,” P-Nut said. “[Rock] would stand in the middle of us while rehearsing, and he’d stop us halfway through our demos at the time. It was certainly good.”
‘It’s a beautiful thing’
The resulting album comes across as a consolidation of the band’s numerous sounds, with reggae grooves, heavy metal guitars and soulful ballads all weighing in over the dozen tracks. In some interviews, Hexum has called the album the group’s heaviest, although P-Nut isn’t so sure how accurate that is.
“It has heavier parts in it than I think we’ve done easily in a decade,” P-Nut said. “But saying it’s the heaviest album is up to speculation; it also has some great ballad moments, too. We always try to make the heavy stuff heavier, and the ballads more meaningful.”
311 has certainly fallen back into the groove of touring and recording. According to P-Nut, Hexum has already written about 10 new demos for the group’s next album. And fans have been strongly supporting the band’s new material.
“The last four years of touring without a new album out, we’ve played in front of a bigger audience every summer, so that has something to do with something,” P-Nut said. “Now people are saying they’re enjoying the album like they haven’t enjoyed us in a long time. It’s a beautiful thing.”
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