July 8, 2016 Interview – P-Nut of 311
Hailing from Omaha, Nebraska, 311 are without a doubt one of the most unique Alternative Rock bands of the past three decades. Growing up with aspirations to form a Rock-n-Roll band different than the rest, 311 united back in 1988 and since has released eleven studio albums, toured the world, and assembled a fanbase like no other. Selling over nine million albums in the US alone, the band continues to go strong into the future with tour dates lined up throughout the summer of 2016, as well as new music on the horizon in the near future. Recently we had a chance to catch up with the band’s co-founding bassist, Aaron “P-Nut” Wills, to talk his wild ride living the Rock-n-Roll dream, the dig on their new music, life on the road, love for movies, and more.
CrypticRock.com – 311 began nearly three decades ago, and in that time has really amassed an impressive career over the course of eleven studio records and extensive touring. Seeing you have been with the band since the inception, what has your experience been like along this ride?
P-Nut – There’s a word for that; I would have to study the language a little bit more to really accurately describe it. It’s been nothing short of a dream come true. You ask the 11 year old version of me that first started playing bass because I wanted to have as much fun as Steve Harris, Cliff Burton, Geezer Butler, and all these great musicians. They looked like they were having the time of their lives just holding it down on the bass, I thought it was so cool. I had played violin for a little bit, but I always knew it was going to be a springboard to playing Rock music. There were no bass players around so it was an easy thing to pick up then along the way.
Lately, I’ve been thinking about ’80s bands and the Hair Metal thing that was going on, and that we were in direct opposition when we were starting to pick up instruments. Even though when we listen to it when we were kids, it was something that we didn’t want to identify ourselves with in the late ’80s, starting a band, becoming what was going to be a ’90s band in the material. Those guys in the ’80s had short careers, even in these gigantic bands, to only last 7 to 8 years, or even 12 years. We’ve had such an incredible run, it has everything to do with the fans.
I think the reason why the fans stick around is that there’s a message in the song. It’s not just them saying, “Oh, that was a great song, I’ll wait for someone else to make another great song.” It is them saying “No, this band means a lot to me because I feel what they say resonates with me on a deeper level than just a sugar rush. It’s a full on meal.” So that’s been the thing that’s just lasted as long and it is just a dream come true. We are still excited about it. We still want to fight the fight, push down the walls, write great music, and push these limits physically and otherwise touring. It’s tough leaving the family and all that, but I can’t wait to rock, so it’s something I’ve been doing for, like you said, approaching three decades. Now it’s summertime. Let’s hit the stage!
CrypticRock.com – That is really great to hear and it is great to hear that you still have that fire, it is hard to keep it for so long. You had mentioned about how the songs mean something to people. One of the boldest components of 311 has always been the integration of a variety of genres from Rock, to Reggae, to Hip Hop, to Metal. Was it a vision of the band when you first began to have this eclectic sound?
P-Nut – Yea, we were aggressively bookending these musical ideas together because we were coming from so many different places. Also, from just a musician’s point of view, I think we felt like we could pull it off. It wasn’t like “Oh we better not do that because I don’t think we can pull it off.” We were like, “Fuck yeah, we can pull this off, let’s see what it sounds like.” Our first single, “Do You Right,” from our first album in 1993 is a perfect example of that; there’s Salsa, Reggae, Dance Hall, and Rock. There are these crazy drum-fills and timbales. Nick was playing Timbales back in the day, he’d break them out on stage in such a fun part of the show. We had a lot to prove, we still do, it’s a lot of fun and that has a lot to do with it. We can pick and choose from all these genres and keep it interesting for us, then the audience has a reason to stick around because they don’t know what we are going to do next. We have lots of tricks.
CrypticRock.com – Speaking of touring, the band is set to embark on more touring this summer. What can fans expect from this ongoing run of shows?
P-Nut – We are kind of in between albums. It’s our turn to dig deep in the set list and give back to the audience as much as possible because we are in writing mode. We will play a few new songs this summer and that will be kind of a nice treat because we’ve been working on this album for over a year. We’ve easily got some offerings that we can serve up and have it fit into the set real nicely. I think people are excited to hear new material.
I want to see us dig really deep into the set. I’d say, at any given Summer, we probably play 80 to 90 different songs, and that’s pretty good, but we can do better. I think our audience would respond positively to us playing even more rare tracks, not playing the songs that they’ve heard us play every show they’ve been to. I would like to kind of space out some of the hits, we can fit in some more jams. Like what’s Widespread Panic doing that they have as big of an audience as they have for as long as they have, with no radio. There’s a dozen bands like that I think we can learn from, even though we’ve been taken care of on the radio and played the game here and there. What’s the way that Dave Matthews Band, even if they are not on the radio much anymore, how are they maintaining their audience? It’s just something to keep our eye on.
I think giving the audience what they want is the key and that’s how I solved that problem. There’s other influences in the band that would push that question to a different direction. Maybe it’s somebody’s first time at the show, of course they want to hear “Beautiful Disaster.” It’s like “Ok, you got a point there.” In the committee format we work out all the points of view and we come up with a set list that hopefully will please a majority of people.
CrypticRock.com – Right, it is difficult to please everyone. Above all, one can imagine, as a musician, you want to keep challenging yourself and doing something different on stage, as well as keep the fans happy. It has to be a little redundant to play the same tracks over and over again, that is why you guys change up the set list.
P-Nut – Yeah, a little redundancy is fine, that comes along with longevity. I didn’t pick up the instrument so I could make the audience happy, I’ll always come from that point of view. I am going to be feeling it genuinely or I’m not. I love our music so much that it’s hard for me to have that long of a rough spot where I’m frustrated, that comes and goes. I’d rather have that than feel a feeling and pretend it’s not there and just wake up one day and be like, “Fuck this shit I’m quitting.” You know? You got to allow yourself to be frustrated and talk it out with your band and make it work for you, it’s how it goes. That’s what you get for living and feeling.
CrypticRock.com – Exactly, agreed 100%. You had mentioned about some new tracks that you had been working on in the new album, that is going to be forthcoming hopefully within the next year or so. What can we expect from the new music? The last record, STER3OL1TH1C, was received very well.
P-Nut – Yeah, I think STER3OL1TH1C was a perfect group of ideas for us; it was the right album at the right time. We love playing those songs, that’s what I’ve been saying in the rehearsal studio, that we need to really kind of keep leading on STER3OL1TH1C. Those are some amazing songs. I think we have a new little group of fans from that album alone that would love to hear those songs and not have them just disappear into relative obscurity. We will see what happens. As far as new music, we’ve got a dozen songs that we can pick and choose from that we are really proud of.
The idea that comes to mind when thinking about new music is Nick’s very aggressive riff writing; he’s trying to summon a troll I believe. I think if we are at full power with the volume loud enough that we can actually summon a 50 foot troll with the riffs that Nick is writing; it’s amazing. It’s like spaghetti fingers, you are tangling your hands up. There’s certain patterns that we are all kind of used to as musicians playing stringed instruments meaning guitar or bass, you get kind of used to it. These couple of riffs, you are like, “Where did this come from?” This is some thousand year old Norse, secret troll summoning music and it is really fun to play.
CrypticRock.com – It sounds pretty cool and will be exciting to hear the new album. Obviously there is no set date. Is it planned for maybe early 2017 or later this year?
P-Nut – Probably more the former since we are still working pretty hard on it. We haven’t really even started recording for it. We’ve made pre-production demos and we are in the process of writing pretty much the second half of the album. There’s a lot of work to do. We are already plotting out the end of the tour and when to set up the drums and when to start recording the new songs. Actually, we have recorded 5 or 6 songs, it’s been spaced out so much it’s hard to remember where we are at. We are kind of halfway through. We don’t know when it’s really going to end, it’s kind of hard to say. We will see.
CrypticRock.com – It will be something to look forward to for sure. 311 really is a live band. In the essence of it, it is an experience to see the band live, it is something that needs to be done by any fan. And you are also wonderful for an outdoor setting. With that said, of all the touring you did over the years, do you have a standout favorite show that you’ve played?
P-Nut – Show-wise makes me think of, there was this gigantic festival called HFStival at RFK Stadium in Washington, DC. We played in front of 60,000 people, it was crazy. It was equal amounts of awesome and exciting and totally terrifying at the same time. Walking backstage, walking into the seedy underbelly of the stadium, you could see that there was an endless procession of people getting carried out on stretchers. There were so many people getting hurt, just crushed and not enough water. It was like “Oh, this is bad.” I am happy we don’t do that every night. It would weigh a lot because the numbers are so big and people don’t know how to act, it was terrifying to see it like that. On stage, it was fun, and backstage, it was kind of like “Whoa this is what is really going on.”
Touring-wise, there was a tour we did, maybe 1997, which we broke up into four pieces. We had Spearhead for one piece, Goldfinger for another piece, Fishbone for the next, and De La Soul for the last corner. It was so much fun. Of course mix up the bands, but have some of our favorite people out on the road with us, it was a magic time with the band too. It was kind of perfect, that tour kind of jumps out in front of me.
CrypticRock.com – Very cool, it always helps when you enjoy who you are touring with. My last question for you is pertaining to films. CrypticRock covers music and Sci-Fi/Horror films. I would like to know what are some of your favorite in those genres?
P-Nut – My first son’s middle name is Kubrick if that’s an answer for you. I figured there would be no better way to separate him from the pack and also show my love for an artist that was way more than just an artist. He was a cultural force and a total original never to be understood and explained.
CrypticRock.com – Stanley Kubrick really was special. A lot of his films really need to be seen a few times to truly grasp what he was doing and what he was going for. Even after, sometimes it takes even longer to absorb. It is really compelling to watch his films.
P-Nut – Yeah, they are always worth watching. There’s always some other nuance that slips past you or some detail that’s in there. It will always be good to watch, I love it. The Invitation (2015) is a great movie. It is a movie that you don’t want a friend to tell what happened in it. Just go see it, you won’t know what’s going on until you are already invested in it deeply. Then you are like “Oh this is bad.” It’s kind of like a cool take on Horror, where just like in The Shining (1980), the scariest thing that is going on is the people. The psychosis is actually probably someone that you love and trust and how scary it is to really trust someone that much because it can all really go bad, especially in film format.
I just saw The Resident (2011) a couple of weeks ago, I really enjoyed the way they shot it, how they told the story, and how painful it really was to kind of watch and endure it, because of the fantastic cinematography. It was just brutal and coming right at you.
CrypticRock.com – It is interesting you talk about cinematography. It seems like a lot of modern movies kind of loose that atmosphere, like say a Kubrick film. Perhaps Indie films still keep to this craft, but many mainstream films do not do it as much.
P-Nut – That is for sure. Finding Dory (2016) is pretty good; I saw that over Father’s Day weekend. It was great, it was super fun. It is something I never thought I would be into as a teenager. Taking your son and family to the movies, it’s so much fun; such a great thing. It is something that my brother and I shared, I feel like I am passing on to my boys.
CrypticRock.com – Absolutely, it is very special to share those moments with your children. It is a gift to treasure for sure.
P-Nut – It’s good to live a long time, good to be in your band for 20 plus years, it’s amazing to be a Dad. This has all been propped up and supported by this amazing fan base that our fans are and I couldn’t be more thankful to be coming back out on the road to rock your face off!