If you’re a fan of the laid-back vibes that reggae music provides, you’ve most definitely heard of 311. The popular band was formed in 1988, and over the years the signature riffs, one-of-a-kind notes and milky lyrics have amassed the Nebraska-based group a huge following. What’s the secret to keeping the magic going for over three decades with 13 studio-length albums, national tours and a countless number of live shows? According to 311’s guitarist Tim Mahoney, it’s brotherhood. Mahoney sat down with Metro to chat about 311’s latest album (out on July 12), touch on what to expect from their tour this summer, and dive into how the band is able to create that signature unique sound when they are all together.
I wanted to chat about your 13th studio album. What went into creating “Voyager”?
Boy, I wonder how long that took for us to make — at least a few years, unintentionally. That’s just the amount of time we had available to work on it. I think the influences are always kind of similar over the years, whether it be rich reggae music that everybody listens to all throughout our career, or for me, I’m the guitar player so I always listen to a lot of guitar-heavy music as well. So I think everybody has similar influences and then everybody has personal things that they like to listen to [as well]. That’s what’s consistent when we go and try to approach a record. I just always try and work to get better with what I listen to also.
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Since you guys have been together for some time, has the process changed at all for you when putting together an album?
In our case, it has. In one aspect, with just the technology side of things: There are computers and access to the internet that lets us share ideas and work from home — a lot different from when we first started. When we first started out, when you would go into a studio to record, we would get everything on tape. Now, although we do still have a tape machine, we use a computer — it’s more cost-effective. I think the process has also changed in the sense that we all have evolved over the years. We all used to live together in one house and rehearse there, and now people have families and whatnot. But the process has been the same in the sense that everybody writes individually and then we get together and bounce ideas off of each other and get a song going. Usually, we come up with the music first and then the vocals will come after. Just how we do that process has changed with the advancement of technology. It is interesting to look back, really just to see some of the things that have changed and the things that have stayed the same. In this case, it’s kind of both.
Speaking of changes, how do you try and reinvent your sound while still keeping that signature 311 vibe?
I’m more a things-happening-organically kind of guy, but since there are five of us, everyone to a different degree is more up on current stuff. I’m probably one of the lesser guys. So they kind of fill me in on more current things, [like] maybe a new production technique that’s current and out now. For me, I’m just always trying to write unique [sounds]. As long as you have an honest riff — if I have a riff and Chad our drummer plays the drums, it sounds like 311 because he is playing the drums. We’ve had situations where we had to play with a different drummer and it really is apparent. So I think that the five of us together, even if we did a cover of a song, would still give it that 311 sound. That’s the one thing I’ve noticed: As long as we’re playing together, the music always seems to have that 311 vibe to it.
How have you guys been able to keep that bond and brotherhood over the years?
That’s a good point. Whether it’s music or an accounting firm, when you have five people working together, it’s challenging. Especially with music, we have seen a lot of great bands come and go because of the dynamics of the people involved that don’t get along or whatever. You have to enjoy each other’s company. That is one of the keys to it. Especially since you’re around each other all of the time. Now that everyone has families, when we are off the road we can get away from each other. But it still is a year-round process. So the fact that we get along like that is a big part of it. And being able to also enjoy each other’s songwriting helps, too. I still enjoy hearing what [the guys] come up with, and I think everyone feels like that. We try to be as democratic as we can. I’m an only child, but [with the guys] I’m guessing it’s somewhere between having four brothers and being married to them.
Now jumping to your tour this summer. How do you feel about hitting the road with the Dirty Heads?
We’ve done a lot of shows with them and they’re sweet guys. It seems like we work well together in the summer — it’s a good combo for folks. It’s fun. I think back to years ago, I must have met them when they were teenagers, and they’re grown-ups now. Also, The Interrupters are coming out. They’re a great band so it should be a fun package.
What do you like the most about taking your music on the road?
I just really love playing music, I enjoy that whole side of it. We’ve always earned a living playing live and there’s the travel aspect of it as well, everyone seems to enjoy that. It’s fun to go out there and play new songs on the record that people haven’t heard, and then dip into some of the radio songs and other ones from over the years.
Overall what would you tell someone to expect from a 311 concert?
Expect a great concert, creative lighting and visuals-- especially for this tour. And, hopefully, you come out and enjoy yourself and let your mind be free for a minute there.
Catch 311 on July 19 at The Met Philadelphia. Show starts at 7 p.m.