A Summer Tradition: 311 Brings Annual Caravan to Silver Spring

For 311, it’s a family affair.

The multi-platinum, alt-rock band just embarked on the Unity tour, with a two-night stop at the Fillmore Silver Spring on July 24 and 25. In a recent phone interview with On Tap, bassist P-Nut, born Aaron Wills, told us that the band had just practiced their new song “’Til the City’s on Fire” – and his mom Joan loved it.

“It’s a good mom song,” he said. And then he added, surprisingly, “My mom is actually here with me right now, so you’re interviewing both of us.”

Mom has a lot to be proud of.

Over the course of their 27 years together, 311 has sold over 9 million albums and DVDs in the U.S. alone. Their last nine albums have reached the Top 10 on the Billboard Top 200 Album charts, and they’ve had nine Top 10 radio hits, including three that climbed to the No. 1 spot. But numbers alone don’t speak to the intangible factor that the band has going for it: the passion of their fans.

“They just want to be with each other,” P-Nut said of the band’s fans, “because when you’re at a 311 show, you’re surrounded by friends. And they all know it, so they want to get together all the time. It’s a really cool thing.”

The band started in 1990 in Omaha, Nebraska and consists of P-Nut on bass, Chad Sexton on drums, Tim Mahoney on guitar, and S.A. Martinez and Nick Hexum sharing vocal duties.

While the band has been so successful with their recent albums, their intention has always been to evolve and grow. In the case of their brand new release, Mosaic, that meant opening up to new ideas and people, and giving up the controls more than ever before.

“This is the first time I’ve ever seen us, in our writing core of Chad and Nick, really letting go,” P-Nut said, “and having it be like, ‘Let’s let someone else control it a little bit – the direction of the songs.’”

To that end, the band brought in John Feldmann from the band Goldfinger, who P-Nut called “a 20-year friend of ours who’s turned into this top-list producer.”

P-Nut said that Feldmann pushed the band to revisit some of their most rocking hits, and to see if they could write another one together. He felt that the outside angle really brought a whole new energy to Mosaic, or at least renewed what was already there.

“It’s kind of cool to hear it from someone else’s perspective,” P-Nut said, “and then see what they come up with. It’s just really fun. It’s cool to have control of the collective, but also know that we’ve been around so long that other people might have these great ideas about what’s possible.”

Before the interview with P-Nut ended, his mom wanted to bring it back to the fans. Part of the reason she was so proud, she explained, was that 311 fans make up a positive, charitable group who give back to their communities, motivated by nothing but love.

“In Atlanta last year, they had a diaper collection,” she said, “and they collected disposable diapers from fans who were coming to the show to donate to homeless shelters in Atlanta. Because families make up a large part of the homeless. Just imagine having a baby and not having diapers. And they collected a truckload of diapers from 311 fans who were coming to the show.”

She explained that the band didn’t provide any kind of reward for this outpouring of giving; it was just because 311 fans are generally good people.

“The band doesn’t give you anything for doing something nice,” she said. “But they generated that themselves, because that’s the kind of people that they are and that’s the kind of music that they like.”

It turns out there is a reward, though. Sure, maybe not for that specific charity event, but in general, 311 rewards fans every other year with a concert on March 11 (a.k.a. 3/11). It was a fan-generated idea at first, but the band embraced it. They play more songs each time, old favorites and rarities, requests and whole albums. P-Nut said it’s just one way the band gives back to the people that have given them so much.

“It’s its own little lifestyle,” he said, “and we are endlessly thankful for the opportunity. We love the way our community represents the band so well with a positive message.”

And with that, they signed off. Any mom would be proud.

Catch 311 with opening act New Politics at Fillmore Silver Spring on Monday, July 24 or Tuesday, July 25. Doors open at 7 p.m. and the show starts at 8 p.m. Tickets are $50. Learn more about 311 at www.311.com.

Fillmore Silver Spring: 8656 Colesville Rd. Silver Spring, MD;
301-960-9999; www.fillmoresilverspring.com