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“Down” with the Tao

Who knew 311’s Nick Hexum had a spiritual side?

For us MTV-generation types, it’s almost impossible to hear “Down”—the tune that propelled the Omaha rap/reggae/funk/rock group 311 to chart-dominating, triple-platinum-selling glory in the mid-’90s—without picturing the most striking image from that song’s video: the band’s members meditating at the feet of a levitating, Sumo-esque spiritual master. Unforgettable as that scene was, though, it seemed slightly at odds with the band’s urban look and aggressive sound; you had to wonder if meditation was really a part of these guys’ regimens, or if they were just a bunch of street kids wearing spirituality like a trendy henna tattoo.

Today, as vocalist Nick Hexum tells GT about his meditative approach to live performance, there’s no doubting his sincerity. “When I’m onstage, I’m concerned only with the note that I’m singing at that very second,” the singer explains calmly. “If you get into the whole, like, ‘What does this person think of me?’ or ‘What song is coming up next? Am I gonna be able to hit that note?’ it becomes a real drag. I try to be as completely in my body and in the present as I can be, and it’s been a big breakthrough for me.”

Hexum believes that this practice—being fully present in every situation—is the key to happiness. “Being completely engrossed in this conversation makes it enjoyable,” he offers, “but if my mind’s thinking about what I’m gonna do next or thinking about what happened yesterday, life can go by in a sort of daze of non-presence, of constant planning, worrying and so forth.”

The singer, who says he was first exposed to these concepts about a year and a half ago via books such as Eckhart Tolle’s “The Power of Now,” expects his newfound wisdom to spill over into 311’s music. “I think that there’s gonna be a whole new level of enjoyment in the band, and that leads to success,” he muses. “I don’t wanna sound cocky, but I do think that we’re getting ready to have a new golden era of 311, because these kinds of philosophical breakthroughs are going to translate through to the music, and people will connect with it more.”

Longtime fans couldn’t be more ready for a new 311 album to connect with—the band hasn’t put out a recording since 2005’s Don’t Tread on Me. According to Hexum, the reason for this uncharacteristic lapse between albums is simply that the group wants to put out the best music possible. “Deadlines are like fertilizer,” he ventures. “You can dump a lot of fertilizer on [the music], but it’s not a natural, organic, letting things grow at their own pace. So we’re letting things happen naturally and making sure that every song is something we’re really proud of—a real step forward.”

For the next album, slated for release in 2009, 311 has enlisted big-name producer Bob Rock, who helped bands like Metallica, Mötley Crüe and The Cult create their biggest-selling albums. Though Hexum says the decision to work with Rock is definitely indicative of “an interest in taking a step toward ‘big rock,’” don’t expect a huge departure from the band’s previous efforts—this will be classic 311, with all the fun, spirituality and optimism that goes with it.

This last quality—optimism—is one of 311’s most unique attributes. According to Hexum, having a positive attitude comes naturally to the members of this band. “To me, it just feels right to be grateful for the abundance we have in America,” he says. “I felt very much at odds with the [recent] wave of angst and screaming and ‘Society sucks’ and ‘We hate our parents.’ If people feel that, they should express that through music, but I didn’t feel that way. I felt a lot of gratitude, and maybe that’s why we’ve lasted [for so long]: because we had more of a big-picture view: Sure, there are problems in the world, but life is, overall, really great if you choose to enjoy it and participate in it.”


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