Stereolithic is the 11th studio album released by 311. The Omaha natives (known for mega-hits like “Down,” “All Mixed Up” and “Beautiful Disaster”) have been on the road all summer promoting the release, which is their first independent endeavor since the early 90’s. Ahead of the band’s August 13 concert at The District in Sioux Falls, Managing Editor Denise DePaolo talked with vocalist SA Martinez about what makes him tick after more than two decades in the game.
Tell me about Stereolithic:
SAM: We teamed up with a longtime friend of ours, producer Scott Ralston, who’s be part of almost every 311 record in some capacity, usually as an engineer. He really knows the band – probably more than anybody – and kind of became a sixth member of the band.
This record was a little different, too, because we recorded our various parts in different locations. We did the guitars at my studio where I live and we did vocals at a studio where Nick [Hexum] was kind of holing up. Chad [Sexton] did his drums in his garage. What I’m getting at is we all now live kind of far from the hive. None of us live in LA anymore, so doing it the way we did it made it more convenient for us. It wasn’t until we got the mix back that it really blew me away, and I thought, ‘Wow, fans are going to really love this one.’
What do fans love about this record?
SAM: There’s a quality that harkens back, energy-wise, to what got them into the band. We’ve been a band for 20-some years and when fans are requesting new songs, that’s saying something.
What are the big differences between touring now and when you were 20?
SAM: We all, as people, benefit from smartphones. Back in the day, to do interviews we had a phone card we’d use. Also, we used to carry along a load of CDs to keep us company. Obviously that doesn’t happen anymore. And even how we travel. We used to travel in the same bus – or van or RV. Those days are way in the past, but still, you remember what they were like. And then really, a lot of it is the same. The shows are still high-energy. The crowds have gotten bigger. A lot of change has occurred, but most of it has been for the better.
What’s been the best part of this tour?
SAM: We’ve scaled it down this run. The past couple of years, we’ve been playing the same venues, so we kind of switched it up to smaller venues to give the fans and the band something different.
We did a show in Omaha to coincide with the 20th year since the release of our second album, Grassroots. That was great. Just mad energy. And of course, seeing all of your old friends and family that come out. Hometown shows are a lot to do, because not only are you doing the show, you’re also interacting with multiple people that want to hang out.
What are you listening to these days?
SAM: I collect records and I listen to a lot of soul music. A lot of obscure stuff. I have a side project called Los Stellarians and a single that comes out later this month. And what I did was cover a lot of these soul songs nobody really knows about, but to me, they’re just these incredible, incredible songs. I thought, ‘I have access to a fanbase that would get this kind of music and love it.’ It’s a direct reflection of what I listen to all the time. It speaks to me more than any other music.
What are some of your favorite hole-in-the-wall record stores?
SAM: Man, you’re going to make me give up my spots! There’s a lot of great ones. On this tour I haven’t had record karma on my side. When we’d hit town on a day off, they’d be closed. For example, in Pittsburgh, there’s a place called Jerry’s Records that’s just phenomenal. It was closed when we were there.
We were blocks away from this store in Philadelphia – his name is Val Shively – this guy is a legend. I’ve been there once. It’s like record hoarder record store. There’s crap everywhere and it’s a mess. A mess. And all he deals in is 45’s – doo-wop, soul, that’s it. You could spend a lifetime in there, there’s so much. So anyway, we played a theater right around the corner – and it’s outside Philadelphia in Upper Darby, Pennsylvania and so it’s a trek to get there. We just happened to have a gig there, but he was closed.
There’s so many in LA. I’m fortunate that I live close by. I was just in Austin. There’s a great record store called Waterloo. And there’s a great one in Council Bluffs.
What can people expect from this tour?
SAM: I think they’ll be impressed we can still play. (Laughs) Honestly, I think ours is one of the best shows on the road. It really, truly is. We slay it night after night. I am drenched in sweat every night. We play a great mix of old and new. We play a different set list every night.
You’ve maintained the same lineup for more than two decades. What’s your secret?
SAM: There’s a pretty good dialogue in the band and I think it comes down to being from the Midwest. In one sense, sure, we had bands we looked up to. But being from Omaha, there wasn’t a template, like, ‘This is what’s going to happen.’
I think also, we’re able to zoom out. It’s easy to get caught up in it. Especially back when we were breaking out. You’re selling tons of records and your songs and videos are everywhere and it’s easy for a band to sort of implode, because it kind of goes to one’s head if you let it. But you can’t take anything for granted. Even with the great support group that we have – and we’re very fortunate to have it.
Every night when we go out on stage, I know there’s tons of people who’ve never seen us before and there’s several that have seen us multiple times. But regardless, I always want to have a great show, because people are looking forward to it and I respect that wholeheartedly. That’s why I love doing what I do.
What do you have to say to the people who will see you play at the District?
SAM: Thanks for coming, number one. If you’re a longtime fan, thanks for the support. And if you’re a new fan, thanks for listening. We love seeing new faces out there.
For more info about the August 13 performance in Sioux Falls, visit www.thedistrictsf.com or call (605) 271-5600.