311's Doug Martinez Talks Cover Songs, New Record, and Summer Touring

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For more than 20 years, 311's energizing yet mellow mixture of rock, reggae, funk, and jazz has appealed to listeners, and the band boasts the sales figures to prove it: eight million records world-wide from 10 albums. On July 19 the band released Universal Pulse, the band's shortest effort yet, and one that connects to the band's early work.

Currently, 311 are venturing out on nation-wide tour, with the addition of August's Pow Wow Festival set in North Florida featuring Sublime with Rome, The Dirty Heads and The Deftones. They just finished a spring tour with the 311 Caribbean Cruise, a four night/five day venture from Miami to the Turks and Caicos islands, on a boat packed full of 3,000 311 fans.
Up on the Sun talked with Doug "SA" Martinez (vocals, turntables) about releasing their album on their own, pre- and post-show rituals, and finding inspiration in the band's own catalog.

Up on the Sun: So this is 311's ninth consecutive summer headlining amphitheaters.

Doug Martinez: Oh, it's way more than that! The only summer that we took off was 1998. I mean, we've been going on every summer.

Sick of it yet?

Oh no. I mean we have plenty of downtime and you know, it's what we do. [I am] just a little wiped from the show last night. The heat has been so taxing. I'm just trying to re-energize for tonight.

You guys recently performed on the 311 Caribbean Cruise. What was that like, and what was the highlight for you?

The highlight for that was probably the night we disembarked, we performed on the deck of the ship and man, it was just phenomenal. Everyone was there that was on the boat, and it was killer energy. Just nothing but 311 fanatics and it was awesome. It was one of the best shows we've ever played as well. That's what made it so special was that energy and the love. We hadn't done anything like that prior but it is something we would definitely revisit again.

Congratulations on your new album. In five seconds, explain why fans should pick up 311's new album Universal Pulse.

311 fans will totally dig this record. I think it's got the signature 311 sound, energy -- it's a short record, only eight songs. Once you listen to it through, you're wanting to hear it again. I think a lot of songs on the record are like that. We've been getting a great response from our fans, and many tell us that it's quickly becoming a favorite of theirs. We're pretty happy with it.

So this record was the first release on the band's own imprint, 311 Records. When did that start? Did you guys just figure that you know the ropes of the industry by now, so you may as well release the record yourselves?

Right! Yes! It's a partnership but we definitely have more control and more say over the direction of the record and promotion. It's exciting to initialize that now and get our feet wet with that whole thing. Deciding what should be spent where....as opposed to a label controlling that aspect a lot more. It's a nice shot in the arm for us.

What do you think is the biggest con about releasing the album yourselves?

Well, I wouldn't say there's a con you know, but there's more meetings involved (laughter) because we're a part...we are the machine. Usually we're just focused on performing, recording, writing, etc...and then you're record execs (laughter)

A lot more goes into it on the business aspect!

Yes! And we've always been business detail-minded; let's not say that we're not privy to that. It's just the depth of all of that goes a lot further than what we're used to. It's something we'll grow into.

So let's talk about inspiration real quick. Was there a particularly inspiration for this album?

One of the things we wanted to you know....a fan favorite of our releases is called Transistor, and a lot of people like it because of the things we cover topically, and it has different textures on that record. So without trying to recreate that, but using that as a blueprint as far as inspiration, some of the songs I think hark back to that; to that facet of our career. And maybe how we would redesign that now. Two songs I think off the record, "Weightless" and the "And a Ways to Go," captures that ethos, so to speak. You kind of rediscover a little about yourself again, musically, lyrically and [in terms of] inspiration. And using your own catalog as a guide is a cool thing. Listening to your past records to see where you've been.

On the song "Unity" from "Music", you guys sing "311" right at the time 3:11. Was that timed out? 

[Long pause] What now? Really? If we did that wasn't intentional...I'm going to have to go check that out now! It's amazing when other people notice something about a record or song that we didn't catch!

You've said in past interviews that you all have different musical tastes in the band. What is your personal taste, and who in the band is opposite you?

Ah, that's a good question. Hmm..opposite of me. I mean, I wouldn't say anyone is really opposite of anyone extremely. I think we all like things that are similar. But lately -- I'm a record hound. I love vinyl records. And what I've been getting into lately is like black gospel. I've been hounding that on this tour and got some cool scores. In our downtime I like to digitize a lot of my music so I can have it on the road. Actually, Chad's one-upped me. He has a turntable in the front lounge now so he's playing records on the bus.

Any music you've been playing that has been inspiring you right now?

I've been listening to a lot of Latin and a lot of UK folk from the '60s to the early days; this group called the Swindle Folk with really obscure but really ethereal female voices. It's just so cool. You couldn't make a record sound like that today absolutely no way, I don't care what kind of equipment you're using it just couldn't happen.

There's too many variables. It's a matter of time and space. That's what makes music from the '50s sound like the '50s, '60s, so on and so forth. Every era has its sound and it really has to do with the space and time which is cool, you know? So that's what I love about music. It can take you back, but also there's music you've never heard that will take you somewhere, wherever that may be I find it fascinating, and it also proves that it's okay to be melancholy. These songs are so beautiful and inspiring.

What can fans expect at the Pow Wow Festival in Florida this summer?

I mentioned last night actually to the band that we shouldn't have any repeat songs at all and we all agreed. Every set will be unique, so that's something to be stoked on!

Does 311 have a pre -or post-show ritual?

"P-Nut" does yoga...I stretch out,listen to music, hydrate. Especially lately since it's so hot. Then I get the blood pumping with stuff like shadow boxing. It's nice to break a sweat before on stage.

How is it compared to now rather than ten years ago?
Oh wow! We all nap now [laughs]. When you get older you have to listen to your body. In our twenties, it was video games all day, party all night, wake up, and do it again. Things have changed quite a bit [laughs].

311 has played some awesome cover songs that fans love. Personally, what's your favorite cover song to play?

Out of all the covers we've done? Hmm...probably "Who's Got The Herb." That one is fun to play. What's your favorite cover song?

Honestly, it may sound cliché, but I really enjoy your cover of The Cure's "Love Song." I know it's your most popular but it is a fantastic song that you guys bring a new type of energy to.

311 has toured with a wide range of bands [including] Matisyahu, and Snoop Dogg. What is something off the top of your head that you've learned from other musicians on the road, that may be inspiring to younger musicians?

Our like, first tour-- we were really green --we opened for Oingo Boingo, Danny Elfman. He had a massage therapist he took with him. As a surprise he gave us all massages. Because of that we have our own guy on tour with us since, like, '97. We don't leave home without one. That we learned early on and took note of. You don't realize how important bodywork is until you get it done.

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