Interview by Ky Kasselman
311, a genre-defying band that has been together for nearly 30 years, is currently on the road co-headlining with Dirty Heads this summer. 311 will be coming to Texas at the beginning of August playing at White Oak Music Hall Outdoors in Houston, TX on the 6th, Austin360 Amphitheatre in Austin, TX on the 7th, and Toyota Music Factory in Irving, TX on the 8th. I got the chance to speak with bassist Aaron “P-Nut” Wills over the phone about summer tour and their thirteenth studio album, Voyager, on the release date of this new album.
Ky: Happy release day! How has everything been today?
P-Nut: It’s a trip! I’ve been trying to zoom out and think about it, my wife has me thinking about it big picture, so I’m trying to wrap my head around that and be in the present moment so my mind is everywhere, but I’m like “I’ve only had thirteen of these!” It’s a lot like album-wise, it’s a ton of you think about it like that, like we’ve had a ton of albums, but we’ve only had thirteen release days, and I thought that was a really interesting way to frame the day and allow myself to be as excited as possible about it, and to take in criticism as it comes and let that in there too. Especially since any random yahoo that knows my name can bombard me with their opinion.
Ky: That’s very true!
P-Nut: But generally, it’s been 95%, maybe even higher, positive so it’s been a great day. It’s nice that everyone can finally hear it. I wanna see those Spotify numbers kind of rack up, that’s the waiting game now.
Ky: So which is your favorite song from the album or the one that resonates with you the most?
P-Nut: I’m really enjoying What The?! and how that could only come from a unique blend of ideas and mindsets and performances. Tim’s writing in that and him setting us all up for a win like that just comes up so organic and it takes a lot of time and when it’s right it’s oh so right. When Mahoney offers up something it’s great and it’s so much fun to play. And for people in the audience, we’ve played it about half a dozen times now, it goes over really really well and I think people are gonna be excited to hear it on this release day and forevermore. It lasts forever.
Ky: So what is your personal creative process when it comes to writing an album like Voyager?
P-Nut: Really mostly what I’m getting called in to do since I put up a bunch of ideas up on our Dropbox, probably like six demos of varying worth and completion, and me and Scotch worked on them here and there and me and Nick worked on a couple things, and it’s just frustrating. Like the last, seriously like the last ten years of writing music has been super super frustrating and I don’t really like putting a ton of time into it and really that’s the only way to make it work, but what I’m getting called in for within the last ten years is more of lyric writing and even more specifically like sentence finishing. Like I’m not gonna go in and like start a song lyrically for Nick to kinda pour his heart into or out of or however it works, like maybe someday if I develop my craft more, but I’m really enjoying just kind of helping him finish ideas, and make sure that it’s weird and not spoon-fed or troublesome in any kind of lyrical way that I see fit. And I love that I’m getting a seat at that table and it’s been really fun adding my own kind of crazy into the lyrics. So when we sit down and do it it’s really like an on the fly kind of thing. Here’s the song, this is what it sounds like, this is what I was thinking, what do you think? And I’ll listen and either come up with an idea or I won’t. And that’s really been the process and I love writing like that. I love being in the moment and I love being inspired by the present tense. I like the idea that it would be a different song on a different day, but it’s not, it’s that song on that day. I think that’s really cool.
Ky: So going along with that, which of your bandmates surprised you the most in the writing process?
P-Nut: I don’t know, I’m constantly surprised by Chad. He comes up with such unlikely stuff. I mean, we’ve known each other for so long, I’m not really surprised. I like that SA’s getting more time on this album. That was one thing that I was kind of in Nick’s head specifically like, “We need more SA, he’s like our secret weapon.” And he’s so hard to put a finger on, it’s not any one thing. He can sing, and think, and rap his way out of any situation musically. And he’s just an amazing person. So to have him on the team, so to speak, if we don’t use it, it’s an opportunity wasted. So I think having more SA on this album is definitely something that people will appreciate, especially the die-hards and also the latecomers, newcomers, casual fans, you know. More SA, better 311. That’s kinda how it goes.
Ky: Which song from the album has the strangest, funniest, or best story attached to it?
P-Nut: Technically, I come in kinda late in the game like I said when it needs to be finished lyric wise, but just recording with Scotch and recording with Feldmann, being in those writing sessions with different writers… The thing is, it’s still so much fun. The whole process of putting an album together is really a ton of fun and I kinda wish we had a little bit more time with it and I kinda wish we had put in a little bit more work in the playing it all together kind of stuff, but these are the ideas that I’ll bring up to the guys when we sit down and make album fourteen. But, like I said, the response was great, we wanted it to coincide with summer tour so I don’t think we rushed it, but it would almost always be nice to have more time with something that you’re creating for a big audience that has a lot of expectations.
Ky: So I have a couple of questions about tour actually, how’s it been so far?
P-Nut: Tour’s been great, it’s been wonderful having Dirty Heads, The Interrupters, DREAMERS, and Bikini Trill out on the road, although it is a lot of people. I was hoping it was just going to be three bands, but if I were DREAMERS I would be stoked, but it’s a tough gig playing while people are filing in.
P-Nut: And The Interrupters have a good audience, and us and Dirty Heads are swapping here and there closing the night, so both of those slots are incredible. If you’re just starting out and you’re starting to build your legend and that’s what you’ve gotta do, you gotta hit the road and you’ve gotta play in front of lots and lots of people. You can have 100,000 people following you on Twitter, but if you can’t play a show, and if you can’t get in front of people’s faces, then it doesn’t really mean that much. Putting in the time and delivering it in front of people at shows that people could talk about for the rest of their lives, and then they go and see more shows, not even necessarily our bands, but they just go and enjoy that music life that has been scientifically proven to extend your life, it’s a great way to be. It’s a great way to be with friends and to shut up and listen for a while. Let it all go temporarily. Let it all out. There’s a band for everybody, we might not be your band, but the music, love, and the ability to hear anything at any time right now is just incredible.
Ky: It really is!
P-Nut: So, yeah, it’s been a fun start. I think we’re at the quarter mark right now. There’s nothing like playing in the summer, and I knew it was going to be good vibes all around with Dirty Heads, and I knew it wasn’t going to be like breaking in a new audience. Their audience is at least somewhat our audience, and our audience is definitely their audience so it’s a lot of fun and it’s easy. Not that playing with The Offspring last year was hard, but it was more of like a clash of philosophies, and more of like that mindset. There’s also a ton of common ground too, since I guess we’re played on the radio a lot together. But they sold 40 million albums! So that was intimidating to me. It was like “Man, did you hear all those gigantic songs they just played?! Okay.. here we go.. Here’s my band… here we go!”
Ky: Yeah, that was a fun tour!
P-Nut: Yeah, it came together really nice. I like it being different every year one way or the other and I think this is a perfect match and it’s really fun. There’s like no pressure. Either way, you’re gonna get set up for a great experience on stage and in the crowd.
Ky: So you guys started live debuting songs from Voyager before the official release, how did that go over with the crowds?
P-Nut: I think it went over really well! I think the leak is kind of handy and we’re playing mostly the tracks that we were releasing as singles, so it was us testing the waters in a safe way. Although, I knew it was brand new information for a lot of the crowd so it’s been really fun. I love playing new music in front of an audience. I think we’re gonna get better at it one way or another, and the audience is gonna see us either succeed in taking a risk or not. And that’s okay. I think that’s super okay. I think that’s kind of awesome.
Ky: Are you guys planning to live debut all of the tracks from Voyager scattered throughout the rest of the tour?
P-Nut: I’m sure we’ll hold back on some for whatever reason. Us going out with the screen and having video content as a big part of the show makes it a little tough for us to throw around random songs, so it’s gonna be a better show if we’re a little bit more controlled about what we’re throwing out setlist wise, which is kinda frustrating and liberating once you let it go, which I’m in the process of doing. But I’d love for us to do that, but I don’t really see it happening. We’re always kinda like that, we’ll hold a couple things back for sure. But hopefully we’ll start rehearsing more than the five we’ve been airing out on stage.
Ky: What unsuspecting city does 311 love visiting on tour? What are your must-do’s in any city?
P-Nut: I mean, everything’s gotten so much better in the 25+ years of touring: just getting around, knowing what’s around, information exchange and understanding has quadrupled. It’s easy to have a good time anywhere. I remember my wife, before we had kids, she came out and was visiting a bunch of yoga studios, spreading her “positive propaganda” around. And she found a farmer’s market and came back with some of the best food, I can literally taste it right now, that she just happened upon. It was just so cool, traveling is the best and falling in love with a city that you would never expect is really a lot of fun. It’s incredible. I loved Kansas City already since we grew up in Omaha and we had played a few shows there, I saw Lollapalooza there, the first one. We were just there and it was a great show. Kansas City goes really hard. They know how to bring a party. But Portland, Oregon also jumps into my mind, it feels so good there. It’s so easy to breathe. And great food. But I think the great food thing is almost anywhere, you just have to look. You gotta have the mentality that you know it’s there, you’ve just gotta find it.
Ky: So what about Texas, huh?
P-Nut: Hahaha, is Austin too easy of an answer?
Ky: I guess that’s okay.
P-Nut: I mean El Paso and Austin don’t even feel like they’re in the same state, it’s pretty different. It is Texas and Texas is broad, but with my love of At The Drive In and The Mars Volta, El Paso jumps to my mind and we played a place called The Club 101 a few times back in the day, and it was just this big giant basement of heat and sweat and just awesome shows. Awesome people showed up and we had an incredible time altogether, and that’s what it’s all about. But Austin is so cool, it’s got that dirty prestige to it. Something about it, it’s got that cool grit that I love about it. I love that about Louisiana too. And those audiences, you can tell when half the audience is musicians and that’s when you’re in Austin or Boston.
Ky: Well I have a couple more questions that I’ve pulled from fans, so, who have you not toured with that you would love to?
P-Nut: Oh, there’s so many. The Mars Volta and At The Drive In would be fun. I’d like to play with louder bands. Like The Refused jumps in my mind. I’d love to play with Ween. Ween is my favorite band. If I could be like a six year old and pick out my favorite color. Ween is my favorite color.
Ky: What albums from this year are you listening to?
P-Nut: The New Anderson .Paak album is great, I love him. That weird Arctic Monkeys album that came out last year is great. Charlie Cunningham has some new stuff, he’s great. I’m a big fan. grandson has new stuff out all the time, I was an early adopter, you can ask him. I’m a huge fan. I love what he’s doing. I love that he’s in your face. He’s awesome. I keep expecting to be opening people’s minds when I say I like grandson because they’ve never heard of him before, but everyone is starting to hear about him, and I think that’s super great. I can’t take any real credit for it, of course, nor would I want to, but I do feel like a proud uncle in that kind of world, where there is some passing of the torch here and there between us. He wouldn’t have listened to me if he didn’t give a shit, and I wouldn’t have listened if he wasn’t coming up with awesome music. So it’s kind of like a high five in the music circle. I absolutely love, my song of the summer, is a band called Rainbow Kitten Surprise, and the song is called Heart, and it is a tear jerker of epic proportions that I can’t get out of my head. It’s too apt, it’s absolutely so on the nose for my situation that it’s funny to hear. Musicians are mind readers.
Ky: Oh absolutely, I definitely felt that way with your release of Don’t You Worry.
P-Nut: Yeah, and that’s as well as it can be put. That’s how I felt about it too.
Ky: So who is a band or musician that you’ve enjoyed sharing and listening to with your kids?
P-Nut: Vulfpeck, I love bumping Vulfpeck. Bass player Joe Dart is probably the best young mind that I’ve heard. Just incredible. I love kind of showing off the musical language that they play and are fluent in in a way that I can’t even describe or put into words. They’re just so fun and fresh to hear. People who are smart and young and go-getters on their instrument kind of letting loose, as far as mostly instrumental bands. There’s enough words in the world and words are kind of overrated, and if I’m going to fill the house up with music, which I invariably am, I’m gonna try and do it with instrumentals at least some of the time.
Ky: So what is your favorite easter egg from Voyager?
P-Nut: Ooooo… my favorite easter egg… I mean, I love SA’s delivery in What The?! is so funny and awesome. And he’s so loose. I’ve got like a reverse easter egg. When he says “Smokin that good weed,” he fit like syllabically smashing things together he said “Smokin that good kush weed” he would like smash it together and it was weird in the demo, which I’m sure you’ll hear someday, I was like man there’s gotta be a better way of doing that! Like, don’t stop saying what you’re saying, there’s no way I’m going to change or even suggest any kind of change to this, but what if you said “Smokin that kush weed”? Like make it like that. Simplify the syllables. It’s awkward, it’s messing me up and I’m your biggest fan. He made it even better of course, but I knew that wasn’t going to work. He would have found a way to make it work without my suggestion, but I love, like I said, having a seat at the table, having Nick and SA listen to me at all about any of these suggestions. I just talked down about words talking about music in the house, but words are so much fun, and if you get them right, you can connect to people in a huge, deep way. And if you get them wrong you’re corny. I like to think that’s why I was brought in, I think I’m kinda obsessed with it. I used to read a lot more, I love being in connection with fans through words, because that’s usually how it is, more often than not. Not always doing interviews with them, ha. But typing things out and the choices that we make in those words, it’s fascinating. It’s either we’re going to advance ourselves or not.
Ky: Can you give us any hints about 311 Day 2020?
P-Nut: Mmmmmm…… hahah, no not yet. Yep, sorry.
Ky: Oh well. Well, finally, are there any plans for another 311 beer?
P-Nut: Yes. We’re talking about making a Hazy Double. This is gonna be my second offering. Kinda need a name, kinda waiting on it to bubble up for inspiration. I’m kind of okay with it not being another song title, like I would be okay with leaving that paradigm alone, but it also kinda works too. We’re working on it, we’re thinking about it. I was just, I don’t know, that’s what I drink. I drink anything over like 6.5%. And I think those are good places for beer drinkers and I think it’s a good place for flavor to exist and it’s a good thing to have on the shelf.
Ky: Thank you so much, that’s all the questions I had!
P-Nut: Yeah, no problem. It was super fun talking with you!
Ky: See you in Texas!