When fans of established bands discover that their favorite front man has gone solo, it's generally a moment of extreme trepidation. Many would agree that The Stones, Genesis, and The Police were far greater than Mick Jagger, Peter Gabriel, and Sting on their own. But then you have artists like Neil Young, Michael Jackson, and Justin Timberlake, who really matured as artists once they struck out on their own. As much as I adore 311, I also love Nick Hexum's new project, Nick Hexum Quintet, which finds the singer, backed by a stellar group of musicians, including his guitar/sax/keyboard-playing brother, Zack Hexum (Fitz & the Tantrums, Michael Buble).
The vocalist's self-released debut album "My Shadow Pages" -- a mellow blend of jazzy pop and funky classic rock and featuring some of Hexum's best songwriting to date -- which dropped Oct. 1, is the perfect antidote to the "All Mixed Up" world of today and will surely tide you over till 311's next release. The band that's sold 10 million copies in the U.S. alone and achieved nine top 10 hits, including "Down," "All Mixed Up," "Amber," "Love Song," "Come Original," "Beautiful Disaster," "Don't Tread On Me," "Hey You," and "Sunset In July" is gearing up for the release of their next album drop and already planning their always-anticipated, annual 311 Day for next spring.
Download.com caught up with Hexum, between recording sessions and planning his three-night residency at Hollywood's Hotel Café on Oct. 6, 13, and 20, to get the 411 about The Nick Hexum Quintet, 311, delivering his second child, himself, with a little help from an app, and his favorite apps for production and pleasure.
I know you have a lot of 311 projects coming up, so why take on The Nick Hexum Quintet?
The Nick Hexum Quintet just came very organically as it was kind of a just-for-fun jam band that my brother and I conceptualized, where we would get together and play jazzy, funky tunes and covers and whatnot; and at the same time we were writing pop songs for other people, so we made a lot of connections and were like, "Screw this, let's just write some songs for our own project," and I said, "Let's do it for my album" and then the record was born. It was all very one step at a time with no big plan for it or anything.
I also realized that a good way to stimulate my creativity was to make some new collaborations. If you look at a lot of the creative companies in Silicon Valley like Apple, they force their employees to work with new people in the company. I heard that and realized that that was a way for me to learn and expand my bag of tricks. Work with new people and then I bring new techniques and experience to 311, which is the mother ship. That's my main focus and having side projects enhances that.
What can you tell us about the upcoming tour dates?
We just have three shows booked in L.A. after the record comes out -- three Sundays in a row -- at a 175-capacity club, at the Hotel Cafe in L.A., in Hollywood. Everything about this project is "Let's just take it one step at a time." We booked some shows, and if they're good we're going to book more. There's no grand scheme behind it.
What can you do with this side project that you can't do with 311?
Well, to go play some weird venue that 311 might not be comfortable doing. We're kind of used to having a bit more production or space, so if I was wanting to do some weird fundraiser gig, it would be better to just bring The Quintet.
There are some pretty obvious differences that The Quintet is more keyboard-driven, and my brother Zack plays the hell out of the piano on a bunch of tracks on the album. There are no heavy guitars -- just a jazz guitar. I think the shows are energetic, but not on moshing levels. It's more of a groove-out jazz band.
Talk to me about working with your brother, Zack.
We have this telepathy where he knows what I'm looking for. There's not a sibling rivalry kind of vibe at all. Everyone knows that Zack is the nicest person in music.
How did the Bob Marley "Waiting in Vain" cover end up on the album?
That was one where I had wanted to do a cover and we tried it as a full band and it wasn't really panning out, so I decided that it needs to be on my record. It's such a beautiful song and I heard that Bob Marley would collaborate a ton, but that song is credited entirely to him. Hearing how personal those lyrics are and knowing that they're entirely credited to him, I felt it deserved a solo rendition, because it's really one guy singing to one girl.
How do you discover music?
I discover music through sharing playlists, Spotify, Pandora, and iTunes. I really check them all out, because music is such a big part of my life and each has its own strengths, so I kind of rotate through different ones. People will also tweet me, "Have you heard of this band?" and I will always check it out.
That's the strong part about social media, because people collectively let each other know what's good and there's so much stuff out there that I want to get tips on what people are enjoying; and once I check stuff out and make my own playlists, I'm really into reading reviews from other people to know what they're thinking, whether it's on Rotten Tomatoes or Yelp. I'm into the group conscience.
Can you share anything special about the next 311 Day?
There's always a code of silence around 311 Day, but we'll definitely make sure it's a unique experience as all of our 311 Days have been. It's just great to have it back in New Orleans, which is kind of a spiritual home, where the first one was.
What's the deal with the 311 app?
I wish I knew.
I read on one of the 311 message boards/online forums that it was taken down.
I did not know that, so I appreciate you telling me, and likely it was something about how we used to be on Jive Records and haven't been with them for a while, so maybe they don't feel like developing it anymore; but that's something I want to talk to management about and it will be up on the list of stuff to do.
Considering the origin of the 311 name -- the police code for indecent exposure -- have you ever come across an app that you considered indecent?
No, nothing comes to mind, but it would be a good quip if I had one [laughs].
I read on Wikipedia that you delivered your second child, yourself. Did you use any apps or instructional videos for guidance?
I would say that technology helped in the contraction-tracking app that my wife has instead of having to write it down, but the only thing I could have googled was whether to cut the chord or wait or what. But we just waited for the midwife to show up and cut the chord.
Which devices do you own?
A lot of times I try to resist getting a new iPhone and then I can't resist. I get every new phone when it comes out, so I will be getting an iPhone 5s. One good thing is if you have an extra line, you're eligible for a new upgrade more regularly, so that's one trick that I do. But yeah, I'm an Apple guy, iPhones, iPad, I pretty much make music on my Macbook Pro -- and that's my thing.
What professional software do you use?
I use Pro Tools. I have Ableton Live and I've been enjoying checking out their push controller, which is a state-of-the-art drum machine-looking thing, but there's a lot of stuff you can do with it.
But sometimes, I feel like I'm getting into a tech stall where I'm spending more time figuring out technology than actually making music; so if something's not working I have to make myself abandon it, because in the old days, I was such an early adopter that I would spend a whole day on tech support trying to figure out something that no one had tried to do, and that's still a concern. If we are collaborating on a song and trying to use some app to do some tablature, this is a tech stall, so let's just get out a pen paper and move on.
Some of my favorite guitar iPad apps are AmpliTube amp simulator, GuitarToolkit, which is a nice tuner, metronome, and chord and scale reference source. Agile, the developer, also makes the Lick of the Day app that I use. You can learn licks in any style. It's a great way to expand your bag of tricks.
What do you use for fun?
I was once into Words With Friends but then I found Chess With Friends. I find it so much more satisfying to play a game where you actually kill your friends rather than just scoring more points! I guess it's the male need to conquer. That's why it's the game of kings!
I use Sonos every day. We have music playing all the time. We've got speakers in pretty much every room in the house, plus a few pairs outside. It facilitates spontaneous family dance parties.
I geek out on the Nest Mobile thermostat app. I keep making little tweaks on the timer settings to make it comfortable but save energy. Plus, when your mother-in-law comes to town and sets the AC to 65 degrees, you can override her even if you're across the country! I'm not saying that's happened [laughs].