October 01, 2013 6:14pm PT by Emily Zemler
311's Nick Hexum Goes Full-On Indie for First Solo Album: 'The Label System Is Corrupt'
It took Nick Hexum 23 years to release his first solo album. That's how long he's been fronting rap-rock-reggae hybrid 311 and it was that very experience that allowed him to naturally progress as a singer and leader of The Nick Hexum Quintet.
"I had been working on my guitar playing a lot," Hexum explains. "My brother Zach is an accomplished jazz musician and we had conceptualized -- just for fun -- an instrumental jazz band who would go out and play some of these styles. But at the same time we were doing the hired gun songwriter circuit for pop artists and it was not really panning out. We decided to just write songs for me and just do this jazzy, funky style we'd been talking about. Once the vein was open we got carried away and wrote a ton of songs."
The result is My Shadow Pages, out today via Hexum's own label, What Have You Records. Recorded in Los Angeles with producer Jim Scott and a selection of session artists, including drummer Gary Novak and keyboardist Luke Miller, immediately after 311's last summer tour, Hexum entered the studio armed and ready. Tracking took only five days. "I had to put it down and trust that it's good," says Hexum. "It's all about trusting the process. And a lot of that was for financial reasons -- I wanted to do it fast so I wasn't running up a huge studio bill."
Hexum sees his solo work as an outlet for songs that might not fit in the 311 arsenal -- that channel a different sort of inspiration. Hexum elaborates: "I think it's opened up a new avenue for me. Even if it's just for the love of it. I've felt a renaissance in my own creativity to be able to go in new directions because of it. It takes off pressure on the mother ship to have other avenues open. I've always been a bit of a hopeless romantic, so I think I explored that a little bit more on this album than would be embraced within 311."
To wit: the song "The Dreamer," which Hexum says is "about my personality of being an optimist, sometimes to a fault."
True to the sensitive nature of these personal songs, Hexum will unveil the music live for the first time during a residency at singer-songwriter haunt Hotel Cafe, which kicks off Sunday, Oct. 6, and runs for two weeks thereafter.
The experience of releasing the album on his own label has inspired what may come for 311, as well. What Have You Records is actually a resurrection of Hexum's label that released the first three 311 discs before they inked a deal with Capricorn in 1992. Although he presently has no plans to release any other artists on What Have You Records, Hexum says "it is possible" that subsequent releases may follow. 311's album will likely be completely independent, following a joint venture they had with ATO Records on 2011's Universal Pulse.
"I think this next one will go totally independent where we'll just have a distributor to get it in stores," Hexum says. "The label system is pretty corrupt. It's not worth it anymore. If you already have your own fanbase you can just have a relationship with them directly. You maybe won't sell as many units, but you can feel completely, creatively free. It's so much more empowering than it used to be where you just sat there with your fingers crossed and hoped the label was going to do a good job."
As for 311's next album, Hexum reveals that it will be released on March 11, 2014 (the band's long-standing "311 Day"), and that the group has so far laid down drums. "It's either extremely ballsy or really stupid to announce a release date before we've even recorded it," Hexum says. "But so far it's going really good."
There are no current plans for future solo shows for Hexum, but that's only because he's taking this release one step at a time. "That's what's been so fun about this," he says. "If the record wasn't good, I didn't have to put it out. If these shows aren't a lot of fun, I don't have to do it. But the rehearsals are going great so I imagine we're going to want to continue this."