Wednesday, November 15, 2017

From the archive: 311's P-Nut talks Transistor

311 in 2011, courtesy of Raspler Management
After breaking into the mainstream with their 1995 self-titled album, 311 “braved on with experimentation” with their dub-heavy follow-up, Transistor, which turned 20 this year. In celebration of this anniversary (or to catch up with a previously promoted goal from their 25th anniversary campaign), Transistor was finally reissued on vinyl after being out of print for decades. In fact, this 2017 release marks the first vinyl pressing of the album in it’s entirely, including the not universally compatible with CD players intro, but their priority this year has been  touring behind their impressive summer smash Mosaic LP, largely produced by Transistor’s Scotch Ralston.

Though, no Transistor live shows took place this year, their 22 song masterpiece was performed in its entirety at their one-off Pow Wow Festival in 2011. The festival was held at Spirit of Suwannee Lake Park in Live Oak, FL at the culmination of their summer tour that otherwise promoted their then-new almost-full length Universal Pulse, which was also performed at the festival. In the build-up to the festival, Square Cotton Candy’s Tom spoke with bassist P- Nut about the making and then-upcoming performance of Transistor. After a few years of being skipped over by the Wayback Machine, SCC is pleased to present this interview originally published in July 2011 on the now-defunct

SCC: Transistor contains your first solo composition on a 311 record, “Creature Feature.”

P-Nut: My only.

SCC: How did you feel during the initial process of bringing your own song to the band, as opposed to collaborating?

P-Nut: Obviously it was a little bit of an exercise in futility. I don’t really like relying on my kind of…If it’s just me writing music it’s either gonna’ be too weird or too simple. I so much prefer, and my career shows it, to collaborate. It’s so much more interesting. It’s so much more satisfying. I know what I’ll come up with. That doesn’t do anything for me, but to bounce ideas off of the rest of the guys in the band…and I stretch them out. I think Nick especially. When he and I work together he wrangles me in, makes me a sane person, and I make him a little more crazy than he normally acts, and I think it really works out well. I think we have a pretty good track record of writing really damn good songs together and what is cool is they end up being on the radio most of the time. I love it.

SCC: Some of the songs from Transistor were not performed until many years after it was released. How does it come together at rehearsal when you go over seldom played songs?

P-Nut: Well, there’s a song on Transistor, called “Tune In”, that we’ve never played live, so…it’s a trip. “Tune In” is a dictionary of riffs and it’s so much fun to play, and it’s very difficult, so I think those things just fell out of the loop. Never got into the mix…we have so many other songs to play. It’s hard to find ones. Some songs get buried and that one has never seen the light of day, unfortunately, which is really a trip.

SCC: How much of a process do you have to go through to get it to sound like you’re ready to bring it on stage?

P-Nut: Two or three rehearsals, just running through it, and then time on your own running through it four or five times. Any song that we took to the studio and pre-produced and perfected in our non-perfect’s still in there. It only takes you a quarter of a second to remember songs for the rest of your life, and as touring musicians, memory is a real kind of an unsung asset that you’ve gotta' have on stage, so it’s in there. It’s really not all that difficult. It’s a little bit of a struggle and people make too big of a deal out know what, I play basketball and jam my finger and people are like, “Oh my God! You use your hands for your living,” and I’m like, “What do you use? Do you use your nose?” We all use our hands…I’m just a guy. My machine I use is an electric bass and I’m lucky enough to play in front of lots of people but, you know, it’s funny. We’re spoiled. We’re totally spoiled and I like calling us out on it.

SCC: Staying humble.

P-Nut: Gotta' try. It’s a struggle. People don’t want you to be, but it’s who I am. It’s who I’ll always be.

SCC: What lyric, on [Transistor], do you feel best represents your personal outlook?

P-Nut: I love the line, it’s in “Jupiter”, Nick says, “I gotta’ say before sales dive, be positive and love your life.” Cause we knew we were making an album that wasn’t gonna’ be a commercial success compared to the blue album. It’s a completely different beast and I think that what’s allowed us to stick around for so long. If we had just made three and a half minute pop songs and filled up albums with that from our career past Transistor in ’97 it wouldn’t be very exciting. It certainly doesn’t seem like it would be as exciting as it is for us now. We can do whatever we want. We can do ballads and super-long, drawn-out songs, and we can do rockers, and we can do funk, and it’s just great. Transistor was our big middle-finger to the people who thought we were gonna’ make blue album number two…we don’t regret it for a second. Longevity is so much more sexy than burning out real quick.

SCC: What were some considerations made deciding to cut Transistor down to a single disc?
P-Nut: Well we wanted to make as much music as people could cram onto one disc and not have to pay for two; like have it be a double album but you only pay for the regular amount of music. It’s a love letter to the people that we knew were gonna’ support us years afterwards, even though it was a musical curve-ball.

SCC: Has a compilation of the unheard Transistor and Soundsystem outtakes been considered?

P-Nut: We’ve got a library of tons of unfinished songs. Yeah, that’s always being considered. I think It’d be cool for the fans to hear the evolution, even if…something got stopped in the making of a song from a classic period of the band, if that is considered a classic period of the band. Yeah, I mean it’ll happen eventually. It’s just a matter of time. [Editor’s note: This materialized with 2015’s Archive boxed set.]

SCC: Now with Universal Pulse, you’re on your own imprint, 311 Records. Would that allow anymore liberty in making that happen, or are those masters controlled by Volcano now?
P-Nut: Those masters are controlled by Volcano as far as I know. The great thing about us being on our own imprint is that live shows from this point on and other little stupid things that we wanna' do, we’ve got a lot more freedom to release music, so look forward to that in the future.

SCC: What caused you to choose Transistor to perform at [Pow Wow Festival]? I know you’ve performed Music, Grassroots, and blue all the way through before. Is it just a natural choice?

P-Nut: Yeah. For me, when the specific came to “we’re gonna’ play another album”, it was we’re gonna’ do Transistor next, because it’s the fans’ favorite. If we’re gonna’ ask them to come out to the middle of nowhere in Florida and hang out for a couple of days in a tent, we better be playing them their favorite music, so it was pretty easy decision to make.

SCC: Any surprises up your sleeves?             

P-Nut: Yes. (laughs)

SCC: Bustin’ out “Damn” finally?

P-Nut: Right, no, no. I think a lot of those really old Omaha songs probably will never get played. I mean, chances are…those have been retired. We played ‘em so much back in Omaha, and we’re such a different band now that it would be hard to reprise some of those. There’s things that are really close to our heart that we’ll get in and out every once in a while, but something like “Damn” or “Push It Away”; those are probably gone.

SCC: You’ve been playing 311 Day for about 10 years now, and now you have the cruise and the Pow Wow. It seems like you guys keep raising the bar of what you’re gonna’ surprise [the fans] with.

P-Nut: Our fans just push us into it. They support us so much…playing something special for them is just great. It’s just so much fun. I think our fans really get into it and our fans are at an age that some of them can afford to, if they’ve got money saved up for a vacation, they can come out on a cruise with us and have the time of their lives, and be with their favorite band…it’s great. I’m so happy that Third Man approached us and said that we had the right fame for it. Man, they were right. We broke records…for alcohol sales on our cruise. It was so much fun…we’re definitely gonna’ do it again.

SCC: Since Transistor there seems to be a pattern of putting out an album with an “er” suffix every six years: Transistor, Evolver, Uplifter. Is that intentional or just a product of what you happened to feel at the time?

P-Nut: It’s just the way the language works. We really like singular word titles most of the time, so for one word to be the descriptive of all this information and all this music it’s gonna' have to take on the suffix of one who does, like farmer: one who farms. It has its own kind of identity like that. You’re making me read way too far into this and I’ve never heard that before. That’s a real good observation. The old one was every other album had a song that was the title of the album and we broke that cycle this time through, which I think is cool. Traditions are meant to be broken.

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