According to legend, Alexander the Great once surveyed a kingdom so vast that he actually wept because there were no more worlds to conquer. Tim Mahoney can kind of relate. Slowly, steadily, over a 26-year career, the guitarist's rock outfit has built a truly imposing empire, right on the periphery of a relatively oblivious music industry.
The Nebraska-bred group maintains its own North Hollywood studio, affectionately called The Hive, where they've been recording and mixing albums for nearly 15 years. They also launched their very own imprint, 311 Records, for their latest effort, Stereolithic.
The album finds them reunited with producer Scott Ralston, who also oversaw 1999's definitive Soundsystem. Tracks like "Boom Shanka," "Sand Dollars" and "Ebb and Flow" are among of the group's bluesiest-ever jams. It was released, appropriately enough, on March 11.
Meanwhile, 311 fans can bathe themselves in a vast sea of official concert recordings that's beginning to rival the Grateful Dead's. The band tours annually and in 2011 hosted its weekend-long Pow Wow Festival in Florida, which featured multi-genre artists like the Deftones, Murs, Supervillains, and Sublime with Rome. "It would be nice to re-do it," sighs Mahoney, "but truthfully, it's hard to find the right timing to actually pull it off."
There is also a 24-hour celebration, held every other year on March 11, which the band has dubbed "311 Day." This year's event, which marks its return to New Orleans, found the band playing 66 songs over the course of more than five hours.
"Historically, we've always done '311 Day' in New Orleans, but when Katrina hit, we moved because the venue we typically would go into had been flooded," Mahoney recalls. "So we did it in Memphis that year. Then when we tried to go back to New Orleans, we ran into college basketball, March Madness, so we had to go to Vegas for two years. But for this one, we were finally able to go back."
On alternate years, the band runs its own four-day Caribbean Cruise, bringing onboard their friends' bands and performing three separate shows of their own. Next year's — its fourth — is bound for Jamaica, and will include Pepper, The Dirty Heads and other like-minded acts. It will also include a special song-by-song rendition of Soundsystem, the breakthrough album that in some ways made it all possible.
"There's been a variety of bands, from reggae to rock, just good-time music that people can enjoy on a cruise," says Mahoney, who reckons the boat holds roughly 2,500 fans. "So there's a lot of music that goes down over the course of the cruise."
Prior to the start of this nautical ritual, the guitarist says he'd never been put out to sea. And he wasn't sure what he'd gotten himself into. Would the band be overwhelmed by fawning acolytes stalking them around the ship?
"There are a lot of crazy people," Mahoney acknowledges, "and some weird shit always happens, but usually in a good way. Although one time a guy jumped off the boat while it was docked. That was a bad way."