A desire to improve his guitar chops and then form "a for-fun kind of jam band" has turned into a full-blown new musical adventure for 311's Nick Hexum.
The group's frontman will release "My Shadow Pages," the first outing by the Nick Hexum Quintet, on Oct. 1 via his own What Have You Records label. It's also an outgrowth of some collaborative songwriting he and his brother, multi-instrumentalist and Quintet member Zack Hexum, began doing with colleagues such as Better Than Ezra's Kevin Griffin, Sugarcult's Tim Pagnotta and Sam Hollander from S*A*M & Sluggo.
"We were writing pop songs for other people -- attempting to, anyway," Nick Hexum tells Billboard. "It was a fool's errand; you get A&R people blowing smoke, but nothing ever comes of it most of the time. But I did learn a lot and started collaborating with some new people and made some good new friends, and then we decided these songs would be for this for-fun jam band Zack and I had been plotting -- thus the Nick Hexum Quintet."
The album's first single, the reggae-flavored "Super Natural" (co-written with Hollander), actually dates back a couple of years and pre-dates the Quintet, Hexum says. "Sam had done a lot of stuff with Gym Class Heroes, and they'd expressed an interest in the reggae stuff I'd done," Hexum recalls. "I don't really remember why they didn't take it, but I'm glad because I like that song and was happy to have it for the Quintet."
The new group includes what Hexum calls "schooled" musicians whose credits include Chick Corea, George Benson, Alanis Morissette and studies at the Musicians Institute in Los Angeles. It draws from a different and arguably more sophisticated palette than 311, but Hexum notes that "my tastes are generally more mainstream as far as chord progressions and stuff like that. I don't like a lot of dissonance or fast changes. I don't think it would be correct to call what I'm doing truly jazz; it's more jazzy pop. But I try to stay out of the labels and just do what feels right. The best thing about this was there were no expectations; I kind of called the shots, so it felt like it could be as random as I wanted, which was fun. I'm always writing music, so it's kind of cool to have this new avenue opened up so I can put out more of whatever different side of me this represents."
Hexum plans to play three Sunday shows with the Quintet at the Hotel Cafe in Los Angeles but isn't sure yet about touring with the group. "If that goes well and we have fun, then we'll book some more shows," he says. "Everything has been so organic in just letting it go one step at a time, I just want it to stay that way. I'm optimistic we'll do more shows, but it's going to be kind of a lean 'n' mean organization.
Hexum promises that 311 fans needn't worry about the Quintet interfering with the band's normal activities. He says the group has "over 13 songs that are pre-produced" for its next album, "a super-exciting batch of new music" that the band has committed to releasing on 311 day (March 11) next year. "It's kind of cool to have a deadline," Hexum notes. "It's either ballsy or stupid." The group will play its 311 Day show in New Orleans and is planning another of its annual summer amphitheater tours.