311 Ditches Ballads, Space Travel Notions on 'Universal Pulse'

311 Find 'Freedom and Control' with No Major Label

311's forthcoming new album, "Universal Pulse," went through "a lot of different phases," according to frontman Nick Hexum. Among them? "A concept album about space travel" that he broached to his bandmates.

"Yeah, I don't know if the rest of the guys really got into it," Hexum tells Billboard.com with a laugh. Ultimately, he says, the litmus for the group's 10th studio album -- due out July 19 -- was "to make songs that were going to be great for live performances."

"Over the past few years we've realized we're primarily a live band," Hexum explains, "and we're damn glad for that. So we felt the album should support the live setting. It's nice to have a single ('Sunset in July') that goes on the radio, but that's all kind of gravy. The core of what we do is touring and the live experience, so this album was created to support that. What's going to be fun to play live, and what's exciting? What you hear is a band in the studio, playing, and the album is mixed very naturally instead of going for more compression and everything."

Video: 311, "Sunset in July"

He also notes that "this is the [one] album we've done that doesn't have any ballads. I don't want to close the door on that side of us, but this time it's a bit different."

Hexum says 311 and producer Bob Rock -- returning from 2009's "Uplifter" -- went through up to 50 demos and came up with eight songs for "Universal Pulse." He acknowledges it's more EP than full album-length, but the group is happy with its decision to keep it that way.

"There was just a general 'Let's put quality over quantity' this time," Hexum explains. "It's kind of an experiment. We feel that people will want to hear it again, and I find that as pop culture goes further people's attention spans get shorter. So we'd rather do more frequent albums rather than 'Uplifter,' which took four years. Yes, that's a longer album, but I think of our fans had to choose they would want to hear what we are doing more often rather than wait for a longer album."

After 16 years in the major label world, "Universal Pulse" is 311's first album for its own 311 Records imprint, which is being distributed by ATO Records. Hexum says the band did look at potential deals for the album -- "We just wanted to do our due diligence and consider all avenues," he says -- but ultimately decided it would be better of going on its own.

"We realized we don't need the middle men," he explains. "Because our touring is so strong, (labels) don't have to do anything; we've got such a direct relationship with our fans that we don't need them to 'break' us. If there was an upside to being with a label we would have considered that, but we realized we can provide all the services we were getting from a label. We can make videos and remixes and do all the different promotions that we think will provide extra content and excitement to our fans -- and be more effective than any sort of nebulous label services."

And, Hexum adds, "if we want to throw out a single or an EP or whatever, now we have the right to do that without any sort of all-powerful A&R man between us and our fans. It's very exciting."

311 hits the road on July 8 for its Unity Tour 2011 with Sublime With Rome. The group will also host its first-ever Pow Wow Festival Aug. 4-6 at the Spirit of Suwanne Music Park in Live Oak, Fla., which will also feature deftones, G. Love, the Dirty Heads, Reel Big Fish, Ozomatli, Streetlight Manifesto, Mix Master Mike and more. 311 itself is planning to play two sets each night, including a performance of its 1997 breakthrough album "Transistor" in its entirety.

" 'Transistor'...is kind of our 'Dark Side of the Moon,' and the biggest thing that our fans have been requesting is to hear the whole thing in order," Hexum says. "So we're going to do it for the first time there, and the whole thing is going to be a lot of fun and a chance to be out in a beautiful part of the country that probably not a lot of people have had the chance to visit." Hexum says that 311 also has "a lot of exciting stuff planned for next year that we can't announce. We're kind of pacing ourselves for a two-year touring season."