311 is, without a doubt, George Clanton’s favorite band.
At age 15, they were his first concert, inspiring his own musical ambitions. Now over a decade older — having found his own success as a prophet for the internet-based electronic music genre vaporwave — Clanton still raves about their influence in interviews and constantly sports his 311 logo tee.
Clanton’s undying fandom was finally noticed by the band this past summer, resulting in an invitation backstage at their show in Charlotte, N.C.
Always on the hunt for new music, 311 lead singer Nick Hexum asked Siri to play Clanton upon hearing that he would be at the show that night. He was immediately drawn to Clanton’s “incredible electronic soundscapes,” and after meeting him, Hexum casually offered to play guitar on a track, should he so desire.
Clanton thought he was joking or just being charitable; a few days later, Hexum emailed him. Thus began an unlikely-yet-rewarding musical marriage, resulting in the release of two singles on Friday — “Crash Pad” and “King for a Day” — with more to come.
Both tracks are utterly escapist, taking a deep dive into the ’90s sound that both Clanton and Hexum explore in their separate projects, albeit in different ways. But when put together, they mesh naturally; Hexum’s signature staccato and fuzzy guitar melts into Clanton’s ethereal electronic backdrop to create the ultimate musical getaway.
Collaborating was somewhat of a vacation for both Clanton and Hexum, partly because the recording process took place in the summer, but also due to the amount of sheer fun each had creatively.
“It started off just to see what would happen,” Clanton tells Billboard. “But surprisingly, our styles have jelled really well. It sounds like neither of us are changing our respective styles very much, but when you mix them together, it makes something different, and I think that’s been really inspiring for both of us.”
Hexum, who had never heard of vaporwave before collaborating with Clanton, found the project to be a welcome cause for experimentation.
“I enjoyed working with [Clanton] so much,” Hexum says. “There’s just a mad-scientist genius about him with the way he can manipulate and create vintage sounds that are also rhythmically and melodically interesting.”
The two never actually stepped foot in a studio together due to their respective touring schedules and Clanton’s leg injury. Instead, they emailed songs back and forth, adding and tweaking certain aspects until they had half an album’s worth of material.
“The first time I sent him a track, he sent me something back the next day,” Clanton says. “I played it in my car, and his guitar part was awesome, and then just unexpectedly, he started singing. I freaked out. It was crazy to hear his voice on my music and I just started crying in the car, tears of joy.”
In Clanton’s words, this makes the collaboration “the ultimate nostalgic experience,” evoking a sort of meta-nostalgia that they both hope can be felt through the music.
In fact, Hexum took a cue from Clanton and put his own reminiscences to use during the making of “Crash Pad,” drawing inspiration from the late ’80s when he had just moved to Los Angeles and was working at a Guitar Center on Sunset Boulevard.
“The lyrics are about my experience in my late teens trying to find fame and fortune before 311,” Hexum says. “On Sunset Boulevard, there were all these crazy characters coming in and out and asking to sleep on the couch, so that’s where the idea of a crash pad came in.”
Though both Clanton and Hexum have clearly made an equal mark on the project, when it came time to discuss releasing the songs and their accompanying artwork, Hexum insisted on putting Clanton’s name first.
“He worked a lot more hours on these songs than me. I would say it’s me participating in his style rather than the other way around,” Hexum says. “To me, I’m just serving the songs.”
As for how 311 and Clanton fans alike will react to the collab, Clanton is counting on the element of surprise despite many of his recent social media posts featuring an obvious hint: his beloved 311 shirt.
“I’m interested to see what’s going to happen when a whole bunch of 311 fans hear my music for the first time — like, will they like it?” Clanton says. “I hope so, but I’m just excited I got to work with my hero.”
Stream “Crash Pad” below, exclusively on Billboard.