Interview: Catching Up with 311’s Tim Mahoney

Next week, reggae rock giants 311 will be making their way through the northeast, in continuation of their currently underway 2017 fall tour. Tomorrow night, the band comes north to Pennsylvania to start at Sands Bethlehem Event Center, and then will hit Lupo’s in Providence on Friday and The Wellmont in New Jersey on Saturday. Sunday, October 30 will take them to none other than Port Chester’s The Capitol Theatre, before Halloween night sees the band play at Huntington’s The Paramount.

Earlier this year, the band released their 12th studio album, Mosaic, which has been receiving high praise from longtime fans as one of their most creative albums yet. After a big summer tour (which makes eighteen summers in a row for the band), 311 is feeling more energized than ever. In anticipation of what should be a terrific run of shows next week, lead guitarist Tim Mahoney talked with NYS Music about the new album, practice time, Halloween costumes, and more.

Miles Hurley: So 311 fall tour is underway with several shows so far. How are things feeling?

Tim Mahoney: Good! We took a long enough break from summer until now, that you kind of get comfortable being at home. But once you get back out here, though, you realize it hasn’t been that long, so you just get back into it. No real dust or cobwebs, we’ve mostly been trying to get through some of these back catalogue album tracks that we did not play in the summer. You know, to just mix it up from there. This record, Mosaic, I think it was June it came out, we’re getting through a lot of that, too. Right before I called you I was just doing a little bit of homework, going over a handful of songs for soundcheck that we haven’t played for a minute. But it’s going good. Same crew and everything, so it’s like…knock on wood. Probably break both my knees or something tonight now (laughs).

MH: Which tracks from Mosaic have been your favorite to play, or which ones have been sounding the best live to you so far?

TM: Well, we’ve been working through most of them, I do like “Face in the Wind,” because there are a couple of guitar solos in there. You know, being the guitar guy (laughs). But they’ve all been fun to play, but it’s a challenge, because there’s a lot of material there. But it seems like most of the kinks are out of them. There’s one we have not played yet, but that might be farther down the pipeline.

A song like “Too Late” we’ve been doing pretty much every night, and it seems to get people going. I kind of forget that there are some super metal parts, that come up in the songs all of a sudden, and if you’re not ready for them, well….(laughs) We’ve been trying to get a balance of them out there, some of the more mellow ones with the heavier ones. And when we come to the east coast, we’ll try to mix it up.

MH: I think that’s what I like especially about the new record—it has a nice flow back and forth between the more laid back, groovier songs, and some really heavy stuff. When it comes to the heavier and the more laid back, where would say your taste, or your playing preference, lies these days?

TM: Ooh, it’s hard for me…well both, definitely. Being a guitar player and listening to, when I was starting, punk rock and more aggressive stuff, I’ve always enjoyed that, the heaviness you can get with the electric guitar. But I also like the grooves, and funk and jam bands, I’m a Jerry Garcia fan. I’ve always enjoyed…you know like all the way back to the Bad Brains, who does reggae and punk rock together. It’s hard for me to choose one or the other, I’ve always enjoyed just playing reggae, and being a part of an ensemble playing reggae.

But I like to kick it to the high side of the amp, too. It’s nice that on Mosaic, as you mentioned, a lot of the songs, even within the songs, are pretty bipolar, going from super clean to super heavy, I like the contrast of them. It’s fun to get to be able to play both sides with this band.

MH: I’ve heard many fans feel this is some of the most mature stuff from 311 yet, in how many styles it weaves together.

TM: That’s good to hear. That’s how we feel, everybody’s on the same page right now, in being inspired to play together, and to go at it like that. That makes me happy to hear that people would say that.

MH: I also read that 311 has always been diligent when it comes to practice, and I’m sure that’s something the fans truly appreciate—the band nailing the parts in songs when the time calls for it. In terms of, on the one side, practice makes perfect, and on the other side, just going with the flow when things happen on stage, where would you say you are right now?

TM: Aw man, yeah, that’s a hard thing because…you know, as much as you practice, you’ll never be perfect. You have to put in the time and the work, so that when you get into a situation on stage, you can let it flow, and be in the moment, and have the tools that you’ve worked on sitting there to keep you flowing. So I think it’s both, and you can only really do the work on stage on stage, basically, in front of people.

We talk about this a lot, about the adjustments. You know, if we rehearse in the studio, it still can’t really prepare you for when you get on stage, in front of people. And there are all these other entities there, the energies and stuff, that come into play. So managing that energy and that excitement and being able to keep focused and have it flow with the music is a big part of it, too. And that just comes from time spent doing it. But to be able to survive and to be comfortable in the on stage situations, you have to spend time working. Even the greatest players that maybe don’t rehearse any more, there was a time when they did, and I still have to work at it, everyday.

It’s so funny, because the most random things can happen up there, in different parts of the songs. So, you always try and do your best out there, but it’s different every night, and that’s what’s fun, that’s what’s exciting about it. Even the songs we play, they’ll be different from night to night.

MH: So would you say you are still experiencing unexpected moments on stage from your band members?

TM: Oh yeah! (Laughs) Just weird funny little things that might make you laugh. Whether it’s a new dance move from SA, or last night Chad had some light up drumsticks that were pretty cool. And as time goes on, I enjoy playing music more and more, and I think everybody in the band is on the same page there. We’re just very appreciative of the fact that we can go out there and play music.  

MH: Have you ever considered either playing some kind of solo shows, or solo recording?

TM: Well I’ve played with some friends bands and stuff, and recorded here and there with them, just little projects. I think eventually I will do something, because I have songs from over the years that aren’t quite right for 311. Like, although I enjoy singing, I’ve never really sang (laughs). So it’d probably be a collaborative thing, but eventually, yeah. When I get a little time to work on something like that, it’d be fun.

MH: Something to bring the trombone in on, too.

TM: Yes! That’s funny you bring that up, because I have been working on a little something there. I’ve been trying to figure out what song I might be able to whip it out on. My first instrument, you know, I do love it. The hardest thing, having to buzz your lips, and the wind control. That kind of stuff has been the hardest for me. But you know, I’ve got a pretty solid one octave there, so I figure I could chip away at one of these melodies, I just have to figure out what the proper one would be.

But yea, trombone! I’m excited, I don’t know if you listen to much Phish or to Trey, but his solo band there has a really great trombone player…I’m a huge Trey fan, so it’s nice for me also being a trombone fan, that he’s got a trombonist in his band.

MH: Yeah, Natalie. I’ve seen her in TAB and in some side stuff with other people, yeah she’s incredible.

TM: Yeah, chainsaw! Wow, you’re lucky, see every time Trey Band comes to Los Angeles, I’m out of town, it’s been going on for years and years now. This year they’re doing Halloween out there, and we’ll be in New York. I’m such a huge Phish fan, and every couple of years their schedule and ours line up…but yeah, TAB, what a great band he’s got there.

MH: And I also read that you’ve always been a big deadhead, too. Has 311 played the Capitol Theatre before, or will this be a debut there?

TM: Aw yeah. I’m pretty sure this is our debut there. It’s exciting for me, just knowing so many people have played there, you know what I mean? I’m pretty sure I have some Jerry Garcia Band shows from The Capitol Theatre. It must be a stop for a lot of bands on the jamband circuit, too. I’m getting all the emails, it seems like a lot of people are going through there.

MH: It’s a special place to see a show, for sure. Crowds tend to get really amped there.

TM: Aw, good! Well I’m just excited to get to step foot in it. It sounds to me like a classic room, too…

MH: You mentioned Halloween. The 31st you’ll go to The Paramount. Does 311 do any Halloween-type bashes?

TM: Actually, it’s been so long since we’ve played on Halloween, so we’re trying to get it together. We have some ideas, but you know you’ve got five people, so things get vetoed and cut. What I thought were good ideas, I don’t want to say them, I don’t know if they have any traction anymore (laughs). But it’ll be fun, it has been a long time since we’ve played on Halloween. You know, we’re kind of procrastinators a bit, but we’ll get something good going that night. I still have to get my costume together, that’s my biggest thing right now (laughs).

MH: You’ve got something good?

TM: You know, I like going as guitar players, like back in the day when we were playing on Halloween all the time. I got through a lot of the obvious ones, like Slash, Garcia, Angus Young. So I’ve been toying with that, but I don’t know yet for sure…you know the thing is, everybody in the band dresses up and I go out there without a costume, I end up looking like a dilweed.

MH: You’ve got a date coming in November with Karl Denson. Has there been any collaboration there before?

TM: No, you know I’ve met him…because he’s played with Slightly Stoopid, right? That’s where I’ve gotten to meet up, and hear him play. And I’ve heard…Tiny Universe songs, just a couple of them. And he’s a great player, and in Slightly Stoopid, in that context, it’s great to hear him, his solos and stuff. So I’m looking forward to playing with him. But we’ve never collaborated before, that would be a fun collaboration, to have him sit in with us, if he would ever be into that. Looking forward to that. And I didn’t know he played with the Rolling Stones, too, shit. But that show should be fun, that’s a benefit show we’re doing down there. I haven’t heard much yet other than that we’re playing with him, and…I can only imagine that the band he gets together must be pretty fun to listen to.