The Disco Fries and Nick Hexum of 311 Go Acoustic for “Head in the Clouds” — Exclusive Premiere

Today we have something really special to share!

It’s an acoustic session of the new song “Head In The Clouds” caught on camera with the fabulous Disco Fries and Nick Hexum of 311.

The session took place as part of the recording process for the Disco Fries new mini-album Autonomous, which includes collaborations with a variety of artists in addition to Hexum, including Breathe Carolina, Our Lady Peace vocalist Raine Maida, and Hope Murphy.

Fabulously intense and heartfelt, this acoustic interpretation of the song truly shines.

The Disco Fries share this insight into how this collaboration came together, "Sometimes when we make a record, it is clearly meant to remain instrumental, and other times you can envision a singer on it immediately. It’s very rare that the singer that you envision on a track is accessible, inspired by your tune, and turns around a smash within the first week of digging in on writing.

“We were lucky enough to have all this happen with ‘Head In The Clouds,’ and working with Nick Hexum has really been a dream come true. Growing up, 311 was always a staple in Nick's (of the Disco Fries) CD collection. The band's hybrid of reggae, rock and hip-hop was both super melodic, and had plenty of edge to appeal to a young teenager in the 90’s. The first concert he was allowed to go to with his friends was 311 and surely you can imagine the impression it made on a 13-year-old.

“Fast-forward to last summer when we were sitting on a one minute clip of the origin of this track and Nick Hexum, 311’s lead singer, popped to the top of our wish-list to sing on the record. After connecting with his publisher (shout out to Jeremy at Downtown!), we sent over what we envisioned for the track, and his team let us know that Nick had just gotten off tour and was taking some time in the studio to dig in on electronic music.

“The stars couldn’t have aligned any better. We happened to be one of the first acts that gave him a call to work on an electronic tune and the rest was history. We landed in LA a few weeks later, actually just a few days before we met up with Breathe Carolina, and took a drive up to his studio in the mountains. Everything clicked instantaneously and before we knew it ‘Head In The Clouds’ was born."

We were lucky enough to have a chat with Nick Ditri and Danny Boselovic of the Disco Fries and the fabulous Nick Hexum, who used a Gibson Memphis Luther Dickinson ES-335 for the recording, to find out more about the song, the video and more! Check it out.

What’s your writing process like? Do you jump in immediately with electronic beats and all or take a simpler approach?

Danny: It really depends from project to project. Sometimes we get inspired by a chord progression we've come up with on piano, while other times it'll be a melody or even just a sound we're working on. We try to approach the songwriting process from all angles so we don't get stuck creatively. With “Head In The Clouds” it started with the main chords you hear on piano in the hook. We just kept adding elements, arranging the track out and once we had the basic structure down that's where Nick (Hexum) came in and brought it to life.

Nick H: If I rely too much on production the song gets lost. The best tunes from me lately have been me walking around (usually outside!) with my acoustic guitar just humming along to chords until something cool comes out.

I think it’s great that you combine some really strong songwriting with a great beat in your studio version of the song as well, which doesn’t always happen in EDM. Can you comment?

Danny: We definitely tried to focus on the song for all the tracks on Autonomous and not get super lost in production. We feel like the emphasis over the past few years has been too much on the track or the drop and people are starting to get tired of the shock value aspect of EDM. So we wanted to focus on the music and keep the engineering/production secondary to that. I think a lot of producers will be moving this direction as the scene matures and there's already a ton of talented guys leading the way. It's been really amazing watching artists like Porter Robinson, Madeon, and Audien combine their production skills with real musicality and, in our own way, that's a bit of what we were hoping to accomplish with our project.

Nick H: Those guys have a lot of cool instrumental drops in their tunes but it was nice on this one to have a sung chorus. Best of both worlds!

Your first choice for this song was Nick Hexum. Have you written before with a singer in mind?

Nick D: There have definitely been a few instances where we make a record and we immediately know who we want on it or at least the type of voice we want it. It’s super rare, actually almost never, that whoever we want on a record is available and down to jump on a song right then and there, but it worked out like this with Nick.

Typically, we’ll go for a certain vibe with a track and talk to a few different vocalists, writers, and such, and then usually settle on the best fit to finish it. We’ve had a few instances where a label signs an instrumental and wants to get a top-line on the track later on, so they’ll go out and get about 10 different top-lines and then come back to us with their picks. Thats typically not what we chose to do as the best results for us have come from being in the room with the vocalists and part of the vocal writing and performance process.

Nick, it seems the stars aligned for you to be part of this song. Were you struck by it right away?

Nick H: I really was struck by it right away. I had the guys over to my studio to kick some ideas around and they played me the beginning of that track and I loved the chord changes. The intro was just piano and I knew that I could drop some surf-y guitar on there and make it really open up.

Was there a give and take with elements that you contributed based on the original recording and input you received for the song?

Nick H: It was an easy fit to blend our styles. The different influences created a unique sound I haven't heard in the electronic world. The whole thing was real painless. Nick Ditri says he “doesn’t sing” but he actually sent me an audio recording of him singing the hook which really helped me simplify the chorus. It was much catchier after his suggestion!

Give us some insight into the inspiration behind the lyrics. They seem to be saying, don’t be so cynical and reach for the light...

Nick H: Yeah, I think the lyrics are about not being cynical and reaching for the stars. Having faith that there are good things in the world that make life worth living can sometimes be a struggle with all the bad news in the world. But there is plenty of good in the world to focus on if one so chooses.

What made you want to record a more stripped down version of the song?

Nick Ditri: For us it's always about the songwriting, melody, arrangement, and how all of those things play off of each other at the end of the day. Don’t get me wrong, we love and can appreciate an impeccably designed sound or overly growly synth that isn’t necessarily the most musical thing you’ve ever heard but still can carry a record, and while we do use those in our full productions, there is always something to be said about a stripped down version of a track. That’s usually where you can see whats going on harmonically without the extra fluff. What was cool about recording the acoustic version of ‘Head in The Clouds’ after the fact and in the studio together, was that it allowed us improvise certain dynamics that weren’t in the original version.

Nick H: I think the song itself was so strong that we wanted to have a version that wasn't relying on production see you could just experience the tune no-frills. A lot of times EDM guys can’t just play one of their tunes on the piano like Nick and Danny did. It was nice to find out these guys have a real musical background.

You didn’t really record the video all sitting in the room together, did you?

Nick D: We did! Being that we’re primarily dance music producers, and we don’t always get the chance to get in the room with other musicians to perform, it was a super refreshing experience for us. Greg Lassik shot the session on a multi-cam setup so he could capture all of us individually, and the entire room performing together. This acoustic session was actually the first time we had been in the room with Nick since we first started tossing ideas around about the direction of this track when we were at his studio in LA. The rest of our collaboration was purely via email and phone, which is the norm for us now, and it typically starts and ends there when we work on tunes with other artists. We’re incredibly grateful that our schedules aligned and we were able to make this video happen. Its a special one for us.

Nick H: Yes, I wasn't sure if we were going to have an easy time recording the video and the audio at the same time but everyone was well prepared and we knocked it out the day I had a 311 show in Asbury park. My guitar tech, Cousin Eric, was nice enough to add backing vocals and written guitar.

I actually really love the stripped down version, will you release it as a track too?

Nick D: The acoustic is available as an album-only track on our new mini-album, Autonomous, which is up on iTunes now.

Find out more at
Buy Autonomous now:

Thank you for reading 5 articles this month**

Join now for unlimited access

US pricing $3.99 per month or $39.00 per year

UK pricing £2.99 per month or £29.00 per year 

Europe pricing €3.49 per month or €34.00 per year

*Read 5 free articles per month without a subscription

Join now for unlimited access

Prices from £2.99/$3.99/€3.49

Laura B. Whitmore

Laura B. Whitmore is a music industry marketing veteran, music journalist and editor, writing for, Guitar World, and others. She has interviewed hundreds of musicians and hosts the She Rocks Podcast. As the founder of the Women’s International Music Network, she advocates for women in the music industry and produces the annual She Rocks Awards. She is the Senior Vice President of Marketing for Positive Grid, making the world safe for guitar exploration everywhere! A guitarist and singer/songwriter, Laura is currently co-writing an album of pop songs that empower and energize girls.