Brandon Boyd: 'Incubus Still Finding Our Distinctive Voice'

artist: Incubus date: 10/17/2012 category: interviews
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Brandon Boyd: 'Incubus Still Finding Our Distinctive Voice'
To announce and memorialize their 20th year together, Incubus turned a Los Angeles storefront into a combination communal living room, recording facility, and live event space. The band recorded seven nights in the same space and released it as "Incubus HQ Live". They had just released "If Not Now, When?" their first album in over five years and wanted to commemorate the recording in a special way. Consciously thinking outside of the box, singer Brandon Boyd thought about inviting a lot of friends down to a common room and playing some intimate one-off shows for them. "Invite fans into our living room and play the f---ing album live for them" is how he phrased the concept. Using social media, the group made themselves accessible and told diehard fans where to go. Incubus remodeled this abandoned showroom located on La Brea Avenue to accommodate fans, crew and recording and hi-tech gear. The event was broadcast live on the Internet as a run-up to the release of "If Not Now, When?" on July 12. It was a grueling and taxing week but at the end of the day the band were more than happy with the results. Brandon Boyd talks about the experience and why "Incubus HQ Live' was so special but may never be repeated again. UG: When you originated the idea of "Incubus HQ Live" did you have any sense how complex it would be? Brandon Boyd: The only reason I think we wouldn't do it again was the soul crushing anxiety that it brought in the final days of planning. A lot of logistical and mechanical pressures that normally a functioning record label would take on were ours to absorb. But that is the only reason. Everything else that resulted and transpired once the people were in the room and we were live made it worth every ounce of strangeness, stress and strife that surfaced in our camp. It became clear in a relatively swift manner that what we were doing hadn't really been done before, and you could see, feel and hear the excitement and novelty rife in the atmosphere.

"I have never heard the word 'amazing' and 'The Wild Trapeze' set in the same sentence."

Where did the idea come from? The original idea spawned from our manager and was us just brainstorming about ways to lovingly, creatively and cleverly announce that Incubus was releasing a new album and were planning a world tour. Being our seventh full length offering, it occurred to us that we had our work cut out for us in our attempt to make that announcement for the seventh time. The idea was that it would be a truly multimedia experience; hence the numerous modes of connecting. Everything from communicating on the canvas walls with pens and paint; to Tweeting onto the community wall messages from thousands of miles away; from tuning in via satellite; or standing within "smell the flavor of my breath" distance in the room with us. It occurred to us after the fact that it might make an amazing super fan box set if and when we survived the experiment, which brings us to today. You covered songs from just about the entire Incubus catalog. Before starting "11am" Mike asks you, "What year did we write this?" and for a brief moment the two of you talk about the song's conception. Did certain songs bring back wonderful memories of originally recording the songs? "11am" is a perfect example. It triggered both fond memories as well as challenging ones. The process of songwriting has that effect. You can put a song away for an indeterminable period of time then unearth it randomly and unexpectedly, and without fail it will conjure some and or all of what you were feeling when you put it to paper. Or tape, in this case. "11am" was from the "Morning View" album. What do you remember about recording that record? Recording "Morning View" was interesting for so many reasons, not the least of which was that we were still recording certain instruments to tape. We didn't start fully tracking with ProTools until about 2003, if I am not mistaken. "Morning View's" songs seem to recall a very important time for our band. It was the fall and winter of 2000 and we had been slugging it out on the road since about 1996. Things had been progressing slowly but surely, but right as we came home from touring "Make Yourself" and moved ourselves into the "Morning View" house, a late single from "Make Yourself" got picked up. "Drive" just sprinted up the charts. We were seeing fruits of our labor for the first time. But also everything that comes on the coat tails of new success; hence the fond memories as well as the challenging ones. I think perhaps that is one reason "Morning View" turned out the way that it did. It was unconsciously and consciously imbued with very real emotions, hopes, disappointments, and triumphs.

"I have been so blessed to be a lyricist and singer in Incubus for so many reasons, but not the least of which is the fact that my band mates are world-class musicians."

You covered The Doors' "Riders On The Storm" - you were a Doors fan? Was Jim Morrison someone you listened to? While we're here could you talk a bit about some of the classic bands and what -if any- effect/influence they had on you? Might I suggest: The Beatles; The Byrds; the Who; Led Zeppelin? Or any that you truly loved? I was and am a massive Doors fan. I think you'd get the same reaction from everyone in our band. Their music is as much a part of the fabric of where we grew up as is the sand in the folds of your jeans after leaving the beach. The Beatles and Led Zeppelin were just as informative and inspiring. Some of my first musically attached memories are with The Beatles. I remember to this day, sitting in my car seat hearing "Strawberry Fields Forever" for the first time and seeing the song as I was listening to it. That song was one of my first profound musical experiences. If I ever meet Paul or Ringo I'd definitely have to take a moment to geek out on them and tell them that they changed my life. And the same goes for Zeppelin and The Doors. Truly altered my consciousness in the best possible way. Thanks guys. The band took about a five-year hiatus between Light Grenades and "If Not Now, When?" You recorded your amazing solo album "The Wild Trapeze". Can you please talk about putting that album together? Can you talk about playing all the instruments yourself? Was this a totally different experience than working with Incubus? Did you bring what you learned from recording "The Wild Trapeze" back to Incubus when you recorded "If Not Now, When?" Our hiatus wasn't a real one, truth be told. When I think of bands taking a hiatus, I think of unkempt beards, LSD getaways, birthing many children with many different people, sojourns in India, and falconry, etc, etc. All of which sounds like a f---ing great time by the way. How was the time off Incubus took different than that? Ours was a working hiatus; in the span of that five years we toured for about two years behind "Light Grenades"; Mike and I went back to school respectively and Mike stayed two years and I lasted two semesters. I had my first solo art show and Incubus released a "Greatest Hits" album and we did a summer tour behind it. Ben Kenney recorded and released his third solo album and I recorded a solo album. One new human was created; some beards were grown and some were shaved and to my knowledge there were no LSD parties, which in retrospect was likely a good decision. I had -no joke- 13 separate outpatient surgeries on my Achilles tendon, and I may or may not have pursued falconry. To make a long story short, it wasn't like we were sitting in our recliners having bon bons brought to us by trained leopards. That five years put some gray hairs on us.

"A feeling of separateness has indeed crept in now and again [about Incubus]."

Your solo album "The Wild Trapeze" was amazing. I have never heard the word "amazing" and "The Wild Trapeze" set in the same sentence and for that I thank you. I must warn you, I am susceptible to flattery. Making that album was so f---ing scary and exhilarating all at the same time; I have been so blessed to be a lyricist and singer in Incubus for so many reasons, but not the least of which is the fact that my band mates are world-class musicians. I am better at what I do because of the soundscapes and architectures we create together. So in many ways, they have been my teachers. I found myself at many moments in making my own album saying to myself, "What would Jose do here? Where would Mike feedback?" Etc, etc. But I would not delude myself into calling "The Wild Trapeze" a musician's album. I am a musician only in the most basic of interpretations, but I am completely at ease in this realization. I think that was one of the core takeaways from the process and experience of writing and recording that album. It revealed my creative limitations, which was a massively inspiring revelation. I was barely finished mixing my album when we started writing "If Not Now, When?" So as far as coming into a writing process, I was over the moon about getting to put words and melodies to Michael's, Jose's, Ben's, and Chris's sonic architectures. "Tomorrow's Food" was the first song written for "If Not Now, When?" That was around since 2009 and then Mike sent it to you and you put that amazing melody/lyric over it. Did this song create the sort of stylistic foundation for the album? Did it point the band in a direction? It was the first song we wrote for this one, but it was written so long before the album really started to take shape that to say it informed the process would be a bit of a stretch. I think we may have even recorded it near to last in the studio. It is a beautiful song, but it's also a strange song. I think it will make sense the further away from it's inception it gets. I believe that more so than any other album we've recorded that "If Not Now, When?" will be that way. All of the songs we recorded during these sessions have a thing that was and is a trifle oblong for most of our listeners as well as most of us in the band. But I am so proud that we made the album we did. It is a creative statement and a milestone for us. I find it to be a brave album as well as an essential album in the Incubus catalog. You've described "Adolescents" as the most "recognizable" Incubus song on "If Not Now, When?" Why would you describe it that way? Recognizable in the most basic sense of the term. In that it carries with it a sort of through line that is tied to our recent past. I spoke of it that way because most of the newest album is decidedly untied to our past. There are through lines all over "If Not Now, When?" but it is, in my opinion, in stark contrast to much of our catalog. I like the idea of challenging ourselves as well as our listeners. Challenging each other creatively and intellectually in a loving bet on one another's respective capacities. I want to grow together.

"Our hiatus wasn't a real one, truth be told. Ours was a working hiatus."

I've interviewed Mike a couple of times and he's described his guitar solos as "events that happen." Can you please describe what it's like for you recording vocals? Have you gotten better over the years? I would like to think that I've improved, yes. And whether I am deluding myself or not, I shall continue to believe that my best days are now and ahead. I don't think when I step up to the mic, I tend to release and allow. All the thinking has taken place long before and when I approach that moment to put it down, I usually close my eyes and travel a little. Or a lot, depending on how well the spell is cast. I like Mike's description of "events that happen." The best songs are events or series of small events. Mike Einziger has described the band's relationship with other groups as "Feeling very separate from everybody else" in terms of the band's music. Do you feel that same way? I understand why he said that but I think his statement could be easily misconstrued. We heard the word "no" so often while coming up as a band and still to this day hear it at such key moments, that we may be guilty of having a collective underdog syndrome. A feeling of separateness has indeed crept in now and again. Likely reinforced by the constant touring. Being on the road for 16 years may have lent to a sense of living in a bubble. But all that being said, we have formed deep kinships with amazing people during that time. And found comfort in those kinships and the realization that we are indeed not alone. We, after all, have each other and have been blessed with a devout audience that transcends generations as well as borders. If that doesn't make one feel connected, than I don't know what would.

"I am so proud that we made the album we did ['If Not Now, When?']."

Reaching back a bit, could you talk about recording "Fungus Amongus"? Looking back on it now was it an accurate statement of where Incubus were at the time in 1995. It was a very accurate statement of where we were at that time. We were teenagers and had little to no knowledge or understanding of the world. We were learning how to write songs and be a band and had no concept or idea that those recordings would stick. It was almost Outsider art. Sometimes I wish it remained as such (smiles and cries a single tear.) I think "Fungus Amongus" and "S.C.I.E.N.C.E." were Incubus still finding our distinctive voice. So those albums are schizoid amalgamations of many of the bands we were obsessing over in the early to mid-nineties. You can probably do the math from there. The aliens have landed and found the Incubus time capsule. In it are the three songs you've included to best represent who Incubus were. What three songs would you choose? Why? I'll leave out the why and let your readers interpret: "If Not Now, When?" "A Crow Left Of The Murder" "Nice To Know You" "Hello" by Lionel Richie. I'd just put that in there and hope they thought we wrote it. And while we are at it, I'd put the video in there as well but with my face badly superimposed over Lionel's. Interview by Steven Rosen Ultimate-Guitar.Com 2012
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