We’re in Soho Hotel to meet with Incubus’ Brandon Boyd and drummer Jose Pasillas, there’s free newspapers with headlines about Trump’s recent bombing of Syria. We’re here to talk about their forthcoming album, 8, but wrecking ball of a ‘President’ can’t be ignored at such frightening times and this is where the conversation with the Californian band gets off to a start.
“It’s frustrating seeing people take massive back steps politically, philosophically, and culturally and in doing so thinking it's going to create progress. I think it is one of the most confused political times in our lifetimes,” says Boyd, who in his late 30’s doesn’t look much different as he did a decade ago when this writer last saw him on stage, his long hair and young complexion are mostly intact. The singer, who practices transcendental meditation has a very calm, collected way about him and is articulate and assured when speaking about politics.
Elaborating on his point of view, he says in an understandably concerned way: “People have just become distrustful of the government, media, and sadly each other. It's a very strange thing and it's happening all over the world. These massive right wing nationalist parties are springing up everywhere. We know from looking at our history that the conservative nationalist thing that always has a xenophobic bent to it, hasn’t worked out well… we should try new ideas. People are freaked out by things that are alternative though.”
Boyd doesn’t go into what that alternative would be, but it’s possible to tell from meeting him that he’d be inclined toward building a fairer, peaceful society. The new album, 8, also conveys how appalled he is by the global corporate elite and their pervasive forms of power: “I was playing with ideas of connectedness, loneliness and disconnectedness in a digital age. Also, how paranoia is created on our surveillance state” he says.
The energy of the music on the record helps communicate the above mentioned unsettled feelings of disenchantment. The overarching sound is heavier, there’s a cohesive and strong sense of direction and enough experimental flourishes to keep us on the edge of our seat and dynamic tempo shifts to want to go out and hear this beast in full live.
In contrast, their previous album to this, If Not Now When, is much cleaner sounding. It lacks the urgency that this one has, and is the least well-received of their career by critics and fans – selling far less than anything in years.
Asked if this was a difficult period for the band, drummer Pasillas says: “Our last record was the most difficult because of general setting. Relationships within the band people had things going on in their personal lives we were still writing a record, strange time in life in our band as well. I still think we made some incredible music. It’s more from the feeling from it detached and listening objectively.” Boyd chips in: “I think we're lucky in that sense we had that dark period together. Even though it strained us as a band at that time.”
Evidently, the process of getting through struggle and supporting each other has only fuelled their focus and desire to come back with a record where they push themselves to the outer limits of their creative abilities. They have rediscovered the rush of being in one of the best, most successful major rock bands on the planet.
This special feeling seems essential to the writing process as they need the relationships to be tip-top, as it’s a very collaborative and the communal spirit is vital. Boyd explains that a lot of his final lyrics depend on how “visceral the band react” to certain ideas, implying that hours and hours of rehearsal occur before they’re ready to record. The singer adds that the band are “lovingly brutal in way that gets to the end result that gets to something everyone feels good about it.”
It’s this open-minded approach to everyone else’s opinion above his own and his sincere lack of ego that, arguably, has helped Incubus last the 26 years they have been going. Apart from a change in bass player 15 years ago and the addition of a turntablist 19 years ago nothing much has changed since they first formed in 1991 at the age of 15.
“We’re very loyal, we’re lifers,” says Boyd. “I think we also found some wonderful creative relationships and it's interesting for us that we grew up together. I've known Jose (drummer) since we were in elementary school and Michael (guitarist) since middle school.”
The band started out influenced by the alternative scene in Califronia, shared –and still share – a love for the likes of Primus, RHCP, RATM, and Fish. They always had their hearts set on getting signed, going on tour and quitting their jobs. After high school they went to a junior college knowing that they’d do music. Even after that Boyd tells us that he and Mike Einziger worked in a coffee shop for a while. “I remember when we both quit, it was very exciting. quit and go on tour,” says Boyd. Pasillas chips in: “We had been thinking about that day for years.”
But that initial move to go on tour wasn’t met with full-on record deal, it was a development deal that allowed them to have the time, space and money to write songs that would get on the radio. Because “Even though we were selling out small clubs in LA we had a following or sorts but didn't have any songs that could be played on the radio which was what most labels were looking for.”
So Michael and I did an acoustic version in a studio when were on tour with Primus and that got picked up by a bunch of stations, and then they rediscovered the original single and stated playing it and it started to get legs. Stellar was next one. That got some nice legs. After that, we came off of tour (we were on tour for 2 years with Make Yourself). We rented a house up in Malibu and started writing Morning View and ‘Drive’ became a single when we were off tour and ‘Drive became a BIG single and go traction on pop radio all over the world it was a really cool sequence of events that led to that.”
The band have since been in very good stead, in the lofty upper echelons of the rock world with main stage festivals and arena tours both sides of the pond. The follow-up Morning View debuted at number 2 in the Billboard, selling 266,000 copies in its first week. It has since sold 3.6 million copies. After that came A Crow Left To Murder, which was one of Pasillass’ favourite moments in the Incubus history. “We had a revamp in the band our old bass player left and Ben came in. We were just full of vigour, so excited with fresh new blood. It made it one of my favourite records. ‘Megalomaniac’ was the first single we made an incredible video for it. It was a new phase for the band I think.”
The subsequent record, Light Grenades, largely expands upon the sounds of the album that preceded it. The follow up to that If Not Now When was completely different, as discussed above. But 8 although it does return to the heavier side of things it is much more concise, it’s less schizophrenic in sound and styles. It’s colourful, energetic and, technically it’s one of the best major label rock releases of the 21st century.
Helping this happen, in addition to producer Dave Sardy’s hard work in pushing the band to their limits, was an unlikely ally and hero of the EDM world: Skrillex. Boyd explains his involvement: “Skrillex came in about a year into the project, when we were already listening to mixes of the album and he had had nothing to do with it. And he kept wanting to hear one particular song over and over again he asked if he "could mess around with it."
We said ‘we love it now’ and thought how much , you know, how much could he fuck it up and he came back in an hour later and he had “trimmed the fat.” He did something to the sonics of it, he eq'd it in a way that was really surprising to all of us. “e were like, ‘oh my god you can hear everything that's happening,’ whereas you couldn't before
stuff was starting to get buried and layered. “So two weeks later he had mixed the whole album and lent production skills to a handful of tracks. He has a handle on sound that is really eye opening. It was really interesting sitting next to him whilst he was working. As usually Incubus are quite an insular band, having Skrillex come in is a unique, unexpected addition that has helped us enjoy the album even more than we would have otherwise. 8 and its political standpoint, sonic excellence, and heavy live appeal make it well worth a listen at a time when Incubus look ready to take on the world for another tour, throwing more fuel to the fire of their phenomenal 26 year career.
8 by Incubus is out tomorrow (21/04/17) Pre-order it now