28 July 2011
Brandon Boyd is determined not to become another modern cliché of the music industry. Over the phone from his house in California, the Incubus frontman is feeling highly righteous (and highly caffeinated) as he chats about the band’s five-year hiatus since 2006 album, Light Grenades.
There’s this story that’s at play in the music world... It’s singer/ songwriter or band person finds fame and success, they get a drug addiction, they go on Celebrity Rehab or they die in a car accident -or there’s a sex tape leak,” he swiftly adds, making sure to cover all possible fates. “I’m interested in finding a new story. I’m interested in creating new, modern mythologies.”
Over the band’s 20-year career, since breaking in the early ‘90s, the eclectic rockers have been on the road to achieving just that, defying industry cliches whilst taking each of their genre-leaping records to Gold or multi-Platinum success. Their latest road however, could not have been more straight or narrow; emotionally drained from the chaos that comes akin with two years of non-stop touring, Incubus succumbed to their exhaustion and announced their hiatus in April 2008.
Boyd finished a solo album and took up a semester at Otis College of Art and Design in L.A, lead guitarist Michael Einziger completed a degree in music composition and science at Harvard, bassist Ben Kenney released a solo record, turntablist Chris Kilmore upped his repertoire to include piano, and drummer Jose Pasillas relished first-time parenthood.
Their seventh album and bold return, If Not Now, When? spawned from phone call rap sessions between Boyd and Einziger, which were then cemented on a drive from New York City to Buffalo in a rented car. “I was telling him all about my album and how it was a really fun and educational process for me,” says the 35-year-old Boyd. “He wanted to come up and just quietly start talking about it but I guess it was my pursuit that really got the action started.”
Whether you heard it early when it leaked online or waited for the July 12 drop date, change will be the crucial word for long-time Incubus fans upon first listen of If Not Now, When? With Left Coast balladry and slow-hum sonics, their latest effort could be the quintet’s most soothing release yet. Boyd, now well versed in ‘Fan Reaction 101’, says this time around he needed to trust that his listeners could handle a challenge rather than release a regurgitated version of chart-topping 2002 album, Morning View.
“As I’ve gotten older I’ve come to understand the nature of [listeners] more, that when you give people what they were expecting, the immediate reaction is ‘good for you! That’s what I wanted!’” he says, sending his genial voice up five octaves. “But the long term reaction is ‘that’s so boring of you, like, why would you do that again?’”
However dissimilar to past efforts the new record may sound, lyrically it began with the same method Boyd has always used. He describes writing the title track as an almost subconscious experience, in which he was unaware of the song’s true subject matter until an epiphany struck.
“I honestly didn’t know what I was writing about. I knew I was channelling something missing perhaps that had been in a place of unconsciousness as to a moment in me, in my life [Boyd is renowned for these philosophical tangents]. As I was writing these things down I realised that there was no better time to bask in that blinding light of that moment. “What it is specifically is irrelevant,” he says, returning from the moment. “The guys in the band liked the lyric and it became an Incubus song that potentially the listener could apply his or her experience to; whatever that moment would be, would be relevant to them and them alone.”
Boyd is surprisingly conscious of his “listeners”; the band created a global first with Incubus HQ Live where nearly 2 million fans interacted with the band through 24 hours of streaming content for seven days. “If you’re not viral in the first fifteen minutes then you’re nowhere,” laughs Boyd, who almost lost his characteristic cool on the first day of filming.
“I don’t think I’ve ever been so anxiety-ridden my whole life... Our manager kinda had a nervous breakdown and the band were freaking out too.” For a band that’s placed millions of albums in millions of stereos and iTunes libraries the world over, feelings of worry may sound surprising. But it does prove Incubus are in it for the right reasons; slow burning their way into consciousness through seeking challenges that make a contribution.
If Not Now, When? is out now through Sony Music.
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