Incubus Looks Back on Its 20-Year-Plus Legacy: 'We Carved Our Own Path'
The five members of Incubus are gathered in their practice space, an appropriately dingy, windowless room in an industrial park in Los Angeles’ San Fernando Valley. “You can make as much noise as you want and no one cares,” says guitarist Mike Einziger, 40. They’re rehearsing the new songs off their forthcoming album 8, prepping for the Apr. 21 release and the ensuing tour in July. “It always starts off like a great mess,” he adds, “and then slowly comes together.”
Things are coming together -- and then some -- for the Calabasas, Calif., band these days. The new LP, its first full-length since 2011’s If Not Now, When?, draws on all manners of rock, with added world music and jazz touches. The characteristically eclectic set even earned a late-stage remix from chart-topping DJ-producer Skrillex, 29, providing a decisively modern punch for the veteran act, which this year celebrates the 20th anniversary of its major-label debut album, S.C.I.E.N.C.E.
Throughout their lengthy career the alt-rockers have notched six top 10 albums on the Billboard 200 and 14 top 10 tracks on the Alternative chart, four of which went to No. 1. “Drive” was one of them, and as 8 rolls out, Einziger and frontman Brandon Boyd, 41, pronounce themselves and their bandmates rejuvenated and ready for the next 20-year ride.
It has been 20 years since S.C.I.E.N.C.E. Does it feel like it has been that long?
Boyd: My true-felt experience is there are moments when it feels like we blinked and it has been 20-something years -- a band for 26 years and 20 years since our first major-label release -- but then there are moments where it feels like it was 200 years ago, where I listen to the music and I can feel where we were when we wrote that song.
Einziger: It feels like a thousand years, to be honest. It’s crazy. It’s fun. From a certain perspective it feels like it has been lifetimes, and then from other vantage points it’s like no time has passed. It’s a very strange dichotomy, but it gives me a massive sense of appreciation for what we’ve been through, what we’ve accomplished, what we’ve done. It makes me feel very happy.
Does S.C.I.E.N.C.E. feel like the work of entirely different people to you?
Boyd: It’s like looking back through an old photo album or when you see yourself on an old videotape as a child. You know it’s you, but you can’t believe that everybody let you get rid of that haircut. It seems like it came from a different planet or something, but you know it’s you and you’re still that person, just 20 years later.
How do you explain your longevity?
Boyd: Just because we’re guys who grew up together making music -- it’s a family, and everybody can relate to the notion of how beautiful and supportive being part of a family unit can be, and how much we can grow from it.
Einziger: Every time we write a new song, the excitement of writing something that feels connective, that part of it never changes and never gets old. It gives me this feeling of complete and total curiosity in the process. That’s what makes it seem like no time has passed.
Boyd: There are so many things over the years that could have forced this to stop, but we persevered. That by itself is kind of amazing. It can be incredibly difficult, and there are times when you want to say, “F--k all you people! I’m moving to the streets!” But you survive and you get through, and wonderful things happen.
When was the last less-than-ideal moment for the group?
Boyd: When we made If Not Now, When? and toured behind it, it marked a dark-night-of-the-soul moment in our career. We barely came out alive. We somehow got through the first 20 years of our career without falling into the sort of predictable traps and minefields that most bands and pop artists do, and it all came crashing down around us at the end of 2010 into 2011. It was such a difficult time period for us as a band, but also personally and familially.
Einziger: The group was definitely in a transition period. The older all of us get, the more difficult it becomes to get five different people on the same page and to get everybody excited. That gets more challenging the further you get.
Incubus’ trademark is your great sonic diversity. Where does that come from?
Boyd: There’s probably lots of things that are unconscious on our part. We have vastly diverse musical tastes in the band. We agree on a lot of music that we all love to listen to, and then we disagree on a lot of music. And then sometimes we’ll turn each other on to new music. So we’re drawing from different reference points -- not only sonically, but culturally and visually and artistically, and Incubus has been this place where we can let all of them have their day.
Einziger: It’s our greatest asset and our biggest flaw. We don’t fit anywhere and we never have. We were never punk rock enough for the Warped Tour, we were never metal enough for Ozzfest, we were never quite indie rock or cool enough for Lollapalooza. We’ve carved our own path, and we’re really humbled by the fact that we’ve had so many supporters and people who appreciate our music.
With all of the genre hyphens used to describe you, do you have a favorite?
Boyd: I like when people refer to us as art rock or art thrash. That strokes my ego, because making music is part of a larger creative process. To be recognized as artists, it’s a beautiful thing.
Did you ever feel prescient? Some of your albums sound like mixtapes.
Einziger: For sure. Over the years the evolution of music has tilted in our favor. A lot of the lines between genres have been blurred, especially in recent years with the way DJ culture has evolved and hip-hop and rock have fused with electronic in ways that shine favorably on the history of Incubus. We were incorporating electronic elements and DJ sounds in our music from the -mid-’90s onward, and music has gone even further in that direction in recent years.
It has come full circle on 8 with Skrillex. How did that come together?
Boyd: I loved the album when it was sort of “done” with Dave Sardy mixing it -- producing it first and then mixing it. And then Skrillex came in. We’ve been friends for a little while, and we had lunch one day and he was like, “Let me hear some tracks.” So he came in just to listen to it as a friend, and he was stoked. Then he heard “Familiar Faces” and was like, “Can I just take that in this other room? Give me an hour. I have an idea.” He had his laptop, so we gave him the stems, and in an hour he turned it from a deep album track into a single. And he didn’t “Skrillex” it. He didn’t throw, like, square waves and wop-wop things all over it. It’s an Incubus song; he just made it better. And then he remixed the rest of the album.
Einziger: It’s almost like he joined the band for a couple of weeks. He was vital.
There’s some darkness on 8.
Boyd: I went through a split-up with a longtime partner, so there’s some of that. I also observed this moment in our society where we seem to be making great strides in reverse. We’re in an inherently dark moment in our culture.
Are there any explicitly post-Donald Trump songs on 8?
Boyd: There are a couple. “Familiar Faces” refers to so many people in my family who are older than me, who come from a different generation. I’m trying to reconcile how they could be wooed by someone like Trump, and I’m saying, “I see you. I know your face, but I don’t understand.”
Did someone specific inspire lead single “Nimble Bastard”?
Boyd: When I say “You’re a nimble bastard,” I’m using it as a term of endearment. There are people I look up to for their ability to always land on their feet. It could be under the most horrific circumstances, the lowest low you can imagine, and they use it to become a better version of themselves. I’m saying, “Will you show me how to do that?”
If you turn 8 on its side, it’s the infinity sign. Is that a statement of intent?
Einziger: (Laughs.) Absolutely! Calling it 8 is loaded for me because one symbol signifies 20 years of albums, songs and traveling the world. Twenty years of collaboration, hardship, catastrophe and triumph rolled into one number. It’s not obvious that it’s ever going to connect. We’re just a bunch of guys in a room together. The fact that we connected to millions of people around the world blows my mind.