Entering their 27th year of existence, Californian rockers Incubus would be well within their rights to hit the nostalgia circuit, and spend the rest of their days dining out on the multi-platinum hits of more youthful years. But as even a single play-through of their eighth studio record, 8, makes abundantly clear, Incubus are still very much a creative force to be reckoned with.
An energised and experimental effort, 8 finds the band in cracking form, displaying musical and songwriting chops many younger bands would kill for, while asking questions of the listener and the world with every note. It’s a bold statement of intent from the band, one spearheaded as always by now 42-year-old vocalist/painter/author/dreamboat Brandon Boyd, a man whose artistic output, deeply spiritual outlook and philanthropic efforts have inspired thousands of fans across the world to get ink in his honour (and no doubt millions to hyperventilate when they see him in the flesh).
In the lead up to the band’s first headline tour of Australia in over six years, Brandon was kind enough to speak with Music Feeds’ Brenton Harris, giving an enlightening insight into the creative process, his political views and ideals, as well as the band’s ongoing quest for reinvention.
MF: Brandon, thanks for taking the time to chat to Music Feeds, how’s existence for you today?
BB: Existence is lovely today, thanks for asking, how is existence for you?
MF: Pretty good actually, and one of the reasons for that is that Incubus are coming to Australia for your first run of headline dates in six years, in support of your latest record, 8! Are you as excited to be coming down for the shows as your fans down here are to have you back?
BB: Oh yeah man, we are overwhelmingly excited, we love, love, love, LOVE coming to Australia, for so many reasons, not the least of which is that we don’t get to go there all that often so it always feels special, but also because Australia and California are so similar, that it’s always felt like we’re home and not thousands of miles away when we play there, and we also always get to play cool shows, so we’re definitely looking forward to returning home so to speak.
MF: I agree with that notion of us being kindred spirits, I’ve always felt so comfortable in California when I’ve visited and so appreciative of the people there for their kindness, so it’s nice to hear that you feel so at home when you visit.
A lot of bands would struggle to find new sonic and lyrical directions to explore by the time album number 8 comes around, but you’ve managed to do both on 8 resulting in a very fresh sounding Incubus record, was there anything specific that was inspiring Incubus during the writing process?
BB: As an artist I have had a handful moments in my life where I’ve felt like I’ve had writers block or painters block, and what I’ve learned is that creativity is a dynamic animal, and one that something that exists on a level of consciousness all of its own. When it arrives I like to welcome it into my house and take care of it and cultivate it and get as much as I can out of it until it decides to go home again.
I have so many friends that are artists that when creativity leaves their house, they take it so personally, and they beat themselves up about it and when I finally understood that it’s something that comes and goes, that it’s like a rolling stone and that it flatters when it shows up but that people go into crisis mode when it’s time to leave. So I do my best not to get offended when that happens to me and instead try to focus on the things that are conducive to having that creativity flow again, and I’ve found that being around my home and having the ability to paint and surf, but also having the ability to go out on tour and literally change up the scenery and see something new, has been a successful method so far.
MF: The current political climate in the USA definitely seems to have influenced aspects of the record 8, for a band that’s not known for being overtly political, outside of your environmental activism, you really come out swinging on 8 in directly political way, did you decide that it was something that you just couldn’t ignore?
BB: I wouldn’t say it’s new territory, there’s handfuls of songs in the past that have focused on political issues, but there’s definitely more on 8 and that’s because the world is a very sticky place culturally and America is playing an interesting part in that regard, in that it feels like a giant science experiment, that we’re never going to get to see the end of, but it’s definitely something that inspires one to be open about it.
It’s also such a rapid change, culturally at home, in that when we started writing 8, Trump was just declaring he was running for president, and then before we finished he actually got elected and it felt like I woke up in a completely different world. It felt like people elected him as an act of political dissent, rather than with any thought of consequence and the fallout from that has been a constantly devolving thing. What I will say though is that political crisis and cultural crisis, because that’s what it is for us, it’s very much a cultural crisis, act as a great muse for creation, it makes for good art.
MF: Incubus is 27 years old this year, yet you’ve never been successfully pigeon-holed into a sound or a movement, or a moment in time, no matter how hard certain segments of the press tried to dismiss you as nu-metal, you’ve always remained distinctly Incubus, how have you managed to escape being classified?
BB: It’s a very simple trick and I’ll share it with you now, we cover ourselves with baby oil, constantly, so no one can ever grab hold of us!
Honestly, I don’t know the true answer to that question, I just know that from the start until today we’ve remained very serious about our art and the creative process and we’ve always believed that curiosity is a very necessary and vital ingredient of creativity and I know that as a singer and a songwriter, and a painter, that I am just as curious, if not more curious, now than I was when we started doing this and that only continues to inspire me to throw more colours at the canvas, to see what happens.
MF: Do you think that dedication to being authentic in creative process and not deferring to a sound or a label has helped you to escape the retrospective album nostalgia trap that a lot of bands of a similar era seem stuck in, and would you ever consider doing one of those types of tours?
BB: Not yet, not just yet. There still feels like there’s a vitality in our band and a curiousness about novel territory and a desire to create and to explore, so we’re going to keep looking for that, and you know one day maybe we’ll find the answer to that curiosity and we’ll say “oh, look, there it is, that’s what we’d been looking for this whole time” and we’ll pick up our instruments and decide it’s nostalgia tour time, but hopefully we’ll be like 55 by that time.
MF: You’ll probably still be rocking those washboard abs, Iggy Pop style.
BB: I sincerely hope so!
MF: You’re a multidisciplinary artist personally, having had success working with visual art, writing and of course, music, are there elements of your personality that you find you express more readily or easily in one medium than another?
BB: They definitely inform one another, but they also have an energy of their own. The visual I like to use to describe it is it’s all one tree, with one shared root system, but each medium or creative outlet is a branch. On certain days, I’m up on top of one branch, on certain other days I’ll be on top of another, but then on other days I’ll be focused on thinking about what the tree will look like if it grows another branch. What I try to do to take the metaphor a little further is I try to ensure that the tree is covered with blossom as much as possible, I want to nurture this idea of not just art, but creativity.
What is it to live a creative life? What does it mean to be consistently in the creative process? It yields different kinds of fruit, instead of just saying “I’m going to write a song and it’s going to be a hit song” it’s much more interesting to me to explore what it might be like to change a song that could change someone’s mind, or inspire someone to act as a positive force, or I want to paint a picture that would make someone ask a question that they’ve never asked before. I’m just much more interested in the creative process as a philosophy now than anything else, if that makes sense?
MF: It definitely does and in my view it’s an act of courage to continuously put so much of yourself out for the public to see and hear, the way that you do, does it make you uncomfortable to be so exposed or has it ever?
BB: There’s always a very palpable feeling of vulnerability whenever I put anything out. When we put new records out, my heart is beating three times as fast for about two weeks, I’m nervous and anxious and vulnerable and tense but then I remember that I do it because I have this overwhelming urge to make things, so I feel like it’s a good exercise for me as a human being to continue to learn that vulnerability doesn’t have to be threatening and I’ve learned each time that as the fear of the process fades, the growth as an artist, and as a human reveals itself as the reward, which often inspires further creativity.
MF: That’s a fascinating and very self-aware perspective, if there’s a budding musician or artist out there struggling with putting their art out there, due to that vulnerability what advice would you give them to get over that fear?
BB: I used to have a recurring nightmare as a child. As I started to fall asleep I would just keep falling into a pitch black void, and there was a drum beating, like a war drum, going faster and faster and louder and louder, and now in hindsight I understand that was my own heartbeat accelerating, but it felt like this war drum that kept beating and beating and I’d always wake up from the dream before I reached the end, because I was terrified something was going to happen. I was a little kid when I had this dream, but there was a moment when I was 12 or 13 when got so tired of waking up, that I started to test myself, and decided that I was going to fall to the bottom of this void or this well to see what was down there and what was so intimidating about it and why it was so scary. I got to the bottom of the well and there was nothing there, and then I never had that dream again. So my advice to young artists is to just stand right in the face of what your afraid of and confront it head on, because you’ll realise there’s nothing to be afraid of, it’s just you there, only you, so what is there to be afraid of?
MF: Incubus have always been committed to giving back via your philanthropic efforts with the Make Yourself Foundation and through your efforts in environmental activism, what is it that drives that desire and is there anything you feel strongly about at the moment that you’d like to impact positively through your fanbase?
BB: At the moment, because we’re out on tour we are basically in a fundraising stage. Over the last few years, the money has been going to a lot of disaster relief situations, because there’s been a lot of natural disasters happening around the world.
The impetus to continue doing that kind of activity is because if you have that opportunity and that ability to raise money and raise consciousness and impact the world positively, in a very tangible way, then why wouldn’t you? It’s important that we all do our part to make the world a better place and aim to be leaving the world in a better place than it was when we entered it, so we are all committed to ensuring that we continue to contribute, whichever way we can, into the future.
MF: That’s a very noble sentiment and it’s great to see an act of your standing, continuing to commit to doing so much good for the world, when in reality you could choose to do anything else with the fruits of your success. I’ve been given the word that we have to go our separate ways, so thank you for taking the time to talk to Music Feeds today this has been a really enlightening interview and a discussion I would love to continue having with you when you’re in Melbourne.
BB: Anytime man, thank you for your time as well, see you in March.