Categorical denial

May 24, 2002


Often dismissed as yet another nu-metal or rap-rock band, thanks in part to
their early infatuation with Primus and the Red Hot Chili Peppers, the Southern
California quintet Incubus has blossomed over the course of four albums to
become one of the most inventive and melodic rock bands of its generation.

While recording "Morning View," the band settled into a beachfront mansion in
Malibu with producer Scott Litt (R.E.M., Nirvana), adding strings and odd analog
synthesizers to its earlier mix of psychedelia, alternative rock and varied
worldbeat rhythms.

I spoke with sex-symbol frontman, singer, and percussionist Brandon Boyd
before the start of the current tour.

Q. It seems like you really
set out to take things
somewhere new with "Morning

A. That was sort of the
unwritten goal--to just make a
whole different record. I think
we did accomplish that, and
we're proud of it.

Q. Tell me about the recording.

A. It was hugely different in the sense that previously we had sold a very
forgettable amount of albums. We went in to "Morning View" with a bit more
ease, because we'd sold 2 million copies of "Make Yourself." From the get-go,
it was much more relaxed. We wanted to make the best record we'd made to
date, but we weren't putting as much pressure on ourselves. I guess you could
say the atmosphere was a lot more conducive to real creativity, which is not
like, "Create so you can make money or sell records." It was, "Create because
you love to create." That was the incentive to getting a beautiful house to live in
and record in and write in, so that the atmosphere could potentially influence
the content of the record, and it very much did. We went into the project with
that sort of relaxed ambition, and then when we settled into the house and
started writing, we started writing music that was a lot more free-flowing than
we'd ever done before as a result of all those factors.

Q. I define "psychedelic rock" as an attempt to transport the listener to a place
that exists only in the imagination. Do you subscribe to that idea?

A. Very much so. I agree with you that the term "psychedelic rock" does invoke
some very misleading imagery, and it has a lot of connotations that stick to it
that are not necessarily very accurate. But that's also a problem that we are
completely aware of in our own band: misperceptions and the way people see
us from the outside. As soon as they get to know the music, they might have a
very different perspective on it. We never set out to create psychedelic rock, per
se. We're just trying to write music that we feel speaks accurately of us as
musicians and artists. There was time when we were sort of victims of our
influences. You couldn't really distinguish whether we were a Primus or a Red
Hot Chili Peppers cover band.

Q. A lot of bands go through a period early on of imitating their heroes.

A. Absolutely, but we always knew that we were on our way somewhere. You
actually said it very well--that the point of music for us is to transport the
listener to an alternate realm. Music is this very advanced form of
communication, in my opinion, and what we're tying to do is communicate our
art and our vision to people. I hope that we've done that. I'd much rather be
considered a psychedelic rock band than a metal band and or a nu-metal band
or a rap-rock band.

Q. I'm glad you used those terms first, because critics often wrongly lump you
in that genre.

A. It's been insulting to us, but I think we've been very patient with it, because
we understand the need for critics and record stores and record companies to
categorize music. The only thing we can do is say, "OK, they're calling us a
nu-metal band. What are the other bands they're calling nu-metal? Oh my God!
That's how you see us?" I'm not going to mention any other bands' names, but
I've always prayed that we wouldn't be seen in the shadow of this slew of other
less ambitious rock bands. That's the only reason it's been insulting. But we've
heard it so much in the last couple of years that we're just like, "OK, you see
us however you want. We know what we are." And that to us is the most
important part.

Q. Well, in the critics' defense, you have performed twice as part of Ozzfest,
which is nu-metal central. Where do you see yourselves fitting in among your

A. I don't know where we fit in 2002. I've been sort of out of the loop as far as a
lot of metal acts are concerned. But when we were on Ozzfest, the differences
to me were blatant. We were the only band with a singer who was singing, short
of Ozzy. I was the only guy that wasn't kind of barking and screaming at people
in the audience or saying, "What's up, m---- ----ers?" These are sort of more
obvious points. We were also the only band that was breaking the 4/4 time
signature. But I think that maybe the biggest part is the content we address in
our music. I think we've been a little bit more concerned with the quality of our
songs as opposed to the quantity.

Q. A highlight of any Incubus show is when you play African hand drums. Were
you a drummer at some point?

A. I have always been a drummer in denial. I'm not very good, but I can sit
behind Jose's [Pasillas] drums and keep a beat. I've always been fascinated
with drums. We grew up in a very suburban area around the hills; we'd hike and
stuff. Mike [Einziger], our guitar player, and myself had a bunch of friends, and
we'd sit in these drum circles up in the woods around our house. So I've always
been fascinated with experiencing that.

Q. Are you offended when people call you hippies?

A. Not offended, because it's sort of the same thing as nu-metal. It's somebody
trying to categorize something that in my opinion shouldn't really be
categorized. One thing I've found is that it's usually people who are not artists
who are creating the categories, because people who are concerned with
creativity and art don't want to pin things down. They're OK with things being
sort of undefined and nebulous and just sort of floating around you. It's the
people who are trying to sell the paintings or the music who are concerned with
the categories.

Q. Your lyrics tend to fall into two styles: impressionistic portraits of the world
around you, or singing about a philosophical approach to life. In either mode,
it's a lot more interesting than some guy growling like Cookie Monster about his
parents' divorce.

A. I may be a little bit of both of those approaches. I'd like to think my intentions
are pure. What I'm trying to do is just communicate the sort of emotions and
feelings that I experience on a daily basis, and the way that I've learned how to
do that is by writing them down. Then I found a group of people who I grew up
with who were interested in creating music, so that became the vehicle for
expressing those emotions. The Cookie Monster thing--it's funny you should
say that. When we were little kids, a friend of ours was really into Deicide, and
our guitarist Mike played every kind of music we ever got into for his mom, even
Deicide. His mom said, "It sounds like Cookie Monster!" So that's been our
running joke for years--like, "I hate you Dad! Rarrgh! Cookies!"

Q. Yes, but then all these Cookie Monster bands also have the obligatory
power ballad to show that they're sensitive guys.

A. Exactly. And it's not ending! I'm so surprised that it's still going on as long as
it has. I just got back to this country a week ago--it's the longest I've been in the
country since the year began--and I turned on MTV2 just to see what videos
they were playing, and it's the same stuff, just different bands doing the same

Q. Do you get a sense from your audience of whether they just like Incubus
because you rock, or are they connecting on some deeper level?

A. In all honesty, I would have to say that there's probably a little bit of all that in
the audience. I think that everyone goes for different reasons. If I could be
self-indulgent or perhaps a tad naive for a second, I would say that there are
people in the audience who are connecting on a deeper level. How fragile and or
solid that connection is, I would never venture to say.

Q. Fans do spend a lot of time on the Web discussing your lyrics.

A. There is evidence. Or if I look into the audience, I might see someone singing
at the top of their lungs by themselves, completely unaware of everyone around
them. If that’s even 1 percent of the audience, then to me that is a beautiful
thing, because they’re having a bona fide artistic experience as unabridged as
possible. But in all realism, I know there’s people in the audience who only
know four or five of our songs that have been on the radio, and they’re going
because of reasons sort of less ... honorable [laughs]. But you know what?
That’s OK, too.

Music is in a bit of a weird lull right now. It’s like, "What’s happening? What’s
going on with music?" There’s nothing completely new, completely original, no
awesome music with awesome lyrics. Everything’s middle of the road. I’m really
excited for the future of music, what’s going to happen, what’s going to break
the mold, what’s going to cause everything else we’ve been listening to for the
past decade to sound like crap. Remember at the end of the ’80s? All the
sudden what was the biggest [stuff] in the world was ridiculous, and when that
happens again, I know which side of the battlefield I want to be on.

Q. So perhaps Incubus will be viewed like Jane’s Addiction, which was a
precursor to Nirvana and the alternative explosion?

A. Hopefully. Hopefully.