Interview with Brandon Boyd: The Muse Inside

The phrase “in your dreams” is typically relegated to describing one’s hopes or ideals, but implicitly discounts the possibilities of reality—that is, unless you’re Brandon Boyd.

The soon-to-be 38-year-old artist and Incubus frontman released his second solo album, Sons Of The Sea, last fall, and is touring the U.S. this winter, backed by a separate full band.

While Boyd has enjoyed 22-plus years defining a signature alternative sound with his band of brothers, he also has brought his artistic expression and even lucid dreams to life, via his compilation works and books of art and poetry. He is a bona fide creator.

Sons Of The Sea is a secret garden compilation of Boyd’s creativity—enveloped by soothing melodies, sultry, intimate lyrics, and vivid auditory passion. The record reveals the rolling tides of Boyd’s kindred, creative spirit, and explores his deepest thoughts and dreams (literally).

The instrumental core of the record is rooted in prancing piano pieces, milky basslines, pretty percussion, and whimsical vocals.

“Where All The Songs Come From” is a demonstrative beauty. Much like Willy Wonka introduced us to his chocolate factory, Boyd takes us by the ears and walks us through his pensive world of musical magic.

Boyd achieves auditory onomatopoeia on “Space And Time” when he manipulates words like “push and pull” with his voice, swaying in dictation by the lyrics. There are many gems of the sort on this record.

After a home-for-the-holiday pause, we caught up with Boyd for his take on flying solo, the love of art and music, and learned about his pleasantly interjecting inspirational “muse.”

How does this new phase feel for you?

It is wonderfully frightening. I’ve only done one television performance with the band, the first concert we’d played together. It’s unusual for me to, after so long, be going into new territory on tour with different guys and learning this different dynamic. It’s exciting. I’m nervous about it, but that’s a good thing.

For one to get too comfortable in any creative art can be dangerous. After comfort comes the danger of complacency, so this is an opportunity for me to step out of my comfort zone and see what happens. It’s cliché but I’m very excited about the potential because I think it will open up new doorways and really start to tell the story of what the next few years of the project will look like. I really have no idea. I’m super excited and kind of nervous.

The mantra “less is more” is illuminated on the Sons Of The Sea record. Was that an intentional part of the writing process or more organic?

I have been intending [to write that way], I guess you can say. You can only make something happen so much in a creative setting. You can only force it so much before it starts to feel forced. At that point I choose to let go and let the muse inform what’s going to happen. I’ve been intending for many years on creative writing and lyrics that said more in less space.

A lot of my favorite writers are incredibly verbose. I love writers like Henry Miller who just rants for years. You don’t even know what he’s writing about but it’s this gorgeous rambling about his life, adventures, and musings, and all these things. I’m hugely inspired by people like that, but for me there’s something more deeply challenging about an economy of space. When you have a thought you’re trying to convey and can go on for paragraphs, but then come to a point where you find an enlightening phrase and you can say it all—I think that on this record I was able to touch on that, if only a little bit. So I appreciate that you may have noticed.

You’ve said that, with art and drawing, you’re not much of an “editor,” but that with music there are more layers to the process of creation. How do you interpret the songwriting process in contrast to art composition?

In that sense, writing lyrics is one of the layers. In my opinion, it’s one of the most challenging ones, which is why it’s more fun. You have the opportunity to express what in other ways could be inexpressible emotions, things that there perhaps isn’t a vocabulary for. In a linear sense you have permission to manipulate language in ways you otherwise can’t. You can use melodies and minor chords drifting into weird places, and can even make up words. It’s almost like there are no rules. In the other layers, as far as the editing process, you have the opportunity to listen to how a guitar or piano chord, or a combination of them, can help to deliver the emotion of a lyric or idea.

It’s almost like you’re firing both at the heart and the head, and if you’re firing on all cylinders, I just see it as a limitless opportunity to express things that we don’t have a vocabulary for. In a way, I’ve been interested in most of my adult life in these psychedelic pioneers, or people who have experiences, occasionally with psychedelic drugs, but also without them. It has almost forced the emergence of a new vocabulary. That to me is where art comes in, and opportunity presents itself. In art you have an opportunity to have so many limitless layers where you can completely express the inexpressible.

What piece of art or music of yours are you most passionate about and why?

I’ve written a bunch of songs over the years, so this answer can be different at any particular moment—it depends on when you ask me. I definitely put everything I have into every song I’ve ever written. I’ve never “boned it in” so to speak. There’s an interested composition on the new Sons Of The Sea record that I’ve been getting a lot of feedback about. I’ve been around my family a lot for the holidays, and I’m so blessed that my family has been so supportive the whole time I’ve been doing this. They’ve been so supportive of all of my efforts and they give me a lot of feedback.

They’ve given me a lot of feedback about the track “Avalanche.” It’s an unusual track for me. There are some tracks on this album where the process was very different in the way that the lyrics and melody emerged. This one was kind of the main one where it happened. I actually dreamt the melody and the lyric. It came directly out of a dream, almost as if they emerged from nowhere. I was able to hold on to it as I was waking up and record it into my iPhone and interpret it later. I shared it with [my producer] Brendan O’Brien; he thought it was really cool and said, “Let’s see if we can make something out of it.” Then he wrote the piano you hear under it. When I listen back to it, it’s unusual and I enjoy it because the process was so different. It wasn’t like I set off to write a song, or felt like writing a song—I was asleep! The muse decided to show up when my mind was adrift and I was out. I had a dream and there was the song. That was pretty interesting.

Over time you’ve left such a significant mark musically, and it’s so apparent that regardless of your group or solo initiatives, you have a really special bond with your brothers in Incubus that will take you anywhere you want to go.

I agree. We’ve been a band for such a long time. We literally just got back days ago from our South American tour. It was so much fun. It was the first tour we’ve done in a year. I felt reminded of all the reasons why I loved being part of Incubus, and the people at the shows down there spoiled us rotten. They made it so easy on us! They were so wonderful, loud, and involved. It reminded me that as a band, for a vast majority of the time, we’ve really been here and continue to do what we do, but we’ve done it for what can be deemed as the “right reason.”

There are lots of reasons to make music. Some of the reasons aren’t necessarily integrity based. Some people don’t do it because they’re enjoying the company of the people they’re with or because they want to express a type of creative burst. A lot of people make music just to make money. That’s fine but it doesn’t necessarily do justice to the music. The longer we’re a band, the more space we give each other creatively as artists and people who are expressive as a way of life, the better it’s going to be for Incubus and the music we make together. If we held each other captive the music would suffer very quickly. Taking this time helps us express ourselves and understand who we are, and it will lovingly inform the future of Incubus. When we get together to do another record I’m excited to see the energy and what it creates. In the interim it’s important that we venture off into the woods and see what we find.

Brandon Boyd will play at Philly’s Theatre Of Living Arts on Jan. 29 and NYC’s Irving Plaza on Jan. 30. Sons Of The Sea is available now. For more information, go to