Wit Hustle / The Orchard

Ephemeral Feelings, Inherent Potential, Arts, Incubus, & Brandon Boyd

By indulging in his many creative passions, the Incubus singer has become a modern-day renaissance man.

It was mere weeks before the October 1999 release of what would become Incubus’s breakthrough, Make Yourself, and Brandon Boyd was apprehensive. He wondered out loud if the follow up to the moderately successful S.C.I.E.N.C.E (1997) was hard enough.

“I don’t remember that,” laughs the singer during a recent Zoom call from his California home. “But if you say so…”

In addition to being concerned about his band’s changing musical direction, Boyd was feeling “lighter.” In a move considered daring at the time, the singer removed his then-trademark dreadlocks, and after doing so, dreamed he was so light he was floating through clouds. That, however, was not the only change to his appearance. While on an elevator heading up to a Hollywood eatery, a family with a teen boy were quietly muttering as they stared at Boyd. This writer and the band’s publicist shared looks of excitement. Was the singer finally being recognized? Was Incubus finally receiving recognition? No. The family were marveling at the rings in Boyd’s elongated earlobes. An early enthusiast of body modification, his shortened hair revealed his unique ears. After years of losing expensive rings while surfing, however, Boyd has since let his ears return to normal.

“There is one particular break in Venice Beach that probably has half a dozen jewels lodged into the sand,” he adds with another laugh.

Since that elevator encounter more than 22 years ago, Incubus have not only received recognition for their musical output, but they have also risen to the upper echelons of hard rock and experienced the often-stomach-churning rollercoaster ride that come with it. In addition to the numerous hit songs, gold and platinum records, magazine covers, and television appearances, there have been the grueling tours of larger venues (including a visit to Madison Square Garden). By the end of the first decade of the new millennium, the band undertook a well-deserved and much needed hiatus.

During this and subsequent breaks, Boyd kept busy. In addition to recording three excellent solo records, he published a number of books and has exhibited his powerful artwork around the world. (His artwork can be viewed here). His prints, books, and music are available for purchase, as well, on his website.

Boyd’s latest release, Echoes & Cocoons, is a departure from his previous solo releases and his work with Incubus. Hauntingly beautiful, songs such as “Dime in my Dryer,” “Fly on Your Wall,” and “End of the World” provide a somber, yet fitting soundtrack for the uncertain world we currently live in. It’s distributed by The Orchard and is available through the usual streaming platforms.

And as with many veteran artists stifled by the pandemic, Incubus have been chomping at the bit to get back on the road. Their current tour, featuring special guests Sublime with Rome, have three local stops, including just this past weekend at Jones Beach in Wantagh, New York. On August 5 the tour comes to the Freedom Mortgage Pavilion in Camden, New Jersey, which goes back-to-back on August 6 at the PNC Bank Arts Center in Holmdel.

On this day, however, Boyd is home in California, reminiscing about the past, the passage of time, Incubus’s bright future, and his many artistic endeavors.

In retrospect, that day in 1999 when we spoke about the imminent release of Make Yourself and you expressed concerns should elicit a smile. It would become a big hit.

When we were writing and recording Make Yourself, it was more spacious, even though there were heavy guitars during the heavy moments. [Perhaps] I was feeling uncertain and maybe a little vulnerable. There’s always a great deal of uncertainty around the releasing of a new record. It means we’re artists and we still have that healthy uncertainty about what we’re doing.

Ironically, Incubus were starting to find their own way in 1999 and were no longer the sum of their many influences.

Thankful we allowed ourselves that wiggle room to evolve past a sound we had found around S.C.I.E.N.C.E. Consecutively after that, Morning View (2001) was even more different than Make Yourself. One of the things we learned as a band early on was that if we didn’t let this thing that we were doing move, if we tried to kind of hold it hostage, it wouldn’t last very long. We knew we loved making music enough that we needed to give it space to grow and change.

Most great artists start out emulating their influences before creating their own sound. During our very first conversation, soon after the release of S.C.I.E.N.C.E., you and I discussed the importance of Incubus’s influences including Faith No More.

We were teenagers when we wrote S.C.I.E.N.C.E. We were still enthralled, inspired, and influenced by the bands we grew up listening to: Faith No More, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Rage Against the Machine, etc. There were so many bands we’d watch religiously, so when I listen back to that album, I can hear those bands. It’s a normal thing, but if you’re serious about art and what you’re doing, it becomes your creative responsibility to filter your influences. It’s okay to be influenced, that’s how you learn, but if you’re just taking things you love and come up with your version of a certain song it can get old fast.

The circle of musical life. Today, these are bands obviously influence by Incubus.

Music is a predictably circular thing that come into favor or falls out of favor.

But our worlds have certainly changed since that day.

To simply say the world has changed feels like a massive understatement. How we have changed fundamentally during the last 20 years is dizzying. So much of our Democracy is falling into question as a result of this new intellectual technology of the Internet. It has started to change our brains, but art and music have never stopped, which I find fascinating. Art is still a pretty accurate indicator of where we are culturally and as a society. It’s like licking your thumb and putting it to the wind: you can feel what’s going on, for better or worse.

How has the Internet negatively impacted the arts?

It’s taken away something so much a part of art: the ephemeral feeling we attach to periods of time in our lives. As we grow up and we change, our favorite song or movies slowly fades away with those memories. Now that ephemerality moves much quicker, you’ll have a favorite band, a favorite song, or a favorite song for a much shorter period of time.

Given your many artistic endeavors, do you consider yourself a “Renaissance Man”?

There was a time when a person was encouraged to develop as many of their intellectual, creative and spiritual skills as they could. I’ve never stopped being fascinated by that idea. The term “Renaissance Man” has become heavily connotative, so I don’t use that term myself, but I do identify with the idea of at least a valiant attempt at meeting one’s inherent potential. I believe we, individually and hence collectively, could be so much more than we usually just imagine. And that’s always excited me: the idea there’s always something more, something you couldn’t have imagined, right around the corner.

Your previous solo record, Sons of the Sea (2013), is a criminally neglected masterpiece.

For all intent purposes it is a solo record, but I wrote and recorded the album with [producer] Brendan O’Brien. Brendan is an old friend of Incubus. I have known him a long time and I hold him in high regard as a musician and as a songwriter. It was such an amazing opportunity to be able to write and record a record with him. We also did a handful of performances. It was a fun project.

Songs such as “Come Together,” “Untethered,” and “Great Escape” should have been radio hits.

It was at a moment in my life where I was disillusioned with the major record label process, so I wanted to see how it would go if I did it with a small indie distribution. I thought it would get a better, bigger look than it did. There’s definitely advantages to having a major label working the music you’re putting out. It was still creatively very fulfilling and it still exists if anyone is interested. It’s one of those albums that people might discover by accident.

Are you concerned your latest, Echoes & Cocoons, will suffer a similar fate?

I use the term “teardrop in a torrent.” The Internet has become this rushing, chaotic river you could never cross. When you create something, albeit a film, an album, or a piece of art, you stand over this torrent and your creation – the little teardrop – drips into it and it’s just gone. Some people have referred to this as “screaming into the void.” Echoes & Cocoons is there, however, and hopefully people will find it.

Something else that’s changed because of the Internet: the introduction of new musical artists. Whereas each decade you to introduce at least one new musical movement that has a profound effect on pop culture and society. These days, sadly, most music, especially rock and Top 40 radio, has become bland, vacuous. It lacks the identity and the immediacy of older music. Worst of all, it is forgettable.

My girlfriend and I were recently in a New York City shop when I heard this awful pop song. It was depressingly bad, but had all the trappings of a modern pop song. My girlfriend and I looked at each other and she had the same reaction. It occurred to me that if a modern Bob Dylan merged today, we might never find out about him or her. It’s not the way that the music world or the Internet works anymore. If someone like that breaks through today it would be nothing short of a miracle. There is something being lost among all of this progress, but I have to have hope that will happen because that has been the pattern historically. A couple of times during a generation something breaks through that doesn’t make sense, but it changes the musical landscape. And then every record label wants to copy it. I can’t help but think of Nirvana that way. They had a major impact, but then there were countless carbon copies. That is predictable. When something breaks through that shatters the norm others rush to try and be like it which evidently waters it down.

Is rock dead?

The phrase can be interpreted in different ways. I don’t believe it is literally dead. I think the minute we find out about something on a mass scale then it will change. If you find out about it and you catch it in this moment before it is commercialized within an inch of its life, it’s this beautiful thing. Punk is a great example, before it was mollified.

How were you not seduced by the trappings of rock stardom, especially during the first decade of the new millennium?

I’m not here to be a pop star or rock star. I’m here to be a creative entity. Yes, when Incubus started peeking its head above the underground and started to become more of a household name it was very exciting. It was fun to see so many people coming to our shows and buying our albums. But it was also terrifying because there’s not a real good map for that type of experience, for any human being – it’s more likely than not that it will consume you. If you’re going to chase that success the business will want you to repeat the formula of hit song that first made you a success.

[Without naming names], I watched quite a few bands and different artists do that. Whether it was right or wrong it just didn’t feel right to me. I was, and still am, much more interested in exploring. I’m curious about creativity almost to a fault. I chase ideas that have no sort of mass appeal whatsoever, but they’re interesting to me. Sometimes those ideas will bear fruit. You know it means a lot of people are relating to what you’re saying. Those people allow you to continue to explore; they’re bankrolling your spelunking adventures, allowing you to go deeper and deeper The Cave.

You have maintained a loyal following.

I believe their support has kept me in a relatively healthy place creatively and spiritually. I would be lying if I said I was never seduced by fame or celebrity, but I always did my best to try and see it for what it was and not get to like high on my own supply.

The Make Yourself Foundation is still important to Incubus.

We started The Make Yourself Foundation around 2003 and we’ve been supporting it mostly through meet and greets and a few other things. We’ve been fund raising so we can provide grants to nonprofits around the world. We recognized early on that we had a little bit of a platform and we had people’s attention. We didn’t want to preach from our spot on the hill, we wanted to help to make the world a better place, so, in our small little way, we’ve been able to do that by helping to educate people around certain environmental and humanitarian themes. We also provide grants to wonderful nonprofits who are aligned with us ideologically.

When we do meet and greet VIP packages, (the participants) get the best seat in the house. They get the full VIP experience when they come to a show and they know that the money goes to charities. It’s been fun because we get to meet all sort of fans as well as the most ardent listeners. We’ll be doing that on this upcoming tour as well.

You mentioned you were recently in New York City.

Melissa Villaseñor invited me and my girlfriend to a Saturday Night Live taping. She is an extremely talented comedian and impressionist and she is also a talented illustrator. I recently started the Moonlight Arts Collective. Basically, I have been seeking out other creative people who have an approach to their process like mine; people who don’t limit themselves to one lane in their creative process. They are musicians, actors, and comedians who moonlight as painters, hence the moonlight moniker. Melissa was part of our second release and it was very successful. In addition to Melissa Villaseñor, Brian Bowen Smith, Niagara, Jose Pasillas, and Sarah Hay are part of the collective

Incubus are about to tour, but who is Incubus today?

We are still in the process of writing that story. We’re incredibly excited collectively to be playing concerts again after this forced hiatus that we’ve all endured, so we are gonna be touring quite a lot. We even have our first UK dates in a few years. We’ve been a band for 31 years so it’s not the same kind of schedule as it was when we recorded our first few albums. We are in our 40s at this point and many of they in the band have kids and families, so it different now. That being said, once we start playing a bunch of shows and we’re just in a room together. We may just start writing, so I wouldn’t be surprised if a new album or some new music emerge during the next year or so.