A Pivotal Point: Interview with Brandon Boyd of Incubus

09/28/2009

Incubus’ last four albums have each peaked in the top five on the US Billboard charts, but at thirty-three, lead singer Brandon Boyd says, “I have my best work still lurking around inside of me.” This year Incubus released Monuments and Melodies, the band’s first compilation of over a decade of hits, which also includes unreleased tracks. After their 2006 release of Light Grenades, the band went on hiatus, as Boyd and lead guitarist Mike Einziger returned to school. SFCritic got the chance to speak with Boyd about what’s next, love, spirituality, and rebelling against everything, and nothing.

How’s your heath? You were sick at Outside Lands.

Thank you for asking. I don’t get sick very often, but when I do it seems like I’ve never been sick before. That was honestly one of the most humbling shows of my whole career. I literally knew in the dressing room that I had no voice to work with.

You told the crowd you were advised to drink wine to kill sickness, would you recommend it?

No, not all the time. I was not leading by example that afternoon. [laughs] My recommendation is to not get sick, especially with the health care system in the US.

Did you see Sicko recently? Is that why you are harping on the issue?

No. It just a situation that continues to boggle my mind, and I’m not that savvy in terms of the politics of everything, but I just know from a very human standpoint that it seems very strange that people have to afford to stay healthy. It seems very off to me on a very spiritual level.

Can you talk about your spirituality a little bit?

I’ve never considered myself to be a religious person in any way, shape, or form. I have definite thoughts and opinions on things. I consider myself positively agnostic, if you can buy that.

What made you want to go back to school?

There was sort of an unfinished feeling that I had. We started this band when we were fifteen years old, playing at high school parties. When we finished high school we didn’t really think we could get signed, but we were going to try. I really liked being in school and being able to study the things I wanted to, as opposed to a sort of duty to society, which is high school. I was studying art, philosophy and all these fun things, but then we got signed.

When this opportunity came up last year to take a break from the road, it seemed like the first logical step. Really what it comes down to, I was having this reoccurring dream: I’m back at school and I don’t know where my classes are, I forgot my where my locker is and I forgot my pants. I thought that there was something here—I needed to investigate.

How was it being in school, and the attention you got?

It was actually really mellow. My classes were exclusively art classes, and if anybody cared they didn’t let on that they did, which was wonderful.

Photo by Victoria Smith

You’ve worked as a photographer, painter, writer, singer, is there any other medium you’re considering?

Deeper into music. I’m continually fascinated with music as an art form because I don’t fully understand it. I don’t read music. I write music, but I don’t know how to write it down in music language. It’s something that has been completely intuitive to me the whole time, almost like following a beautiful scent across a field all the way to the apple pie sitting in a window sill that has been my experience so far. I really think that I’ve yet to stumble across my best work.

Looking back on your career, you now just said that you haven’t even reached your peak, where do you feel you are at, at this moment?

Personally, as an artist I feel I’m at a crossroads of sorts, a pivotal point. It probably has a lot to do with my age. I’m thirty-three years old. I’ve been doing this since I was fifteen. I can’t say why, but there is an overwhelming sensation in my heart, in my mind that I have my best work still lurking around inside of me because I don’t read music. Like I said before, it still remains this magical thing, almost like a mystical experience when it arrives. I don’t know how other people write songs, but I have multiple ways of writing songs. The best ones just seem to arrive. They literally just show up out of nowhere. So if the feelings I’ve been having recently, combined with the way I write songs are any indication, than my best work is near. I’ve been filled with wonderful feelings recently.

Is that because you have a positive love story at the moment?

Yeah. For the first time in my life there is a person that is hugely supportive of what I do, and how I do it and terribly, terribly understanding as to the process. A lot of times in my past the process of writing music, can make me perceived as being aloof. I’m assuming this happens to a lot of other artists or songwriters. It’s not my intention at all.

Most of the time there is something tinkering in my head. There is a song tinkering around, or a melody that I can’t get out. So I seem like I’m either aloof, don’t care, or I’m not paying attention, when that’s not the case at all–that’s quite the opposite. A lot of that stuff takes place in a very quiet place, in a non-conversational place, and almost in isolation, which is hard to be in a relationship with, I’m sure.

Has the aloofness that you’ve described ever wrecked a relationship that you’ve had?

Oh God yes. [laugh] Probably more than I would care to admit. There is that, and then there is also the distance that being constantly on tour creates. You combine that perceived aloofness with physical distance and it’s not the best equation for a successful relationship by a long shot.

It’s not as easy of a life as everyone describes, I know.

I’m only explaining the less glamorous sides of it. The rest is all rainbows and sunshine.

And unicorns.

Exactly.


I want to take you in a different direction. I read an interview that you had done with Sirona Knight and Michael Starwyn, which I believe is way back in your career around your first two albums with S.C.I.E.N.C.E. and Fungus Amongus. In the interview you talked about how you got into music to rebel against the system. As one of the music industries trophy groups now, do you feel like you’re still rebelling or want to rebel?

Our desire wasn’t as much a conscious decision. I don’t think it was that we knew what we wanted to rebel against the system, and in some way it was. I just knew from a very young age that I was not cut out to just go with the flow as far as societal pressures and expectations. I knew I had my own plan. In that sense, I was very much rebelling against the system.

I cringed at the question just now because to quote unquote rebel against the system has become such a common act that it’s almost blasé. So now if someone really wants to be nonconformist they have to go with the flow. When there are so many rebels in the world to rebel you have to be the one who puts the tie and suit on. What was the counterculture, has become a part of the mainstream, and has become so widely commoditized hat it can be disheartening at times. When everyone looks like a rock and roller, who is the rock star? You can buy the rock outfit at the mall—it’s not very rock anymore. Were at a moment right now where rock and roll as a rebellious act is struggling to redefine itself.

In reference back to your question, yes I’m still interested in going against the grain, but I’m doing so in ways that are exactly what my heart tells me to do and paying less attention to what actually is going on. In that sense it feels that I’m following my own path. If that’s not rebelling, I don’t know what is.

Was “Megalomaniac” directed at George Bush?

Originally, no—it was not directed at George Bush. There were a few public figures in mind when I wrote the lyrics to that song. It seemed directed at Bush because Floria Sigismondi made the video with us. Her imagery and mindset were very much directed at the Bush regime. We were in absolute agreement with her. I felt that the lyrics in the song were adaptable enough that it almost became that [about the Bush regime], which I think is really cool when a song can see different lights, and move.

This is how art is alive. With good art, it continues to move and stay alive, and experience rebirth when it’s adaptable like that. We have certain songs that are very specific and about very specific things, and in certain people’s eye “Megalomaniac” is one of those songs. In my mind it can morph and change. So in certain ways, yes it’s about the Bush regime, but in other ways when I originally wrote it, it wasn’t in my mind.