Interview | Incubus Frontman Brandon Boyd [USA]

Ahead of their South African tour, we caught up with Incubus Frontman Brandon Boyd and discussed UFO's, plant medicine, the band and their latest album, as well as what it's like being a sexual Elmo.


Incubus is coming to South Africa. February 2018. Two shows. Pretoria and Cape Town.

Heart stops. Must. Get. Ticket. Gets ticket. Stoked.

*Sits back and looks to the stars, reminded of all those celestially-referenced lyrics that filled my head while chasing waves as a grom*

Life is good. Then I get a call and it gets better.

We’d like you to interview him.

*Melts. Pool of Pencil on the floor*

For 26 years, Incubus has been creating albums that have served as a soundtrack for most of our lives.

From S.C.I.E.N.C.E. and Make Yourself through to their latest, eighth studio album, aptly titled ‘8’, their sound has been shapeshifting, ever-evolving and progressive, whilst still maintaining a core essence we all know and love.  We caught up with their frontman, Brandon Boyd, to dig a little deeper into his psyche as Incubus edge ever closer to their first time in South Africa. He’s a lyricist, vocalist, frontman, artist, surfer, free spirit and a pretty darn cool guy.

February people.

Here’s what went down:

The Temperamental Pencil:

Hey Brandon, thanks very much for the time man. We’re super stoked you’ll be joining us next year.

On a personal level, S.C.I.E.N.C.E., Make Yourself and Morning View are just amazing memories of beach missions as a grom and getting super amped for some waves. So, it’s really cool to chat to the man behind those memories and I’m sure as hell looking forward to creating some more next year in February…you have a little time before and after to see the sights?

Brandon:

The only unfortunate part about touring is that there’s not a lot of time before and after we play places. It’s incredibly expensive and with upwards of 30 people touring with you, logistically, it makes sense to get in and get out.

However, we’re coming such a long way and we’ve never played there before so I think we’ll have a couple of days before and after to maybe catch a surf and see the sights…looking super forward to it.

Pencil:

Ah amazing, okay cool, let’s get into it.

It’s been 20 years since S.C.I.E.N.C.E. came out, which is scary for me, and April this year you released your eighth full studio album – called 8.

Did you consciously lean towards a slightly heavier rock sound and big rock riffs on a few songs, ‘Nimble Bastard’ and ‘No Fun’ come to mind, or was it more of an organic process when it came to songwriting for you and the band and that’s just the way it went?

Brandon:

Yeah, you know, it kind of went that way and I think that’s probably why our band still exists, honestly, because we’ve allowed for an almost entirely organic and free-flowing process.

But now that we’re 26 years into our careers, we’ve been able to witness kind of an arc creatively, and ‘8’ for us represents a little bit of a full circle, back to some of our roots and our original inspirations, as well as honouring all of the inspirations and all of the stuff that has come since then.

Most of our listeners probably recognise we’ve never been a band that likes to stick to one formula. Sometimes people love what we do because of that, and sometimes people are super frustrated at us because there’s one formula that they love and they just want that thing, but we’ve never been able to be that band.

For better or worse, we’ve always just kind of allowed the process to unfold as it needs to, and that’s honestly kept us together as a band and kept us happy and kept us feeling creatively fulfilled.

Pencil:

Yeah, its that ever-evolving, shape-shifting sound that really has contributed to your longevity as a band. What was it like working with Skrillex?

Brandon:

It was so fun – Sonny came in at very, very much the eleventh hour, and it wasn’t something that was planned – we had basically finished the record, it was even mixed, and we had started to play it for trusted confidants and people at our record label.

There’s really no way to get a sense of what you’ve made unless you play it back for trusted ears and kind of gauge their reaction. For me, that’s the best way to objectively gauge if what you’ve done is any good or not.

But Sonny came in and he was listening to the album as it existed at that point, it wasn’t terribly different, but it was just mixed differently. There were a few production elements that didn’t exist in it and he was getting really excited, it was really fun to watch him work with the record. We’d been working on it for a year actually, and he came in and asked if he could do a remix on one of the songs. Long story short, it ended up with him mixing the whole record and co-producing a couple of the songs on it – it was a really fun experience.

Pencil:

I know this is pretty tough to do – it’s kind of like choosing which of your kids is your favourite…

Have you got a favourite Incubus album or even a favourite track you dig to perform live? Do you have a personal favourite?

Brandon:

Right…it’s one of the most difficult things to answer…I honestly don’t have a favourite Incubus record, I’m still quite enamoured about our newest album, ‘8’. I feel like it’s a really fun album.

There’s a lot of meat on the bone, there’s a lot to sort of bite into and enjoy, so, that being said, there are moments throughout our career that have been incredibly creative experiences. This track – on our album, ‘If Not Now, When?’, called ‘Friends and Lovers’, for the most part, doesn’t even really sound like a typical Incubus song. But it’s a very beautiful, honest moment for us as a band, and a very vulnerable moment for me as a lyricist and a songwriter, and I just heard it recently for the first time in quite a long time and I was able to hear it with some a relative objectivity and I really liked it, hahaha.

Pencil:

Yeah, it always nice to have that space from something you’ve created and its almost like the overnight test. You wake up the next morning and see whether it’s palpable or not, you know.

Brandon:

Absolutely, and like I said, it’s the most challenging thing to do as an artist is to try and gauge if what you’ve made is good or not.

Pencil:

Yeah, it’s hard and the self-editor is always prevalent in all of us.

Brandon:

Yeah, exactly, that’s why I’m always suspicious of artists that are their own loudest supporters, hahaha. There have been a handful of artists throughout musical history that have been their own biggest cheerleaders and I’ve always been a bit suspicious of those people.

Pencil:

Okay, Brandon – songwriting process? Music or lyrics first? Or is each songwriting session different depending on the mood? Do you and Mike lock yourselves in a room and see what comes out first? If there’s a decent riff you guys are working on, do you find some lyrics to go with it or are you writing lyrics and Mike will find something suitable from a musical standpoint?

Brandon:

I think it’s really all of the above, the only kind of things that are, I suppose, written in tattoo ink or scribed in concrete are, I write the lyrics and melodies, and Mike will write the vast majority of the guitar riffs.

But anything else is kind of gooey and pliable and that makes it fun because, you know, occasionally I’ll write a guitar riff that has a lyric and a melody and basically a song structure to it, and most of the time it sucks and falls by the wayside.

But occasionally, stuff breaks through and the guys are like wow, that’s actually kind of interesting and let’s see if we can make that into something. A perfect example, there’s a track on our new record called ‘State of the Art’ and it, ah, I wrote it in my basement and wrote most of the music for it too. The guys in the band, well, they really liked it, but they wanted to spice it up a bit and it’s just an example of where stuff can go. So, they take one of my kindergarten riffs, that has a cool melody and cool riff to it, and build on it. Because, you know, I play more college-friendly riffs, hahaha.

Pencil:

Hahahaha, layering I suppose…

Brandon:

Exactly!

Pencil:

I know it’s a broad question, but what does music and what has Incubus meant to you? It’s been 20 years and this is a lifetime of work. There’s a body of work here which will stand for a very long time – surely that has a place in your heart?

Brandon:

Absolutely – Incubus has been my window into a creative life, and it’s created a kind of space in my life that has allowed for so many other kinds of creativity to break through.

I really think it’s like that for everyone in the band – our success as a group has been, I mean, nobody expected to it last as long as it has. Nobody expected it to grow into this incredible experience of gratitude and creative fulfilment, but it’s also been incredibly challenging.

It’s incredibly challenging to constantly stumble onto formulas and then watch the formulas blossom and people grab onto them. Then, you let go of each formula for a new one, so, the search for novelty has been beautiful and challenging.

I really think that that’s what has kept us together a band. That we never felt like we wanted to stumble onto one formula and then hold onto it too tightly. We loved the idea of finding new territories and then scorching the earth hahaha.

Pencil:

Right, so there must be a secret to this? You guys have been together for 20-odd years, there must have been some disagreements down the road and surely you get under each other’s skin from time to time? How have you, kind of, bridged that human condition and continued to be Incubus?

Brandon:

Yeah, you know, being in any kind of situation for as long as we have – it’s been 26 years and we started in 1991, we absolutely have had our moments where we almost didn’t survive.

Fortunately for us, those moments have been few and far between. Our most difficult moment for us as a band was probably between 2010 and 2013. You know, every good story has a story arc, where you walk through the valley and experience a moment, kind of like a dark night of the soul, but we survived it, and we survived it because of a way of communicating we have with each other, probably that we learnt from growing up together.

Mike, Jose and I have been friends since we were little kids – and sometimes it makes it more difficult because we are literally like family, but in another way, it helped to create a unique opportunity to communicate in an amazing way, like a deep honesty between us.

Pencil:

Okay, it’s been heavy, so here we go – Spiderman and Batman fight – Brandon – who’s going to win?

Brandon:

Well, I personally think that they should squash it, smoke a joint and probably have sex together.

There’s a little bit of sexual tension there, with most superheroes wear skintight, muscly costumes and fight crime. They should probably stop fighting, make out and get over it hahaha.

Pencil:

I know you’re an artist, you’ve had two solo exhibitions and with the break between ‘If not now, When?’ and ‘8’ that’s when that happened…do you find that your art influences your music, that your music influences your art? Does surfing influence and permeate those two and kind of connect it all to a spirituality? Do you feel like there’s a flow through all your creative outlets and it permeates through all of them?

Brandon:

Yes, that’s very well put. Throughout my whole life and for as long as I can remember, I’ve always had an overwhelming urge to make things and I love making things.

I like making things out of what seems like nothing. There’s a process at work that is really hard to describe, so what I’ve learnt to do is to stop trying to describe the process and just kind of jump into it. I love where it’s taken me, it’s been a really enjoyable experience thus far. I just wrapped up my newest gallery show here in Los Angeles a few days ago, and it was an incredible experience and I’m really hoping to bring it to other countries.

But yeah, I just feel very blessed to be able to paint and make music, it’s a wonderful thing and especially with the current state of the world and politics, it feels like it’s an exceedingly chaotic time in the world and definitely makes me, at least, double down on my blessings. I really feel like it’s the way I best serve the world. By being involved in my creative process and bringing some optimism.

Pencil:

Love that – yeah, positivity, the age of the individual and all that, it’s about time. I hate how some people say one person can’t make a difference, you can. Even if it’s not across the entire world as such, it’s a couple of people’s lives and that’s what it takes.

I feel like, collectively, we will get there.

Brandon:

Absolutely. The thing is, I have an understanding of music and art that has stemmed from growing up and being enamoured of and fascinated by artists and musicians and bands and things and films. Those things changed my life and have helped me become the person that I am today. So, I really do believe that music and art can change the world. So, I’m doing my part from my tiny corner of the world, hahaha.

Pencil:

Okay, so lyrically – there’s a lot of reference to all things celestial – the question is, is there life out there for you? What’s your stance on UFO’s?

Brandon:

Oh. Like literally?

Pencil:

Literally, even metaphysically if you’d like to go there hahaha.

Brandon:

Hahaha. Word.

I’m of the mind of, to paraphrase Carl Sagan, it would be an incredible waste of space.

In an infinite universe, if there were only human beings on Planet Earth and if it was a fact that human beings were the only sentient life present in the universe, that would also be fascinating and make us super special. But I am of the mind that there is probably an infinite number of universes and countless versions of life, and we probably interacting with a number of realities on any given basis. I mean, imagine the possibilities of songwriting, hahaha.

Pencil:

We’re almost getting into string theory, is 10 minutes long enough for string theory?

Brandon:

Probably not hahaha!

Pencil:

You’re definitely a spiritual guy that’s in tune with the world around himself. Your thoughts on plant medicines and the apparent spike in the movement around the world? For me, there’s a huge spike in people wanting to become more self-aware. What are your thoughts?

Brandon:

I think that for certain people, plant medicine is incredibly beneficial.

When it comes to certain cultures, it’s incredibly beneficial and there’s certainly room for it. There are certain people who shouldn’t be experimenting with those things, because of certain mental or emotional conditions that could be exacerbated within themselves. I think, with proper guidance, and deep, deep respect for the power of some of these things, they can be incredibly transformative for humanity.

Certain plant medicines have been incredibly influential and transformative for me and they’ve been an incredible blessing in my life. I hold them in very high regard with a very, very deep respect for them and they are not things I necessarily use to party. I think they are incredible tools and are very, very old mechanisms for self-reflection and connection.

Pencil:

For millennia, for sure…

I know you said you don’t have a lot of time when you’re here. Are you going to hit J-Bay? You’re a goofy footer so it’ll be on your backhand? You think you’ll find a day and pop in and hopefully, there are some waves for you? We’ll talk to Mother Nature….

Brandon:

Haha, I would be over the moon if I had a chance to surf J-Bay. You know I grew up surfing Malibu which is a famous right in California…

Pencil:

So, your backhand is pretty tight then hey?

Brandon:

I do alright, hahaha.

Pencil:

Three words to describe yourself, Brandon? I hate to put you on the spot…

Brandon:

I got it, no worries!

I. Am. Here.

Pencil:

Killer response, I love that!

Pencil:

Pets? Cats or dogs? Birds? Iguana? What’s your preference? Favourite breed? Are you a big animal lover?

Brandon:

Hahaha, I am fascinated by all species. One of my best buds, sitting here with me right now, is my dog. I consider myself a person who is fascinated by all species, even plant life, and I’m currently surrounded by loads of plants.

But, are you looking for maybe, like, my spirit animal?

Pencil:

Yeah, you put it better than I do, if you could have one, or be one, what would you be? I agree with you with regards to plant life, they probably have stronger personalities than most animals on Earth hahaha.

Brandon:

I’d probably be like a more sexual version of Elmo. Yeah, a sexual version of Elmo would be my spirit animal.

Pencil:

Straight up, Coldplay or Nickelback?

Brandon:

Oh god, Coldplay, let’s be honest.

Pencil:

Ed Sheeran or Justin Bieber?

Brandon:

Can they have a baby and I can have like an Ed Bieber?

Pencil:

Hahaha! Yes!

Another solo album? Is that on the cards for Brandon Boyd?

Brandon:

One day, yes. I had an incredible experience making the record with Brendon O’Brien and I really love the record that we made.

It’s actually one of my favourite pieces of work and not many people have heard it, so it gives me a lot of excitement to consider doing something again with Brendan O’Brien. Hopefully, some more people can get some ears on it.

So, the answer is yes. When, I have no idea. Because I’m totally in love with Incubus right now.

Pencil:

Tell us more about the Make Yourself foundation? I mean, over 2 million dollars generated so far is incredible! Any specific causes you’re looking to support through the proceeds of this world tour?

Brandon:

We have almost entirely focussed on, like a two-pronged effort, humanitarian-based grants and environmentally-based grants.

Those are two that I think need the most help. Environmentally-speaking, that’s one that goes without saying, but there are lots of wonderful humanitarian charities in the world that don’t have enough. We’re doing what we can from our tiny corner of the world to effect some change, even if it’s just financial aid.

Pencil:

Is this your first visit to SA? Safari vibes?

Brandon:

Yeah, none of us in the band have ever been there before. We’ll try squeeze in as many activities as possible when we’re there. It’s really the only downside to touring.

You get to travel to some incredible places that you never thought you would be able to go, and you get to spend 36 hours there, hahaha.

Pencil:

Well, it’s been epic to chat to you, I think I speak for the entire fanbase in SA when I say it’s a dream come true to have you guys coming here to play and it’ll definitely be a huge South African welcome.

Brandon:

Awesome, it’ll be so much fun man, we’re so excited!

Pencil:

We’ll do our best to get some seriously good sunshine and some decent waves available for you when you’re here too man. In Cape Town, we’ve got two oceans to choose from, so hopefully, Mother Nature heeds our call and plays along. If she doesn’t get it right with one, it’s hopefully good with the other.

Thanks so much man, appreciate the time, we’ll see you in February and compliments of the season to you!

Brandon:

Nice! Thank you so much, see you guys in February.

What a cool guy.

Concert Dates and Venues:

Cape Town event: Here
Pretoria event: Here
Incubus event fan page: Here
Ticket link: Here
Incubus website: Here

Comments 0

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *