Brandon Boyd on Art, Cat Videos, and Incubus' Return to KROQ Almost Acoustic Christmas

Brandon Boyd of IncubusEXPAND
Brandon Boyd of Incubus
Photo by Alessandro De Matteis

This year marks the 25th anniversary of KROQ's Almost Acoustic Christmas, and the lineup is all over the place. The show is always a blizzard of bands, but this year's edition is going to be bigger than ever, moved to The Forum after last year's stint at The Shrine (which we found lacking, compared to the event's heyday at the Gibson/Universal Amphitheatre).

Heavy on flashbacks from the '90s and early 2000s (System of a Down, Linkin Park, Smashing Pumpkins, Weezer), 2014's two-night holiday spectacle also offers a bit of '80s (Tears for Fears) and some newbies (Royal Blood, Alt-J) too. U2 were scheduled to perform night two, but were forced to cancel after Bono's recent injuries. No Doubt will fill in.

When the show kicked off 25 years ago, you'd actually see bands doing unplugged numbers, but that was abandoned long ago. "Almost Acoustic" has mostly been "No Acoustic."

Playing on the first night, Incubus are in many ways the one band we'd like to see take the show's name literally.  

The Calabasas-bred group's melodic songs always had an intimate, rhythmic yet sinuous feel that allowed singer Brandon Boyd's emotive vocals and the band's (often acoustic) guitars to shine brighter than everything else they incorporated into the mix, from DJ beats to heavy riffs. They may have started out as Chili Peppers clones, but along the way, they became bonafide rock stars with great pop hooks, and a hybrid sound all their own. 

Despite Incubus' ominous name and the era from which they emerged (two words: rap metal), the band still has a timeless sound. But they haven't really been active for the past few years. Boyd has been enjoying a successful career as a visual artist, traveling the globe and exhibiting his work. He also released a solo record. The other members have been playing music too, most notably guitarist Mike Einziger, who co-wrote Avicii's mega hit "Wake Me Up." Incubus bandmates Ben Kenney (bass) and Jose Pasillas (drums) also played on the track. 

The band got back together earlier this year and are now recording a new record and booking festival dates in Australia and Japan. Boyd is still making his visual art, which is surely inspiring him in new ways. Cat videos are too, apparently. We spoke with him in advance of the band's big KROQ comeback set this Saturday.  

L.A. Weekly: Incubus are working on a new album, right? Tell me a little bit about it. Is it a classic Incubus sound or are you guys doing something different this time out?

Brandon Boyd: We are indeed! So far it is definitely turning out to be a classic Incubus sound. But these are sounds, ideas and landscapes that we have never played with before. We are experiencing a kind of creative renaissance together and the results are both recognizably 'Incubus' and alien as well.

How has it been working with the guys again after the time apart? Your last release with the band was back in 2011.

We have always stayed in touch. We've spent most of our adult lives living together in a silver tube; it'd be hard to stay away after bonding like that. But it has been a real pleasure meeting everyone as they are today. We have memories and nostalgia, but it has been amazing to write and hang out with people who are now so much further into their paths individually. It makes for more interesting collaborations, I believe.

Did you ever actually have an official break up or was it always a temporary thing?

 

Brandon Boyd
Brandon Boyd
Photo by Alessandro De Matteis

No, we never used those words. We just needed to take a break. Everyone needs a break sometimes. We merely mustered the courage to say it out loud and it turned out that we all needed some perspective. But we always planned on making more music I think. Even at our darkest moments.

You’ve made quite a name for yourself with your art. What have been some of your highlights as a visual artist the past few years?

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It's been so fun! I think my favorite parts have been showing in and around Europe and seeing my weird paintings and drawings actually affect people who might not even speak the same language as I do. It reminds me of the potential that art has to transcend some otherwise complex barriers between people. The fact that some of the galleries have taken me out to really nice restaurants and fed me was a real plus as well. After all, the way to a man's heart is through paying for dinner while he's tipsy on the wine you recommended.

With your focus on painting, has music been out of mind or have you always continued to write and sing? Do you prefer one to the other? 

I started my hiatus by releasing my new book and a new music project simultaneously. So the Echo came out right after my solo project with Brendan O'Brien called Sons of the Sea. It's a really fun, strange album and I recommend it to anyone who likes cat videos on the Internet. I did a short run of shows in the U.S. and it was an incredible experience for so many reasons. Not the least of which was that I had, for the very first time, the opportunity to see outside of the very large box that I had helped to construct with Incubus.

I interviewed you when the band first started getting attention around 2000 and I remember Incubus got a lot of airplay on KROQ and also got booked on heavier rock shows like Ozzfest. Looking back, where exactly did you guys fit in with the music trends of the time? 

We didn't know where we fit in. We didn't even really know what type of music we were making. That acted like a doubled-edged spork in the sense that it was unfortunate we couldn't tell people how they were supposed to categorize us. So as a result, neat little labels were created in order to make us fit nicely into general realms and genres. We never felt comfortable with what others came up with and fought back against it for a while.

It was always hard to categorize you guys. 

Eventually I understood that it didn't matter how the press referred to us; the right audience would find us for the right reasons. It was a plus, though, to have such a malleable identity creatively because we never felt (or feel) compelled to stick to any one formula in songwriting. As a collective, we are just as fascinated by rock & roll as we are by psychedelia, jazz, R&B, spoken word and macramé.

I've always felt that music should be a freeform channel of expressivity. There are indeed parameters that we work within when writing; whether they are unconsciously self-imposed due to what we grew up listening to, or even consciously set. But as long as my heart is leading and my brain is in tow, I've found that even my worst missteps are invaluable to the process.

The rap and nu-metal that was popular at the time now seems super-dated, but your stuff holds up. What was the impact musically then and now?

The impact of what we were doing? Are doing? I have no fucking idea. I like it like that.

It's the 25th anniversary of KROQ's Almost Acoustic Christmas concert. Has the band played it before? What does it mean to play this show at this time in your life? 

We have played a few times! It's always exciting. It's always crowded and it's always eye widening. What does it mean to me? It means the world to me. It's nice to do what you love and be accepted and received so enthusiastically.

What do you think about the rock music scene right now? The record labels and the industry has changed since you started. How does the Incubus of 2014 plan to navigate its career and music output now?

I think the rock music scene is thriving and has been for some time. It does seem to be on the cusp of another major shift though. I think these aesthetic shifts happen with more frequency in our day and age. Thank you, Internet. I think this shift could lurch in our direction in 2015. Wanna come with us? We've got cat videos! 

KROQ's 25th Annual Almost Acoustic Christmas takes place Saturday Dec. 13 and Sunday, Dec. 14 at the Forum in Inglewood. Tickets for both nights are sold out. Visit kroq.cbslocal.com for complete lineup and updates.


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