The Incubus leader speaks about his project Sons of the Sea, playing Ozzfest, and the possibility about an all-girl Incubus cover band called Succubus.
Like 'em or not, Incubus defined mine and many others' high school experience, at times seeming like a platonic ideal of what a band containing a DJ could even be like. They've lasted longer than anyone ever expected and they never could've happened if not for the 90s, where turntables, Faith No More, and vocal runs more reminiscent of Ani DiFranco than any rap-metal band could all converge into sort of a Dave Matthews Band for the Ozzfest set. That's actually not a diss. Their heaviest album, 1997's S.C.I.E.N.C.E., holds up like it did in seventh grade as what a more elastic and bold Red Hot Chili Peppers could be like. I still marvel at the ping-pong riffing in "New Skin," the way Brandon Boyd's chorus in "A Certain Shade of Green" rollercoasters around the chord changes. "Favorite Things" still stops me as the perfect anthem for sexual liberation: "Too bad the things that make you mad are my favorite things." But yes, they got loopier, spacier, made tracks with Chinese flutes and denied their anti-Bush hit "Megalomaniac" was anti-Bush.
But talking to Boyd makes it clear the guy doesn't like confrontation, he ultimately wants to have a good time even if his musical expression is full of labor-intensive prog-n-bass and self-help platitudes that are occasionally goofy ("If you let them fuck you/ There will be no foreplay/ Rest assured, they'll screw you complete/ Til your ass is blue and gray"). But he's great-humored about their odd place in musical history and is quick to distance himself from the sexism in the surrounding hard rock world. This month, Boyd and famed producer Brendan O'Brien (Pearl Jam, Bruce Springsteen) unveiled their Sons of the Sea project, which plays off his more Beatlesque and R&B side with more piano than crazy dynamic changes. We asked him about his dancing skills and Kanye.
Noisey: Your Instagram handle is marlonbrando. Was he your first choice or was your favorite actor already taken?
Brandon Boyd: [Laughs] He's definitely one of my favorite actors. But it was chosen because all the other permutations of my actual name, Brandon Boyd, were taken. There are many Brandon Boyds out there. So when I actually started my Instagram, I intended it to be a private account for friends and family and that's just the name I picked. I only made it about two or three months ago.
What things can you do in Sons of the Sea that you can't in Incubus?
A good question. Umm…you know being in a band is, in a really good way, more of a committee. So everybody has very much of a democracy. So if the majority of us like this idea of a solo right here or if the majority want this to be a double chorus…blah blah blah. So that creates essentially what the sound is and has been and will be in the future. But Sons of the Sea is just Brendan and I, so it's like, "Do you like this?" "Naah." "No, I don't like that either." So it just goes faster. With that sort of rigidity, as a songwriter I can better sort of, channel what's going on in my creative space right now. Songwriter-y, very melodic, lots of vocals…musician solo-y kind of stuff. Brendan is very much a virtuoso on all the instruments on this album, but it's really just the difference between a committee of two and a committee of five.
So you make the final decisions faster than you can in a five-person band?
Yeah. And I think that ultimately is neither good nor bad. Incubus happens to be more of an involved recording process and it makes really cool stuff that way.
You came up during the advent of what we now refer to as "nü-metal" but you've lasted a lot longer than most of those bands. Not that Incubus was the most metal-y metal band from the start, but do you prefer making music in a time when fewer bands sound close to what you're doing?
Umm…I would say my favorite time of making music was right in that moment. [laughs] I'm so happy to still be able to make music more now. When we came up it was the end of what I guess we called grunge? In the early, mid-90s. But I think there were always concrete distinctions between what we were doing and what our peers were doing. Something I know that separated us from nu-metal was a lot of those bands had misogynist lyrics, and we never wrote stuff like that. I never wrote lyrics like that. I guess there were similarities in some of my musical and vocal stylings, but then we came off tour for S.C.I.E.N.C.E. around early '99, and wrote Make Yourself, which was a vastly different album but we were still the same band. We don't try and create any kind of album really, even on this side project I don't attempt to write any kind of music, this is just what comes out.
Did you ever have any issues with the more misogynistic bands you were on tour with, or have to say to anyone, "Hey, cut that out" or anything?
No, we weren't in a position…it felt like we were opening for other bands for such a long time. We opened for so many bands for so many years and with some I'd love their cool energy and then later I'd find out what their lyrics were and go, "…dang, man. Harsh."
You definitely stood out when I saw you at Ozzfest in like, 2000; you were the only band there with a djembe. Have any fans ever tried to pick you up with a line like "Is that a djembe between your legs or are you happy to see me?"
[Laughs] Pretty good. I've never heard that one. We got a lot of weird looks. The first Ozzfest we did was in 1998. And the second one we did I think would've been 2000, our first time opening up on the main stage. The main stage was very different, they had like…Pantera, Sevendust, and all these bands who were really heavy for the time. We had some heavy elements but we also had djembe and harmonies. Honestly, we were just thrilled to be playing in front of a large audience. There were some people who weren't as thrilled to see us, but we were stoked for the opportunity, we're forever grateful to the Osbourne family for the opportunity. But we did have a lot of fun and met a lot of cool bands.
I know a fan of yours who wanted to ask why you mention being age 23 in your songs so much (as in "Pardon Me" and "Promises, Promises") and what happened for you at that age? I myself just wanted to know if you've seen that wacky Jim Carrey film where he keeps finding the number 23 everywhere.
[Laughs] When that movie came out, I was intrigued by the idea of it. I didn't enjoy the film very much, but I thought it was interesting. I thought I was one of the only ones who was kind of obsessive about that number. It's just one of those things that…first of all, it's a number sequence I always thought was intriguing being a chaos number. The first time I mentioned it was in "Pardon Me," which was our first song that was really successful, and I wrote it when I was 23, which was a terribly, terribly chaotic time in my life. I was really coming into an understanding of who I was in that moment, who my friends were and the choices I was making, and the people I was sharing myself with. I think it's totally a weird time for people at that age. And I guess it's not surprising that it's a chaos number.
Your album Light Grenades holds this very bizarre distinction of the largest drop from a first week #1 on Billboard to the second week. Kanye is going through something similar with his new album but didn't set any records. Do you have any advice for him on how to feel about this?
Who is going through it right now?
Oh, Kanye. You know, I didn't know about this Billboard distinction of Light Grenades until like, last year or something. And at first I thought, "No way." And as I got more accustomed to the idea I was like, "Really? We have that distinction? We never win awards!" It's kind of awesome to hold some kind of a record in the music landscape, we don't hold that many at all. We don't win awards or any of that kind of stuff. Did Kanye…did he take the distinction?
No, you still hold the record. His sales just dropped 80% in the second week.
I don't think it's necessary a bad thing to have a fanbase that mostly buys your records the day they come out.
I hope we hold the title! But in the grander scheme of things, the real question should be like, that album, is it a good record? Did it inspire air drumming with the drum fills? But I think it's funny and in a weird way I'm kind of honored.
To your knowledge, are there any all-female Incubus cover bands named Succubus?
Not to my knowledge, but that's definitely a fucking awesome idea. Please print this in your article that I hope someone starts one if they haven't already.
Dan Weiss ate a cronut one time. He's on Twitter - @kissoutthejams