Q&A: Incubus Talk New EP, Conspiracy Theories and This Year’s Darwin Awards
"We don't want to be the proverbial Mike Pence at the Mayo Clinic"
“Have you guys gone down the rabbit hole on any of these conspiracy theories?” His trademark long hair tied up in a bun, Incubus lead singer Brandon Boyd poses a question to the rest of his bandmates on our Zoom call. The rest of the guys — guitarist Mike Einziger, drummer Jose Pasillas, bassist Ben Kenney, and DJ Chris Kilmore — murmur some variation of “yes” or “no.”
Pasillas shakes his head, laughing, “I don’t got time for that shit.”
“There’s incredible mental gymnastics happening,” Boyd muses at length. “From a psychological perspective, there is some rationale for people pulling disparate elements into one place to come to some form of like a theory, and the fact that we have no centralized response and we don’t know who we’re supposed to trust, and everything’s just so up in the air and chaotic, it makes sense that conspiracy theories would flourish in an environment like that.”
Like thousands of other people across the country, Incubus have been forced to put their lives on hold as the coronavirus pandemic continues to play out. At press time, their summer tour dates with Y2K-era radio-rock peers 311 have not yet been canceled, but Einziger looks uncertain as to whether it’ll stay that way. “There are many moving parts,” he says. “We’re kind of in a holding pattern to see what’s gonna happen, but we’ll make the decision that best suits us and our fans. And the world.”
The timing is certainly unfortunate — last year, the funk-damaged L.A. alt-rockers were celebrating the 20th anniversary of their surprise 1999 smash, Make Yourself, with an expansive tour heavy on nostalgia. Leaning even harder into their turn-of-the-century reminiscence, Incubus’ double bill with 311 is meant to celebrate the first time the two acts have teamed up in 20 years — not to mention the Omaha act’s 30th year as a band.
On top of all of that, Incubus released Trust Fall (Side B) in April — a five-song quickie that melds hard rock, funk, and electronica as seamlessly as the band’s earliest releases, as well as Boyd’s philosophizing wordplay. Quarantined from their homes, the men of Incubus spoke to SPIN from their Southern California homes about how they’re holding up in lockdown, why conspiracy theories exist, and whether or not they’ll do a Morning View anniversary tour in 2001.
To what extent are you able to get in the same room now, if at all?
Mike Einziger: Yeah, we’re not doing that right now. We’re all at home, and it’s actually kind of fun because we’ve been collaborating just over the information superhighway.
Brandon Boyd: You know what’s interesting is that the way we’ve been collaborating during this lockdown is not terribly dissimilar to the way that we normally do before we go into the room together. Sometimes we start working that way, but a lot of times we start by sending ideas back and forth via just MP3 files, or voice notes, or telephone calls with one person like, “Check this out! La la la la la la la la la [Laughs].” Then it eventually leads to the studio.
But, all that being said, I can probably speak for everybody when I say that we would love to get into the room together. But, I don’t think we trust each other enough. We’re a bunch of dirty dudes, not washing our hands. [Laughs.]
Einziger: Yeah, we just made a video where we recorded all the audio pieces, sort of on top of each other in a back-and-forth sort of way.
And when you’re not making music? What have you guys been doing to pass the time as you’ve been in quarantine?
Einziger: I have twin daughters who are almost three and they’re a lot of fun. This has presented a unique opportunity for me to be able to spend a lot more time with them than I otherwise would be able to. I’ve been dad-ing like, super hard, and it’s been really fun. Doing a lot of gardening and a lot of cooking, which is great because we don’t order any food out and we try to go to the supermarket as little as possible. I’ve been getting really good at cooking pad thai. That’s my new thing.
Moving back to 2015, can you tell me about creating the first Trust Fall EP?
Boyd: When we started Trust Fall (Side A), it was — we actually hadn’t planned on writing and recording, and then one of those rooms at Hans [Zimmer’s] compound became available. Isn’t that correct, Mike?
Einziger: Yeah, we didn’t really have any plans at that time, and we just started getting together to make music. It just happened sort of naturally, and as a studio space that otherwise wouldn’t have been available became available to us, that was sort of a unique opportunity for us. So, we all just kind of jumped on it and got together and that’s what became that EP.
Boyd: And then Trust Fall (Side B) emerged out of a space that became available to us and that we made very much our own, as opposed to borrowing space for so long. In the history of this band, we’ve always relied on the availability of space — whether in a rehearsal studio or a living room in a house that we rented or something like that. But we actually ended up making a space in the deep San Fernando Valley and as a place that we would just come to. We created like a work schedule, you know, five days a week and we’d go in there and just write.
It’s interesting because I know that so many bands can relate to this idea of having the space to make music. It’s part of the reason why, in my opinion, electronic music has become so popular and so accessible — because it eliminates the need for a rehearsal studio. You can make music that everybody can listen to, putting your laptop in your living room. We’re now officially old school in the sense that we like, plug in guitars and microphones and stuff and make a lot of noise when we’re doing what we’re doing [Laughs]. So it necessitates a room that has a relative level of soundproof to it that isn’t going to disturb other people.
Ben Kenney: And none of our parents will let us use their garage anymore.
Was there ever a discussion about why you’d make two EPs, as opposed to an LP?
Chris Kilmore: Yeah, I got a theory on this one. When we started Trust Fall [Side A], we were in between record labels. We had just gotten off Epic and we weren’t signed to Island yet. We were just doing it on our own. So I think when we were just left to our own devices without a record label saying, “We need a full-length record”—who knows what comes out of us? Anything.
So, that first goal was Trust Fall [Side A]. We’ve always wanted to do [Side B], and years later, we find ourselves in the same situation. We were off Island and we were kind of in-between places and we had our own place. So we just got together and started writing music. And I think for us, we thought it was a good opportunity to finish Side B, and we found ourselves in a similar place regarding the record labels.
Boyd: There’s also the fact that there is a general awareness in our band of the ways people consume music now. Most people don’t go and even listen to an entire album all the way through, let alone buy an album. So an awareness of the marketplace that we’re playing I think has been part of the decision to release more short-form thoughts. By doing two sides to an EP, we’re kind of having our cake and eating it too. I think we’re built as an LP type of group in that we are, once again, decidedly old school. I know I like thinking in longer form, but I also understand that most people don’t digest music that way anymore.
What about the name “Trust Fall” felt right enough to hold onto for five years?
Boyd: I suppose I found myself in a moment in my life where I was having trouble forging ahead in the manner in which I had previously. And I came to an understanding around, essentially like a psychedelic experience, that the only way that I was going to be able to forge ahead successfully was by turning around and surrendering into a process that was larger than me. Doing that felt like an old-school trust fall exercise. But it was one that was happening in a sort of psychological, spiritual way.
Sure. I know this was written well before the current situation that we find ourselves in, but that sentiment certainly applies right now, more than ever, in a universal sense.
Boyd: Yeah, we can relate this directly to the current situation. You know, gather as much information as is available to you and to the best of your ability, but then after a certain point, only so much linear thinking is going to be able to get you where you need to go. There is always a moment when you’re going to have to surrender into a larger process and [say] “Here we go!” Like the young bird jumping out of the nest [Laughs]. Eventually, you have to do it — lest your nest become a rotting, disgusting place where nothing lives.
And I’m not advocating for getting out of the house sooner than we should. I hope that people would be more cautious than to just [say] “Let’s get everything going again,” just because we’re all sick of being at home. That’s not a reason enough to do that yet, in my opinion.
Some public figures have responded to this crisis by posting schmaltzy collaborative videos that come off as a little tone-deaf. As public figures yourselves, what do you think is the classiest way to reach out to your fans and followers?
Einziger: It’s really just about connecting with people. If you’re nice and if your intentions are good and you’re kind, then I don’t think the other things are necessarily problems, per se.
Boyd: We live in a time of call-out culture and massive cultural inequities, and the internet has sort of leveled the playing field as far as perceptions are concerned. So, you could have one person seeing celebrities singing “Imagine” and being touched by it, and then you can have a whole slew of other people out there like, “What the fuck? Is that a horse in their living room? I live in a shoebox!” And you have to take those things into consideration. So, sorry, Mike, I interrupted you. Go on.
Einziger: No, I was giving my rose-colored, positively-biased opinion about being kind [Laughs]. And, you know, you’re absolutely right. People interpret things in wildly different ways, and even if your intentions are great, sometimes that’s not the way that your intentions are received. For better or for worse, that’s just how the world is.
Boyd: It’s a wonderful time for people of — I’ll use the euphemism, people of particular resources — it’s a really good time to use some of those resources to help to the best of your ability. Not just be well-intentioned, but try and move the needle a little bit. I know that when we’ve shown up to present something, we have tried our very best — not only with good intentions, but with bigger intentions to have to like, raise money. We raised a bunch of money for No Kid Hungry on the release of our EP. And I think when people of particular resources can do things that will benefit people other than themselves or their own sort of fragile egos, I think that’s probably a good move to do right now. I also think we need to lighten up on people who are merely well-intentioned, you know?
Absolutely. Pivoting to your tour plans for a moment — I know you recently had to postpone some overseas dates due to the pandemic. As of now, your summer tour with 311 is still slated to begin in July. Do you think you’ll realistically be able to hit the road by then?
Einziger: We haven’t announced anything or formally changed anything yet at this point. Because there are many factors and just elements to the situation that are very far beyond our control. Our most important North Star is really safety, so if there’s any issue of safety — which there seems to be — that that’s going to take priority for us. But yeah, there are many moving parts. We’re kind of in a holding pattern to see what’s gonna happen, but we’ll make the decision that best suits us and our fans and the world. We definitely don’t want to pose any type of danger to people.
Boyd: We don’t want to be the proverbial Mike Pence at the Mayo Clinic.
Einziger: He wins a Darwin Award for that one [Laughs].
Boyd: What the fuck are you doing [Laughs]? Beyond the optics of it …
Einziger: Our general leadership — not everybody — there’s some good decisions being made out there, but man.
Boyd: Not from the top brass though [Laughs].
Einziger: Yeah. The Darwin Awards are being handed out right now. People are dying. It’s so fucked up, man.
There’s also the pain of people not being able to work and pay their bills and provide for their families, which is a horrendous position to be in. So it’s like, from their perspective, they’re waiting for this to be over. And there’s also a scientific perspective, which, if it’s not understood, then the whole thing is a conspiracy. If you don’t really understand what’s going on from a scientific perspective, it comes across as a conspiracy theory to some people, which is quite unfortunate because it will actually cost people’s lives.
You know, I loved seeing you guys play Make Yourself in its entirety at the Greek Theatre last year. Assuming artists are permitted to play big live shows again next year — would you do a Morning View anniversary tour in 2021?
Boyd: That would be so much fun to do a Morning View reunion tour. I think we did it once, didn’t we? At that La Brea arts space? Didn’t we do Morning View all the way through that one time? [The group murmurs “yes.”]
What was awesome for me about Make Yourself and playing it through 40-something times … There were so many things that were cool about it, but not the least of which is that it was fun every single night to play that album from front to back. And we have other albums we’ve written that aren’t as much fun to play from front to back. There are certain songs, like, “Ugh, God, here we go with this one.” It’s pretty great that we made something 20-plus years ago that’s still enjoyable to perform. And then obviously I think it goes without saying that it’s pretty amazing to take that experience to so many different places and have the audience be just as happy about hearing a record that’s 20-plus years old and being really stoked to have that experience with us. It can’t be overstated enough. It was a really, really special thing. I’m so happy that you were at the Greek Theatre. I remember that show being a lot of fun.
Kenney: Oh God, I miss playing concerts so much right now.