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Incubus’ Brandon Boyd Finds a New Morning View

Alt-rocker on re-recording the band’s 2001 LP, the beauty of “surrender[ing]” to age as a singer, and their chemistry with new bassist Nicole Row
Incubus (Photo credit: Shawn Hanna)

Brandon Boyd knew better than to read the comments. 

It was February 2024, and Incubus, his long-running and shapeshifting alt-rock band, had just released a new version of “Echo,” the shimmering, psychedelic centerpiece of their fourth LP, Morning View. This was the first sample of Morning View XXIII, a track-by-track rerecording of that beloved fan-favorite—home to staples like “Nice to Know You” and “Wish You Were Here.” And the hasty, knee-jerk responses weren’t particularly kind to his singing voice, which has—shocker!—evolved a tad after 25 years of touring, aging, and creative re-centering. 

“I made the mistake of reading some of the first [reactions] that came in, and they were just tearing me apart,” he says with a laugh, Zooming in from the basement living room of his California home, with an incredible Evil Dead poster visible over his left shoulder. “I felt like I was in front of a firing squad. I don’t want to get too histrionic about it, but for the first few days, it was really hard because most of [the criticism] was geared toward my voice.”

Then he remembered a valuable lesson from the past: “Slowly but surely, people started to get into it. The ironic thing is that’s what happened when we first put out this record—with our hardcore fans that we earned touring from [1997’s] S.C.I.E.N.C.E. and [1999’s] Make Yourself. Every time we put out a record, without fail, the first fans to comment hate it.” 

It’s weird to imagine anyone hating this new version of “Echo”—partly because it features a gloriously expansive climax, and partly because Boyd sounds like he’s singing with even more control and nuance than he did during the era when he was occasionally shirtless on MTV. The retooled track—with Boyd’s graceful vocal, the band’s dynamic arrangement, and a more live-in-the-room feel—encapsulates much of Incubus’ growth over the past two-and-a-half decades. 

Back in 2001, they were hungry, heart-on-sleeve twenty-somethings who’d wisely pivoted from the often cringe-worthy nu-metal scene. And Morning View, which built on the commercial breakthrough of 1999’s Make Yourself, showed an unexpected serenity: balancing out the bombastic riffs (“Nice to Know You”) with more introspective, meditative moments (“Aqueous Transmission”). These days, the band’s canvas is even wider: Their most recent album, 2017’s vastly underrated 8, featured everything from electronic-tinged pop-rock to psychedelic instrumentals. 

When they decided to remake Morning View, part of a COVID-delayed 20th-anniversary celebration, it only made sense to approach these songs with a clean slate—Internet trolls be damned. 

Most singers will adapt melodies and phrasing over the years. Did you put much thought into how you’d sing these songs this time?

Singers sort of humanize bands—it’s the thing that is literally speaking to you. I have to continually [consider] where my voice is today—and today can be different from yesterday, let alone 23 years ago. It’s a wonderfully complicated problem I deal with on tour because you’re dealing with so many predictably varying circumstances from night to night: how much sleep you got, what you ate, what you didn’t eat, how long the flight was, if the air conditioning was blowing on you while you’re trying to sleep. You can psych yourself out of your natural ability and then psych yourself back into it. It’s this thing we’re constantly toggling with as singers. 

I started to approach this project with [the mindset of], “I’m gonna make it sound as much like the original as possible.” But my voice has changed over the years for any number of reasons, and I came up to a moment when we started recording where I was like, “There’s no way I’m gonna be able to do that because I’m 48 and I was 25 when we made that record. I might as well be a different person.” Then I surrendered to that. I was like, “It’s not gonna be the same thing. Why would I want to make it the same thing?” 

Then we started to dig into it, rehearsing the songs and playing them often enough that I started to be reminded of the places, literally in my face and in my core, that I got to when we were recording and writing those parts. It was like, “Oh, there it is!” The [two versions] don’t sound identical, as I’m sure you’ve been discovering. But when I A/B it, it sounds like a saltier version of the original. It still has some of the original spirit and original ethos and original conversation, just with 25-plus years of touring on the back of it. And to me that makes it kind of interesting. 

I love following vocalists over their careers—it’s fascinating to hear someone like Peter Gabriel, who lost a lot of his top end but gained this entire lower register. He also learned how to sing with more control and grace. When I hear your versions of these songs, I think of, for example, “11am,” which sounds so much more dynamic and satisfying. Do you think there’s a certain refinement that you were able to bring? 

I certainly hope so! [Laughs.] First of all, I deeply appreciate your compliments there. The first time I broke my nose, I was in seventh grade, and I didn’t have it set. The second time, I was onstage at The Whiskey A-Go-Go, and I caught the headstock of our original bass player’s bass, and it split my nose on top. I had it broken in two different places before I could even grow facial hair. My septum was pretty severely deviated, and so I learned to sing on one nostril. 

I can hear it on all of our original recordings. It didn’t stop me from being fascinated by singing and trying to continually refine my voice, but [the problem] started—in my late 30s and early 40s—to really rear its ugly head. It made singing progressively more difficult. So at the end of 2019, I bit the bullet and had my septum repaired. It’s kind of scary because they have to re-break your nose, but they do it from the inside. They go in with the instruments [mimes chiseling], break it, and create new walls and stuff. I essentially had to learn how to sing over again because, all of the sudden, there were two nostrils. 

I had this opportunity to rethink my voice from the most square-one level. I did that from doing a solo record [2022’s Echoes & Cocoons], doing an EP with Incubus [2020’s Trust Fall (Side B)], and now rerecording Morning View. One of the other reasons it was fascinating—and challenging, in really good ways—to rerecord Morning View is that I got to A/B it: “OK, this is how I sang when I was 25. It’s not how I sing now. But I have this new lease on my instrument, so let’s see where I can go.” I really jumped in. I put myself into it. Singing has become fun again, which is awesome. 

I still rank “Are You In?” among my favorite Incubus songs, and that bass line is just extraordinary. Was that intimidating for your new bassist, Nicole Row

Nicole has such an effortless groove to the way she plays. I think it’s what attracted us to her stepping in and filling some big shoes—we’ve [previously] had two phenomenal musicians as bass players [Ben Kenney and Alex “Dirk Lance” Katunich, who played on the original track]. That was one of the first tracks that we messed with when we were first getting to know Nicole, and it was seamless. She could be in a funk band. She’s now in a rock band. She could be in a jazz band. She could probably be in a hardcore metal band if she wanted to. She’s just a phenomenal player. There were no notes for her—”you got it!” 

The chemistry seems obvious. She’s even doing backing vocals, right? 

It’s actually Nicole and me. On every record before, 99% of the time, if you hear what sounds like a female voice, it’s actually me trying to emulate a female voice. Nicole has a beautiful voice, and I wanted to hear what it would sound like if she sang the backups. I couldn’t help myself—I sang along with it, so when we mixed it, we put them side by side, and it created this beautiful texture that you hear across the record. We always have fun, even when we’re in dark places—being in this band has always been a refuge of sorts. But it was sad and revelatory when [longtime bassist] Ben Kenney decided to step away. We love him—he’s like a brother to us, and we wanted to honor his decision and send him off with a big hug into whatever thing he does next. Then Nicole shows up, and we’re like, “Wow, you’re fucking amazing!” What a wonderful way to spin this band off into another phase of its life span. 

How has Nicole fit into the new music so far? Have you all been writing together?

We’re all been in the room together, she’s really bringing something wonderful and fresh to our approach. We’re stopping right now to go on tour in the Southern Hemisphere, and we’re going to re-approach it when we get back [in April]. I’m really hoping we’re going to have some singles come out—I’d love to introduce some new music on the Morning View tour. We haven’t recorded anything yet, but we have a large handful of songs that we’re already working with. We’re all like, “This sounds fucking good.” 

Certain tracks on Morning View, like “Echo” and “Aqueous Transmission,” put me into a kind of meditative state—and that was a new vibe for Incubus at that time. Do you get the same thing from it? 

I love that it has that effect on you. Based on feedback I’ve heard over the years, it has a similar effect on others as well. I think it speaks to the many moods, the many faces, that our band has—most of it has unconsciously taken on, but also we’ve consciously not wanted to be one [specific] kind of band. There are days when you just wanna hear a rad riff. You wanna hear something repeated where you get into a groove. And then there are days when you want a drone—you want something constant, an unbroken line. As a singer, when [guitarist] Michael [Einziger] writes something that has more of a drone to it, it gives me more of a license to tie knots and climb and descend. 

The only rules we’re bound by are the ones we impose upon ourselves. Today, it could be a heavy rock thing; tomorrow it could be a more alternative-sounding thing. The next day it can be inspired by Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. On the same afternoon we can bring in a little bit of Slayer or a bit of Phish. To me that’s so much fun, and I think that’s why we still love doing it. 

I know it’s early, but what can you tell me about the vibe of these new songs? 

My inability to describe it is not for a lack of desire to. I think we have six songs that are done, but they’re in advanced demo stages. There’s definitely a mood taking shape, but especially as we get toward the back end of writing albums, the mood [shifts] and takes another turn. Then we start to put them together with each other and start to create a sequence to tell a larger story, and that creates a mood that I don’t even know how to begin with yet. I don’t want to send people down the wrong rabbit hole.