Q&A: Incubus Wonders "If Not Now, When?"

Where does a band go after selling millions of albums, topping the Billboard charts, and packing stadiums worldwide?  If you’re Incubus, you go back to school.  During the band’s hiatus, guitarist Mike Einziger studied music composition at Harvard, while singer Brandon Boyd took classes at art school and recorded a solo album.  Feeling the urge to collaborate once again after their time apart, the members of Incubus recently reunited to record their newest album If Not Now, When? We spoke to Incubus singer Brandon Boyd about his approach to lyric writing, the charitable activities of the band and why the new album isn’t as different from Incubus’ past material as it might seem.

OS: Several members of the band have mentioned that the need to spend time in real life led to Incubus’ lull in activity.  What motivated the end of your hiatus?

BB: I think what motivated the end of our hiatus was a collective desire to write together again. I had just finished my first solo album and I was feeling like my songwriting muscles were primed to get into some larger ideas. I know Mike had spent the past two years in a classroom too, so I would imagine that he was itching to play hooky.

OS: If Not Now, When? represents yet another move away from the heavy rock style of past Incubus releases.  How would you characterize the band’s new sound?

BB: I wouldn’t necessarily characterize it as a “new sound” per se. But more of an intuitive shift in the unending process that we have been operating in. Even our hiatus was part of that process. But this new album is as honest a representation of us as artists right now as we could deliver. I think it adds a needed juxtaposition to what we have written thus far!

OS: The cover of the new album is a photo of a man on a high wire.  What’s the significance of this image with relation to the record?

BB: Spoiler alert! I joke. I have lots of ideas in mind about what this image represents. But I’d rather the listener muster their own version of what he represents in relation to this work. Ha! That is if they actually buy the album, and not just “borrow” it indefinitely.

OS: In your new songs, it seems like the lyrics are sparser than in previous Incubus releases.  What’s the impetus behind this shift?

BB: I have been on a slow progression towards this notion for many years. My greatest challenge as a songwriter has been to say more by saying less. I’ve always been my most communicative in ink. And apparently I have a lot to say. But the most rewarding experiences I have had while communicating this way have come when I can squeeze a Galaxy into one sentence. This album is the closest I have come to it yet! Thanks for noticing…

OS: You’ll be going on a mammoth US tour following the release of the new album.  What’s it like getting back into some of the older Incubus songs that you haven’t played in a while?

BB: Most of the older songs are a lot of fun to play! There are a few here and there that make me cringe and I try and distract the guys from them with physical humor or threat of bodily harm. But for the most part we are quite proud of our catalog.

OS: In a live setting, how will your less aggressive new material fit in with some of the mosh-inducing songs in your back catalog?

BB: There is a notion held by some people who aren’t as familiar with our band that we are and have been an exclusively “heavy rock” band. The fact of the matter is, we have always had a vast diversity of music that we write and perform. We aren’t dissimilar to the patterns of normal human behavior in that respect. Sometimes we feel heavy, sometimes we feel light. The trick is finding the balance amongst that gamut of emotions. That’s really all we have ever tried to do. But to answer your question more specifically, the new material fits in beautifully!

In truth, every one of our albums going all the way back to 1997, have had moments of calm, moments of serenity, feelings of strife (at times) and then odes to grace. One of the things I enjoy about being in this band is the freedom to express any and all of those emotions.

OS: Since 2003, the band has given a portion of its proceeds from touring and record royalties to the Make Yourself Foundation for charitable causes. What social responsibility comes with being in a famous band?

BB: For clarity’s sake, we created the MYF in 2003 as a way to donate monies to a few specific causes that we’d been working with. We started by doing a series of live recordings and selling them online then donating all of the earnings to said charities. We’ve evolved it into a way to as well meet some of our listeners every night through a series of EBay auctions and all of those proceeds have gone to help fund a now large number of charities. Since 2003 we have raised about 1.5 million dollars and brought some needed eyes to many wonderful organizations! It has been a really cool way to introduce young people to the idea of socially conscious service and, as well, meet many of our long time listeners! Win, win. You can go to themakeyourselffoundation.org to get more information and visit some of the places where the funds have gone.

Cheers! See you on the road.

Check out Incubus’ summer tour dates and watch their new video for “Promises, Promises” below!