Interview: Brandon Boyd Talks New Incubus Album, Scott Weiland & Helping Dave Grohl

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Photo: Ben Cope

“Human beings are inherently creative; we just all express ourselves differently. Some of us go towards the arts, some us go into finance, some us go into the service industry, some of us drive cars and some are Instagram artists. But we are a creative species. I see all of it,” Brandon Boyd tells me from a Miami café during last week’s Art Basel.

The most amazing thing about the arts is that there really is no definition. It is what you make it, whatever you want it to be. It can be external spewing of internalized haunts or simply a fun splash with no meaning at all.

Incubus frontman, Brandon Boyd, exudes art. Covered in unique and expressive tattoos, it’s almost as if he is art in human form. Whether he’s penning songs for Incubus, delivering a sweeping range of melodic vocals or painting a distinctive picture, Boyd embraces the arts as a trusted companion and complementary extension of himself. He spent the first week of December displaying new works and serving on a panel at the 2015 International Art Basel Conference.

If you explore Boyd’s personal website, the first thing you will notice is that you can go left or right. Enter for art on the left and music on the right. Though they each have their claimed space, “There is an area in the center where the hemispheres collide,” says Boyd.

After sharing a story about how we literally collided in Venice Beach a few years back, Boyd and I discuss in detail, the process behind expression through various artistic platforms; pausing only briefly to humorously witness a group youngsters posing by a tree for what would presumably be future acclaimed Instagram pictures.

To explore and purchase Brandon Boyd’s original art visit the shop at www.brandonboyd.me

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The passing of Scott Weiland is incredibly sad. Did you know Scott? You’ve crossed paths over the years correct?

We shared the stage quite a few times. Our mutual friend Brendan O’Brien produced a handful of their records. It really hits close to home.

I hadn’t seen or spoken to him in a handful of years, but the last couple of times I saw him, it seemed like he was doing really great. He was always such a sweet guy to me. We had a lot in common with people we worked with over the years. I am forever grateful to him and his band for being an inspiration for our band. I saw Stone Temple Pilots when I was kid and they were one of those bands that made us want to start being a band and playing music. It’s really a loss for sure and I feel for his family too.

How is the Art Basel conference going?

It’s kind of nuts, I’m sure you’ve been to music festivals of recent. They’re fun, but it’s also chaotic. It’s basically that but for art – which I am totally down far.

How long have you been into art, when did you start?

Expressing myself visually was my introduction. For as long as I can remember, I have been drawing things, writing things down and externalizing emotional circumstances. When I was a little kid I was very introverted. If I was sick or something and didn’t know what to do about it, I figured out if I would draw pictures of what was going on inside of me, what it felt like, it would eventually make me feel better. I learned at a very young age that externalizing these complex internal processes offered a kind of catharsis.

I have been doing art the whole time. While Incubus is on tour, and touring becomes this crazed, chaotic, monotonous whirlwind, I usually am able to escape into painting or drawing. I always have some basic form of pen and paper with me.

This past summer while we were on tour with the Deftones, I had a more elaborate watercolor kit with me and nice paper. Instead of going to the movies or the mall on a day off, I spent the summer basically hauled up in hotel rooms and would just paint. So what I am showing down here in Miami is basically the fruits of those labors.

That’s where the Five Modes of Transport came from right?

Yes, it is.

Did you ever have any formal art training?

After high school I was involved in what were probably my most formal art classes. I was studying life drawing and painting. I would learn to draw from a live model and then painting real life and still life images. I’ve also always been photographing. I’ve been working with some Polaroid’s, 35 millimeter and media format most of my adult life. With the digital evolution, I was able to excel more quickly due to the learning curve of the digital format. I do a bit of all of it, but none of it is technically, formally trained. It’s more what I call following my nose. It drives me down some really cool paths and I’ve learned from other artists who do have formal training, who go to art schools and have degrees. It’s funny because I envy their technique and they envy my untrained eye.

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photo by: Justin Wysong

How do you determine how to channel your inspiration having these multiple outlets?

It’s a good question. They usually call out. One of the mediums calls out more loudly than the others and I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that I have to follow that, whichever voice is screaming the most loudly. Sometimes I do them back to back. I’ll be working on a painting and humming a melody. Normally when I’m working on a painting I don’t listen to music. Occasionally I will listen to a lecture or something, but usually I just listen to the glorious sounds of silence so I can let my own music filter through. So at times, they actually occur in a simultaneous kind of way.

Let’s say you just had a great morning surf and you are feeling very inspired. You are sitting back at your studio with a cup of coffee and you are looking at your instruments and your various art materials, are you going to music or art?

Some days it’s just a matter of focus. Like now, Incubus is actively writing an album. We have so much material we are working with right now and we’re in the process of finding the best of the best. There will be new Incubus music very soon. Some mornings though, I feel more focused like, no no no, I have to work on this song because Mikey (Einziger- Incubus guitar player) and I are getting together later today and I have to finish this one line in the lyrics. So I will force myself to hunker down and focus on just that. My favorite thing to do though is to allow a medium to dictate which direction I am going to go. That’s when I get the most art. When I let my ego surrender and I let the medium speak more. You’ll notice more flow in the work whether it’s a song or a painting.

At your home studio, it looks like all your worlds collide. I’ve seen pictures where your drums are amongst your canvases. Is it all just one large creative space?

It’s more hemispheric than you would think. The studio is above the garage in my house. One corner is almost entirely a space for making a mess, for throwing paint on a canvas and stuff like that. The other side has a pro tools rig and tons of drums and guitars. So it is hemispheric at first, but they do intersect at a certain point. You’ll see paint spilled over onto the drums.

With certain art, the work itself is the center of attention rather than just you. Is that important to you?

It’s an interesting challenge. I think it would be for anybody that came from a successful career in one regard, and then they are looking to diversify in other creative ways. It would be hard for anybody to see beyond why they showed up there in the first place. There are definitely a lot of people who show up to see the art that are avid listeners of Incubus. And that’s amazing. That’s so cool that they are so interested in us as a band that they are also interested in what we are doing when we are not playing music. It is definitely a long time dream of mine to have the work be seen and be appreciated beyond that. But that’s a real challenge. It’s actually harder for me to be taken seriously as an artist in it of itself. That’s OK with me though. I like a good challenge. In a way it inspires me to work a little bit harder.

When it comes to lyrics and music, you can express emotions in different ways – whether it’s a personal touch or telling a metaphorical story. With drawing or painting, you have the ability to be more mysterious where you can have no meaning at all, the viewer has to search for it or maybe it’s just a fun piece.

It’s certainly a little bit of all of those things. In music too, there’s such a thing a writing a song or a lyric just for the sake of writing and perhaps you are expressing nothing. Sometimes those songs are so much fun to perform and to listen to because they are mindless and meaningless. Then there are the songs that you had to take a second mortgage out on your sole because you are digging so deep. Those songs are equally as important. It’s the same thing with art. Some pieces are meaningless. They are just there because I felt like putting something down on paper. There are also things that are more complex in what they are trying to express. I think all of it is important. It’s our responsibility to interpret our experiences individually. That’s what we are. The human animal is a conduit. We’re the eye piece of consciousness.

I ask a lot about your behind the scenes process because I know for me, it’s obvious which subject matters go towards a song and which are written pieces. It can be an entirely different process. How about songwriting specifically? What made songs like “Lady Black,” and “Runaway Train,” solo material as opposed to being Incubus songs?

It’s always interesting writing music with Incubus. When I write with Michael, he’s like this wellspring of musical ideas. It’s constant. At a drop of a hat he will have a guitar riff or piano melody. It offers a creative challenge that I’ve been in love with the entire time we’ve been doing it.

When I write music outside of Incubus and those two songs you mentioned in particular, they started as just melodies with dispersed lyrics attached. There was no music whatsoever. A melody just emerged and lyrics just kind of showed up. It’s a different way of writing songs, it’s a different kind of challenge, but it’s just as important to allow all of the different ways that music or art wants to come through us. So I had these melodies, like with “Lady Black,” and I sang it to Brendan O’Brien. He really liked it and started playing this guitar riff around it. It’s really a totally different way of writing songs, it’s fun. Have you ever tried that? Writing the melodies first with a lyric?

It’s funny you should say that. With what I’ve been writing lately, that’s exactly how I’ve been doing it. Mostly because I want to immediately capture the subject matter that’s ripe in mind. It’s certainly been challenging since my process is usually music first, but just as you said, it’s a fun challenge and I find it creates unique melodies because you don’t comprise the melody, since that’s what started the whole thing.

Yeah, right on. We shouldn’t dictate how a song is supposed to be written. Just write ‘em. Even if it’s pounding out a rhythm on a coffee table. There are probably countless amazing songs that have been written like that. There’s no one way to do it. That’s what’s so intriguing about it. You can write a song in so many different ways, and that’s the most beautiful thing.

I completely agree. Speaking of Incubus, 2015 marks a major milestone and accomplishment as its 20 years since your first release of Fungus Amongus. Congratulations on that. What does it mean to you now?

Thank you. It makes me smile. It makes me smile that we’ve had this incredible, mostly unexpected life. You don’t know what you are going to get into when you’re a kid. There’s so much pressure in America around – what are you going to do, what are you going to be when you grow up? That gets asked of us so often. I can recall being six and hearing – what do you want to be when you grow up? And feeling like – how the fuck do I know, I’m six! Can I just eat my cheerios please!

That’s still my response.

(Laughs) mine too sometimes.

I think it’s good to set goals and follow through with them, but there are things that happen to us while we are making those plans that usually end up defining our life. Incubus has been such an unexpected pleasure. And the space it created to continue to express ourselves individually, in my case being here at Art Basel, showing art to an international art community. It’s so amazingly unexpected and so welcomed that I can’t help but smile.

What’s up next for Incubus?

We actually had written almost another album worth of material before we left for the summer tour in the states. The plan was to come home, immediately record that material and have it out before the holidays. But we came home and started writing and then kept writing, and we started seeing ideas emerge that just eclipsed the other ones. So we decided to keep writing, and we’re sifting through tons of material, trying to create the best of the best. We plan on having new music out, I would assume by early 2016. We are definitely going to be on tour as well, from the spring on I would assume.

Is it going to be Trust Fall Side B?

As far as I know it will be Trust Fall Side B, but it will be a longer than an EP. There’s so much music that we are trying to focus on it being more of an extended thing. More of an LP.

What was the intent behind having a Trust Fall Side A and B vs. creating a full length record from the start?

It was a few things. We got together unexpectedly to start writing. It all came from the opportunity to work at Hans Zimmer’s studio in Santa Monica. He offered us a room at his compound. We didn’t have a plan to make a record. We didn’t have a manager or a record label at the time. We were off in the woods and it was fun to not have a plan for the first time in such a long time. But we then got this opportunity to work in this incredible creative space. We just set up our gear and started tinkering. Really quickly songs started to emerge and we saw that a handful of them we really liked and they offered us the opportunity to go out and tour as well. We picked the songs we liked the most.

A lot of it also started as simple conversations amongst the band. This in particular, was a conversation revolving around how some of us missed Side A, Side B. Growing up listening to vinyl records, there’s a moment when the needle hits the center of the album and you have to physically take the needle off of the album, turn the record over and the experience reboots on Side B. Same thing with the tape experience. It was a quick stop, then you have to eject it, flip it over and the experience starts over into the next realm. It created once again, almost this hemispheric experience. We were also acknowledging that nobody, including us, has the attention span for an entire record, front-to-back, start-to-finish. So we decided to break it up. We already had an EP with Side A, we could put it out and go on tour and create Side B in a little bit. It felt like we can have our cake and eat it too.

One of the greatest rock shows in my opinion, was The Who – VH1 – Rock Honors show back in 2008 You guys were a part of that so I have to ask, was that as special of an experience as it came across to be?

We were honored to be asked. We were only supposed to play one song. That was more than enough for us. We learned the track and rehearsed it quite a bit. The Foo Fighters were playing too and when we got there, Dave Grohl approached us and asked us if we would play the second song that they were supposed to play because he was sick and his voice was messed up. We were like …uhhh … yes. The second song we played, “I Can’t Explain,” we learned in the trailer. Then we went on live TV and played it. It was cool and the fact that we pulled off made it even more fun. Getting to share the stage with The Foo Fighters, Tenacious D, The Who and all the others that were there was incredible. For us as a band, it was a really important night. To be able to be around all those guys too and speak to them was pretty special. I think back on that night very often as well. I love stuff like that.

We got to do something similar a few years before with The Pretenders. It was them, Iggy Pop, Garbage and Kings of Leon. That was also a great night. I’m a big Pretenders fan and a huge Iggy Pop fan. Being able to be around those people was huge for us as well.

It was also around the time period, with a year or two, where both you and Eddie Vedder put out your first respective solo albums. Did you and Vedder talk about that process at all?

I talked to him a little bit about it. We both love Brendan O’Brien. He’s an amazing musician. He’s so much fun to write with too. He’s got this little kid energy when you put a guitar in his hand. If you go anywhere near him when he has a guitar, a song is going to happen. It’s amazing. I really love Eddie’s side projects that he’s done. He’s such a talented guy. We are so lucky again to both have our cake and eat it too. We have our bands that we love and adore which is the main course in our lives, but then we get to have these side projects that offer us so much fulfillment as well.

You have a great quote which reads “Happiness balances delicately on the wings of the act of creativity itself, not at the finish line.” I can relate and take that as – the real enjoyment in creating art or music is the act of actually doing it. Being able to go someplace else and get completely submersed in the process. Is that what you mean?

In a matter of speaking, yes. There’s something that happens when we are involved in our own creative processes. There are moments that I identify with in an egoic sense. Like – Hi my name is Brandon Boyd, nice to meet you. Hey, that’s my coffee don’t touch it. The ego that most of us identify with, when we’re involved in the creating, that tends to go away temporarily. Maybe we forget about it and we get lost in these processes. I think the reason that brings happiness along with it is because that’s probably a truer expression of self than the – fuck you that coffee is mine version. We get to let go of ego temporarily and fall into a place that is a closer description to the real self. It’s a beautiful experience. You don’t have to be a painter, photographer or a musician to experience it, you just have to have your single-minded activity every day that you indulge in and it’s right there.

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