mxdwn sat down with Brandon Boyd of Incubus. In lieu of the recent release of his solo album, he nudges the idea of a new Incubus album right around the corner. Meanwhile, the album that really slingshot Boyd’s powerhouse group into fame, SCIENCE, is coming up on its 25th anniversary. Boyd lets us in on some of the very, let’s say, passionate things he was feeling about all of the chaos we’ve experienced in this world and in our country in the last several years—especially since the COVID-19 pandemic—that led to the creation of his new solo album, Echoes & Cocoons. We also talk about Incubus’s 2020 EP, Trust Fall Side B, along with its 2015 predecessor Trust Fall Side A. He gives us his take on how audiences consume music now, versus their conception in the late ’90s.
mxdwn: In your new solo album, Echos And Cocoons, where did the inspiration for the song “A Better Universe,” come from?
Brandon Boyd: This new solo album was not anything, it was nowhere on my radar in 2019. In fact, I was kind of assuming that Incubus was going to start writing a new album in 2020. We just finished an EP in late 2019, and we put it out in early 2020, unfortunately. It’s called Trust Fall B. But yeah, then the whole, you know, “great pause” took place and everybody had to reassess everything. All the plans got thrown out the window and just dissolved right before our very eyes. So, stuck at home I started recording covers. “Oo De Lally,” was one of them. I did a handful of covers. I just put one up on my Substack yesterday. It’s a T Rex cover called “Life Is Strange.” I did a handful of covers, then I started to write some songs, and then the lockdown just kind of kept edging on and on and on.
I ended up reaching out to John Congleton, who’s a writer in the producer who I hadn’t worked with before, but I’d been fascinated with his work. And so we just started writing songs together. So by the time I started writing “A Better Universe,” the song you originally asked about, we were quite a while into lockdown and the pandemic, maybe six or seven months if memory serves, as well as into the kind of, I don’t even know the right words to describe the governmental response from the Trump administration. As a good way to describe it I would, you know, I’ll just say it was botched. Let’s just call it that. And so there were a handful of people—I suppose I don’t need to be terribly specific—who were kind of the talking heads, the chattering boxes on the radio and on TV every day. Really making the situation just worse in so many ways. It occurred to me on a number of occasions that it was just like…I was flooded with these really complex feelings, and I know I wasn’t alone in this, there were quite a lot of people who were just thinking like, things would be better if this particular person just wasn’t here. You know? And of course, we can’t say these things out loud, so I didn’t say them out loud.
In fact, I had a dream. I had a dream and the person in question had died. And the dream was really ornate. And so I woke up the next day and I started kind of spelling it out. Then the lyrics started to happen. Basically, I had a dream and in that dream, this person died and I did this little slow dance on their grave. So the emotion of the song is kind of complex because, as you know, thinking and feeling, as vulnerable and compassionate human beings that we are, we’re not really supposed to have feelings where we wish someone wasn’t here. That would be wrong, right? It’s sort of morally corrupt to think that. But to dream that? We don’t have as much control over those types of things. So I essentially am writing a song about a dream in which the antagonist has died and instead of mourning their loss, I do a little dance on their grave. Did I dance around the subject well enough just now?
mxdwn: I think we all have someone in mind whose grave we would love to dance on right now, whether still with us or not.
BB: Exactly, yeah.
mxdwn: And then the song “New Dark Age” seems a little on the nose with COVID, but is that just us living in that time? Do you think every song right now is looked at from the COVID perspective? Is that where your brain was at? It feels like everyone’s brain is constantly there.
BB: You know, in that track, “New Dark Age,” I wasn’t trying to refer so on the nose to COVID, even though there are illusions to, you know, no one being immune. I wanted to make not-so-subtle illusions as to what was actually taking place. But, I think what I’m referring to in that song more precisely is—this is kind of heady subject matter, it’s fascinating, but it is heady and a little dark—but I feel like, at least in the west, in the kind of Judeo-Christian leaning portions of the world, we are in a sort of crisis of meaning. One where we’ve lost quite a lot in our kind of mass secularization of the way that we live. I’m not a religious person myself. But when I was a kid my family went to church until I was like 10 or 11, or something like that, but it never really stuck with me.
I feel like there are things—I’m gonna try to keep this as sort of succinct as possible because this is a huge conversation— but, something I’m fascinated with, in regards to human beings, is we seem to be born with what is called a God-shaped hole. Like we have this deep need for a relationship with the transcendent or some type of a relationship with something that’s bigger than us. And when we deny that completely, when we completely deny any type of a spiritual relationship or a transcendent relationship, we tend to fill it up with other things. From my perspective, and from the teachers that I have been studying most of my life, the things that we have been filling up that God-shaped hole with are leading us down some very dangerous paths, almost drifting us towards a collective nihilism. And so when I say things are gonna get tricky for the foreseeable future, I mean that quite literally, I think that things are gonna get very, very strange. I think we’re entering a kind of philosophical new dark age of sorts. So I’m trying to point the arrow towards that in this lyric. It’s obviously something that’s big and complex. So trying to distill it into, you know, a three-and-a-half minute song with probably fifty words is very challenging. But there’s no shortage of fascination around the process for me. So what I try and do is look at it from a kind of a socio-philosophical, sociopsychological, sociopolitical perspective. It is fun to try and wrap one’s head around it.
mxdwn: The timing of COVID having been brought into our world was so odd with all of the other gunk going on. It’s so easy to shift your entire view towards it instead of at everything else going on. It’s almost like it’s a nice little sprinkle of distraction. Like hey, remember COVID happening over here? Why don’t you focus on that instead of what we’re doing back over here? Do you have any difficulty looking at things from a non-COVID lens yourself when you’re receiving other media right now?
BB: To me, COVID is like the icing on a really, really gross cake. Yeah, COVID was just kind of like, “and next on the agenda!” In my estimation and in my observation, things were already in such a weird place and had been heading in such weird directions. I say weird for want of a better term. I don’t really know how to describe it. So it’s hard now to not look at everything through the lens of COVID, because it’s still everywhere. It’s still just rampant. We just did two shows in Spain—Incubus did—and they were awesome. And three of us, three of the five of us, brought back COVID with us. But it was very mild and everyone was fine. And dare I say it was worth it, because the shows were fucking awesome, but it’s hard, it’s unavoidable now. It’s just absolutely everywhere. So you could be hiding in your house for the rest of your life, or you can get out and just sort of interact with the world and understand the inevitability of COVID, and just do everything you can just kind of mitigate the effects of it, I suppose.
mxdwn: Yeah. I’m honestly a little surprised that I have dodged the bullet so far.
BB: Have you? Wow. You’re like a unicorn!
mxdwn: Thus far! Not everyone in my family has been so lucky.
BB: Same. Yeah. My girlfriend actually, knock on wood, has yet to get it as well. And she’s taken care of me twice while I’ve had it and still hasn’t gotten it. So she has some like, like tiger blood or something. I’m not sure what’s going on.
mxdwn: Some superhuman, thick-blooded abilities.
BB: Yeah, I’ll eat what you guys are eating.
mxdwn: That goes right into my next question. What is it like to be touring shows worldwide right now? Because like you said, you just got back from Spain and you guys are going to be ending your upcoming tour in the UK. What is it like doing this in the post-lockdown world? You know, things are definitely not going back to normal right now, if there even is such a thing as normal. So, what is that like in regards to performing and traveling and all that good stuff?
BB: It’s complicated. I have to say though, I’m up for the challenge. I know that the guys in the band are as well. Just going back to what I said before, you can only hide out for so long before you just kind of get back out there. Well, you know, depending on who you are. If you’re a healthy person with a healthy immune system, take care of yourself, and all those things. There are definitely certain people in our population that shouldn’t be going out there and just going about things, you know, hopefully that goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyway. But yeah, we have to take lots of annoying precautions when we’re flying; going through crowded public places we mask up. And unfortunately, I can’t lick public fountains anymore. It was one of my favorite things to do pre-COVID and it’s just off the table.
mxdwn: There go your Saturday plans.
BB: I know, I used to love to just hug random people and then touch my eyes and my nose and I can’t do that anymore. You have to just be a little bit more vigilant. It occurs to me occasionally that, being a touring musician, we’ve been touring for all intents and purposes for about 25 years, and so many of my peers and contemporaries that I’ve been on tour with over the years have been full-blown hypochondriacs. You know them well, they know where you’ve been, you’re on tour with them and they still won’t give you a hug or shake your hand. They’ll elbow hello you. It occurs to me now like, ah, man, were they just ahead of the curve? So when I say I do miss hugging people, that’s a massive understatement. I’ve been hugged by so many strangers in my lifetime traveling, I’ve really taken a liking to it. People, men and women, seem to enjoy sort of just throwing their arms around me and squeezing me. I really love that kind of unfettered human contact. And it’s for whatever reason, whether they like our band or it’s like, I love your shirt, dude! And they give you a hug. I really miss that. I hope that we can reenter a time where we can be a little bit more publicly affectionate with one another. I really think it helps.
mxdwn: Yeah, I totally get that. I remember talking to someone in the psychology realm about how hugs can really just sync you up with each other and put you in the same emotional space.
BB: Yeah, there’s a real biochemical element to contact and when we lose that, other stuff is lost that’s really hard to measure.
mxdwn: And then getting into Incubus’s music, the most recent music we still know is from Trust Fall Side B, its predecessor, of course, being Trust Fall Side A from all the way back in 2015. What relates the two EPS together, and is there a thematic connection?
BB: I suppose if there was a thematic connection, it would be the idea of a trust fall. But it’s not necessarily as simple as, you know, “stand behind me and catch me, I trust you!” Yes, there’s that, but it was a little bit more. So the song “Trust Fall” itself is the descriptor, if there is a link between the two things. But from a creative point of view, we did Trust Fall Side A with the intention of trying to put out an EP as a response to a growing understanding that people weren’t absorbing whole albums the way that they used to, even as much as we would like them to. We’re decidedly old school as a band. I still listen to whole albums. If I like an artist, I love to hear the way the artist wanted us to hear it in sequence. But I understand that arguably, most people don’t do that anymore. So Trust Fall Side A was an attempt to give our audience a bite of a body of work. Then there was always a kind of implicit understanding from us in the band that we would give that second bite for the completion of the meal, so to speak, at a later date. And because we’re an independent band and we’re not beholden to a record label, and haven’t been for a really long time, we could make the decision when to deliver that second bite when it felt right. So we did that and boy, were we wrong! Our timing was about as bad as you can possibly imagine. But I don’t think that it takes away from the actual material itself. It’s like people will discover it when they discover it. And recently on social media, I’ve been seeing that people are listening to the Trust Fall, both sides, Side A and Side B, in sequence and really enjoying it. And that was what we really always hoped that they would do.
mxdwn: I love that you guys have the freedom to do that. And then your last full-length album came out all the way back in April 2017. That’s five years ago now! And it seems like that’s not super abnormal for you guys either for your last few albums. In an interview in March, you mentioned that once you get together and rehearse for upcoming shows that you’ll inevitably end up making music. Is there anything new officially in the works or being created yet?
BB: Yeah, that’s a great question. You know, we just started writing while rehearsing for this upcoming tour and we tend to, like you mentioned, write the more we’re around each other. So once we’re on tour and sound checking every day, there are instruments in everyone’s hands and that stuff seems to happen. The growing infrequency of new Incubus music is something that I have noticed too. And I can only really say that it’s probably just because as you know, as human animals, as things evolve in our personal lives—we’re all kind of squarely in our mid-forties—life sort of happens. When we started this band we were 15 years old. So the first large handful of albums happened in pretty short order. I remember when we wrote Make Yourself, we wrote the album from nothing until a completed album in eight weeks. And then we recorded it in eight weeks. So, four months from nothing to a completed album. And then we did the same thing with Morning View, and similar to A Crow Left of the Murder. We were all any of each other had, it was our band and each other, you know what I mean? And as we grow up, life starts to happen. People start to get married and start to have kids and start to desire to create lives that don’t necessarily just revolve out of a suitcase in a hotel room or a tour bus, as much fun as those things can be. You know what I mean? So the slowing in pace does make some sense to me from a logistical point of view and a life point of view. That being said, I would absolutely adore making more music. When I put out solo records, they’re always in lieu of an Incubus album. Incubus to me is the mothership. I adore making music with these guys, and it’s not to say I don’t like making music on my own. It’s a lot of fun. It’s a different experience.
mxdwn: Yeah. You kind of grew up with these guys.
BB: Yeah, I mean, not only kind of. I’ve known José since fourth grade. And then we met Michael in sixth grade and the three of us have been buds ever since.
mxdwn: That’s a pretty awesome thing because a lot of the time friendships don’t get to last that kind of long.
BB: I know it’s true. None of us talk on Facebook either. I don’t think any of us have Facebook.
mxdwn: And then that being said, Science is coming up on its 25th anniversary. Can you tell me what that album means to you guys today, compared to when you released it nearly 25 years ago? How your sound has evolved since then and what’s inspired those changes? I know that was a lot of questions.
BB: You know, when I hear songs from Science, it occurs to me that it was the first time we got to make a quote, “real studio album,” and we went into a real recording studio and it was mixed for real and mastered for real. We had a budget to make the record, so we got to have good gear and all of those things. And I think we were 19 when we wrote it and turning 20 when we recorded it and toured behind it for like two years. It’s a complicated soup of emotions listening back to it. I have a feeling that any artist that you would talk to would probably give you a similar answer when referring to the first album that they recorded. I hear it and I can hear the heart. I can hear the intent, but man, would I do things differently if we recorded the record now. So it’s cool. It is what it is. It exists in time. It’s like a mosquito trapped in amber, and I’m happy for that. I hear it and that’s definitely not where I am anymore, not only as a singer, but as a songwriter. And I know that for the most part, the guys in the band feel the same way. But we do have a lot of love for it because there’s a lot of heart and a lot of intent and we gave it everything that we had, and I think it shows.
mxdwn: The last question I have for you then is, not only has your sound changed quite a bit, but the music industry is so incredibly different than it was at that point. How has it changed in your guys’ eyes? What’s the difference between how you got your foot in the door as artists then back in the late ’90s, versus how an artist would get their foot in today?
BB: Yeah, trying to side-by-side the record industry from our heyday to the way it is now is almost impossible. We probably couldn’t get a record deal today, if I’m being honest. In fact, I know we couldn’t get a record deal today because of any number of circumstances. But to me, Incubus is one of the last of a generation of bands that were very DIY. There were silver spoons in the mouths, so to speak. We quite literally got in the van and brought the gospel to each and every church around the country and then all around the world. We rented a 15-passenger van and a trailer and we drove ourselves back and forth across the country. We played every single bar that would have us. We played in people’s backyards. We just did every iteration of a concert that you could do all the way up to the biggest places in the world. And the internet was this fledgling thing. Things weren’t necessarily going viral yet. When you signed online, you had to get like a dial-up tone. It was so vastly different, it’s hard to even really compare the way it was to the way that it’s now. And what’s so wild about it too, is that in 20 years, the people that are dominating the music industry now will be perplexed as to what is happening with the record industry. It’s inevitable, you know what I mean? It doesn’t matter. At some point in time you will be obsoleted from where you are now. And there’s nothing really sad about that in my opinion. It’s just the way that it is, you know? So yeah, I honestly can’t believe that, knocking wood, people still wanna come out and watch us play—and I’m overjoyed about it.
Photo Credit: Stephen Hoffmeister