Incubus guitarist on the band’s new album
By Gary Graff
April 21, 2017
Incubus is a band that’s threaded a lot of stylistic needles during its 26 years together. The Calabasas, Calif., quintet has played what guitarist Mike Einziger calls “the holy trinity” of touring festivals — OZZFest, Lollapalooza and the Vans Warped Tour — and managed to win the approval of disparate groups of fans. It’s as at home on Mainstream Rock and even pop radio as it is in the Alternative format, where it’s notched 14 Top 10 hits — four of which made it all the way to No. 1. Three of Incubus’ previous seven albums have been certified platinum or better, and the last four have debuted at No. 1 or No. 2 on the Billboard 200.
This year, meanwhile, is a big one for the band; it’s celebrating the 20th anniversary of its full-length album, S.C.I.E.N.C.E., and today (April 21) it releases 8, a new album co-produced with Dave Sardy and, most interestingly, Incubus. All told, it’s a pretty auspicious time for Einziger, who in addition to Incubus has composed classical pieces and film scores, to reflect on the path so far — and into the future…
FGPO: So what does 20 years feel like?
Einziger: It feels like 1,000 years, to be honest. [laughs] It’s crazy. It’s funny. It’s both. From a certain perspective, it’s been lifetimes, and then from other vantage points it’s like no time has passed. It’s a very strange dichotomy. But it really gives me a massive, massive sense of appreciation for what we’ve been through, what we’ve accomplished, what we’ve done. It makes me feel very happy, actually. It’s pretty incredible.
FGPO: How do you account for Incubus’ durability?
Einziger: Y’know, every time we write a new song it feels really exciting. That part of it never changes and never gets old. For me, as a musician, the excitement of writing something that feels connective, that doesn’t go away or change, any time we write a song and it sort of strikes a chord, it gives me this feeling of complete and total curiosity in the process. That’s the part of it that makes it seem like no time has passed.
FGPO: Incubus’ hallmark is diversity — but it comes organically, right?
Einziger: It’s kind of our biggest asset and our biggest flaw all at once. We have short attention spans, and we get bored really easily, and we don’t really fit in anywhere. We never have. We were never punk rock enough for the Warped Tour. We were never metal enough for the OZZFest. We were never quite indie rock or cool enough for Lollapalooza. It’s like we just kind of carved our own path, which, like I said, we’re really humbled by the fact that we’ve had so many supporters, people that appreciate our music. It’s like all the whining and moaning we did over the years, especially when we were younger, for not fitting in with the rest of the musical climate, paid off.
FGPO: It’s funny that now a lot of your albums sound like mixtapes — so you were ahead of your time.
Einziger: For sure. I think that over the years the way that the evolution of music has gone has tilted in our favor in many ways. A lot of the lines of genres have been blurred especially in recent years with the way that DJ culture has evolved, the way electronic music has expanded and the way hip-hop and rock music and electronic music have all fused together in ways that I think shine favorably on the history of Incubus. We were incorporating electronic elements and DJ sounds and electronic music and a hip-hop sort of aesthetic in our music from the mid-’90s onward, and music’s gone even further in those directions in recent years.
FGPO: There was a time after (2011’s) If Not Now, When? where you went separate ways and there was talk about a permanent split. What happened?
Einziger: I think the group was definitely in a transition period. I think the older all of us get, the more difficult it becomes to get five different people on the same page and everybody to get excited about everyone else’s ideas. I think that gets more and more challenging the further into the career you get. But we went our own ways and explored things we each wanted to do and were able to come back together.
FGPO: You started with an EP, Trust Fall (Side A) in 2015. Was that intended as a bridge to 8?
Einziger: The Trust Fall EP was definitely us sort of feeling around. It had been a while since we recorded anything, so we were just sort of testing the waters, I guess. And when we jumped in to start working on 8, or what became the album 8, I think it felt like we were on much more solid ground, musically.
FGPO: What did you set out to do on 8, then?
Einziger: This album is very much an Incubus album in 2017. To me it sounds really exciting and modern, but at the same time it really sounds like us. It doesn’t sound like we’re trying to sound like one specific thing; it’s just us being us in this current period of time — which is really vague, I know, but I think that people who have been following our music, when they hear the album, they’ll understand what I’m talking about.
FGPO: How did Skrillex get involved?
Einziger: That’s been a really interesting thing for me on a personal level because over the last few years I’ve gotten to collaborate with Skrillex. We did the Grammys together last year; I helped him produce a live version of the song “Where Are You Now?” with Justin Bieber, and that was really fun. I got to work on some records with Tyler the Creator. I produced an album with this band called The Internet. Those are all sorts of, I guess, artists that push into electronic and hip-hop. Those experiences have become a really big part of my personal identity as a musician, and I’ve been trying to figure out how to bring that identity into Incubus, but not in a forced way that seems out of place. Just an organic way. And Skrillex was really vital, I think, to helping me accomplish that with this album.
FGPO: His contributions came towards the end, right?
Einziger: He came into the process very late but very importantly and helped shape the overall sound and tone of the album in a way that’s very tangible. He just came into the studio with us and we started messing around. We thought we’d mess around for a day or two just trying things and then we just didn’t stop for, like, two weeks and we ended up going through the entire album and making a lot of changes to pretty much all the songs for the most part. At the end, it felt like it was a very clean, organic synthesis of this musical identity that I feel I have developed outside of the band that finally was now present in the band. The way the mixes sound is really clear — very heavy emphasis on the vocals but the bass is unbelievable. I’ve never heard bass in that way on any of our albums before.
FGPO: What’s interesting is, if you didn’t tell people, you really can’t tell he was involved. There really aren’t any of his trademark sounds.
Einziger: I know, right? Skrillex just really brought his own sensibilities into what we were doing. It doesn’t at all sound like a Skrillex-Incubus collaboration or a remix of anything. It’s almost like he joined the band for a couple of weeks, and we had no idea where it was going to go, and where it ended up is what this album is, and it just happened really organically through our friendship — which is how all Incubus music has ever happened in the past, just with our friendships with each other.
FGPO: Do you feel like there’s a particular key track on the album?
Einziger: We have a song called “State Of The Art” that I think is an important song for this album. It was an idea Brandon [Boyd] originally came up with years ago; we kind of messed around with the song many, many, many times in different versions and nothing was really clicking. And then Dave Sardy suggested we write some new parts to the song in addition to what we already had and it got to a place where it felt like it was on the right track and it felt exciting. And then Skrillex came in and we flipped it upside down again and made some changes to the song again and now it feels like multiple layers of information stacked on top of each other. It’s interesting what transformations that song went through to where it is now, which is the version that’s on the album.
FGPO: You know, if you turn the numeral eight on its side it’s the infinity sign. Is that a subliminal message about your intentions?
Einziger: Absolutely! Without question! [laughs] It’s really humbling, and I feel incredibly appreciative not only to the other members of the band for sort of putting up with me for all these years but also to all the people who have supported us, all the people who connect with the music we make. It’s such a unique thing to do, and we’ve been around so long and put out so much music. But it’s not obvious that it’s going to connect with people. We are just a bunch of guys writing music in a room together; that’s always how it starts. And the fact that we’ve somehow managed to connect to millions, many millions, of people all around the world, that continually blows my mind.