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Incubus Discuss New Album 'If Not Now, When?' (Interview)

Thursday, 16 June 2011 Written by James Conlon
Incubus Discuss New Album 'If Not Now, When?' (Interview)

Six years is a long time. When Incubus emerged with their last musical offering ‘Light Grenades’ in 2006, George Bush was still the US President, John Terry was known just for his football skills and Wyclef Jean was too busy singing about Shakira’s honest hips to be worrying about Haitian politics.

However, when Stereoboard got the chance to talk to Incubus frontman Brandon Boyd about their upcoming LP ‘If Not Now, When?, the singer was keen to stress that the band hadn’t just been lying about for the past half-decade. “It’s funny when people say “break” or “haitus” – you picture the bunch of us sitting on the beach and not doing much at all,” he said. “In fact, it was quite the opposite; all of us were very busy in our respective ways searching for inspiration, doing so by entertaining certain notions that weren’t really available to us based on the lifestyle that we had created for ourselves in the band.”

“We’ve been effectively on tour since we were 19 or 20 years old – over half of our lives. I’ll speak for myself but I’m sure it won’t be too dissimilar for the other guys in the band when I say that I didn’t have much sense of identity, in terms of my existence outside of the band. At a certain point that becomes a little bit dangerous – to not have a sense of who you are outside of this thing that you’ve created. That’s not to undervalue or undercut what we’ve created, because it’s something that’s interesting and unique – I’m continually surprised and thankful for it, but having something away from that became really important for me at the same time.”

He continued: “That’s the reason for all of the different projects that we ultimately ended up getting into. What’s interesting is that all of those things ultimately informed this new record, both consciously and unconsciously, and I find that really interesting because it wasn’t the intention at all - that’s just what happened. I went out and did my solo record [2010’s ‘The Wild Trapeze’], a bunch of painting, I unpacked, got to know some of my neighbours and found a successful relationship to be in. I was really trying to plant some roots, and it helped inform the inspiration process behind this record.”

‘If Not Now, When?’ sees the band turn their backs on the hard rock anthems with which they made their name (for the most part), in probably their biggest musical departure to date. The band have previously stated that they hope fans will “put the headphones on and just listen” to the new LP, and the introspective tone of the release seems to be a hot topic among fans.

Boyd spoke about the personal tone of the album, saying: “It’s probably the most intentional record that we’ve ever written, but we weren’t intentionally making an introspective album - it just sort of happened that way. We were definitely more deliberate than on other records: we were aware of ourselves a little bit more and we were aware of the tools that we had at our disposal individually and collectively. We had new tools to work with and we were aware of it – that goes both creatively, psychologically and emotionally.”


“Just having that sense of perspective - being away from it and having the potential for it not to come back at us was definitely informative. So much happened in such a short period of time in the music industry as it was, but put on top of that the culture of the internet and the current music paradigm – it moves fast anyway, and now it moves so quickly that if you even blink it goes right by you.”

“There were certainly moments when it occurred to me not to even make another record – maybe our time had already passed. But it was in that humbling moment when I felt the desire to make a record move than ever, because I knew that there was no other reason left to make a record other than just the pure desire to make music with the guys that I’ve been making music with my whole life. I think it really took that time away from the band for all of us collectively to come to that realisation.”

Incubus recently released the second single from ‘If Not Now, When?’, the melodic ‘Promises, Promises’. When asked about the release, Boyd seemed well aware of the potential that the track holds for mainstream success. He said: “It’s probably one of the most different songs we’ve ever written and it’s probably one of the most “accessible” songs we’ve ever attempted to write. We didn’t know it was going to turn out that way when we started – we just knew the direction it was going and it gave me this very Harry Nilsson/Elton John/Billy Joel feeling. That was the sort of music I grew up on, before I could actually chose the music I wanted to listen to. That was the music which was being played for me by my parents and by my parent’s friends.”

“I hear a lot of those songs now and I’m kind of blown away by them – by how well they’re crafted and by how thoughtful the lyrics are, how rich the storytelling is and I’m inspired by that. For Incubus that was one of the more challenging things – to write a song that has those qualities about it – potentially timeless stuff that children can hear and enjoy as well as adults.”

Promises, Promises by incubus

Boyd continued: “We started writing ‘Promises’ as a band and I saw that opportunity, so we decided collectively that we needed to push in that direction just to see what would happen. It’s definitely different for us. I like it more and more the further away we get from it, too – we just made a music video for it and we’ve been playing it a lot together in the rehearsal studio; it comes across really fun live, so I’m looking forward to performing it in front of a lot of people.”

Next month Incubus will unveil their new LP in its entirety, and the band are well aware that the change in direction will leave some fans unhappy.

When asked if there were any fears about alienating their long-term fans, Boyd remained strong in his musical convictions: “Fear is the wrong word,” he said, “It was close to fear; a knowing that we might be moving dangerously close to the direction of alienation. But I think that’s also ultimately when we realised we were on the right track. We’re not trying to intentionally alienate our listeners or our audience – what we’re trying to do is make music which is true to who we are now, as a band, in this moment.”

“That’s the best that we can do; to make music that’s pure and true to who we are now, but also to make music that will potentially challenge our listeners - especially our long-term listeners. So when we felt those little pangs of fear (for want of a better term), we realised that we were truly on the right track, because where else left do we have to go?”

He continued: “The whole point is to push boundaries and to challenge listeners. A lot of people are going to hear this record expecting a certain thing from us and they’re not going to get it, so they’re going to be disappointed. Then a lot of the same people are going to come back to the record a month later and potentially love it more than any other record we’ve made. There’s definitely going to be people who feel alienated and let down, but that’s not for us to decide – that’s not for us to try to dictate to or pander to. We have faith in our listeners, we have faith in their intelligence and we want to challenge them, to show them new horizons and new musical architectures. That’s what this record is capable of doing.”

Boyd showed his deep affection for the record when asked if there were any tracks which he held above the others. He said: “You know it’s definitely hard to pick a favourite – it’s kind of like picking the favourite of your children. That being said, I have a soft spot for ‘In the Company of Wolves’. It’s probably my favourite song on the record. I also really enjoy the unexpected, heavy left-turn that it takes halfway through, so I do enjoy that one.”

Incubus made their live return to London on Wednesday night (June 14th) with a triumphant set spanning the greatest hits from their lengthy career. Boyd discussed the difficulties of adapting the new material to a live environment, claiming that much of ‘If Not Now, When?’ was written during the recording process.

He said: “We’ve been rehearsing a lot over the past month or so and one of the most distinct things about this album is that fact that we wrote most of it actually in the studio. We recorded the songs while we wrote them, which is something we’ve never really done before. As a result, we’ve had to learn to play the songs live – basically adapting them to a live environment, so they’re a little bit different to how they appear on the record, but in good ways, I think. They’re more adaptations than they are verbatim creations.”

‘If Not Now, When?’ is released internationally on July 12th. ‘Promises, Promises’, the second single from the LP, is currently available to download from iTunes.

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