Interview: Brandon Boyd of Incubus
Wed, 14 Jul 2010 08:17:26
Brandon Boyd does a bit of a balancing act on The Wild Trapeze.
For his first solo album, the Incubus frontman balances perfect psychedelic pop with literary lyrics that are both smart and self-examining. Each and every song comes to life vibrantly—from the propulsive swell of the title track to the veritable wall of distorted power on "Last Night of A Passenger." Citing everyone from Henry Miller to Federico Fellini, Boyd spent a lot of time absorbing a cavalcade of influences in order to craft a truly engaging and entrancing solo debut. You'll hear all kinds of sonic acrobatics on The Wild Trapeze that'll dazzle and delight…
Brandon Boyd sat down with ARTISTdirect.com editor and Dolor author Rick Florino for an exclusive interview about The Wild Trapeze, Henry Miller and Fellini's influence on his work and what lies ahead for Incubus.
You can pick up The Wild Trapeze now on Brandon's official site and on iTunes!
Your lyrics have always had a literary sensibility. Do you tend to read a lot while you're writing?
Not while I'm writing, but I've always gone through these phases where I have extended periods of absorption. I'm absorbing mostly books and films, and I'm ravenously seeking out music. Then I just stop. I've really only started to recognize it as such over the past ten years. Usually there's a lot of material and then there's an extended period of output after that. I've talked to a couple of friends who are artists, and they have similar things that they do. They absorb different things, and then create. It's like absorbing, and then output. Every once in awhile, you've overdone it and you have to decompress for awhile and not do anything—which is just as important [Laughs]. But, yes! Actually on The Wild Trapeze, I directly quote some favorite writers. One in particular is on the very first song, "The Wild Trapeze." I quote Henry Miller from his book, Stand Still Like the Hummingbird. The song is loosely about him and that experience as it related to me when I read his book. Once again, I know it's not the most rock 'n' roll sort of thing to be reading, but whatever [Laughs].
It's totally rock 'n' roll because nobody's doing it. On the record, you meld this vivid lyrics with this equally vibrant music.
Thank you very much! I appreciate that…
Do you feel like you were completely boundless on this album?
Yeah, if only to show me what the boundaries were. I felt boundless while I was doing it. For me, there's not a lot of knowing how things are going to turn out while I'm working, and that's where that boundless feeling comes in. I think that's why we're attracted to making music and art because there are no lines drawn. What's interesting about finalizing any kind of an artistic or creative process is you're forced to look at or listen to what you've created and the lines are drawn. You can see where you are at that moment, and it is both illuminating and crushing at the same time. You're like, "Wow, look at what I've made! Oh my God, I've got a lot of work to do!" It is hugely educational—as I'm sure it will be continually. It was always that way in Incubus too, and I hope it continues because I think that's how we get better at what we do.
You can continue to philosophically challenge yourselves as well through that process.
I think that's one of the more important things about that process. It's not only giving yourself the opportunity to grow and change, but seeing where you're at, each time along the way. For me, one of the overwhelming urges in creating this piece of work was to really understand what I sounded like left completely to my own devices at 34 years of age. What would it sound like if I was literally left to my own whim with no real outside help? Granted, I had a little bit of help here and there on this record because I'm not the most gear-oriented person. I'm much more lo-fi than that. We had one Simon in my household growing up [Laughs]. It's been very interesting over the past month hearing Incubus listeners' comments online. Once again, it's been both humbling and inspiring at the same time.
What does this album mean to you? Every time I came back to it, I found something new.
That's wonderful! If I had hopes and dreams for an album, they would be that someone could go back to it multiple times and catch different things sonically, lyrically and emotionally. It was a very strange year for me. I was writing the record over the course of a year. Recording took considerably less time. I did it in about two weeks. I got some really nice momentum being isolated in the forest in Upstate New York. I just made music for two weeks straight. In the year I was creating it, I was going through what a lot of people around my age start going through. It's that philosophical reassessment of your life like, "What have I done so far, and is it good? How can I be a more participating human being in this experience?" I was going through that, and I'm still going through that, which is wonderful. I was also going through some really crazy physical challenges—more so than I've ever been through in my life. They're very strange, almost karmic in a way. Seven years ago, I had an accident where I severed my Achilles tendon. To me, it's the most karmic injury one can acquire. You're cruising along, everything's great and nothing can harm you. Then whack! It's the Achilles heel. It took me about a year to get back to a semblance of normalcy. About a year ago, around the time I started writing The Wild Trapeze, the injury showed up again in this really weird way. I've been dealing with it for the past year, and everything in my life has changed physically. It's forced me to sit down and get better at the guitar because I couldn't do that much else. I was playing a lot of music and dealing with the humility one experiences when they're sidelined.
You turned it into something very positive.
I'd like to think so [Laughs].
What's the story behind "Last Night of a Passenger?" That was my personal favorite.
That's an interesting song to pick out as a favorite. I'm actually glad that you did. It's not the most obvious track on the record. I wanted to create something that was almost like a sonic wall that's moving towards you the whole time. There are no electric guitars on the record. There's electric bass and all of this bass distortion. We mic-ed an old bass amp and plugged an acoustic guitar in on the floor. That wall of sound you hear is all an acoustic guitar with a steel slide. It made this beautiful, unusual noise. A lot of that vibration comes from that. Lyrically, it started as this musing that I'd been stuck on for a little over a year. It's that old myth, in the Western sense, of Jonah in the belly of the whale—being swallowed by something larger and journeying in its belly to an unknown destination. There have been countless permutations of that in different cultures. It turned into something else, almost like a version of a psychedelic journey, a traveling without moving concept. That's the vibe I get when I listen to it. I don't know exactly what it's about yet [Laughs].
If you were to compare this album to a movie, what would you compare it to?
[Laughs] That's a really good question! I would say there are definitely some bad zombie films in there and a lot of cheaply animated cartoons that I've seen too many of. There are a lot of B-movies—but not B-movies trying to be good—the ones that know what they are. I would say in certain ways, it's Fellini-esque in a way. It's almost like a film being filmed. It's like a movie that knows it's being watched. Maybe that's more Orwellian? [Laughs]
What movies do you come back to?
I go back to Roman Polanski films often. The guy can really make a provocative film. Rosemary's Baby is one of my favorite movies of all time. One of his lesser-known films, The Ninth Gate, is really cool. The music is really weird and great. It's almost inappropriate for the film, which I liked. I thought the fact that it was a movie about a book was great. Polanski's made some gems. I've enjoyed Wes Anderson's work for a long time too. The Fantastic Mr. Fox was just awesome. I liked it from the very beginning.
This feels like an album you were always meant to make.
Right now, I feel that way about it too, but it's only been out and about for a week [Laughs]. It's so weird and funny what happens. From my point of view and from the band perspective, you'll love it and you'll hate it just as passionately for a time. Then you'll love it again. It's so strange what you go through with it. That's part of the thing that you're supposed to do when you make music. You're supposed to let go of it. People listen to it, react and absorb, then you react to their reactions. That's all part of the life of the music.
Would you ever want to tour with Deftones again?
The Deftones tour we did was a lot of fun! We'd love to do another tour with them. They're great guys—super fun to tour with. There are things about it that mesh and coalesce, but it's different enough that you're getting two separate experiences. They're amazing at what they do. I think we're pretty good at what we do to, so we just make it a fun party [Laughs].
The new Incubus record, actually! I never had any intention of touring behind The Wild Trapeze. It was more just a desire and creative exercise. I'm glad I did it. We're just getting started with the writing process for Incubus. We've been on an extended hiatus. It's been necessary, but we're all anxious to just get into a room together and make noise. It's been a minute since we have. All of the vibrations are good right now. All of the elements are there for us to make a really great record.
Have you heard The Wild Trapeze?
Video of this interview is coming soon!