It’s not too often that a band with a string of number-one singles stops to reconsider what they’re doing. But that’s exactly what SoCal hitmakers Incubus did, right about the time their “Love Hurts” single was sitting on top of the alt-rock charts (following a string of hits that began with 2001’s “Drive”).
The band—made up of founders Brandon Boyd (guitar/vocals), Mike Einziger (guitar) and Jose Pasillas (drums), along with bassist Ben Kenney and Chris Kilmore on keyboards—went on hiatus in 2008, and speculation ran rampant about whether they were burnt out on Incubus.
Ironically, the band was wondering the same thing about everybody else.
“We had been touring behind Light Grenades for probably a good year,” says Pasillas. “After that, we sort of felt like we’d inundated the world, and it was time to go away. So away we went.”
They never felt that they were risking their career by stepping away at the height of their popularity, he says. And there was never a doubt in the minds of the band’s members that Incubus would continue.
“We knew we were going to come back with a new record. How long we didn’t know,” he says. “It’s always a risk going away and not knowing what it’s going to be like coming back. But we’ve had a long career. We know it’s not going to just all go away at once.”
Even more surprisingly, they took the challenge of bringing new creativity to the band seriously. They came back with a renewed sense of purpose and new ideas about what an Incubus record could sound like, and how to create it.
“It was different,” says Pasillas about recording their album If Not Now, When? “We actually wrote the record in the studio as we were recording. It was much more having to be on your toes and not knowing where it was going to go. Mike would give us an idea and we would just jam on it for a couple of hours until we got it in the right place and then we’d push record and then move on to the next. We definitely had to go back and learn the songs, because we were moving so quickly. It was cool.”
Asserting that the aggressive walls of guitar they were known for can turn into a crutch, Incubus dared to go in a whole other direction on their new record. It’s stripped down, half as loud and moody.
“When I listened back, there was really no big rock song on the record. I kind of was missing it. I think ‘Adolescents’ was one of the more aggressive songs on it, and it’s still a down-tempo song. It was strange, but it was kind of cool, in a way, that we didn’t have to lean on the big rock song,” says Pasillas.
Songs like “Defiance” and “Promises, Promises” are as catchy as the band ever was, and he says the new songs are fitting in seamlessly to the set list.
“That’s what made me okay with not having a big rock song on this, is when we play live we have plenty of others to choose from,” he says. “This record is so complemented by other records and vice versa. It just works really well.”
So is this the sound of Incubus from here on out? No—in fact, quite the contrary.
“I have the feeling we’re going to rock on the next record,” says Pasillas.