Every year, hundreds from around the world come to the Musicians Institute, located in Hollywood, CA to be educated in various fields of music, including performance, sound engineering, business, and more.
As previously reported, MI holds a “Conversation Series,” featuring popular musicians, with past guests including Nikki Sixx, Ziggy Marley, Adrian Young of No Doubt, and Nick Hexum of 311. These special guests contribute their personal stories, musical techniques, and answer questions from students and fans alike. Most recently, Brandon Boyd of Incubus stopped by MI, and with a packed forum, shared his knowledge with eager students.
[pullquote quote="We were basically so inspired by music, that we decided to make music on our own."]Brandon spoke about his humble beginnings as a band, growing up with his band mates in Calabasas, CA. He also mentioned some of his favorite bands growing up, who influenced his group’s musical style. “When we started our band I was fifteen. I’ve very recently been reminiscing on how lucky we were or how lucky I felt now to be that particular age at that particular time, because at that time music got turned on it’s ear. We were listing to bands like Primus, Mr. Bungle, John Zorn, we also got into [bands like] Soundgarden, Rage Against the Machine…what’s amazing is those bands are still good now, they’re still relevant now. Alice In Chains, Red Hot Chili Peppers, these bands that were coming of age right when we were growing up, at that most important, kind of pliable time in your youth. We were basically so inspired by music, that we decided to make music on our own.”
Brandon discusses how the band has kept a level of brotherhood throughout the years, which has helped account for their success as a band. “We were kids together long before we were even into music. We were surfing together and doing book reports together, and cheating off each others tests and everything. Our band is not without conflict, but perhaps we deal with our complexities and resolve are complexities differently. [pullquote quote="You can't underscore enough luck. We've had a lot of luck, a lot of good fortune. And for that we are very blessed."]Maybe a little bit more like a family might. We have a family dynamic. So when shit goes wrong, it goes really wrong. But at the end of the day we are like, ‘I love you dude, I’m sorry. That was mean of me to take the last beer. I’ll go buy another one for you.’” Brandon continues by stressing his belief in luck as a major factor in their success, saying, “You can’t underscore enough luck. We’ve had a lot of luck, a lot of good fortune. And for that we are very blessed.”
Success did not come over night for Incubus. In their early stages, the band was still trying to find their own sound. The now multi-platinum rock stars actually used to suck, according to Boyd. “Nobody wanted to sign us..most likely because we were terrible. We were just trying to be the ‘butt-baby’ of Primus and Red Hot Chili Peppers.”[pullquote quote="Nobody wanted to sign us..most likely because we were terrible. We were just trying to be the 'butt-baby' of Primus and Red Hot Chili Peppers."] Incubus later signed with Immortal Records in 1996, as what Brandon refers to as a “development deal,” to see the potential of the band grow. Their second full-length album (their first with the label), S.C.I.E.N.C.E., went certified gold, with very little promotion or airplay. What attributed to selling over 100,000 copies? Brandon claims it was the result of lots of gigs and lots of practice. “We were that band that was willing to play at every single bar in America. If someone invited us to their backyard Bar Mitzvah, we were like, ‘Yes! We will play!’ We ended up getting good, as a result of playing so much, cause we kind of sucked really bad.”
Incubus remained on the road and on tour from 1996 to about 2009, playing a staggering number of over 300 shows! The band toured mostly in a van together, which Brandon reflects, “It was awesome and terrible.”
When discussing the band’s songwriting process, Brandon noted that they collectively like to sit together and bounce creative ideas and different sounds, riffs, etc. off each other. Brandon explains, ”I’ve always equated the way that we write music to climbing a jungle gym.[pullquote quote="I've always equated the way that we write music to climbing a jungle gym."] The guys in the band are really great at building these intricate, fun, architectures that you can see through it, climb on it, through it, and around it. It’s my job to be a bit of like a trapeze artist and climb on the jungle gym they’ve made.”
After 7 full-length albums, and 21 years together as a band, how does Incubus account for the longevity of their success? Boyd jokingly retorts, “Vitamin C.” All jokes aside, he continues, “I honestly don’t know. I’m surprised by our longevity…in a lot of ways I feel like we’re just getting started. I have employed this philosophy that I never actually want to become an expert at anything, I always want to be a beginner, even if I’ve been doing it for decades. Music is quite literally infinite. We have a finite number of notes to play with, but there are in infinite number of possibilities to choose from.”
He discussed how in 2004, Incubus got the awesome opportunity to play with Stewart Copeland and Andy Summers of The Police at KROQ’s Almost Acoustic Christmas. “That was really cool. I felt like a little kid because I love The Police and I loved listening to them growing up. We wanted to bring something [to the show] that was a little more unique…We were spouting off ideas like, ‘Let’s bring a dinosaur on stage!’ ‘Let’s play with The Police!’ We rehearsed with them once, and it was fun!”
When the time came for Brandon to answer questions from the audience, MI students quickly lined up. It was evident that there was a large percentage of Incubus fans present at the event. One of the fans eager to pick Brandon’s brain asked if he could have him autograph his arm so he could have it later tattooed.
A young drummer student asked what inspired one of his personal favorite songs, “Aqueous Transmission” off of the 2001 album, Morning View. Brandon explained the story behind the song, saying, “Mikey and I were at the Morning View house, where we made the record Morning View. Neither of us can sleep and we had our little set up in the living room of the house, and Steve Vai had just given Michael the pipa (Chinese guitar).” Mike then created the memorable riff of the song, which reminded Brandon of “some lost Bjork riff.” “[The song] just evoked imagery of feeling like I was on some rickety raft down a river of some kind.” Interesting to note about this song are the sounds of frogs, which were actually recorded at the house. Brandon describes, “We dropped a mic down over the grotto..the first four attempts, the mic would go down and they would all shut up. So we just figured if we leave the mic there..it took like four nights and we finally got the frog sounds.”
Die hard fans, please enjoy the full-length “Conversation” from the Musicians Institute.