THE PV Q&A: Brandon Boyd of Incubus on the Band's State of Mind: "We’re in a moment right now where we’re all extremely happy"

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By Tom Lanham

Alexander weeping because he had no more worlds to conquer, Brandon Boyd is quickly running out of artistic fields to explore. But he doesn’t seem to be too worried. With his band Incubus, this Renaissance Man just issued an eighth effort – aptly dubbed 8, featuring punk-infused anthems like “Glitterbomb” and “Nimble Bastard” alongside the Bic-flicking power ballads “Undefeated” and “State of the Art,” all bristling with some of his sharpest socio-political lyrical commentary to date. He has also launched parallel careers as: a solo artist (2010’s The Wild Trapeze bow); frontman for a spinoff combo (Sons of the Sea); starred in a sweeping musical (2014’s ill-fated update of Jesus Christ Superstar, which never got off the ground); become a well-respected fine artist (his first gallery show opened in 2008 in his native Los Angeles); and written three art-themed books (So the Echo being his most recent in 2013). Now, he’s entered a fascinating new realm – jewelry design, in collaboration with New Yorker Ali Grace. And his line currently includes necklaces, mala bead bracelets made from sandalwood, and even a brass Eye of God ring. Ask him how that cure for cancer is coming and Boyd guffaws. “The jewelry was actually not my idea – it was born in the same way that a lot of my creative pursuits are born,” he explains. “I was in New York and my art manager introduced me to Ali, an old friend of hers who was making jewelry. And we were over at her apartment in New York, and she had all of her tools out in front of her for creating her jewelry.” Instinctively, he picked them up, started etching, and within minutes had carved his first piece. “And she said, ‘Would you wear this?’ and I said, ‘Yeah,’ so we just proceeded from there,” he adds.

PUREVOLUME: You just bought a Topanga Canyon property with an actual yurt, right?
BRANDON BOYD: Yes. There is a yurt on my property. And it’s kind of my zenlike meditation place.
PV: Are you still with the same girlfriend you had for years?
BB: No. I’m a 41-year-old single man. So that’s either fun, or it’s just super-sad. Today, it’s kind of a good thing. (A loud meowing is heard near the phone.) Ah. There’s a cat asking to be fed right here. My children at the moment are fur babies – there’s a cat and a dog – and they demand to be fed every morning.
PV: You recently said that people basically don’t know anything until they turn 40.
BB: Well, we’ve had our moments over the years in Incubus where we have acted like adults. And also our moments over the years where we were still perhaps in a learning phase. So we’re in a moment right now where we’re all extremely happy and thrilled to all officially be in our 40s. Or early 40s, I should say. Our last holdout just turned 40, so we are officially a middle-aged band. But being in a band is a larger look at each of our individual processes. And I know for me, it took me until my mid-30s to really start to feel embodied, to really start to get to know myself in a more intimate way. I had struggled throughout my 20s and early 30s with all sorts of things, so in my late 30s I started to relax a little bit. And it’s possible that it was just testosterone fucking with me the whole time. We go through that period of time when we have this really hard-core chemical surging through us as men, and then it starts to chill out a little bit. So maybe that’s what was happening. Or maybe I just read the right book – I’m not sure.
PV: What books have you been reading?
BB: I go all over the place with books. I love reading social philosophy, anthropology, and then philosophy itself. But I also love a good absurdist story here and there. Growing up, Tom Robbins was one of my favorite authors. But I actually just finished reading an amazing book that a lot of people have already read, so I’m just a little late to the party. But it’s called Sapien – A Brief History of Humankind, and it’s a fascinating book written by this Israeli historian. I’m looking forward to reading his new book, too.
PV: Well, rock and roll certainly pushes a hold button on your adulthood. Everybody is free to live a Peter Pan existence.
BB: That’s an interesting point. Rock and roll and what we could loosely call the entertainment industry have this capacity to make us hover in that perpetual Peter Pan state, and in certain ways, I’ve just kind of embraced it. The fact that I am a 41-year-old man-boy. So I’ll just kind of ride with it as long as it wants to be ridden. But in other ways, what has grounded me has been some semblance of normalcy, some semblance of domestic life. Away from touring and rock and roll. And one of the reasons I wanted to move to the hills was, I love being at home. I’ve never been a party guy, so I love to build my home and create projects here, and those things actually help me in my creative process. Those things make me want to write songs and paint pictures. I’ve said this before, but I’ve never been someone who wants to write music about rock and roll. I don’t want to write music about touring, or about the experience of being in a band. I’d like to be a touch more relatable than that. I crave what I guess you could call more human experiences, like love and home and family. As well as unusual experiences, like spiritual revelations, emotional revelations, psychedelic revelations.
PV: Now that you’re alone, though, what’s an average day at home like for you?
BB: Well, you heard a little bit of it just now, with the meowing. So there are normal domestic duties like that. But I usually have a cup of coffee, then I read for about an hour before I do anything – books, not newspapers. And I get up early so I have that chance to read. But I do read the news every once in a while, just to check in and make sure that America hasn’t fallen into a sinkhole yet. And from there, I usually go exercise in some capacity, and then I go into the studio and we make music. And if we’re not in the studio, I go down to my yurt and I paint pictures. And then I bookend my day the same way – with other reading or writing.
PV: Not TV or radio?
BB: I listen to the radio when I’m in the car. And obviously, living in L.A., there’s a considerable amount of drive time. But I’m not necessarily listening to radio stations or what they’re playing on their playlists – it’s more interesting and fun to listen to NPR and stuff like that.
PV: So you might say, then, that “8” is your first adult – and decidedly political -- album?
BB: Well, we’ve had our moments here and there. But I think people were able to see them differently. But actually, we’ve always had socio-political commentary – or at least opinions – drifting in and out of our music. But the world was a different place then. It’s funny how the world works. It’s continually reinventing our collective view of it. But everyone is just on high alert now, so it’s a little bit easier to see some of our socio-political commentary in the music. But I do think that there are some more pointed opinions and observations on this album.
PV: You discuss love in a time of – not cholera, a la Marquez – but surveillance. A much creepier thing.
BB: Exactly. Cholera? We’ve got much bigger fish to fry. And that’s exactly what I was afraid was going to happen – the government’s intrusion on our private lives and the Internet. And with all of these circus side show clown antics that are happening in the foreground, there’s this incredible sleight of hand that’s taking place. And I don’t think people are unaware of it. I just think that the people who are holding the baton right now are a little too aware of how the general public’s observation works, and how we can be so easily distracted.
PV: Meanwhile, they’re systematically gutting the EPA.
BB: Yeah. That one alone particularly hurts my heart. It strikes very close to home for me. But it’s not as if they have the final word yet. If they destroy the environment to the point where humans can’t exist here, then that would be the final word. But I don’t that’s the case. It’s going to embolden a generation of environmental activists and progressives in a way that we’ve never seen before. So there’s a silver lining for me. It will be exciting to watch what happens when a new generation of politically-savvy leftists come to the fore.

PV: Is Trump the “Nimble Bastard”?
BB: No, actually. A lot of people have suggested that. And considering the current cultural climate, it’s easy to read certain things into it. But I wrote the song in praise of someone, because there have been a couple of people in my life who have had this amazing ability to adapt to any circumstance that befell them. They can be dealt the most horrific hand, and then somehow turn it into a full house. Thy can be pushed off the roof of a building unexpectedly and still land on their feet. So it’s really an amusing term of endearment – it has nothing to do with Drumpf.
PV: Are you envious of that ability?
BB: I definitely have an adaptability. Or I’ve learned to have an adaptability. I grew up admiring artists who drew in ink and didn’t use pencil lines first to trace their way through a painting. I’ve always admired someone’s ability to go headlong into the fire and then trust in their footing so much that they don’t need a map. So with art and music, I love just diving in, uneducated, and then using your mistakes to your benefit. And that’s really the heart of the song’s message, the further I get away from it – that my failures in life have been vastly more educational than my successes. And that person that fails and then they stay down, because it hurts so much that they don’t want to try anymore? No, I prefer the kind of people who fail, and then they use that to find a newer, much better way of going about things, you know?

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