Incubus (face-to-face interview, Ahoy Rotterdam (NL), May 23rd, 2004)

When arriving at Ahoy Rotterdam at about half past two in the afternoon, some people are already sitting outside the venue, waiting for the doors to open (which will actually take place at half past six). Later that day, when the band at issue starts playing their first song of the night, people pass out and have to be removed from the crowd by security. What are we talking about here? Not the kind of things that you are used to when visiting metal and rock concerts, isn’t it? Well, Incubus – the band that is playing that night – clearly can combine the making of heavy music with girls fainting in front of the stage. However, their recently released new album called A Crow Left Of The Murder proves that is not a kind of boyband, but is actually one of the most distinctive bands in the current music scene, appreciated by a wide range of people. Remarkable fact is that the guys in the band are still so friendly and down-to-earth (for example, singer Brandon Boyd sitting on the dirty ground in the corridor, typing on his laptop). We had a chat with the latest gain of the band: bass player Ben Kenney, a really nice guy who told us everything about the album and more!!

A Crow Left Of The Murder is out now for a few months. We do really like it, and we have also read that people say that it is the best Incubus album so far. Do you agree with that, or what do you think of that?
I personally, as far as my taste is concerned, I think it is the best Incubus record so far. You cannot really say overall, because music is so subject to interpretation by the listener. But for me, individually, it is my favourite album of all Incubus records. There are a lot of reasons for that. It is much deeper than only the music, of course I was involved in this one, I just joined the band when they started writing this one. Therefore I have obvious emotional and sentimental attachments to the record. And it is part of a result that my work helped creating it. Or to phrase that better: I am part of the work that helped to create it. So I am attached to it.

When was your first contact with Incubus?
It was somewhere in the summer of 2001, when I was in another band, called The Roots, and we had toured with Incubus. We had toured with them on the Area One tour, something Moby had organised. I met all the guys then, when being on the road with them for like seven or eight weeks.

And you were also in the side-project of some of the band members, called Time Lapse Consortium…
That was much more recent. I met the guys in 2001, the Time Lapse Consortium stuff was in January of 2003. So years had gone by of just keeping in touch and hanging out whenever possible.

When they met you, you were the guitar player of The Roots, right?
Yeah, but on that particular tour, I was playing bass, because Hub, the Roots bass player, he was touring with someone else at that time, so I was just filling in playing bass for him, but I played guitar for The Roots in almost the entire period.

We have a few words in relation to the album, on which we would like to have your comments.
First of it is inspiration.

I can only really define my inspiration, because everybody had all sorts of different things that were affecting them and helping them create the album. Once again in my life there was a period that was similar like a fresh start. I moved from one side of the country to the other side of the country, and the USA is such a big ass country to move all the way across! So I moved out to California and I kind of started my life over from that point. So it was like a sort of clean slide, that was pretty much what inspired me. You can reflect on the things you have been through and you have been detached from the things you have been through and lived in. Therefore you can look at them more objectively. By joining the band and by relocating, by starting my life over in California, it just created a clear headspace for me to create. And also playing together with these guys for the first time in a serious setting; sitting down writing and creating with these guys as a band, that was inspiring. It was all about discovery about we were capable of, of what I am capable of with them, and how that all is going to relate when it is all on tape. That is like the main inspiration. Probably a thousand other things were inspiring, you cannot really put a value of importance on them, because that stuff is kind of intangible.

We also heard that the other band members said they were inspired by you.
Well, they say that and it probably seems like a big deal. But they were also inspired by each other. In a group with five people, everyone in that group is inspired by the four others. They can say: we are inspired by Ben, but Michael is also inspired by José, and Brandon and Chris. Of course because there is a new guy, that stands out more, but everyone inspired everyone to do their thing.
There are definitely different things that I had brought into the band that were not there before. And that is something that they have to deal with when writing and creating. It was not my intention to bring a new sound to Incubus, but whenever you change a person, everything shifts slightly.
The band has kind of a family vibe between each other, and as long that is there, it is always going to be Incubus. And people will always be able to see that, and will understand that.

How was it for you to come in such a close band, because they are together for so long?
It was interesting: they have been together for so long, but once I came out and after about a week of hanging around and playing with them, I felt like I knew them for all my life. I felt like we grew up together, felt really, really comfortable with them as people. And that opened up the door for us to make music like we should make music. There were no ego’s, no anything, just a natural way of playing together from jump, which was kind of strange. And it was also a little scary, like “what the hack, it should not be this easy”!

We have another word for you: experiment, or experimental.
The record is more than for anything else experimental because of Mike. I would say that Mike and Brandon have most experimentation on the record. More specifically, Mike was using different guitars, and different amps. He was trying to go for different sounds than he normally used. I know that he recorded Morning View (Incubus’ previous record, Pitfather) with one guitar and one amp. And that was where he was at that time, he is in a different headspace now, he wanted to do more. So sonically, he was trying to do new things. And I know for Brandon, he was stretching out and writing about things, and trying to come from things where he had never come from before. When you are on your fifth album, you have to start looking further and deeper to find things to write about and things that mean something to you. Because each time you write something, you kind of give it away and after you give it away, you cannot get it back. Therefore you have to go deeper, and Brandon was going deeper.
José’s whole drumming style is based on experimentation. He is always coming at you from a different angle than you would expect, he is always trying to do something that is not the first thing that would come into your mind. And he is always trying to find a way to make that going to work within a song.
And for Killmore’s style, it is like the same thing. He does more sonic landscape stuff than just turntable wizardry. For him, it is more like soundscapes, and that is always an experimental thing, because he is always trying things that might or might not work. And when they do not work, they go right out of the window, and when they do work, it is the most amazing thing in the world. So he had always gone for that, for that extra high level.
And for me, I do not really know for how far experimentation would related to the record for me. I have made music like this before, I made music that had this same energy before. I did play hiphop at The Roots, but I did also play in lots of punkrock groups and lots of hardcore groups, and just straight rock and everything else. So it was not something that I had to discover, it was actually very comfortable for me to play. As far as experimentation, I think I was not doing anything that risky on the album. I was very comfortable with everything I was doing, I felt like it all was going to work.

Next word: political.
Political is something that everyone is relating the album to, but personally I do not feel that this album is any more political than any other Incubus album. It is kind of the combination of a couple of things that give people the impression. It is the first video that has a very political vibe. But that was more Floria Sigismondi, the video director, it was more her take on the song Megalomaniac. She listened to the song and came up with that story for that video. We were really excited about that, we thought it was great, and we made a video about it. It is natural to assume that because of the video, the song is from that angle. But Brandon was writing from a very certain place in his heart, that is just how he is feeling. And about a handful of different people and things that have happened. Some people say: the song is about George Bush, well, that is not why Brandon wrote it. It is totally understandable, it is not what it was meant to be about, but if you take it that way, that is totally cool. The point of it is to take it how you want to take it. There is no wrong way to take it. Other than that there is not really anything political, not anything more than on another record.

In some interviews we read, it was mentioned that there is a contrast between the usual positivity of Incubus records, and this one being slightly angrier, seeming to be more pissed off at all the things that happen. Do you think this is true (of course there are a lot of things going around to be pissed off)?
When I go back and listen to Morning View, it think those lyrics seem to come from an aggressive place. A lot of those lyrics are dealing with personal conflicts that Brandon was experiencing, and they seem to be as aggressive as the lyrics on A Crow Left Of The Murder. The music is another thing: a lot of the music on Morning View was of a slower tempo, a little softer sounding. And there definitely is more aggression in this one, but I think that was more resulting from the energy we had playing with each other. I think it was not really a dark or negative thing; it was more from a positive thing. We were just so exited to play with each other, that we were kind of pushing the limits for what we could do.

We have a last word for you to comment on, which is intelligent.
(we think that the lyrics and music are much more intelligent than you hear from a lot of other bands, it seems to go deeper, that there are more layers).
That is a very nice thing to say! We do not make any conscious effort to try to be intelligent, we just try to be honest. I know there is a lot of music out there that is written for instant gratification. It is not really music for the long haul. But what we all enjoy is stuff that is written more solid and that is what we attempt to do. So if it comes off more intelligent: that is wonderful! Because we would rather come of more intelligent than not... (laughing).

There are many albums I listen to and forget soon after that...
Yeah, it is the same thing with a lot of commercial hiphop, you hear it on the radio for two weeks. And once you hear it, it is really catchy, not necessarily pleasing, but it is catchy, and you get it stuck in your head. But only for two weeks, and than the next thing comes along. It is not necessarily pleasing, or enjoyable of fulfilling, but you get it stuck in your head like a virus.

Something about the album title: we know what it is about (we speak about “a murder of crows” when speaking about a group of crows, so “a crow left of the murder” is the one out of the group, it is about people falling out of a group, pitfather) but why is the title about people that fall out of a group?
It is from the song A Crow Left Of The Murder, it is one of the lyrics from that song. And it was more from a stream of consciousness that Brandon was doing. It is another thing that is up to your interpretation – which sometimes is a bad thing because I had my mum coming at me asking why we want to murder crows, hahaha. It is definitively up to your own interpretation, and there are so many ways in which that can be a positive thing. The way I like to look at it is that the band itself is like the crow left of the murder, as an entity. We are not really involved in the trends going on right now. We are playing music, and hopefully that will set us apart.

Continuing on the interpretation of the songs, Brandon said that he did not like to explain exactly to people what he wanted to say with his lyrics, what his lyrics were about. He also said – just like you – that people can have their own interpretation of the songs. Do you know exactly what his lyrics are about? Or can you have your own interpretation as well?
Well, it is not like he writes lyrics, and comes to tell us all about it. When I ask him what a lyric is about, he will tell me. But that is different, because my name is also going to be attached to the song. So that has a different repercussion. Everything is personal, even my basslines are personal. Everything on the record is from a personal place for everybody. But Brandon’s lyrics serve a couple of purposes. First of all, it gives words to the song. Second of all, it gives a way to ventilate and put ideas out into the world and express them. And then it allows people to get something cerebral from reading into the music a little more. You don’t really want to tag and say “this lyric is specifically about this, and it is only this”, at least in this music you don’t. Maybe for other types of music it is more appropriate, but for these songs, it is more about enjoying them where you are and who you are in your life at that time. So many people say that out of all the Incubus records, S.C.I.E.C.E. is their favourite. Looking to that and seeing why, at least that is what I thing, when you first hear a band or first experiences someone’s music, it has kind of a sentimental value that can never ever be completely recovered. The first time when you get into a band, all the things are fresh and all the things about it are new, like the voices, the sounds, the direction, the ideas. That is a special period, it is like you first meet a girl, you start learning about that person, and you can never get back to that first point. You can have a deeper relationship and a better relationship, but sentimental attachment to the initial introduction is always the strongest. And a lot of people got first into Incubus during the S.C.I.E.C.E. period, and if you were then fifteen years old and running around in highschool, of course you can have a very special place in your heart for that record. A place that none of these other records can ever reach, that is a different thing.

I was pleasantly surprised by the short film on the DVD, the Paradise Spoiled movie, with Mike going crazy. It was really amusing to see that, can you tell us something more about why did you record it, how did you come to the idea of making that movie?
We took a band trip, the entire band went to Fiji for a week. We went to a really tiny island and spent a week surfing and relaxing and hanging out. Some of our friends came with us, and one of these people was a film maker, Brandan Hearne, and he was working on this movie and had Mike act in it, he is also close friends with Mike and asked him if he wanted to act in it when we were at Fiji. This movie was something that he was working on for a while and that he had put together. When it was finished, when it all was done, we all watched it and said: “this is crazy! What are you going to do with it?”. Later we thought: “well, it has Mike in it, can we put it on our DVD?”. And he was totally into it, so that is why it came on the DVD. The other short film on the DVD, about Brandon and his gardening accident was also made by Brandan Hearne, he is a really good filmmaker, and a great guy.

It seems like the role of your DJ seems to decrease every album...
It may seem that way, but actually you hear a lot more of him. A lot of what you are hearing is him. On the first albums, it was more scratching and cutting. But now, like 95% of the sound effects on the record, the things that are not obvious guitar, bass, drums, or vocals, all the weird things and sounds are his work. Now it is more the soundscape stuff, you hear all the different noises, any sound that is not guitar, bass, drums, or vocal, that is Chris, and that is what he does. He is an excellent DJ as far as cutting, he has a skill on that, but he is also brilliant in sonic treatment. He is actually everywhere on the record, in the beginning of the songs you hear something, that is all something that he made in his studio, and than he presses it up on the vinyl and he manipulates that on the turntable. If you watch him live, you see him putting in all the noises. Some of the tiny noises are put in by the guitar, but most is by Chris, everything that may sound like it is a keyboard, it is not, it are turntables.

Talk Shows On Mute will be the second single of the album, as far as we understood, it will be released tomorrow (24th of May). Why did you choose for this song as a second single?
There is a billion factors involved, but I think that out of the options of where to go next, we think that this song would be a good next step after Megalomaniac. We have attachments to each song, but thought this would be a good next one.

You already shot a video for this song...
Yes, it should been on air for a while I think, I know that MTV Europe is playing it. The lyrics are inspired by a combination of George Orwell’s Animal Farm, and 1984, and kind of how they relate to the current society. Again, Floria Sigismondi did this video. And she gave the song her interpretation, and she created this Orwellian kind of scene. It is in a world of animals, the world is controlled by animals and the humans are the pets. We are doing a performance shot on one of the animals’ talkshows. It is just like a human talk show, just a disgusting way for people to look down at other people that are worse of than them. And in the story, the host turns into a human and that is one of the worst things that could happen in that world: you turning into human. It is a little abstract...

I think we almost have to end this interview, so one final question!
We would like to know something more about the Make Yourself Foundation. I know what you did, sold guitars of Mike, bootlegs, etc.
Yes, at this point in the game, the band is successful and a lot of people know about the band. And a lot of people are interested in what the band is interested in. So you have the options to point some of that interest into the direction of some charities that are close to our hearts in different ways. The plan of the foundation is to raise a million dollars by the end of the year through different kind of things. For a portion, through ticket sales, auctioning off personal items, the bootleg series. There are things that we want to help, and not only we can help them by our time and money, but also by pointing the interest of other people into that direction. And there are a lot of really cool charities. You want to help and you can, all of a sudden you can!

Well, that is really great of you, not only gaining money for yourselves! Do you have other plans?
There are different things, we have a special seating section in some of the shows, at the stage. You can bid on tickets and come hang out with us before the shows. There are a lot of things, any possible way by which we can raise a million dollars by the end of the year! So if we can do that, that would be crazy!

Yes that would be absolutely great! Unfortunately, I think we have to finish now, there is no time left. Thanks for your time, and have a great show tonight!
Thank you too!!

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