Incubus' Mike Eizinger: 'It's Safe to Say We've Outlasted Rap-Rock'
Incubus have sold more than five million albums in their career, but like many multi-platinum acts who see mainstream success, critical acclaim eluded them, even during their commercial heyday. The fact that the Calabasas five-piece broke out during the rap-rock craze of the turn of the millennium -- 1999’s “Pardon Me” was the first of three radio hits that the band would chart -- didn’t do them any favors either.
But more than a decade later, and five years since their last album, 2006’s Light Grenades, went gold, they’re employing a new strategy in rolling out If Not Now, When?, which was released last Tuesday and is on target to sell over 80,000 copies in its first week (good enough for the No. 2 spot on the Billboard 200 chart). Singer Brandon Boyd and crew set up shop at a converted L.A. art gallery -- dubbed Incubus HQ -- and played a week’s worth of shows for roughly 150 fans a night, though hundreds more often lined up hoping to get in.
Following one of those momentous performances, Incubus guitarist Mike Einziger talked to The Hollywood Reporter about the new ways they’re connecting with fans, how the band has grown in the last five years and his study group with the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Flea.
The Hollywood Reporter: What was the impetus for Incubus HQ?
Mike Einziger: For better or worse, we’ve been ignored by the press, generally speaking. We’re not being talked about, we’ve never been a cool band, the only time you ever see anything about us on Pitchfork is if they’re trashing us in some way. But nonetheless, we’ve amassed a sizable fan base. Previously, when we had an album coming out, we would go on these trips where Brandon and I would fly all over the world and talk to journalists. But what we really needed was a direct way to just communicate with our fans. So five years later, since the last time we’ve put a new record out, now we’ve got all these internet tools that were just not available [back then] and we figured, instead of going out and just hoping that people from the press would want to talk to us, it would be more productive to set up shop on our terms and create some musical events of our own design rather than show up and be part of somebody else’s plan.
THR: The access fans expect has changed so much. How much does a setup like this play into giving fans today what they’ve become accustomed to?
Einziger: It’s a different age now. People grow up with Facebook and Twitter and fans expect so much more than they did when we were kids. But it’s all just part of a changing world and we will do things that give us direct interaction with our fans up until a point. We’re not gonna be doing reality TV, we’re just trying to have an interaction and maintain a dialogue with the people who care about the music we make. Also, it creates this really great sense of community amongst the fans.
THR: You’re not looked upon as part of a scene...
Einziger: Never have been.
THR: But you did come up during the time of rap-rock bands.
Einziger: We got lumped in with all those bands because at that period of time, it just so happened that’s who we played with. Those were the bands that were on tour offering us gigs and we went where we had to go to get in front of an audience. And it worked. Regardless of whose audience we played to, we were just happy to be there playing music. But I think it’s pretty safe to say that we’ve outlasted that musical movement. We’ve seen so many different trends come and go since the late 90s. That ended 11 years ago, but we’re still here making records and selling out massive concerts and all that kind of stuff. So I have to think we’ve been doing something right over the years.
THR: Who are your peers?
Einziger: I would say a lot of the bands that we came up touring with, like System Of A Down, the Foo Fighters, those are great guys and good friends of ours. Even say somebody like the Red Hot Chili Peppers, again, good friends...
THR: Are these relationships based on camaraderie or musicality?
Einziger: I’d say both. We’ve all seen each other play over the years and given each other support. A lot of my heroes who I grew up listening to have since become peers, which is kind of funny. It’s bizarre and surreal. Like Tom Morello -- he’s just an insane guitar player who blew my mind then and still does now. I grew up listening to Rage Against The Machine and he’s one of my buddies. I watched them play on stages when I was 15 years old and never in a million years did I think that I would be sitting on a plane with those guys next to me all going to play a massive festival somewhere in Europe, but that’s a true story.
THR: Brandon has said that the new material is more grown-up. How did you guys approach your evolution as a band?
Einziger: Five years of growth and development changes anybody. Brandon was talking about his experiences, health issues, challenges he faced over the last couple of years. I went off to [Harvard music] school, I was studying and that was a really profound experience for me, to be in the classroom. I learned more about music in such a short period of time probably than my whole musical existence before that as far as the history of music, the mechanics, how it works. I approached it in ways I had never even thought of before, so I feel like my reaction to a lot of those ideas was a desire for simple structure. And as I was discussing those ideas with Brandon, he was really inspired by them as well. We turned out to be very much on the same page and it was really exciting. It had been such a long time since we wrote songs together and all of it came together so well.
THR: Flea recently mentioned a similar epiphany, having studied at USC. Did you guys compare notes at any point?
Einziger: Well, it might sound like I’m patting myself on the back, but I kind of inspired him to go back to school. We were talking about doing it together at one point. We both enrolled at USC and it was like a little musical mission we were going to take together. Then I ended up going off to Harvard, which kind of threw a wrench in that. But we compared notes, we talked a lot about the things we were studying and it was great to share that experience. We jammed together; he’d show me piano pieces he was learning how to play. A lot of times we’d be learning the same pieces because when you have a classical music education, the curriculum can be very similar. I actually gave him a little piano he has at his house and I think he wrote a lot of stuff for their new album on that piano (laughs). I miss that thing.
THR: Any chance of a one-off experimental album from the two of you?
Einziger: As of now, we don’t have any plans for anything like that, but I guess you never know. Jason Schwartzman and I made a record a few years ago called Nighttiming that was completely unplanned and totally came out of the sky. There was no intention of it being commercially successful or anything like that; it was just fun and purely out of our friendship. The album turned out great.