Suburban boredom has been a dynamic force in American culture. It's led to a variety of curious phenomena, from Britney Spears to glue-sniffing. On the upside it's also produced Incubus. Guitarist Mike Einziger has been playing with bassist Dirk Lance, drummer Jos Pasillas and frontman Brandon Boyd (new turntablist DJ Chris Kilmore replaced DJ Life last year) since they were all high school sophomores in Calabasas, California. Situated about ten miles north of Malibu where the Santa Monica Mountains skirt the southern edge of the San Fernando Valley, Calabasas doesn't offer many diversions other than hiking and surfing for teens without driver's licenses.
Fortunately the future Incubus crew were an inventive lot. One day when the surf was down and Pasilla's parents were out of town for the weekend, Einziger pilfered the drum set his step dad never used and took it to Pasilla's house. He knew a little bit about playing drums and Steven Adler from Guns 'N Roses lived next door to him, Einziger recalls. It'd be like three in the morning and he'd be pounding on his drums and we'd sit there and be like, "Whoa, Stevens playing the drums!" Jos was really inspired by that, so I brought this drum set over to him and he picked it up like that.
Eventually the rest of the line-up fell into place and after a self-released album (1994's Fungus Among Us), Incubus found itself a home at Epic Records. Like kindred spirits Korn, Incubus was well aware of its limited radio appeal and set about putting down roots the hard way -- one gig at a time. It's paid off and over the course of its two-album career with Epic (S.C.I.E.N.C.E. from 1997 and the current Make Yourself) it's built a steady following of fans who resonate with the odd Primus-meets-Phish vibe that Incubus generates.
Guitar.com: You've really broken away from the Korn-Bizkit Kontinuum. Though you share a lot of influences you've really built a distinctive sound.
Mike Einziger: I think a lot of it has to do with the singers. Like Brandon, our singer as opposed to Fred from Limp Bizkit and even Jonathan from Korn. They sound different I stand behind what Brandon does, what his lyrics speak, his philosophies, his point of view. Just the overall vibe of what he does. He can sing any style of music which is why on our newest album we consciously tried to stay away from the whole yelling thing. We really wanted to be able to utilize his voice as an instrument to its potential, which I don't think we had done in the past.
Guitar.com: When you write is it an individual thing or is it collaborative?
Einziger: Very, very collaborative. It's kind of like that game, Telephone, where 20 people sit in a circle and one person starts off with a message and it goes to the next person and she tells it to him and he tells it to her and by the time it gets back around it's completely different than what you started with. That's kind of the way it works. Say I start off with an idea like a guitar line or actually a lot of times I bring in ideas that are fairly complete cause I have a whole recording set up in my house and when I'm writing I prefer to spend a lot of time by myself and I'll come up with whole arrangements with drums and bass lines and even melodies. I'm not a great singer but I can sing a melody. But when I bring an idea to the band I know that it's gonna get ripped apart a million different ways, but that's the beauty of working with other musicians. If I wanted it all to be my way wouldn't have a band. So I'll come in with a basic idea. Everybody'll sit around and listen to it and our bass player will write something completely different and our drummer will do something different and before you know it I like what they did better than what I had on there and then I'll write a different guitar line.
Guitar.com: Do the songs usually go through a lot of changes?
Einziger: Every song is totally different than the next. We have a song called "Drive" on [Make Yourself] where I pretty much wrote the entire thing arrangement- wise and chord- wise. I actually was asked to write some instrumental music for a television show and I write this piece and originally it was like this acoustic guitar with a hip-hop beat thing behind it and strings and they didn't want to use it for anything so I didn't really know what the hell to do with it. So I just gave it to Brandon one day and said, "Here I don't really know if this is an Incubus song." And he came back and wrote lyrics and melodies to it. There were some changes made in the studio, but you know the basic arrangement of the entire song is pretty much as is.
Guitar.com: As a musician you've learned on your own but also studied music pretty intensively -- are they of equal value?
Einziger: I think you'll know how to use that knowledge more to your advantage if you've already got, like, the spiritual aspect of it -- the playing ability and the ear. Once you get those two things down you'll know way more of what to do with the technical aspect of it. But it's hard to learn that stuff because it takes a lot of discipline and its busy work. It's like studying calculus. It's mathematical and it gets complicated once you get to a certain level. Everything multiplies exponentially. I remember I was in this music analysis class where we would analyze pieces of music and it was simple at first but then it started getting more complicated and then all of a sudden it was like, "Whoa! Slow down -- this is crazy."
Guitar.com: Was it compositional theory or --
Einziger: Just general analyses. I would be given a piece of music and be told to account for every single note on the page. Why is this here? Explain what that is. Well that's part of this chord. And that's the minor third of this chord. You'd have to identify what everything was and if there was some little stray note you'd still have to be like, "Yeah that's a passing tone from here to here." So everything had to have a purpose and our teacher was really cool. He'd be like," These are the rules but these aren't concrete musical rules. These are just guide lines." He would give us a melody line and then say, "Okay harmonize this into a series of chords and fill in the bass line as you fill in all the different voices." And everybody would come back with something different and he would encourage us to take chances and experiment with things, which was cool.
Guitar.com: How did that impact you as a player?
Einziger: One part of it I really dug was learning what my style was like. I would find myself more inclined to do certain things than others and I'd be like, "Whoa, I kind of like that figure." I started being able to identify my individual taste and after going through these classes I started listening to music differently. I'd hear things differently than I did before. I remember I went with my mom to see Porgy and Bess and the music was just insane. I remember listening to it going, "Fuck! The music is so incredible!" I was just dumbfounded because I could identify what was actually going on and at that point I was like, "Wow, I learned a lot! I never really realized how much I had learned."
Guitar.com: That knowledge can really alter your perceptions. Once you can identify those complexities you start to listen for them in music.
Einziger: I remember watching interviews with Metallica from early on and I remember them talking about how they liked punk music but it wasn't musical enough for them so I think they kind of thought of themselves as being a punk-type band but with more of a musical background you. Like they took aggressive hard-edged music into a realm of better musicianship.
Guitar.com: Punks with chops.
Einziger: Yeah, kinda. I got into Metallica as a kid because it had all that. I was attracted to that way more than punk rock like DRI and Circle Jerks. Like I thought some of that stuff was cool but I wasn't attracted to it the same way that I was attracted to Metallica. I'd listen to Metallica and go, "Damn. That guitar solo is amazing, or, "that drummer fuckin rules." And with the punk music I would hear I'd be like, "Whoa that just sounds like shit. It sounds like it was recorded in the garage." It's just a different way of thinking. I had a different view to it than perhaps a lot of other kids.
Guitar.com: Since your mom taught music you probably just grew up more attuned to the finer points of playing music.
Einziger: Exactly and the social aspect of it didn't really mean a whole lot to me. I didn't relate to it. I would just listen to it and go, "These guys dont know how to play." I understand NOW that musics much more social. It's based on philosophies and things like that. But it doesn't have all that much to do with just music. It's a completely different thing, and I didn't really feel the need to rebel against anything as a kid cause I was -- happy. I loved music. I used to want to be like Michael Jackson. When I'd hear somebody screaming I'd be like, "Oh is that Cookie Monster?"
Guitar.com: So you have the most music schooling of everyone in the band.
Einziger: Yeah. I definitely have the most technical knowledge as far as theory.
Guitar.com: Where did you study music?
Einziger: After high school I had a short stint at Santa Monica City College where I had really good music professors. I wasn't planning on studying music necessarily. I actually was supposed to move away to school cause I got into the University of Vermont. They have a really good music school there, and I got [accepted to it] and everything and I was totally gonna just submerge myself in music. I was hell-bent on getting a doctorate in music. And then I never did that. I got in the music classes and I got lazy. It was kind of a wake up call for me. I mean, at the same time I loved it, but I also realized that wasnt the path I wanted to pursue.