Incubus - Biography
By David Downs
Modern heavy rock quintet Incubus won an alt-metal war of attrition in the '90s to become among the last bands standing in the ruins of the era of rap-rock and nu-metal fads. Growers, not showers – the band finally got a Billboard number one with their last record in 2006.The band formed from high school friends in the bucolic California suburb of Calabasas in 1995 to self-produce and release Fungus Amongus (1995) before signing to a division of Sony. Their third album Make Yourself (1999-Sony) with singles “Stellar,” “Drive” and “Pardon Me” signified the beginning of their separation from the post-Korn herd. Morning View (2001-Sony) with “Nice to Know You,” and “Wish You Were Here” did even better commercially, followed by A Crow Left of the Murder...(2004-Immortal) and notable tracks “Megalomaniac,” “Crow Left of the Murder,” and “Zee Deveel.” After a short break, Light Grenades (2006-Sony) featuring “Dig,” and “Diamonds and Coal” became their fifth album to chart, coming in at personal-high number one on the Billboard 200. Fifteen of the band's singles have charted, yet they have never won or been nominated for a Grammy. The band intends to release a greatest hits record in 2009.
Lead vocalist Brandon Boyd was born in Van Nuys, California, to parents Dolly and Charles, who had experience in entertainment. He first met drummer Jose Pasillas in elementary school in the '80s. Pasillas taught himself to play drums in 1990 and covered bands like Metallica and Megadeth with friends guitarist Mike Einziger (born in Los Angeles in 1976) and bassist Dirk Lance. Brandon then joined the group and they began writing their own compositions. Bonding over girls, skateboarding, and surfing the group wrote early songs and became a popular show in the neighborhood. When they played their first show at the Roxy, Boyd wanted to call the band "Spiral Staircase," but Einziger vetoed the singer's suggestion in favor of “Incubus” – randomly chosen from the dictionary.
With a funk-metal sound heavily influenced by the Red Hot Chili Peppers, the group also dabbled in thrash, rap-metal, grunge rock. Playing all-ages shows around Southern California on a regular basis, Incubus added Hip Hop DJ Lyfe (aka Gavin Koppel) to their lineup and recorded and independently released their debut album Fungus Amongus (1995-Stopuglynailfungus Music On Chillum). It's rather unremarkable Fishbone and Primus homages were later re-released under Epic/Immortal in 2000.
Playing show after show built the band a strong local following, and they landed a deal with Epic subsidiary Immortal. The six-song "Enjoy Incubus" EP came out in 1997 on Immortal followed by S.C.I.E.N.C.E. (1997-Epic). Produced in six weeks, the band let their influences run wild, but were drowned out commercially by the Limp Bikzits of the era, selling roughly 100,000 copies. Incubus toured like madmen though, opening for Korn, Primus, 311, Sublime, and Unwritten Law. By 1998, they made the Ozzfest tour and Korn's inaugural Family Values tour. Also in 1998, DJ Lyfe was replaced by DJ Kilmore who was raised outside of Pittsburgh, PA. by an adoptive family. Kilmore moved to L.A. for music and joined DJ battle crew, the Jedi Knights, before auditioning with the band.
Incubus began work on their third album with producer Jim Wirt, aborting the sessions to work with R.E.M./Nirvana producer Scott Litt. Higher quality production, a more mellow tone and developed lyrics made Make Yourself (1999-Sony) a hit. "Drive" and "Stellar" topped the modern rock charts and helped the album break the top 50 of the Billboard 200, and the album went on to double-platinum sales. In 2000, six song EP titled “When Incubus Attacks (Vol. 1)” included an acoustic version of "Pardon Me" that sold nearly 40,000 copies in its first week, and scored a number three spot on the Billboard Modern Rock charts. The album became a number two Top Internet Albums hit. More heavy touring commenced.
Producer Scott Lit returned for fourth album Morning View (2001-Sony), recording in a beachside mansion in Malibu, California for about sixteen weeks. The album entered the Billboard 200 at number two. "Wish You Were Here," "Nice to Know You," and "Warning" dominated modern rock radio and earned them millions more fans. The band toured with idols Primus and Buckethead.
In early 2003, the band sued its label Sony for more money and Sony sued back. The band also kicked out bassist Dirk Lance, bringing in Time Lapse Consortium member Ben Kenney. The New Jersey native Kenney was born on March 12, 1977 and had played with The Roots as well as studio work for Justin Timberlake, Faith Hill, Blackalicious, and Kate Earl. The group settled with Sony and set about recording their fifth album.
A Crow Left of the Murder...(2004-Epic/Immortal) featured a switch from Scott Litt to producer Brendan O'Brien, a Pearl Jam team veteran. Incubus cleaned up their sound and became more politically aware for an alt-metal act. Second single "Talk Shows on Mute," featured a video inspired by George Orwell's Animal Farm. The band showed a new maturity on "Zee Deveel," and Michael Einzinger's guitar work began to show real luminance. The album hit number two on the Billboard Top 200 with single “Megalomaniac” hitting number one on the modern rock chart. Again the band toured relentlessly before taking the next two years off to recharge.
In 2006, the band readied Light Grenades (2006-Sony) recorded over a year's time in both L.A. and Atlanta. Super producer Brendan O'Brien, advised more time crafting, and sculpting the songs and “Dig” took the most work, while band says while “A Kiss to Send Us Off” channels the band at its most primal. “Anna-Molly” balances sophistication with rock and the album debuted at number one on the Billboard 200 with “Anna-Molly” becoming yet another Modern Rock number one and “Dig” hitting number four. Einziger had been suffering from carpal tunnel syndrome and took a break, but in February and March 2008, Incubus toured New Zealand, Australia and Asia, Costa Rica, Venezuela, Europe.
In June 2008, Boyd told Billboard.com Incubus would break from touring and recording for other duties. Boyd studied art, while guitarist Mike Einziger went to Harvard music school to study composition. Drummer José Pasillas had a baby. In December 2008, the band announced it intends to release a greatest hits album, titled Monuments and Melodies- released in 2009.. The band also has four live albums Live at Lollapalooza 2003 (2003-Sony), Live in Japan 2004 (2004-Sony), Live in Sweden 2004 (2004-Sony), Live in Malaysia 2004 (2004-Sony) and four DVDs: When Incubus Attacks Volume 2 (2001), Morning View Sessions (2002), Alive at Red Rocks (2004), and Look Alive (2007). In 2011 the band released their latest, If Not Now, When?
Lead singer Boyd has stated that Incubus is not a good band, but they are really good at being bad. Part of the sentiment is no doubt false self-deprecation, but it's also partially true. The band digested and regurgitated its funk, metal, and rock influences without pretense, demonstrating a consistency, constancy, and steadfastness lacking in many of their peers. They never got strung out on drugs, grew solo ambitions, or went to jail. They turned in solid music to their label. That fortitude never netted them critical acceptance, but their catalog, chart numbers, and hundreds of thousands- if not millions- of fans, seem like adequate compensation.