Five years ago, the members of Incubus were experiencing one of the darkest phases of their career. Both internal and external forces were making the period around the release of If Not Now, When? an especially brutal one as they saw the end of a 17-year long relationship with their former label and wondered what they could possibly do next.
“I can only speak for myself,” guitarist Mike Einziger tells Rolling Stone via phone. “I got to a point where I felt like I didn’t know what else I wanted to accomplish being in a rock band. I kind of just hit a point where I didn’t necessarily feel like I was doing my best work, and it was getting harder and harder to find ways to get five very different personalities to focus all on the same thing at that time.”
Respective personal issues each member was dealing with made life even more chaotic, leading to an unplanned but much needed hiatus before the band jumped back into a studio space offered to them by friend Hans Zimmer to work on new music. What resulted was a rebuilding of their two-decade-plus creative partnership; Trust Fall (Side A), the 2015 EP that got them back on the road together; and now 8, an energized, pristine rock package featuring some of the band’s finest work in years.
“We hadn’t ever gone into the studio without time constraints before,” Einziger reveals of the freedom the quintet enjoyed in recent years. Touring with Deftones and Death From Above 1979 last summer also helped lift their spirits. “It felt like a recharging, and it was a nice reminder to us that our audience is huge and still wants to watch us play.”
For both Einziger and singer Brandon Boyd, close friends and collaborators since they were teenagers, working on outside projects brought them a fresh perspective. Boyd worked on a solo project called Sons of the Sea with producer Brendan O’Brien, released a book and rehearsed for the part of Judas in a touring production of Jesus Christ Superstar that was also set to feature Johnny Rotten, ‘N Sync’s JC Chasez and Destiny’s Child’s Michelle Williams. The 50-show tour was abruptly canceled a week before its premiere due to poor ticket sales, a bit of cosmic luck for Incubus, who were offered the studio space from Zimmer immediately after.
“I was just feeling like I should say yes to more things,” Boyd explains of his mid-hiatus pursuits. “I found myself kind of getting a little bit too precious about decisions I was making and then that I ultimately wasn’t making. I had been dancing with courage and with self-confidence before but it always felt like it was sort of a pensive dance so I decided to make some more resolute decisions. The older I get the more I understand that I’m quite shy for the most part.”
Einziger took a similar left turn prior to 8. Realizing that the only musical project he had worked on outside of Incubus was friend Jason Schwartzman’s musical project Coconut Records, he decided to experiment and collaborate with new artists. He worked on the Amazing Spider-Man 2 score with Zimmer, co-wrote and played guitar on Avicii’s worldwide hit “Wake Me Up” and produced songs on Tyler, the Creator’s Cherry Bomb.
“His energy, his creativity, his brain is really different than working on an Incubus album,” the guitarist says of his time with Tyler. His biggest takeaway from these outside projects was opening himself up to new methods of writing and producing. To further broaden Incubus’ horizons, Einziger brought his good friend Skrillex by the studio to hear what they were working on for 8, leading to the famed producer mixing the shimmering, catchy “Familiar Faces” before taking a crack at mixing and producing every song on the new LP.
“We were able to snag him for two weeks in a rare moment of availability for him and we all met in the studio every day,” Boyd explains of their surprising union. “It was like there was one more lick to get to the center of the Tootsie Pop and we found it.”
Still, with all the excitement and newfound vigor, there’s a somber tone to the album’s lyrics. The band had a house in Venice Beach where they were able to reconnect, but as they rebuilt their relationship, Boyd had to deal with the dissolution of another one.
“I was in a long but graceful unfolding relationship,” Boyd reveals, noting that the eventual breakup followed a romance of 10 years. “There was no betrayal. There was no, like, heart-wrenching ‘Get out of my house!’ kind of thing. We kind of held each other through the experience but carried with it a very broad spectrum of emotions, and I think that a lot of those unconsciously pushed through in the lyric stuff.”
“I think he showed an immense amount of vulnerability and honesty in the lyrics,” Einziger adds. “I’m really happy for that. I think that’s significant.”
As they push forward into the future, the band is also looking back this year. This summer marks 20 years since they released S.C.I.E.N.C.E., their major-label debut and foray into nu metal that led them to bigger stages, where they opened for bands like Korn and 311 before releasing their mainstream breakthrough Make Yourself two years later.
“I still felt like I was a kid completely when we made that album,” Einziger reminisces. “A bunch of those songs were written while we were still in high school. Just being here making music in 2017 still is a privilege. It’s rare.”
For Boyd, it’s hard to wrap his head around the anniversary. “In certain ways, it feels like it was a lifetime ago,” he says. “It feels like we’re just figuring out how to be a band and how to write a song, and we blink and it’s been 20-something years.”