Interview: Incubus

Interview: Incubus

Based out of Calabasas, CA is alt. rock band Incubus who will be returning to southern, CA when they perform at San Diego, CA’s KAABOO Festival on the Del Mar Fairgrounds, Friday, Sept 14th alongside marquee names in Foo Fighters, Post Malone, Blondie, Halsey and Gucci Mane.

Before Incubus was a marquee name themselves, they formed while attending Calabasas High School as sophomores in the fall of 1991. The original line-up consisted of vocalist Brandon Boyd, lead guitarist Mike Einziger, drummer José Pasillas, bassist Alex Katunich, and DJ Lyfe. Katunich & Lyfe would later be replaced by current bassist Ben Kenney and DJ Kilmore, respectively. They released their debut album, Fungus Amungus in 1995 and have since added 8 studio albums, an EP, a greatest hits record, while selling more than 23million albums world-wide.

I was able to catch up with Incubus founder & drummer José Pasillas who shares a visual of the group in the 90’s when opening up for hair bands as well as a little known group named Sublime! While touching on new music, much of our 25-minute-call was a fluid discussion from the early days of Incubus to the idea of putting out a dub remix to one of their albums. Below is a condensed transcription of our discussion. Enjoy!

Interview: José Pasillas of Incubus

The Pier: I was just checking out your website, You make some terrific art and designer apparel. I understand you were a full-time art student, is that right?
José: Yeah, I sort of been painting and drawing my whole life. It’s been pretty consistent in my life. Over the last couple of years I’ve been doing some apparel, which is something I’ve always wanted to do. Nowadays, its so easy to do online and there are so many fulfillment companies that take care of everything for you, so its been a fun hobby for me. It’s been cool, man. But thank you, I appreciate that!

The Pier: Have you ever designed cover art or artwork for Incubus?Incubus_ACrowLeftOfTheMurder
José: A Crow Left of the Murder… is a combination of photography and artwork. So the bottom is the photo of the band, obviously, and then the top I drew these ornate flowers and it was actually Brandon & I that collaborated on that. So I kind of drew the outline and the basics of the design and Brandon came in and detailed it all. But we do design stuff for merchandise that we sell online and on tour, so its good. I want to decorate everything that I see, albums included. We have four other people in the band and everyone has their own opinion, so its always difficult to sort of agree on stuff. A lot of times its easier to have a third party come up with a whole bunch of different things and we can pick and choose what we like. It makes the process a little smoother. But both Brandon & I will contribute our work anyway we can with our band.

The Pier: I also noticed you took a liking to cycling? How long has that been a passion? Do you have spots you map out ahead of shows while on tour?
José: I been cycling for 7 or 8 years and only just the last couple years have I been bringing my road-bike on tour. Whatever city I’m in, I have a bunch of different apps with trail maps, and road maps that just show the nearest bike lanes and trails in the area. Its been really cool because I been to a lot of these cities for well over 20 years and most of the time we just stay in our dressing room or on the bus. So it’s been really cool to just go out, get some exercise and see whats around. And without fail, I always find incredible trails, lakes, mountain passes, I mean it never ceases to amaze me what I’ve been missing in these cities for so long.

The Pier: That has to be an exhilarating experience! I read that you started playing drums in 1990 and a year later, you formed Incubus with Brandon Boyd. How do you go from being self-taught on the drums to forming one of the most revered rock bands in the world? What do you remember about those early days of forming the band?
José: I started jamming with (lead guitarist) Mike Einziger the summer before 10th grade, so we were 15 at the time. I started playing drums right around then. Actually, Mike brought over his step-dads old drum kit he wasn’t using. I never really had a kit of my own, but I sort of messed around with friends’ kits. Drums were always on my mind, so I was always listening to music, deciphering what drums were what, playing beats in my head and sort of air drumming. So when I finally had a kit, I could actually play. The beginning of that school year, 10th grade, like in the fall of ’91, Brandon joined the band. Me, Mike & Alex had been playing that summer. So once Brandon joined, that was sort of the beginning of the band and when we first started writing our own music. Because up until that point, when me, Mike & Alex were playing, we were just playing covers, messing around and having fun. We were kind of all beginning around the same time too, obviously. So many years have gone by and we all kind of grew at the same pace. It was a really cool growing process for all of us and it still goes on today.

The Pier: How difficult was it getting shows back in the early 90’s? The music industry was obviously a different hustle with no internet or social media used to promote shows. What did Incubus do to get this machine off the ground?
José: Initially, we were just playing parties. Between the four of us, we had a lot of friends in school. We played a lot of backyard parties, played a bunch of garages, a couple of bar mitzvah’s. A friend of ours worked at Kinkos, so we would go press a thousand flyers and we’d go out to the local schools and just put them on cars and promote it that way. We did that when we first started playing club shows in ’93 or ’94. It was all self-promotion back then. Obviously, we didn’t have the wonders of the internet at that time, it was just us hustling. We would actually go to concerts nearby, too, when people would come out and we’d pass out flyers.

The Pier: Coming up at that time, I imagine you guys were a unique talent that was recognized right away. And in looking at the musical landscape of the early 90’s, you guys had a style that was adaptable to most genres without being most genres–Was it seen that way back then by promoters?Incubus-SHOT_08_071_KZ-RD1-(1)
José: Because we were sort of experimental and not really fitting in anywhere, we didn’t fit in with any concerts that we did. We would play the LA circuit which was The Roxy, The Whiskey, The Troubadour for many years and we were playing with hair bands at that time. It was funny because at that time it was “Pay To Play.” So when we first started playing, we would have to go buy like 200 tickets. We would go on at about 8 O’clock, one of the first bands to go on, and we would have sold all of the tickets because we knew everybody in school. We would have a packed club, like at The Whiskey, you know? It was funny because we would be sharing the dressing room with the other hair-bands playing after us, that were headlining, and they were like: “Dude, the place is packed! It’s insane, it’s going to be a great night!” So then we’d finish playing and all of our friends would flood out of the place and there would be like 10 people left. [Haha] That happened a couple of times, and by that point, the promoters knew that we were good for tickets. We probably had to Pay To Play two or three times and that was it.

We’d go from playing like Ozzfest, to Warped Tour, to all of these other festivals in Europe where we never fit in. We were always good with sort of adapting. We played a combination of funk that we loved and heavier music, alternative music, so we managed to fit in no matter where we were, even though we didn’t fit in at all. We just made it work.

The Pier: That’s fantastic! You know one band that you guys opened up for in the early 90’s was Sublime. What do you recall about first discovering Sublime and performing with them?
José: I remember finding out about Sublime, like maybe, 1990? A friend of mine had a cousin who lived in San Diego and he had a demo of a lot of the 40oz to Freedom songs. I remember listening to it incessantly and loving it! I didn’t hear anything like that before. It was a combination of so many different genres and Brad was such an insane guitar player and singer. I fell in love with it! That was one of my favorite bands growing up, and still to this day; I love those records!

As we were starting to play more and more, Goldenvoice, which was a local promoter here in LA, our guitarist Mikey worked for Rick Devoe. Rick was a friend of ours, who actually manages Blink-182. Rick was working at Goldenvoice and he would tell Mike: “Go to this show, and paper it, promote this other show and I’ll throw you on a random show here and there.” So Rick threw us on a 311 show, a Primus show, and eventually, down the line, Sublime came up. We played two shows with Sublime in 1995. We played one in San Diego and then we played one with them here in LA at a place called The Palace. The first show we played with them, they partied, so [haha] the show was not very tight. They were probably 3 hours late. It was funny, because before those shows we played with them, I would go to Santa Barbara to see them when I was in high school and it was awesome. They’d play these stingy little clubs, show up 2 hours late and it didn’t matter, we’d have the best time. So sure enough, a few years later when we hooked up with them in San Diego, it was the same thing; they were drunk, sloppy, but it was still awesome. And then we played with them here in LA, like maybe a week later and it was the tightest show I had ever seen. They played incredible and they were so tight. I don’t know what the change was, but it didn’t really matter to me, I was just a fan anyway.

That was just one of those experiences where it was a check mark off the page. We got to play with Sublime, just like when we got to play with Primus at the Santa Barbara Bowl, we got to check that one off. When we got to play with 311, you know, it was like we had so many cool experiences of our first shows with some of the bands we look up to. It’s been such a cool experience! For me, its also a nostalgic thing because Sublime was one of the first bands that was kind of doing something different. Like 311 is another band! Right around that same time, they were doing something totally different. They were sort of mixing and matching different genres and doing it seamlessly.

The Pier: Totally and that’s what I love about you guys is how dynamic your sound is. I first saw Incubus perform live on Dec 26th, 1999 in San Diego. You had opened up for Red Hot Chili Peppers & 311. As you alluded to earlier, you guys may not be a hair-band or even a reggae-rock band whatsoever, but Incubus can adapt on a bill with a Sublime, Red Hot Chili Peppers & 311 and fit in seamlessly.
José: Yeah, I mean there’s so many bands we’ve had the fortunate of playing with, it’s pretty cool.

Watch: Incubus – “Wish You Were Here”

The Pier: As adults you guys have lives & responsibilities that weren’t there as kids. How would you say it’s changed from the early 90’s to modern day with writing new material?
José: The writing process is fairly the same and a concentrated effort at home. It usually starts out with a few ideas. Mike & Brandon usually get together and work out very simple melodies or like a chord progression. Once they get something that works really well, and get maybe like a handful of those, we just get together as a band, throw it in the melting pot and everyone does their thing. So its very much a collective as far as putting the songs together. We have such an electricity when we get together. The chemistry together is just undeniable. As soon as we’re sitting down with our instruments, we just start jamming. Getting a good song out of that is the hardest part of that, but it’s like we’re always on. We’re always really excited to write music. That process is kind of the same, but it takes longer than it has just because we have 8 records deep and over a 100 songs probably! [haha] Trying to reinvent ourselves is always the challenge, but its a great challenge we’re willing to take.

The Pier: You guys released 8 in 2017 and prior to that, it had been 6 years since your last full length album. Do you anticipate going that long before releasing another record?
José: No, I don’t think so. We’re sort of in the process of figuring out what we want to do. Writing the music is definitely going to be in the near future. What we put out, or how we put it out, has yet to be determined, but we will be doing some new music soon.

The Pier: Last question before I let you go — I was reading how DJ Kilmore was a fan of producer Michael Goldwasser. As you may know, Michael G. produced Easy Star All-Stars Dubside of the Moon, which is an amazing reggae-dub version of Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon. That got us talking here at The Pier about how it would be cool to hear a dub version of an Incubus record. Do any Incubus albums come to mind that you think would adapt well in a dub setting?
José: I would love to hear, either the newest effort we did with 8, or something like Morning View. You know what, its funny, I think our records are very musical and there’s so much stuff going on, I think you can take any one of those records and just have fun with it. A Crow Left of the Murder… would be another great one, but who knows? It’s really what inspires somebody to take something and do something else with it.

The Pier: Absolutely! Well thank you so much for your time, José! We appreciate you answering all of these questions and we look forward to catching you with the rest of the band in San Diego when you guys play KAABOO Festival, Sept. 14th, 2018.


Watch: Incubus – “Pardom Me”

Related Links:
Incubus Website
Kaaboo Del Mar Festival Website
Exclusive Sublime Blog

Interview By: Mike Patti
Photos By: Brantley Gutierrez

Watch: Incubus – “Loneliest”