Interview: Incubus Guitarist Mike Einziger Talks 'If Not Now, When?"
Five long years after their last album, Light Grenades, alt-rock veterans Incubus are back with their latest album, If Not Now, When?, easily the most mature and most consistent album of the band's almost-20-year career.
Guitar World recently got the chance to catch up with Incubus guitarist Mike Einziger about the new album and the band's evolution from their funk metal beginnings to the textural moods that now dominate their music.
GUITAR WORLD: Listening to this album as compared to the band's previous albums, there seems to be sort of a linear evolution between the band's early days and its current, mature sound.
MIKE EINZIGER: The songs on Fungus Amongus were our first attempts at writing songs without really having done any touring, and even on S.C.I.E.N.C.E. we had only done a tiny bit of touring. I don't know, looking back, having been a band now for 20 years and having toured consistently for 15 or 16 years of that, I don't think we really cut our teeth as a band until we had been on the road for a while. That's sort of how we figured out who we were as musicians, when we weren't just trying to summon our influences.
When you're a touring band and you're out there in the world playing in front of people who don't know you, and you're being compared to other bands, it's definitely different than when you're in kind of a closed environment and writing music for your friends, which is what I think we were doing in our pre-S.C.I.E.N.C.E. days and even up to some of the stuff on S.C.I.E.N.C.E.. So after we toured behind S.C.I.E.N.C.E. for two years, we wrote Make Yourself, which, in a way, I kind of feel is our first real album as a band. We had toured, we had seen the world, and I feel like the was the first album where we really had our own sound instead of just sounding like what we had been listening to.
And that's not to diminish the music we had written previous to that. I know there are a lot of people who love that music -- I love it too, simply because it's part of our band and those are like photographs of us -- but a lot of time has passed since Make Yourself and this new record. You're right that it's been a pretty linear evolution, but I think we've always had a pretty well-defined musical compass we've always followed as a band. I definitely feel like I've followed it as a guitar player and as someone who writes songs; that musical instinct has always been strong.
How would you compare the process of writing Make Yourself to writing the new album?
Every time we make a new record, it's a new chapter. Writing this album in many ways felt like writing Make Yourself. It definitely felt like the end of something and the beginning of something.
Make Yourself seemed not to lean on some of the strengths of our previous music. When we made Make Yourself, I remember specific things, like changing dynamics. When we did the song "The Warmth," there was some debate amongst us in the band about when we went into the chorus of that song, whether or not it would be a heavy section in the song. My overwhelming feeling was that I didn't want to make it into a heavy rock song, I wanted it to sort of maintain a more textural dynamic as opposed to something with big, distorted guitars. It seemed to work well in a different dynamic.
At the time, that was sort of a big decision, to not make that into a heavier song, which would have seemed like a very logical place for that song to go. The decision to do that, though, it felt a certain way, you know? And when we were writing a lot of the music for this new album, there were a lot of decisions like that. There were a lot of directions we could have gone in that we would have headed in in previous times, but there were definitely certain musical decisions, at least on my part, to go away from directions we had gone in previously. I think that kind of philosophy is really what keeps it exciting and interesting.
It would definitely have been much easier for a band that's been around as long as you guys to just pull out the same bag of tricks and make another album.
We're trying to do things that are new for us, that are exciting for us, and that involves going down some paths that are not well trodden. I know this album is different; it's rhythmically different and it's dynamically different. The responses we've gotten so far ... we've played a few shows now where we've played new material and done some interviews, and people's responses to it have been really positive.
But I know there are people who have been listening to the band for a long time who might not want to come along on this ride with us.
It's been five years since your last album, Light Grenades. In that time, you guys released a greatest hits album and toured behind that. It seems like you would have had a lot of time to think about what comes next for the band. In that way, would you liken the mindset of Make Yourself with that of the new album?
Yeah. I wouldn't say they were the same thing but that they kind of occupy similar spaces in determining where we were going to go from there. Being a new band and not having toured and seen the world ... writing the album S.C.I.E.N.C.E. and then going through that experience and being like, "OK, now we're wordly, we've gone all over the world and we've played these songs into the ground. Now we're armed with a lot more knowledge and we don't want to sound like Mr. Bungle and the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Primus anymore, we want to do our own thing." It just became obvious to us that we wanted something more.
For me, going and spending time outside of the band was important after we had been a band for almost 17 years up until the point where I wanted to go to school. It just seemed like a necessary thing to experience a different life for a little while in order to move forward. If we would have completed the Light Grenades tour and then gone back into the studio, I think we would have been in danger of feeling like we were just making another record. I think we were all thankful for having a little bit of time in between records to see where we all were in our lives.
I'm 35 now, and when we started writing music for S.C.I.E.N.C.E. I was 19 or 20 years old, and there's just a lot of time that's passed there.
The process for writing songs for If Not Now, When? was different than it ever had been, and that's what we were looking for.