Interview: Incubus Guitarist Mike Einziger Talks 'If Not Now, When?"
Did the songwriting process for the new album change dramatically for this album or was it more a matter of mood?
I wouldn't say it's changed that much. It's always been sort of a stream-of-consciousness thing; the music is always just falling out of us, shomehow. Whenever we go to write music, we never really plan how it's going to come out. We don't sit down and conceptualize what kind of album we want to make or what kind of songs we'd like to write. I don't sit down and say, "OK, I want to write a ballad-type song." They just sort of happen. I just start playing and some little thing will have to grab my attention. If it excites me, then chances are it's going to excite Brandon.
When Brandon writes lyrics and melodies, it's really a reactionary process to something I've given him. I'll send him musical ideas I'm working on, and the ones he finds exciting he'll write a response to; it's almost like a conversation that goes on between us. It usually goes through a round or two between us before it even gets to any of the other guys. Once that dialog, that little conversation, between he and I gets started, we know there's some sort of a pathway to a full song; there's some process that we know will be explored before we decide if a song will be a full band arrangement or something more stripped down. We experiment with a lot of different things before we get to the point where we decide what the song will be.
That's really a fun part of it, just figuring out what the song is going to be. There have been many times where I've felt like we've had a song idea, where we've had a chord progression and a melody and it seems really compelling, and the songs have ended up completely different. And that, to me, is probably the most exciting part. It feels like whenever we finish a song that we went someplace.
What's cool about this record is that you can kind of hear those moments on some songs, where the listener is kind of held in suspense as to where the song is going to go. "Switchblade" is a really good example of that, where you don't know if the song is going to end up being heavy or more mellow when you first get into it.
That was a really interesting song for us because we built it from the ground up in a manner that was very atypical of how we do things. "Switchblade" started with that drum beat that I had written and then looped. I had written the drum part, the bass line and the guitar melody, and that was it for that song. I gave it to Brandon and he didn't really know what to do with it, but he liked it.
So when we went into the studio and that was all we had -- a drum beat, a bass line and this little guitar melody -- and we just built it from the ground up. The song wasn't performed live in the studio. We each record our parts separately and built it almost the way you would build a hip-hop track, just building layers and textures. It was a different song for us and also kind of a challenge to put that song on this album because it doesn't really fit into the other songs all that well, but we all liked it so we tried to find some place where it would fit in on the album. That's just part of the challenge of being a band that writes songs that vary greatly from song to song. I would say this is the most focused album we've ever made, though. Maybe with the exception of the song "Switchblade." [laughs]
One of the most distinctive things about the sound of Incubus are the guitar tones that you get. Talk a little about the gear you used on this record. Are you still playing [Fender] Jazzmasters primarily?
I used a pretty small number of guitars on this record. Mainly, for the latter part of it, anyway, I used a Telecaster. And it was just a cheap Squier Telecaster.
We were working on something and had some down time, and we were right next to a Guitar Center. I can probably count the number of times I've been into a Guitar Center on one hand in the last 10 years, and I just decided to walk in because I hadn't been in one in some time. I saw this Telecaster sitting there and it just felt awesome, so I bought it then and there and ended up using it for most of the record. I even went back and re-recorded guitar tracks with it.
I did use my Jazzmaster. I have a white '55 Jazzmaster, which is the same guitar I used on A Crow Left of the Murder and Light Grenades as well. That and the Telecaster were the main guitars on the record.
I used some other guitars as well: a short-scale, hollow-body Gibson that I want to say is from the '50s. I should probably know a lot more about it. [laughs] It's a small jazz guitar and I used it for a lot of the textural stuff because it's got a really cool, dark tone.
For acoustics, I used a Martin and a 1930s Gibson acoustic that I used on "Company of Wolves."
As far as amps and stuff, I used this amp called a Top Hat a lot, it was one of [producer] Brendan O'Brien's amps. I used a lot of smaller guitar amps on this album. I've got a Fender Twin Reverb that I used a lot. I record most of the guitars, actually almost all of the guitars, at my house. I have a little recording studio at home that I love to use. I've got a bathroom that's got a really cool echo if I open the doors the right way and put the mics in the right place. It's very noticeable in the song "Tomorrow's Food." That's where you can really hear the bathroom guitar reverb. [laughs] I did this stereo-micing thing where I put one microphone very close and another really far away, maybe 30 feet down the hall with all these doors open, and that's what that was.
Did you use a lot of other effects on the album?
Yeah, my pedal board has definitely not diminished in the years. It's only grown, actually. [laughs]
During this record I started using the Holy Grail reverb pedal, which is like a spring reverb. I have this pedal called a Reel Echo that I've used a lot in the past. It's great for adding these cool textures. I use it a lot in conjunction with a Cry Baby wah. You can set the echo pedal to infinite and you can use it almost like a tone generator. When you run that through the wah, it's amazing what sounds you can come up with, so I use it a lot to create these "beds" of sound. There's a lot of that on "Tomorrow's Food" and on the bridge section to "Adolescents" as well. You can hear an Electro-Harmonix 16-second delay on the second half of "Tomorrow's Food" as well. I also started using this pedal called the Micro POG which you can hear in the bridge of the song "Promises."
The new album from Incubus, If Not Now, When?, is out now on Epic Records.