Brandon Boyd is a man of many pretty remarkable talents. Not only is he a founding member of celebrated Californian alt-rockers Incubus, but in the 23 years since their conception he’s gone on to do much, much more. He’s published collections of his visual art in 2003’s White Fluffy Clouds and From The Murks Of The Sultry Abyss in 2007; along with his bandmates in Incubus he founded an international charity in the Make Yourself Foundation and in the last year, he took some time off from his high-profile gig as the frontman of one of the biggest bands on the planet and hit the studio on his own with longtime Incubus producer Brendan O’Brien.
The resulting record Sons Of The Sea is a wonderful journey through the last few decades of pop music as seen through Boyd’s unique and irrepressibly creative prism with O’Brien’s keen musical sensibility as both player and producer. Brandon was kind enough to take the time to have a chat with us about how the record came together, his approach to creativity and his almost unbelievable plans for the rest of 2014.
Angus Fitz-Bugden: How are you Brandon and where does our interview find you?
Brandon Boyd: I am well, thanks. Today I am home in Los Angeles enjoying our beautifully boring weather.
AFB: Congratulations on the release of your latest album Sons of the Sea. How are you feeling now that the record has been released?
BB: I am very proud of this album. It speaks with a lot of clarity to the creative head and heart space I was in during the making of. It was also such a pleasure writing and recording with Brendan O’Brien. We’d been working side by side for over ten years, but never as writing partners, so is was a real trip. The only thing I could wish for at this point would be for more people to listen to the album! Without a major label putting it’s promotional might behind this, it has kind of snuck past a lot of ears that I think would really enjoy it’s adventurousness. I have a feeling that I am singing a common lament of the day amongst independent artists though.
BB: A huge part of my inspiration came from the newness that emerged when I finally gave myself the ok to devote time and energy into something aside from Incubus. I’ve been putting my everything into this band for over twenty years, so at first it was a little scary to have this little “affair” with another musical project. But I am wiser for it and am so grateful to have done so!
AFB: We really enjoyed the “kid-in-a-candy-store” vibe of 2010’s The Wild Trapeze and your work in Incubus. What would you say are the main differences and similarities between those records and the new album Sons of the Sea?
BB: The stark difference is in the musicianship, I would say. I performed about 95% of the instruments on Wild Trapeze and you can sort of tell. Haha. The stripped down nature of that album and hence the absence of deep musicianship brought some things out of me creatively that had been dormant prior to the making of that record. It gave me a wild and swift education of sorts that made me have to be a better singer! I would like to think I took those lessons into the next Incubus album and henceforth into this Sons of the Sea album. But fortunately, with the difference and the benefit of crazy talent like Brendan O’Obrien.
AFB: You worked with famed producer Brendan O’Brien on this new record. Is it a different experience working with ‘Brendan O’Brien the collaborative musical partner’ as opposed to ‘Brendan O’Brien the superstar producer’? Are there any changes you both had to make in order for the collaboration to work?
BB: It was actually a beautifully seamless transition!
AFB: We are huge fans of the anything goes, frontman-and-producer-making-a-record-together type of band. It’s a very streamlined approach that lends itself to creative immediacy usually with great results. Are there any other bands/albums that influenced you guys to make a record this way?
BB: Nothing that comes to mind consciously, but I am sure we were unconsciously referencing lots of artists who came before us. Art never happens on it’s own, it’s always an interpretation of something that came before it.
AFB: What do you think are the three greatest records to ever come out of your native California and what makes them special?
BB: Whoa, big question. I don’t like to make “Top” lists to be honest. It’s a popular thing to do in our media addicted culture, but I shall lovingly pass on this question and perhaps embrace it partially by saying that there have been countless albums made here in California that have changed my life.
AFB: Who made up the live band for the recent west coast Sons of the Sea tour and are there any plans to tour internationally?
BB: I only wish we could tour internationally; it is a matter of public interest in us though. If the kids want it enough, talk about it enough and harp on their local promoters enough, maybe we could make something happen. Nothing would make me happier to tell you the truth.
At the moment the band consists of Milo DeCruz (Ryan Adams, Maroon 5) on the bass, Zac Rae (Ziggy Marley, Gary Clark Jr.) on the keys, Joel Shearer (Michael Bublé) on the guitar and Greg Rogove (Megapuss/Devendra Banhart) on the drums. It’s a bad ass bunch of guys who are markedly different kinds of musicians than my brothers in Incubus. Which is amazing, because it offers a genuine contrast to what we do as a band in Incubus and allows for new horizons to emerge!
AFB: You’ve said in other interviews that you recently started taking vocal lessons. Are they partly responsible for the glorious Broadway overtones we hear on Avalanche and what overall impact have they had on your outlook towards singing?
BB: Thanks for noticing! But in truth I started to take lessons after we finished the album. I thought I had damaged my voice on the last USA tour Incubus did and had my chords checked. They were totally fine, but it startled me a bit to think that my voice was no longer invincible. So I found a dude who has helped many of my peers and he has been showing me some wild stuff! It turns out I have a ton of room to improve and I love that kind of news. The lessons came at a fortuitous time as well, because not six months after starting them, I got offered the role of Judas in ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ which is going to be touring the states and Canada this summer.
AFB: How do music and visual art feed each other in your creative process and has this changed over time?
BB: I like to think of them as the same tree with different branches. All stemming from one source! I have merely opened myself more in the recent past and allowed for more branches to emerge.
AFB: You’ve also stated that writing is something you’re looking to pursue in the future. Other than Emily Dickinson on Untethered, are there any books/authors you were particularly into when making the Sons of the Sea record and if so, what influence did they have on your lyrics?
BB: Once again, too many to note. What a great problem to have.
AFB: Now that Incubus is free of contractual obligation, how do you see yourselves releasing music in the future? Would Make Yourself Records ever be something you guys would consider?
BB: We are actually in the process of figuring that out. It’s a brave new world out there and the minute we think we have a hold on how people are getting music, it slips out from under us like wet soap in hand. Releasing independently would be so much fun and a worthy challenge, but on the flip side, having access to a major label’s resources is pretty great as well. So, I guess the answer is, we’ll see!
AFB: You’re a singer, multi-instrumental musician, artist, surfer, director and you have your own charity. How does it feel to be the James Franco of music?
BB: Does that make James Franco the Brandon Boyd of film?
AFB: Are there any other projects on the 2014 calendar that you can talk to us about?
BB: Jesus Christ Superstar with Jonny Rotten of the Sex Pistols, Michelle Williams from Destiny’s Child and JC from N’SYNC? That’s a motley crew if I ever saw one.
Sons of the Sea’s new self-titled album is out now.