Penthouse Retrospective

by David John Farinella Originally Published: December, 2001

Incubus

Legend says it's an evil spirit of the night, but today this former high school garage band is converting thousands of enthusiastic fans to its unique musical experi­ence - whatever they call it.

Can You Define Incubus

Incubus PerformingPhotographs by Brian Smith

Incubus singer Brandon Boyd takes a quick survey of his New York City hotel room.

“There’s three people in my room right now on phones,” he says with a hint of a laugh. “It looks like we’re all young stock brokers.” Though it’s unlikely that the other folks in his room are shorting tech stocks, Boyd and his bandmates are frenetically busy. The Southern California-based band-which includes Boyd, guitarist Mike Einziger, bassist Dirk Lance (who until recently went by his original name, Alex Katunich), drummer Jose Pasillas, and deejay Chris Kilmore rocketed from near underground status to rock-star elite when three songs from their 1999 offering, Make Yourself, shot to the top of the charts.

But this is not a Johnny-come-lately story of music-business success. There is no artifice to the Incubus story. No gimmicks, no makeup, not even a bevy of backup dancers in belly-baring T-shirts. Ten years ago, while the members were still in high school, the first Incubus seeds were sown. All but Kilmore grew up surfing, hiking, and playing music together in Calabasas, California, just north of Malibu. “It’s a really cool place,” Einziger says of their hometown, “but there’s not a lot to do. It takes you 45 minutes to get into Hollywood, and when you don’t have a car, you’re kind of stuck out there. So the only thing to do is sit around and play music or go to the beach.

That’s how we started our band, sort of out of boredom.”

At first it was Einziger and Pasillas, though Pasillas couldn’t really be called a drummer. “My stepfather had a drum set that we stole out of the house and took over to Jose’s house while his parents were out of town one weekend,” Einziger says. “We played all weekend.” Then Lance came into the equation, with Boyd next. “He was a good friend of mine,” Einziger says of Boyd. “[He] kind of decided he wanted to sing. He was an artistic, talented guy, and all the chicks thought he was hot and wanted to fuck him, so it was perfect.”

Asked if Boyd possesses that rock-star sex appeal, Einziger counters, “He is the least rock star of any person I know. He thinks he can’t get girls; it’s hilarious. I’m just like, ’Man, what’s wrong with you?’ “

When the guys were asked to play at a party, they looked for a name and happened upon a definition of incubus, an evil spirit. As Boyd has said, “We were like, cool!”

The year was 1991, and the fledgling band wanted to get some music down on tape. What the guys came up with-a blend of the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Primus-became their first independent release, Fungus Amongus. Boyd laughs when asked about that collection. “In my opinion, it’s like a joke we played on ourselves,” he says. “We released our first recordings so they could always haunt us and remind us to never do that again. In our defense, we were still in high school. It could have been worse-not much, but it could have been worse.”

The record companies kept their distance, but the band started to play a handful of shows, which adrenalized them. Boyd and Pasillas, both artists, drew fliers in the style of Rick Griffin and Stanley Mouse, and distributed them to every high school within 30 miles. “We were basically the entertainment for our neighborhood [during] our high school years,” Boyd says. “The first couple of shows were real rough. The first one I was totally hoarse, I couldn’t sing a note. People were making fun of us. Jose ran around his drum kit and knocked everything over. It was just like you’d expect.”

Unlike most bands, Incubus hasn't gone through personnel challenges in their history. In fact, the members have grown up together both musically and as people. Tapping into their own experiences makes the lyrical content relevant to fans old and new.