Brandon Boyd has always been a searcher. His journey as a multi-disciplinary artist (and legendry frontman of Incubus) has taken him to all corners of the globe and exposed him to a vast array of people and cultures. Those experiences, which he holds close to his heart, have always served as the fuel for his creative fire. So, not surprisingly, the onset of the global pandemic also managed to leave a mark on his eclectic body of work, no matter the medium. During those dark days, the muse came calling. It wasn’t long before legendary producer John Congleton (Sigur Ros, Phoebe Bridgers, Lana Del Ray) entered the fray. Together, they painstakingly crafted one of Boyd’s most captivating endeavors to date, solo or otherwise, ‘Echoes and Cocoons.’ The album’s initial singles, ‘Pocket Knife,’ ‘Petrichor,’ and “Dime In My Dryer,” are just a taste of the magic they have pulled from the ether. Jason Price of Icon Versus Icon recently caught up with Brandon Boyd for a deep dive into his journey as an artist, the challenges of finding balance, and the creative process behind ‘Echoes and Cocoons.’
Tell us a bit about your childhood and how you got involved with the arts.
I suppose a great place to start, in reference to your question, is the environment I grew up in. That’s usually a good indicator of quite a few things in someone’s trajectory! [laughs] I grew up close to where I live now in the Santa Monica mountains. We are blessed/cursed with terrible cell phone signals today! If you don’t have a WIFI signal, you’re basically out of touch, which can be amazing and terrible depending on the circumstances. When I was a kid in the 80s, that meant no television signal. We had a television, but it was primarily static, and my pop didn’t want to pay for cable. We had a VCR, so my brothers and I would watch movies. However, we spent most of our time outdoors. A lot of our time, once we had been outdoors and watched the movies, we basically got bored! My parents are very creative people and were involved in the arts as young people. I think they really successfully provided an environment conducive to creativity. My mom had all manner of art supplies readily available to us. She also had books on drawing, painting, and lots of different things that became very interesting to my brothers and me from a very young age. Then they even allowed us to start bands in their garage! [laughs] I think that’s where it starts; having parents who were able to tolerate terrible, cacophonous noise coming from the lower levels of their own home! [laughs] I don’t know if I will be able to afford my children the same thing, should I have kids one day! But I’m sure I will. They will definitely be a drum set and anything else they would need to be creative and have fun with it!
No matter the medium, you put your heart and soul out there for the world to see. Was it ever difficult for you to show the world your inner workings, so to speak?
That’s a good question. It’s one thing to be creative and express yourself through your creativity. Still, it’s another thing almost entirely to have the desire to share it. There have been moments, here and there, throughout my life when the idea of sharing something I had been working on seemed terrifying to the degree that it was almost a non-starter. I know so many highly creative people who feel no compulsion to share what they do. In fact, it kind of terrifies them and feels like it would somehow pollute the process, and God bless if that’s how it works. The more significant idea in creating and expressing ourselves, I don’t think, is to monetize or share it. If that’s something that can work or you are interested in doing, that is great! But it’s not a necessity or the reason why one writes songs or paints pictures. Being creative by painting, making songs, and doing many other things allows me to make sense of my life and the world. It’s like a sense-making apparatus for me. There is also an overwhelming compulsion to do so. I feel like I’d be a crazy person if I hadn’t created these places where I can just go nuts daily to let out certain emotions, demons, or joys through these different avenues or mediums. Sharing this stuff, for me, has become an informative part of the process. Having made things for so many years now, I have come to recognize that if I don’t have the sharing aspect as part of the process, they kind of loop in a way. It’s hard to describe. They get into their own little feedback loops, and they feel stuck. It’s as if these are life forms that need air. That’s how it feels to me. Once I feel like the thing is done, as if the painting is finished, so to speak, if I don’t let it out, it will rattle around in its own cage until it drives me nuts! I suppose part of it is a compulsion, and I don’t know if that is good or bad! [laughs]
How difficult has it been for you to find a creative balance between the business side of things and being an artist?
It’s been a real process. I’ve absolutely had to learn how to handle the inevitable business side of being creative, as well as the public-facing side of being creative. There have been times when I wanted to hang up my public-facing hat and just go deeper into the woods and just keep making music and painting pictures just because I love to do it. Maybe I could bury it in a time capsule somewhere! [laughs] Maybe someone will find it at some point! [laughs] Maybe I’ve already done that to a certain degree, but who knows. [laughs] I’ve literally had to learn techniques from teachers on how to remain equanimous amongst the deafening chatter of having a public-facing job. It can be quite dangerous, literally, not only to one’s personal psychology or sense of self/soul but also to be physically dangerous. Having a public-facing job, you are exposing yourself to large swabs of the world, and while most people are pretty grounded, there are some people who are just not. They fixate on you, and they want to come into your house at 4 AM because they heard you on the radio or saw you on TV. There’s definitely a mind-field aspect to having a public-facing job. Some of the ways I have learned to navigate it are through meditation and having some very basic but reliable rituals on a day-to-day basis that I do no matter where I am, if I am traveling or if I’m at home. Those things tend to help. It’s also crucial for me to keep my priorities in check. For me, one of the ways I have been able to stay grounded is by keeping creativity and curiosity as being the highest priorities. If I started to make money, there is nothing wrong with it, but if I made that my number one priority, then I would probably be making very different kinds of music and decisions. With that said, if I did do that, I would have a tough time sleeping at night! [laughs]
Thankfully, you are making some fantastic new music. Tell us how the ball got rolling for “Echoes & Cocoons.”
Like a lot of things that have emerged over the past 22 or 23 months as a result of a swiftly changing landscape that is Planet Earth right now, I was stuck at home! [laughs] I was feeling a deep desire to make music. It always starts with a compulsion. It’s as if there is something pulling you toward something that is hard to describe. What I’ve tried to do over the years is create environments that are conducive to creativity. So, I have a room I can go to when a painting wants to happen. I also have a little room for when music wants to happen. I have everything very plug and play. I just have to turn on a light switch, and I can get to work right away! I had definite compulsions to make music, and I was painting a lot in the early days of lockdown. Through a daily ritual of tea and music sharing with my girlfriend, I stumbled across a handful of records by a guy named John Congleton. I was really impressed by his production and engineering choices. I was like, “Woah, this guy makes really rad records!” I had heard his records before, not knowing that he was involved with them, producing, writing, and stuff like that. On a whim, I just sort of reached out to him and asked him if he would ever want to make music with a guy like me. He and I just started writing together! A handful of months later, we had a whole album’s worth of material that we had written, and that’s essentially what ‘Echoes & Cocoons’ became. It was John Congleton and I remotely sending emails back and forth with song ideas. We were both able to record from our homes. You don’t need a lot these days to record good-sounding records. It’s pretty amazing! I remember the early days of Incubus records when we would record to tape. The tape machine itself takes up half a room! [laughs] Now, all you need is your laptop, and you’re off to the races! That’s essentially how the process started.
What goes into your writing process these days?
There are a handful of different ways that I know how to make music. I’m sure there are countless variations on ways to write a song, and I don’t think there is anyone way that is better. I’m actually quite confident, after talking to enough musicians and artists over the years, that we are all kinda doing some of the same stuff. It’s really just the sum of the muse that comes through as being interpreted a little bit differently, and that’s how you get variation in sound and style. For me, it basically starts with a melody or some type of line or phrase that just sorta drifts into your field. I’ve learned to write those things down or to grab the voice recorder on my phone to hum the melody or speak the line into the phone. It’s hard to explain because it’s something that is kinda of happening in the psychic realm or in the ether. It’s as if these songs already exist somewhere, and they come down in these tiny rain droplets! [laughs] So, you’re basically gathering them in your crude little bucket. Then you take the bucket over to your creative space, where you become a scientist and arrange the pieces together. It’s really, really fun and really challenging. I would highly encourage literally anybody to attempt songwriting. It’s not rocket science, but it’s also not as simple as making toast! [laughs] There is a big spectrum where you can make it almost rocket science, or you can make it just north of a fancy toast breakfast! I encourage people to try it because it is such a wonderful experience, and it can be telling as to what is happening in a deeper psychological, emotional, or spiritual sense in your unconscious because stuff wells up. Once you give it the space to, there is stuff that’s existing inside of us in those spaces that go unexplored that reach up and come through in songs and paintings. I believe that’s one of the reasons I am so drawn to doing those things.
I love how you’ve tied your artwork into the release of the first singles from ‘Echoes & Cocoons.’ Were these pieces created with the songs in mind or did it happen more organically?
I had a body of new paintings that I did that were supposed to make a big splash in 2020! [laughs] I even went as far as to give the body of work a title and hung them all in the beautiful Samuel Lynne Gallery in Dallas, Texas. They have been representing me in Texas for the last four or five years now. They still have quite a few of my pieces in there. It’s a beautiful gallery that shows a lot of great work, from paintings to photography to sculpture and beyond. I had this body of work, and I had titled it “Impossible Knots.” 2020 happened, and the pandemic occurred, but the gallery never fully closed because this is Texas we’re talking about! [laughs] Some people went in and saw it, which I am so thankful for but, for the most part, it got buried under the avalanche of stuff that was the year 2020. I started seeing these images in my studio, and they not only felt like they hadn’t quite found a home yet but there was something about the sentiments and feelings that were coming out of the paintings that matched the songs on this album. They happened very closely together. I finished “Impossible Knots,” and I started working on ‘Echoes & Cocoons’ immediately thereafter. They felt somehow energetically tied together, so I started playing with fonts and stuff on top of them. It seemed like a nice, convenient marriage at the same time!
This is a very unique time period in which you created this album. What did you learn about yourself through the process?
That’s a fantastic question! This period of time, I think it almost goes without saying, but I will say it anyway, has been a revelatory time. Much has been revealed. It’s as if layers of the onion were forcefully peeled away, exposing this more raw but truthful center. We’re still in kind of a scary place as a result of it. I say “we” because I am definitely included in that description. This period of time, it’s not even the last 22 months; it’s really been a slow but growing cultural sentiment/evolution since right around 2011 or 2012. Societally speaking, that’s when it started to feel like something was up! [laughs] It was like, “I can’t really put my finger on it, but something’s going on!” Things really started to ratchet up, and by the time we got to 2016, things began to feel edgy, for lack of a better way to describe it. I think we can all attest to that. By the time the March of 2020 rolled around, it was basically the cherry on top of the weird dysfunctional cupcake that we had been making together. So, what has been revealed through the album writing process? I suppose I am still in the process of figuring that out specifically. That’s also one of the interesting things about making music and being creative as a way of life; you are constantly learning about new areas of yourself. I really feel like it’s an artist’s job to do that sort of shadow work, for lack of a better way of describing it. It’s our job to root around in the darkened corners of our house and figure out what’s there! [laughs] Ask me again in 6 months, and hopefully, I can give you a better answer!
As you’ve said, we are living in such a unique time. Do you have any definitive plans for the near future, or will you just see where the winds take you?
There’s a little bit of “let’s see where the wind takes us.” I feel like when we attempt to be anything more than a leaf in the wind in this day and age, we are more likely than not to get completely pummeled by the things that life seems to be throwing at us! [laughs] It’s a really good opportunity to humble ourselves around the circumstances that are just ever-changing and will probably remain pretty unstable for at least the foreseeable future. I’m just betting that things are going to be a little unstable, from a societal point of view and all of that encompasses, for probably another two years. I’m just guessing. I think more stuff will open up. For example, we’ll be able to go to concerts, and things will normalize to a degree, but we’re definitely in a society-sized transition. There is something at work here. I’m not making any crazy concrete plans other than Incubus is planning on going on tour in the summer of this year. We have dates that are announced and on-sale for March, I believe. Those dates will probably happen, but not without some fits and starts. This is just becoming normal for it to be like, “We’re on tour! … And now we’re stopping for two weeks! Now, we’re on tour…. and now we’re stopping for another two weeks.” That just seems to be how it seems to be going. I just talked to a buddy of mine, Aric Importa, who is the drummer in a band called Fever 333. He was out with Korn, and their tour had to start and stop. He was telling me that Slipknot finished an 8-week tour with no interruptions! OH MY GOD! It just occurred to me! It’s because they were all wearing masks! Ahhhhaaaa! [laughs] They were ahead of the curve! That just occurred to me. That’s really funny. They knew something before all of us did! [laughs]
You’ve certainly experienced your share of adventures and have gained a lot of wisdom along the way. What’s the best lesson we can take from your journey?
Wow! I suppose I can take one step back to my last statement — “Be humble.” This is just something I have learned as I am coming up on half of a lifetime. I’m hoping this is my halfway point! Something I have learned over and over and over again is to be humble. Not only humble in an egoic sense but epistemically humble. We need to continue to humble ourselves around what we think we know, especially in this day and age where the internet is how the vast majority of us make sense of the world. The internet is mostly a terrible place to make sense of the world because it is mostly noise. This is a really nice segue out into this new single, “Dime In My Dryer.” I’m basically saying, in a manner of speaking, “Look for signal amongst all of the noise.” So, in the song, it was a person that acted as the signal amongst all the noise. I’m essentially asking her to come back like, “you were a fence post. You were a lighthouse amongst a dense fog. Please come back, please come back.” That’s sorta the vibe of the song. But yeah, I would say that if I had any advice based on what I’ve learned in my lifetime so far, it’s humility. It goes a long way!
Thanks so much for your time today, Brandon. You’re truly an inspiration, and I couldn’t be more excited to see the spaces you explore in the future.
Thank you, Jason! I appreciate that, man. Thank you so much!
Pre-order and listen to ECHOES AND COCOONS, out March 11, 2022 via Wit Hustle/ The Orchard. — https://orcd.co/echoesandcocoons
Jason Price founded the mighty Icon Vs. Icon more than a decade ago. Along the way, he’s assembled an amazing group of like-minded individuals to spread the word on some of the most unique people and projects on the pop culture landscape.