Q&A With Incubus’ Brandon Boyd: “Everything Went A Bit Haywire, To Put It Lightly”


Could the defining record of the post-September 11 era have been the handiwork of an alt-rock band who wrote all of the album’s songs before the attacks? Ten years later, it’s pretty tough to sell the idea that Incubus’ Morning View crystallized that heart-wrenching moment beautifully; even frontman Brandon Boyd had trouble digesting it. But sometimes these things happen by accident, so we talked him through it via email.

What was it like trying to tour and promote “Morning View” in the wake of September 11?

We had booked the tour, prepped the album and gone to New York to do promo stuff for it all. We were in New York and our first dates were New Hampshire on September 15th and NYC on the 16th and 17th, if memory serves. I can’t believe it’s been ten years. Everything went a bit haywire, to put it lightly.

Was anything about the album changed in response to the attacks?

The only thing that was thwarted as a result of the attacks was the half-million-dollar music video we had just completed and was set to come out days later. It ended up being banned in America due to “insensitivities” it had. The first single was called “Wish You Were Here” and the original video was an homage to the ’60s film Head. Somehow the image of us running from a hoard of screaming girls, shedding clothing and jumping into a river, only to be rescued by superhot mermaids, was deemed inappropriate.

Do you remember how you approached the first show you had to play after the attacks? Where were you, what did you say to the audience, and how did they react?

We decided to stick to our scheduled tour and not cancel any dates. We started the set by asking for one minute of silence. From there, it was a very memorable show in that the audience seemed to emote more than we had witnessed previously. It was a beautiful night. The next two nights we played in NYC and it was two of the most emotionally charged concerts I have ever been to, let alone be performing at. There were so many moments of pure joy, coupled with instances of pain and grieving. I’ll never forget it, as long as I live.

Did the songs take on any new significance for you, playing them night after night during that period?

They did take on new significance. Songs usually do for lots of reasons, but in such a strange time in our collective history, I couldn’t help but see parallels to our cultural plight. As it was unfolding. I have never actually admitted that out loud before, truth be told. I’m a big believer in the idea that the listener has a unique experience with each song. But I have a unique perspective on the songs as well, and they aren’t just automated numbers that get doled out every night.

Which songs on Morning View do you remember your fans reacting to most dramatically in the wake of the attacks?

“Wish You Were Here” and “Warning” became songs that took on new energy and significance. Especially when we played them live. It was one thing that they were singles, but it was something else, both beautiful and rare, that they were applied to so many people’s (once again) unique experiences. Both as forms of catharsis as well as entertainment.

Which of the songs on that album are most emotionally potent for you personally?

While we were writing that album, I was in the midst of a pretty nasty breakup. One of my first instances of love, loss and true disillusionment. Perfect time to write an album, right? I am not sure if there is a song on the album that wasn’t emotionally potent for me! Our band dynamic was shifting dramatically as well. And, we had our first bona fide hit single (“Drive”) tearing up the airwaves. It was such a strange, intoxicating, scary and exciting time. I think the song that was written out of pure fun and friendliness was the track “Are You In?” It is the most lighthearted of the bunch. I just answered your query in reverse. Sorry.

Can art be deliberately created to be emotionally charged for the audience without necessarily being emotionally charged for the artist? Or is that contrived, fake, ineffective?

I feel like songwriters try to do just that all of the time. Most of the time with frighteningly bad results. But when songwriters attempt to do that they are forgetting about what in my opinion is the most valuable part of the process. The “process” itself. Not the result. But in songwriting and scoring we have two different ideas, I believe. All of that being said, when art and emotional response collide in glorious parallel, it is the stuff of legend! It’s beyond words. It’s one of the good things about being alive! But it must happen spontaneously.

Some of your early work exhibited a kooky sense of humor that had more or less dissipated by the time “Morning View” came around and really has yet to reappear. It’s fairly obvious that you came to that change on your own terms, but did you ever feel like 9/11 or the ensuing chaos put pressure on you as artists, like you had to buckle down and focus on making Important Meaningful Art because of what was going on in the world around you?

I appreciate the fact that you notice that transition more than I can express. Though I think it had less to do with 9/11 than it did a natural process of growing up. But as I have grown over the years, I realize that everything effects what I do. Not only as a lyricist, but as a human being. There’s choice and then there is circumstance. Somewhere in between we get free will and individual experience. I like to consider myself culturally observant and in that regard 9/11 had an indelible effect on me. As have all of the events that have unfolded in the decade since.