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Interview with Incubus

4.7.00

It’s difficult for me to think of a better way to start a weekend than to be able to speak with one of my favorite artists of all time. While at home on a break from a long string of tour dates, Incubus DJ Kilmore gave me a call from his front yard – in between doing yard work, getting ready for a Saturday barbeque with friends, and generally relaxing and enjoying his time off. I could hear birds chirping, and music playing in the background while we discussed ways to use creativity and individuality to get the most out of life, and out of music…

Where did you play last before coming off the tour?
Santa Ana. That was a week ago.

So you’ve been off for a little while then, enjoying the time off?
Yeah. A lot. I sat at home and I figured it out.
What’s that?
Well, if you take a normal person’s work day, or work week; they have two days off of work a week. And, so that’s like 104 days off a year. We don’t even get that many.
So – I figure, you know, when I’m home for a week, I’m relaxing!
Good for you. Are you a Los Angeles native?
No. I grew up on the East coast. I’ve been out here since ’96. So, I’ve only really been here 2 years because ’98 I was out on tour. We toured crazy, like 300 shows..
Well, I’ve seen some of the shows and you guys have been incredible.
Thank you. Thanks a lot.

So what do you think makes a good DJ?
What makes a good DJ? Oh my goodness. There’s all types of good DJs. There’s DJs that mix – in clubs and things like that; there’s DJs that are in rock bands; DJs that play like, jungle and stuff like that. You know, there’s different aspects but if I had to put it to criteria, you’d have to be knowledgeable about music. You’d have to be technically skilled.
Know your equipment.
Yeah. And three, you’d have to be creative.

Do you ever have any trouble with your wrists? Like, is carpal tunnel a typical thing for DJs?
Yeah. Carpal Tunnel Syndrome.
Really? Is it common?
Nah. Kid Koala, I don’t know if you know him, but he put out a record called ‘Carpal Tunnel Syndrome’. But yeah, my wrists, especially my forearms, now that I’m home I get to practice all day long – I never get tired on the turntables. I practice for hours a day.
Kind of like working out.
Yeah. And I don’t get a chance to do that on the road. I only play for an hour a night and that’s pretty much it and we’re doing other stuff the rest of the day. So, I gotta quit doing that because my forearms are hurtin’!

You probably have that really cool muscle definition in your arms though. That’s sexy stuff.
Yeah, I got that. I got those from scooping ice cream at Ben and Jerry’s though.
So, this was almost born into you then!
Yeah, to train to be a DJ you have to scoop ice cream for a certain time first.

I’ll make note of that then. Was there something specific that made you choose DJ’ing over anything else you could have done in a band? Did you always want to be in a band or did you not plan that at all?
No. I really didn’t plan it. I never really plan anything in my life. I sort of just let it go where it wants to go. But, ever since I was young, I liked DJ’ing. The first person I saw was Jazzy Jeff. I saw him when I was like 14. As soon as I saw him, I was like, “That’s what I wanna do.”
Cool.
I got really into hip-hop and you know, I grew up in a really small town in Pennsylvania. All my friends grew up listening to rock and classic rock like Zeppelin and the Eagles and all that stuff. So, when I saw Jazzy Jeff, I was .. I was shocked. I was like, “Yeah! That’s it. That’s what I wanna do!” I got a pair of turntables for Christmas. I told my Dad if I bought one, then he had to buy the other one. And, at the time, they were pretty expensive. They were like 600 dollars. And I was only 14. So I lied to McDonald’s, told them I was 15, so I could work, saved up 600 dollars, got my turntables, and quit.
That’s great. And you’ve been doing it ever since?
Ever since. I’ve been through college, had tons of girlfriends and everything; I played sports a lot. But the only thing that’s really lasted were the turntables.
Beyond the girlfriends…
Oh yeah.

So your parents obviously supported what you chose to do.
Oh yeah, they had no idea it would turn into this. They’re pretty proud of me right now.
Who do you look more like, your Mom or your Dad?
Actually, neither one. I was adopted into a white family.
Really?
Yes.
Wow. How cool. I totally learned something.
Yeah, I was adopted at about 6 months old, which is cool. Maybe that’s why I can appreciate rock music.
Yeah, maybe! Who knows? I mean, there is a real diversity in the audiences at Incubus shows, and the music appeals to all cultures, all over the place. There is a huge amount of respect for the band, and for what you guys do.
Yeah. I think we all pretty much have the same mentality about that as I do. You can’t control creativity. You can only be influenced by the things that you do, and by what’s around you. We’re all the types of people that are open minded and open to all types of music, and when we make music it comes out like that.

Do you like player to the smaller audiences or to the larger ones?
I like ’em both. When I go off stage, and I’m at a huge, huge place, like an arena or something like that, I like to hear how loud the crowd is. But for that 45 minutes or an hour or however long you play, you can only see maybe the first row of people in front of the stage at big places because of the lights. It’s so dark out there. And plus, the people are so far away from you. But when you play small clubs, the people are right in your face and there is no other energy that can match that. But, you know, both I like.

What actually happens during the interim, when the band leaves the stage and then comes back for an encore? What are you guys doing back there?
Pretty much listening to the audience.
Really?
Yeah. If we’re all happy and we had a good show, we’ll all crack beers open and drink ’em as fast as we can. If we have bad show we’ll just curse a lot. But we never all have a bad show or all have a good show. So, it’s all different. But the main thing that we’re doing back there is seeing if the crowd is yelling. We’re not one of those bands that will come back and do more songs if the crowd isn’t yelling for it. It’s sort of like, we’re doing it for them. If they don’t want it, then we’re not gonna do it just for us.
So you’re just kind of waiting in the wings back there and listening to it..
Yeah.
I always did wonder about that.
Sometimes there are like, little special things we do. Like sometimes we’ll have shots lined up for all of us or something like that.
You guys are avid drinkers?
I guess. I mean, not like some other rock bands. We can hang with the best of them, but we’re not really liquor drinkers. We like to drink beer. Cause we’re all skinny.
No beer bellies?
Nah.

Does the band perform any like, good luck rituals before going on stage?
Yes. The Claw.
The Claw…
Basically it’s like when you get together in a football huddle, and everyone puts their hand in. So you make a claw with your hand and make it as twisted as you can and you try to entangle both of them as much as possible with everybody elses; then once it’s locked in, you try to get out of it. And that…. is the Claw!
And that’s every night?
Every night. The Claw, yeah.
The pre-show Claw.
Yep. Only, we’ve always done a Claw, and then one time one of us didn’t do it.
And what happened?
Uh, they didn’t do it!

So what do you think the reason was for the more mainstream sound on “Make Yourself” as opposed to “S.C.I.E.N.C.E”?
I think it’s just maturity. I mean, when the guys wrote “S.C.I.E.N.C.E”, most of the songs were written when they were like 17. And now, they’re like 23, 24 and once you get older you start becoming more in tune with the actual music.
I thought “S.C.I.E.N.C.E” was even more impressive because of the level of maturity in such young artists, but I guess I can see your point there.
“S.C.I.E.N.C.E” is more like a show off album. Let’s see how many notes we can cram into here and how many we can cram into there. I think “Make Yourself” is more like, this is us. This is what we can do.
I love ‘Make Yourself”.
Yeah. When we wrote it, we weren’t thinking about, “Hey, let’s make a commercial record, or let’s make it softer.” We weren’t thinking that way. It just came out. Another thing we weren’t conscious about was that none of us wanted the band to be classified as ‘new metal.’ We’re not rock/rap.
Yeah. Incubus is not a band that can’t be labeled or pigeonholed like that. Which, to me, says a lot for a band these days.
Yeah. They were trying to do that when they did “S.C.I.E.N.C.E”, and we’re not like that. We have a singer that can actually sing.
He sure can.
Hell yeah.
He sure can.
Yeah. And I think everybody in the band is a very talented musician. We just didn’t want to write a record that everybody else was doing. We just wanted to be a little bit more creative. That was pretty much the only really conscious effort as far as how we wanted the album to go.

Are there any personal favorites of yours from this CD?
Yeah. There’s so many. I like ’em all. I like ‘Privilege’ and I like ‘When It Comes’. But also, you know, the classics ‘Stellar’ and ‘Drive’ and ‘I Miss You’. I like ’em all.
I guess of the entire, it would have to be ‘The Warmth’. I’m the busiest in that song, so I guess that’s why. I do more work on that than on any other song, and so when I do it right, I’m just like, “Yeah…” And it’s a nice groove song.

Which of your songs would you like to see someone do a cover version of? And who would you like to do it?
(laughs) Maybe, how about ‘When It Comes’ – Weird Al Yankovich?

I’d like to hear that. And see the video, too. Do you like doing videos or are they a drag?
Uh, for me the last one was a little bit more of a chore because it was, like, a 27-hour day. We really just let the director go with it and do it exactly how he wanted to do it, and didn’t argue with him about anything. But I think the last video made us look almost glam. I was sort of, all day long, I was like, “This isn’t me.” But some videos can be really fun. Especially if you’re doing cool stuff like driving cars real fast or jumping out of planes.
So you’re a thrill seeker then. All that stuff you’re not usually allowed to do.
Yeah, exactly. It’s a good excuse. “Hey, I’m in a video!”

Has the last one bell pretty well-received? Is it getting good rotation?
Actually, it’s getting played way more than I thought it would. They’re still playing it. I saw it yesterday morning; they played it on MTV.
Cool.
Now, it’s not anywhere near the amount of spins on radio that we’re getting. But at the same time, it’s different than a lot of other videos. A lot of them are using all Matrix colors, and it’s all hot girls, and crowd shots, and I don’t know, that’s just not cool to me. That’s cliche video stuff. Our mentality is like the record in that we don’t want to follow trends.

Did you get any new equipment this time out?
Actually, yeah. I got some stuff from this company called RANE Incorporated. They make mixers. For turntablists, much like myself, we also use the Vestax mixer. It’s just the top of the line. But this company put a new mixer out about a year ago, and it’s actually better than the Vestax. Not a lot of people are willing to change because they’ve been working out on the Vestax for years and years, but I had a couple problems with my Vestax as far as touring it’s not quite as durable as the RANE. So, I switched to the RANE and I started getting used to it. It takes a little while when you switch anything. It’s like switching cars, it takes you a second to get used to it, and feel it out, and really know how it drives and stuff. But once I got used to it, I think it’s so much better.

So who would you say gets picked on the most?
Oh, jeez. It’s pretty much a free for all. Maybe Brandon. He’s quiet.
Everyone wants to know why he cut his dreds. Was there a big mysterious reason or was it just time?
It was just time. Yeah. He gets angry when people ask him that.
Really? Awww.. I’m sorry.
He’s just like, “Well, why is the sky blue?” We all think the reason why we’re selling records is because of his dreds.
No! That’s not true! For some reason I think a lot of people got really attached to that persona, and they were used to seeing him a certain way. They see him as a very spiritual person, and the whole image thing isn’t ‘who he is’ really, it just came as a shock, I guess, that he would change so drastically. That takes nerve. I did like them. But, he’s nice to look at with or without though. Personally, I think it’s kind of cool that he came out fresh like that.
It’s true, he’s an extremely spiritual person, with or without his dreds.

Exactly. He didn’t cut his essence off; he just cut his hair. So, what do you do to relax when you’re on the road?
We golf. Heavy golfers. We’re not the greatest golfers, but we enjoy it. We all bring our clubs except for Brandon. Brandon’s just learning how now. It’s a good thing to do to get away from the world. You’re in the country and you just relax out there. We do that and we play a lot of video games.
Which ones?
Tiger Woods. Tony Hawk.
Oh Tony Hawk is supposed to be a really cool game. I want to check that out.
Yeah, I’ve mastered that game!

Has anyone been approached for a Calvin Klein ad yet?
Yes. Brandon.
Seriously?!
Yeah, for real. I thought you asked about it because you already knew or something.
No! I had no idea. Wow… I’m good!
I thought you already knew. Yeah, they actually had a meeting with him and he would have done it but they ended the ‘Rock Icon’ campaign right before his turn.
He was actually willing to do it?
Yeah, oh yeah. He wears Calvin Klein religiously.
I didn’t know he was that much of a fashion plate.
Well, uh he likes his underwear, I’ll tell you that. And he likes his t-shirts. Now he’s starting to go to pants.
Too bad it didn’t end up happening. But knowing that he got approached must have felt really good. You guys are hot. That’s why I asked. It’s inevitable that they would have asked someone in the band.

Do you have a designer that makes clothes for the band or do you just go shopping?
Oh man, we just go out shopping. We don’t even really shop that much, but Brandon and Alex like their Dickies. They might go out and buy a nice pair of Dickies. But other than that we’re fortunate enough to have some people give us some t-shirts here and there, a pair of pants here or there. We’re not really fashion-minded. Me, I’m a jeans and t-shirt guy. And if it’s hot out, I’ll throw some shorts on.

Whatever makes you feel good. What kinds of things do fans give you as gifts?
We got a collage the other day. This kid just threw it up on stage. A collage of all of us from like, the time Incubus was signed, and it had like, pictures, and paper clippings, and there must have been hundreds of pictures on this thing. It was a really big poster.
Lots of work.
Yeah. That was really cool. People give us food for some reason.
Food? Maybe they think you’re hungry.
It’s weird. We get Doritos, and canned soups and beans and stuff like that.
Really? That’s pretty funny.
Yeah! I don’t know what that’s about. That messes with my head!
Maybe people want you to eat! Make donations at shows to the Incubus Food Drive!
Yeah. You should see some of the things people bring to have us sign.

I can imagine. So what’s your personal motto?
My personal motto follows the concept of “Make Yourself”. Just be you and do exactly what you wanna do as long as it’s in a positive way. And when it comes to music, appreciate all types of music because if it’s good, it comes in all forms. From like Jazz to Rock to HipHop; even Country’s got good music. You know, just keep an open mind because especially if you’re creating and writing music, you’re gonna need all the people in the past as influences for the future. You can depend on that as a base so that you can write even cooler music.
You never know where it’s going to come from..
And you never know when..

Thank you for talking to me, Chris. Enjoy your time off.

Lesa Pence

Extra special thanks to Melissa Dragich for her patience with my schedule and for setting up this great interview for me with one of my favorite bands on Earth. Be sure to visit www.enjoyincubus.com for more information.

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