"Have you ever felt like your brain was melting? Like the 4 billion years of evolution that sits snuggly within the walls of your little flesh helmet, that gelatinous funk being held together by synaptic strings and happy thoughts was going to fold in on itself and come dripping out of your ears in the manner of a failed bowl of oatmeal? This was the predominant sensation that pervaded mine and my cohorts’ headspace on day one of our Music/Art Experiment now known as the Incubus HQ.
After twenty years, seven albums, multiple live albums, EP’s, DVD’s, somewhere in the ballpark of 1,500 live shows and an etcetera stint that would go on for a paragraph, what could we in Incubus do to introduce our newest album, ‘If Not Now, When?' in a manner that was both unique and memorable? Rob a bank and leave CD's as our calling card? Hold a radio station hostage with water guns? Go door to door dressed as Jehovah's Witnesses and instead of handing over a copy of 'The Watchtower', put on the record and do pelvic thrusts until people bought it? Girl Scout uniforms and Thin Mints with our facts etched in the chocolate, 3am infomertials, urinal cakes, street art stenciling, subliminal adverts on coffee house playlists? Invite our fans in our living room and play the fucking album for them? …Wait that is not a terrible idea, minus the fucking part.
Our little think tank sessions didn’t sound too much different to this prior to releasing the aforementioned album. We don’t sit around a giant conference table at our evil record label headquarters with hi-tech speaker phones and slide shows in the company of executives, who dress as if they were twenty years younger than they actually are, plotting our world takeover. No, it looks a lot more like five guys and their manager pow-wowing with the aid of caffeine and the looming threat that everything that has been done before them. Needless to say, it gets exponentially more difficult to release an album with a distinct splash the longer you are at it. The “Story”, as it were, or as people have come to interpret it, becomes concretized, set in stone, cryogenically frozen, like Han Solo at the end of The Empire Strikes Back, waiting for a hero (or a sequel) to melt time away and allow Han to reunite with his beloved Millennium Falcon and his fuzzy friend, Big Foot. Or as he is known in the Himalayas “Yeti”.
Ok, so whose house are we going to use as a concert venue/storefront? (Uncomfortable silence…crickets…faint traces of Alex Trebek’s mustache…) Maybe we should borrow an art gallery! (Applause, applause) So with a good idea, a struggling economy, and Los Angeles as our playing field, Steve Rennie (Our manager) and I, took to the streets to find what would become the temporary home of Incubus. Our trek led us to La Brea Blvd: an artery into the heart of Hollywood which has become known for it’s overpriced art galleries, snazzy little boutiques, cafés, and coffee houses. A new and curiously available retail space/art gallery sat empty and willing. With much suspicion, I put my hands to the window and peered in half expecting to see a new Banksy installation going up, or the seed of a new Starbuck’s super-store being planted… Not that either of those two mentions have anything to do with each other. But alas! Neither! The place was virtually empty. And the blessed sight of a “For Lease” sign caught our attentions like a waterslide in Death Valley. I exhaled a long breath onto the window there and in that fog that amassed I drew two eyes and a smile!
Fast-forward a few weeks and we have ourselves a working storefront. Using the Pop Up model as our structure and building our rehearsal space behind OZ’s velvet curtain, the Incubus HQ was coming to life. It filled us with pride to see this far-fetched idea (one that received little to no assistance from our record label, I might add) blooming and picking up speed. In our original brainstorms, it was our intention to perform a different one hour set each night of the week leading up to the release of ‘If Not Now, When?' on July 23rd. Broadcasting each live set to the web via some fancy new HD cameras we'd recently acquired. The technology had become affordable and available to us, and it seemed like a wondrous opportunity to test drive what become a new Incubus standard: The broadcasting of live concerts. Reaching more people in less time. Traveling without moving, as it were. But amongst those brainstorms many other good ideas surfaced: drum, guitar and DJ clinics, a chat show with Ben Kenney, free form drawing on the walls, feats of strength, listening parties, fun with Pez, fan interviews, yoga for Playmates, band interactions with the press, lingerie for beginners, food fights, dogs and cats living together, and once again etcetera, etcetera. So in the grand tradition of biting off way more than we can chew, we decided to do it all. Which brings us back to day one, and that whole brain melting mess.
One of the first activities we were going to broadcast was kind of a live introduction to the project with Mike Einziger and I. We were going to talk about and play a handful of music and videos that were impactful to us prior to starting the band. A kind of “this is what, why, and who inspired us originally” sort of thing. Sounds easy enough right? (Looming, dissonant strings swell and cascade) Oh how things don’t go the way we plan.
The enormity of the bite of the burrito we had taken began to get really uncomfortable in my mouth the night before. By morning of our first day I had so much anxiety about the project, that I was about ready to change my name and hop a flight to Timbuktu. I decided that it would best serve the main course of this dinner party we were throwing to skip the appetizers and save my appetite. I opted to bring all of my energy to the performances and stick to what I knew I could do best. I don’t regret this decision, but I indeed didn’t make things any easier on my band mates, who were evidently choking on the beans of this burrito we’d rolled up just as much as I. Mike, like a true champion, pushed forward and began the broadcast anyway. I stress the word ‘began’ because it had barely gotten underway when our main camera operator and tech ring-leader fell to the floor under an epileptic seizure. Not kidding. A handful of you were in the room when it happened and I know it must have been unnerving. Much sweating, a couple of ambulance arriving and departing, and an uncomfortable silence or two later, I’ll have you know that he is just fine. He was actually back in the saddle not 24 hours later. How’s that for the start of our experiement?!
But like many experiments, the results one finds rarely meet the expectations. On the contrary, it is the nature of the experiment to uncover what you weren’t looking for. And in this case, we found in the Incubus fan base a kind of generosity, openness, and enthusiasm that we never could have predicted and/or expected. As the days unfolded and meandered their way into each night’s performance, our anxieties quelled and we saw this experiment turn into a true success story. Not only at the sight of a room filled with smiles, flashes, laughs, and spontaneous interactions, or even the impassioned singing and emoting at close quarter. But more so, it was the sense that there was no one type if person who attended; online or in store. It has perplexed me for the better part of twenty years; who is an Incubus fan? What time of human listens to what we do and pays attention to how we do it?
Having been on stage for most of my adult life I’ve had a curious opportunity to witness our audience over the years. And a blessed experience it has been, indeed! But one peppered with blinding lights, walls of sound, roars and screams like being on a rollercoaster with Godzilla, and perhaps most telling of all, a thin but discernable layer between us and the audience. One that has allowed us the illusion to thrive, but has perhaps skewed many of the vulnerabilities and undeniably human elements that makes the artistic experience worth experiencing. At the HQ this veil was lifted! We shared the lights with our listeners. We apportioned our mistakes, our retakes, our nervousness, our strengths, and our vulnerabilities. Here in this room we were all one entity! And in retrospect, it has allowed the realization that it has perhaps always been that way. So I guess for those of you who were watching online, for those of you who were in the room, and even you guys who will experience it long after the fact, what this experiment allowed is a small insight into the potential of the creative experience! The quiet knowing that under the right circumstances, we all can be witness to how interconnected all of us actually are. Be it through the making of art, the witnessing of art, and or the memory of a time in art. It only exists because we are all there existing IT together! And I think this is where I say, “Thanks for that.”
When all was said and done, we performed 7 nights of music in a row. Six of which were broadcast live to the web. Hundreds of thousands of people watched simultaneously and in the room each night were people from all walks of life, from all corners of the globe, from every conceivable race, creed and credo. They were there for free and were participants in what ended up being a highly unique, albeit stressful, and ultimately very memorable endeavor. Our listeners’ presence and participation was the bloom on a bush that has been growing for a very long time now. The first few days of said experiment were indeed like putting my head into a microwave: radiated water particles vibrating violently behind my eyes until my physiology caterwauls and wants to collapse! Then… DING! A delicious bowl of oatmeal, sprinkled with organic, locally grown raisins sits before me. Thank you guys. I love oatmeal.
I wonder what’s for lunch…?”
- Brandon Boyd
My life is complete.
I was lucky enough to see both this and Punch Drunk live in 2007. Then I saw Punch Drunk again this year in Chicago. Amazing.