Ahead of the SoCal rockers' Make Yourself 20th Anniversary Tour, lead singer Brandon Boyd dissects "Pardon Me," "Dig," "Wish You Were Here," and more.

By Candace McDuffie
September 06, 2019 at 11:15 AM EDT
Julian Schratter

Incubus have sold more than 23 million records over their nearly three-decade career. Yet frontman Brandon Boyd admits there will always be a special place in the group’s heart for their 1999 album Make Yourself, stating that it “basically changed the trajectory of our career.”

“While writing Make Yourself, I figured out my voice as a singer and how to write more legible lyrics,” he tells Entertainment Weekly. “These songs just kind of spilled out of us, and because of this record, we went from playing in bars and opening up for bands to headlining.”

In honor of their breakthrough album turning 20 this month, Incubus is gearing up to hit the road. They will play 39 cities through the fall and winter, kicking things off Sept. 13th in Denver and closing out Dec. 7 in Myrtle Beach, S.C. Before they do, Boyd is giving EW the stories and secrets behind some of Incubus’ biggest hits.

“Pardon Me,” the first Incubus song to get radio play, actually pays homage to rapper Busta Rhymes.

“I remember a bunch of us from the band were at a putt-putt golf thing just whacking balls and our manager called us and said that KROQ was going to play ‘Pardon Me’ in 15 minutes,” Boyd recalls. “All of us rushed to our cars and it was really exciting. I had a suspicion that that was the only time we’d ever get played on the radio. As it started getting heavier rotation, it was pleasantly surprising.” Boyd adds that while most of Make Yourself was inspired by jungle music, this particular single honors one of rap’s most innovative figures. “If you listen to ‘Pardon Me,’ you’ll hear rhythms very similar to the rhythms of Busta Rhymes’ ‘Gimme Some More.’ I love hip-hop, but I accepted a long time ago that I’m not a good rapper,” he admits. “That art form is better left to people who it is spoken through more authentically.”

All of the animation in the video for “Drive” was made by Boyd and drummer José Pasillas.

The serene video for “Drive” features the members of Incubus playing in a sun-soaked wooden room as animated images of Boyd intermittently flash across the screen. But the experience of making the clip was hectic. “When we arrived to where we were filming [in Minnesota], it was negative 25 degrees Fahrenheit…the coldest day of the year. I also had my shirt off in the video, which is ironic because of how cold it was,” he says, laughing. “We blew through the budget on flights and hotels and the renting of that space. Originally, we were going to hire an experienced animator to do rotoscoping because it was really important to the video — but we ran out of money.” At this point, director Phil Harder had an important call to make. “He said to me: ‘Aren’t you an artist? Don’t you draw?’ I was like ‘Yeah’…and said our drummer Jose is an amazing artist too. He was like ‘Here’s what’s going to happen: We don’t have any money left so you guys are going to animate the video.’ And the rest is history!”

The original video treatment for “Wish You Were Here” was abandoned because of 9/11.

“I was going through a horrible break up when we were writing Morning View,” says Boyd, of the band’s 2001 album. “Then I had a moment of clarity — for lack of a better term — where I was just doing exactly what the lyrics said: I was just sitting in the sand and looking at the water and kind of reflecting. I had a moment when I wasn’t angry at the person anymore and I missed her.” Although the song is about a relationship gone wrong, the original video that accompanied it was more playful and upbeat. “It referenced a weird psychedelic 1960s film called Head. It was directed by Jack Nicholson of all people and starred the Monkees. In [our video], we jumped off a bridge to escape hoards of fans chasing us and descend into water. Then mermaids save us and it’s super beautiful,” he says. But the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 occurred soon after, forcing Incubus to scrap the video entirely due to the implications of watching people jump off a large structure. “The record label told us we couldn’t put that out, so I had seven hours to do a new one,” Boyd says. “I compiled all of this home video footage that we had as well as some studio performances we had filmed.”

Incubus in London (2000)
Martyn Goodacre/Getty Images

Despite the negative message of the politically charged “Megalomaniac,” Boyd considers himself an optimist.

“I’ve never been overtly political, but I think that a lot of my values are inert in the music,” says Boyd. “When people are paying attention closely to the lyrics, that’s when they catch on to those things. When ‘Megalomanic’ came out, it was a reaction to a lot of things that were going on — both politically and socially.” The video for “Megalomaniac,” directed by Floria Sigismondi (The Runaways, The Handmaid’s Tale) contains pretty stark depictions: Adolf Hitler flying over war scenes, crowds of people running from falling bombs, a George W. Bush lookalike riling up protestors. Yet the singer still manages to cling to optimism, even in today’s political climate. “When writing ‘Megalomaniac,’ I truly thought we had scraped the bottom of the barrel. I do my best to remain hopeful and I do think that we will see a better day.”

“Love Hurts” isn’t a love song (even though it is)

“When I’m writing — which is the same as when I’m painting — I honestly don’t know what I’m writing about until it’s finished,” Boyd says. “I will say ‘Love Hurts’ is the antithesis of a love song, but by its very nature is still a love song because love is one of the reasons why there are so many ‘love songs.’ To me, it’s an endlessly fascinating topic because of its infinite complexity and its infinite simplicity.” His prolific wailing on the emotional track drives home his hurt. “I was experiencing a great deal of heartbreak and a tendency towards being kind of jaded by the experience of love. If I allowed the experience to move in that direction, there would be nothing worth living for because love is one of the most vital experiences that a human being can have. It hurts sometimes — but sometimes the hurt leads to revelation.”

“Dig” is also a love song, but one that celebrates friendship instead of romance.

“‘Dig’ is an interesting track. Yes, it is about love but love in a platonic sense or love that stems from the power of camaraderie,” says Boyd, whose own intrigue about the song gives way to a personal anecdote. “I was in a moment in my life where things were looking really dark and the people closest to me — the guys in the band — were like a safety net. They were, without trying to, reminding me of who I was in the midst of some of my personal struggles. We can get lost in the egoic experience of life and sometimes really good friends can remind you that you are not your ego. That you are something far bigger than your ego and your ego really is just kind of a tool that occasionally runs the show. Really, it’s a song of thanks: ‘Dig me up from what is covering the better part of me.'”

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