How Incubus Became (Gulp!) a Classic-Rock Band

Brandon Boyd and Incubus have certainly been around long enough to qualify for classic-rock status.
Brandon Boyd and Incubus have certainly been around long enough to qualify for classic-rock status. Photo by Jack Gorman
Incubus’s success as a mainstream alt-rock band seemed almost a foregone conclusion. During the band's ascent to superstardom in the late ’90s, its sound was just distinct enough to differentiate Incubus from everything else on rock radio, and yet just catchy enough to get on rock radio in the first place. Front man Brandon Boyd was and remains ridiculously handsome, which, make no mistake, certainly doesn’t hurt a band’s commercial prospects. Seriously, I’m not sure Boyd wore a shirt between 1997 and 2002.

Most important, Incubus is a damn good band, which is how the group has been able to cultivate a loyal fan base that has allowed the band to exist as a popular entity for more than 20 years. And that’s why Incubus will draw a solid crowd to its show Friday night at Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion with openers Jimmy Eat World, another band that has utilized talent and catchy hooks in weathering the storm that is life as a mainstream rock band in the streaming age.

Incubus’s first record, Fungus Amongus, was released almost 22 years ago. It didn’t do all that much commercially, and the band remained underground after its release. But there was a little early Chili Peppers in there, and the independently released Fungus eventually landed Incubus a big deal with Epic Records. The band’s first major-label release, S.C.I.E.N.C.E., fared well enough, but it was Incubus’s third record — 1999’s Make Yourself — that transformed the band from a talented underground thing to full-fledged rock stars.

Certain records have a way of taking you back, and Make Yourself certainly does that for me. Upon hearing “Pardon Me” for the first time, I remember thinking, “I don’t know who this band is, but they will be something.” Boyd’s rangy voice stood out, and while Incubus infused elements of hip-hop, their sound was diverse enough not to get lumped in with some sort of rap-rock fad of the late '90s.

Boyd and the boys were on their way from then on. “Pardon Me” was a hit, and followup single “Stellar” was equally so. Then came “Drive,” one of those songs that were tailor-made to bring a band into superstardom. Not unlike similar songs of its era — Linkin Park’s “In the End” and Jimmy Eat World’s “The Middle,” to cite a couple of examples — the song was just rock enough to get on rock radio but melodic enough to find its way to pop and more adult-themed stations. In short, it was a song of widespread appeal, which explains why it remains the band’s biggest hit to date, one that helped propel Make Yourself to double-platinum status.

Now full-fledged rock stars, Incubus had two choices when considering the release of its fourth record, Morning View — stay a little bit weird or embrace the pop-rock landscape and make millions in the process. Boyd and crew chose the latter with Morning View, a solid, inoffensive record that charted well and produced a number of hits. It wasn’t quite as adventurous as Incubus’s previous efforts, but as pop-rock records go, it was perfectly fine. Plus, far be it from anyone to tell a band to eschew commercial prospects in exchange for indie cred, mostly because the former makes it a lot easier to pay the bills. So, yeah, Morning View wasn’t exactly a dangerous record, but damn if it didn’t hit some high notes with the likes of “Warning” and “Wish You Were Here.”

I kinda checked out on Incubus after that. College ended, I moved on to the workforce, got married, had kids, did all that grown-up stuff we’re told is our duty; simply put, I didn’t really take time to listen to any new music. I caught what I could from Incubus when new singles were released, and in that regard, the band fared quite well – hell, “Talk Shows on Mute” is probably my favorite Incubus single, one that showcases Boyd’s availability to basically hit any note he wants.

Some 20-plus years on, Incubus is no longer a group of young upstarts looking to make noise on rock radio. After all, does a new band even make noise on rock radio anymore? Rather, Boyd and company are firmly entrenched as a band whose commercial prime certainly peaked some 15 years ago, but one whose talent and catalog of hits still fill venues to this day. In short, Incubus has become a classic-rock band.

This is meant as a compliment. After all, few bands possess the musical chops and maturity (four of the five members of Incubus have been with the band since they entered the mainstream consciousness) to withstand all that befalls a band on its way up, its time in the commercial sun and its retreat to some sort of classic/nostalgic rock mashup. Plus, the band’s aptly titled eighth studio record, 8, released earlier this year, is a nice return to the form, one that managed to chart at No. 4 on the Billboard 200.

Sure, 8 isn’t going to reintroduce Incubus to the mainstream, and it’s unlikely to give us another “Drive” or “Stellar,” but it doesn’t need to. Incubus has more than earned its place in the pop-rock pantheon. Boyd and crew are firmly entrenched as a classic-rock outfit from a different era, an era when rock radio play and the cover of SPIN was enough to break a band. That era is long gone, but as Incubus proves, the music it spawned is alive and well.
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Clint Hale enjoys music and writing, so that kinda works out. He likes small dogs and the Dallas Cowboys, as you can probably tell. Clint has been writing for the Houston Press since April 2016.
Contact: Clint Hale