Movin' On Up

A large chunk of the male population has done it at one point or another, usually in the teen years. You wait until the folks are gone, and then you break off a few phone calls. Then you run out real quick to grab the necessary supplies. Now you're ready to set up, plug in and rock out.

Garage jams where nobody really knows how to play their instruments are as much a part of the adolescent male experience here in the USA as parking lot gropes and playing padless tackle football with your friends. Most folks eventually figure out how to take the grope to the proverbial next level, and most also figure out that high-speed violent collisions -- even between friends -- may break your bones. Most do not, however, turn the garage combo into anything more than an excuse to hang out and claim to be "in a band." It's fun, and it has fringe benefits even in high school. But that's typically where the story ends -- if not right there in the carport, then at a kegger that the cops bust.

Not so for Incubus. The band's core -- vocalist Brandon Boyd, drummer Jose Pasillas, guitarist Mike Einziger and bassist Alex Katunich -- came together as high school sophomores in 1991. Pasillas, who had known Boyd since fourth grade, had only played "air drums" for two years before sitting behind an actual kit for the first time with his bandmates. Ten years later, and this same band (completed by DJ Kilmore) has seen its third full-length release, 1999's Make Yourself, go multiplatinum and has the first single from the upcoming CD Morning View lodged firmly in rock radio's Top 10.

Make Yourself was a seamlessly free-flowing masterpiece. It was possessed of such musical and lyrical subtlety that even the casual listener is taken on a journey; not a mere escape, but a beneficial trek through human-ness itself.

Even so, it wasn't immediately evident that anyone who wasn't already acquainted with the band was even going to hear it. The CD didn't so much fly up the charts as quietly find its appropriate slot in the retail bins. "We come from a pretty regimented work ethic, and things don't come to us that easily," explains Pasillas regarding Incubus's state of mind back in those days when the band's future was in limbo. "We've always had to go out and really push and support our albums as they come out…Which is good for us too, because you don't want to come onto the circuit and just blow up out of the box. The quicker it comes, the quicker it can go away."

Pasillas concedes that the band is now at "a good plateau," where progress comes a little more rapidly, but he's both proud and protective of the fact that Incubus's current status was achieved in a number of "very small increments." When asked to pinpoint a magic moment at which it occurred to him that "Hey, we've made it!" Pasillas instead maintains that a number of such moments have occurred over the course of the band's career. "Playing a club in L.A. Selling out a club in L.A. Playing with our favorite bands -- like Primus or 311. Going out on a headline tour. Getting a platinum album. There've always been little goals -- and some not so little -- along the way, giving us light and keeping us motivated."

The perks of having gotten this far include "having certain amenities we never had before," states Pasillas, sounding truly nonplussed by the whole turn of events. "We get catering at our venues and actually get to eat decent food." He laughs lightly. "Little things like that in the big scheme of things don't really mean too much, but are just a good sign that we are reaching different places, which is really cool." And the downside? None. Hassles like dealing with the media and having a lot more demands placed on their time in general are seen as the price of fame.

Morning View can be seen as picking up right where Make Yourself left off. The melodies are to the front, with Incubus's seemingly innate sense of arrangement and rhythm -- combined with the occasional heavy undertone -- never too far to the rear. There is, however, a somewhat greater airiness to the new CD than anything the band has put out yet.

Both were produced by Scott Litt (R.E.M., the Replacements, Juliana Hatfield), whom Pasillas credits with keeping the band's nose to the grindstone. Part of this involved redirecting the band's energy more positively when it would get hung up on a trifle, and playing reasoned arbiter in band disputes. "We know he knows what music is about, and he knows what we're about," concludes Pasillas.

Despite the carryover, however, Pasillas maintains that "everything was different" on Morning View, starting with the environment in which it was created (and after which it's named). Incubus has never been an outfit to write on the road, but up until now the only available alternative has been the ubiquitous "rehearsal space." This time, the band got a house. And not just any house, but the eponymous manse on a bluff in Malibu, with 29-foot floor-to-ceiling windows facing the Pacific Ocean. The view can be seen on the cover of the new CD. (The house itself can be caught on repeat episodes of MTV's Cribs.) Pasillas also emphasizes that the band itself was "coming from a different place," having spent two solid years on the road "growing musically, mentally and as people." The band wrote for the first two months at Morning View and recorded for the following two months. "It's all a different chemical mix-up on this album, which is why it's a lot different."

Pasillas also points out that Incubus has made a conscious effort to progress with each release. This "Excelsior!" attitude has left some fans behind along the way. Some continue to long for the heaviness of 1997's S.C.I.E.N.C.E., and Pasillas accepts that there are probably those who won't be able to make the trip from Make Yourself to Morning View. Yet at the same time, his bottom line is this: "First and foremost, we are a rock band. But to my opinion, there isn't very much good rock music coming out right now, so that has helped us stray even further away."

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Chris Smith