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Overcoming Obstacles And Facing Your Fears with Incubus Frontman Brandon Boyd

by Paul Montreal. Average Reading Time: about 12 minutes.

Brandon Boyd by Brantley Gutierrez

In this extremely open and honest interview, Incubus front man, Brandon Boyd, shares his entertaining, amusing and bizarre thoughts on procrastination, overcoming obstacles and facing your fears.

Brandon Boyd by Brantley Gutierrez

So Brandon what was the first thing you remember creating as a child?

Brandon: The first thing I can recall would be little crayon and pencil drawings of good germs and bad germs. The good germ wore a cape and he would fly around drawings of my stomach or my ears or my nose with a rag in his hand. His job was to wipe out the bad germs so I didn’t feel sick anymore. I did these drawings quite methodically when I felt ill or out of sorts. They were my first experience with art as a medium for manifesting positive, physical results. I would learn many years later in school that this was not unlike many archaic, magical rituals that people did in hopes of controlling the chaotic world around them.

I Ate Lunch At The Stoners Table

And were you one of the cool kids at school or were you an outsider?

Brandon: Whatever social role I played in school was peripheral, at best, to me. From my earliest school memories until High School. I just didn’t really care that much. It seems that incredible levels of importance are placed on social standing in High School; but I found myself in the advantageous position of having a talented, good looking, and very popular older brother while I was in High School.

He was a Senior when I was a Freshman. So all of the bullying, taunting and “normal” barbaric behaviors that kids put each other through was saved for other unfortunate first year students. I wasn’t the most popular kid in school, nor was I an outcast. I occupied that rarely talked about position of ‘balance’ during those formative years. When I started 10th grade, my friends and I formed a band, and that seemed to ease certain transitions through school a bit too. But for clarity’s sake? I ate lunch at the Stoner’s table.

"Spilling Spinning"

Grabbed Me By My Chest

At college you studied art for 2 years, so what made you decide to commit to music full time?

Brandon: I decided to drop out of Community College to pursue music because it reared up and grabbed me by the chest! And for the record, it hasn’t let go. I am as enamoured with sound as I am with color, line and concept. Music has always seemed to me to be as much an artistic journey as painting a picture. It is like choosing paint over clay, or something like that. I knew that the feeling inherent in composing a song was almost identical to that of painting a picture. Barring the obvious exceptions. But I have always dreamed of dedicating continuous energy to my visual and conceptual pursuits, like I have been doing towards music for the past 20 years.

Did you set any specific goals when you were setting out?

Brandon: My plan thus far in my life has always been to not have a plan. And if I did, keep it as quiet as possible. (Smiles fiendishly and runs away…) I indeed set short term goals for myself; I make lists, accomplish what is necessary and cross the tasks off accordingly.

But the whole point in art, to me, is to not know exactly what you are doing until you are already doing it! You can rehearse, you can practice painting, you can read and re-read your lines before your speech; but no amount of practice will make a difference once that moment emerges. That moment wherein we unconsciously rely upon the larger part of our unconscious. It brings with it a sense of euphoria and elation, and I think it’s that moment that I am chasing in crafting songs, thoughts and imagery.

"Orangutan" by Brandon Boyd

I Lost My Hands And Feet At An Unfortunate Spelunking Safety Seminar

We hear a lot of excuses for why people can’t start their own band or even their own creative career. Excuses like: I don’t have enough money, I don’t have enough time, I don’t have the confidence, I don’t have the credibility, I don’t have the resources. Did you have any of these problems when you started out, and how did you handle them?

Brandon: That is a really good question. The problem of procrastination or the ‘False Start.’ I have been through phases in my life, both distant and recent, wherein I make every excuse in the book as to why I am not being creative. And the only excuse that I can say is worth a damn is… “Maybe I’m just not feeling creative today.” That and the “I lost my hands and feet at an unfortunate Spelunking Safety Seminar and all hope went out the window” excuse. A tough one to eclipse.

Other than that, I would say that there is no excuse. In my opinion, there never has, never was and never will be a shortage of things to be inspired by! And the biggest thing holding one back is usually a bad attitude.

"The Plunge" by Brandon Boyd

“The Plunge” by Brandon Boyd

 

Did you have any particular people who helped mentor or guide you when you started out?

Brandon: This idea of mentorship has come up quite a bit recently. I did not have any direct mentors; I had a very creative household, immediate and extended. I also had very supportive parents, in that they helped facilitate almost any and all of my creative whims. That is, within reason. I am sure I had some backwards ass ideas about turning the garage into a ‘pay as you play’ music venue at some point. Sorry Dad. And thanks for letting us pollute the air in your house.

That being said, I have close friends who mentored under good, creative people and the results are astounding. I doubt there is any one way to squeeze expressive people through the cracks. I am of the mind that everyone has the potential to make masterpieces.

Brandon Boyd by Brantley Gutierrez

If You Are In A Hurry, Write A Pop Song And Make A Sex Tape

When people first set out on a creative career, they don’t realize how long it takes to become successful. After a couple of years most people usually quit. What did you focus on in the early days in order to motivate yourself to continue?

Brandon: Ah yes, the time dilemma. Our band is actually a good example of the ‘slow burn.’ We had the good fortune of starting while we were still living under our parents’ roofs. And we had nothing but homework and odd, after school jobs to attend to outside of writing rock and roll tunes. The fact that we stayed together this long is really one of the most noteworthy topics.

I didn’t grow up idolizing rock stars so much as I did romanticizing the idea of living a creative and expressive life.  I remember very specifically as a teenager, worrying about how I was going to make money to buy gas to put in my car, so I could go see shows and go surfing. We all have that time in our lives when we first start driving, where if someone asks for a lift, they are expected to chip in for gas. But I quickly tired of lamenting my next paycheck. I allowed myself the understanding, at a relatively young age, that if I was going to be happy in my life, I would probably have to be poor and do the things I love to do for free.

And when I let that notion in, funnily enough, we started getting paid to do gigs. First in people’s backyards and living rooms, then into bars, and theaters. So on and so forth. It has been a slow, enlightening, and remarkable journey. One we as a band have always likened to that of the Tortoise.  The bottom line is, if you are in it to make money, try a different line of work. If you are in a hurry, write Pop songs and make a sex tape.

"Spinning Hair Girl" by Brandon Boyd

Bringing A Spork To A Gun Fight

How do you keep your energy up with all the work required to make it in this business?

Brandon: Creative work is energetic work! When we are low on energy, and trying to be expressive, it’s like bringing a spork to a gun fight. Understanding this, I use my time in the interim doing outdoorsy and energetic things. I have been surfing since I was eleven and still get the same feeling from it as I did when I first stood up on the board.

Surfing, as well, is a lot more like art than most people give it credit for. After all, the canvas we surf upon is never the same twice! We don’t quite know what we are doing until the moment we are doing it.  And in between waves, one has the opportunity to reflect on how beautiful and serene the experience is. A rare communion with the birthplace of all life on Earth! Are you fucking kidding me? What’s not to like about that? Timothy Leary called surfing, “…the ultimate in spontaneous interaction!”

Bicycles have been a growing passion of mine for the past nine years or so as well. It is a physically exerting activity, but on a deeper note it’s also an unconscious social reaction to the state of the Modern Urbanites plight. Gasoline is too expensive, cars have cut us off from our communal nature and separated us into sub-categories of envy and social standing, traffic has enraged us and turned us against each other, the oil is running out and almost all of our eggs are in the petroleum basket. And not the least of our worries, the result of 100 years of our petroleum addiction has taken a strange and violent toll on our ability to successfully inhabit our planet.

Bicycles are one of the most simplified and ingenious mechanisms that human beings have ever concocted and over the past few years, it has been fascinating to watch it (the bicycle) re-emerge as a tool not only for transportation, but as well for play and expressivity! So, in a nutshell, I like to ride my bike to the beach and surf while I am letting paint dry.

 Brandon Boyd by Baelyn Neff

Most Likely You Aren’t Going To Die From Paint Inhalation

What are your thoughts on fear, does it help or hinder you?

Brandon: Fear is a very interesting topic! I have many fears, some rational and others irrational. My fear of speaking in front of large audiences? Rational. My fear of flying Sharks that know my home address? Irrational.

The most interesting thing about fear, in my opinion, is the results. What will happen if I face my fears? What is it I am essentially afraid of? I start addressing those fears by asking these fundamental questions. A vast majority of the answers to said questions appear as… “An irrational fear of death.” Which brings you to the ultimate question herein: Am I afraid of dying? Sorry to get so heady on you here.

In my experience, the best way to handle fear is to treat it like the attacking bear; Stand and face it. Put your arm in the air and make yourself appear to be larger than you actually are! Some experts would argue that ‘Playing dead’ is the best defence against the bear, but I say fuck that shit. That’s boring. And what in the world can you accomplish from playing dead? That is until you are in the bear’s mouth, he is chewing and your friends are running in the other direction. Then you might just relax a little and think about your favorite tv show.

"Ectoplasm" by Brandon Boyd

What I am trying to say is, if you are afraid to paint a picture, start a band, or ask that super groovy chick who lives next door to you on a date, stand and face it! Most likely you aren’t going to die from paint inhalation or being flattened by a falling canvas. The odds are that you won’t die while on stage. Unless someone with an unripe tomato has remarkable aim and hits you square in the nose, pushing the bridge of your sniffer into your brain. And if you ask her out, she may say no, and you’ll feel bad for a minute. Then you’ll realize that the girls who get boobs early are statistically the first ones to get pregnant too! Be afraid!

Rich and Famous

So is life in the public eye what you thought it would be when you set out?

Brandon: Life in the public eye is very strange. Some would argue that there are more downsides to it than up. This is a disconcerting revelation! We are taught, especially in America, that to be rich and famous is the nectar of the American Dream. Once you “make it” you don’t ever have to worry about anything anymore! The problems of the world literally melt away in front of your eyes like the cheap ‘back in time’ effect that dribbles down the TV screen as our beloved fictional icons think back onto better, more wholesome times…

I don’t want to be the bearer of bad news, but the fact is that if you are an unhappy, unhealthy, unbalanced and unworthy recipient of wealth and fame, you will most likely be an unhappy, unhealthy, unbalanced, and unworthy rich and famous person. So everyone will know when you are having a childish moment.  Everyone will hear about your speeding ticket. Remember that time you sharted at the beach party and got caught jettisoning your underwear into the rubbish by your best friend and he promised not to tell anyone or as God as his witness, he should be struck down where he stand?

"Two For Flinching" by Brandon Boyd

Well, in the rich and famous scenario, your best friend isn’t really your best friend, he doesn’t actually believe in the same God as you do, and he is going to tell everyone that he caught you stuffing your skivvies down the toilet hole with a broomstick. Everyone at this fictional beach party, of course, has a blackberry or mobile device and within minutes, TMZ is airing the news with the fervor of a CNN correspondent when Osama Bin Laden was shot! My point is, check your intentions. Fame merely magnifies pre-existing conditions. So it does have the potential to positively alter lives. I shall leave it at that.

Over to you

Brandon said “When we are low on energy, and trying to be expressive, it’s like bringing a spork to a gun fight.” So, what can you do, right now to get away from the machine, increase your energy, and come back firing on all creative cylinders?

Credits: Interview by Angel Greenham. Edit by Paul Montreal. The excellent portrait photography in this article was provided by Brantley Gutierrez and a special thanks goes to Jen DiSisto

Check out more of Brandon’s artwork or purchase one of his books or prints.