Plugging in An Interview with Brandon Boyd
June 23, 2016
by Derek Hockenbrough
Photography by Derek Bahn
On a long hotel rooftop in Venice, Brandon Boyd leans on a rail-ing as he watches a particularly stunning Southern California sunset. His gaze is reminiscent of an ancient Zen master — somehow focused yet unfocused, nowhere in particular but particularly everywhere. He greets us with the kind of sincere warmth that one can’t fake; you would never guess that the gentle person in front of you is an internationally renowned artist and music superstar. Most well known as frontman of the legendary band, Incubus, Brandon is a practitioner of many mediums and continues to evolve along with his craft. Over his lengthy career, he has released seven Incubus albums and one solo album, produced a massive collection of fine art and published two books. We sit down to talk about his life as an artist and the purpose of artists in our world.
Blindfold Magazine (BFM) What was the culture like growing up? Were you always surrounded by art?
Brandon: I spent a lot of time in Malibu growing up, but I wouldn’t say I grew up there. I grew up in the San Fernando Valley and we would take the beach bus to Malibu. It was this great moment in the 80s when I was a little kid. For five bucks, or something, you would get a number of rides. At a certain point they would pick you up with your board and your friends and take you to the beach. Surfing definitely had a large impact on a lot of things at that age, from like 11 to 15. A lot of it was that it would keep me out of trouble, keep-ing occupied and obsessing about one thing. And I had drawn my whole life. I was always drawing since before I can remember. So, those were the two things I was really obsessed with, surfing and drawing.
Photo By Derek Bahn
BFM: From one artist to another, when you feel an obsession, it’s a very powerful force.
Brandon: Yes, you have to do it. There’s really no alternative. But it’s beautiful … this overwhelming desire to put a pen to paper. But, I didn’t really start writ-ing until I was writing lyrics and poetry for the band. When I was 15, I really started writing and it just sort of came pouring out of me. I still drew and I still painted, but it really felt like the same creative impulse. So I chased a different avenue, I guess you could say, making music with my friends. And it took on a life of its own kind of quickly. There seems to be almost a kind of vacuum effect that took place. But, what’s interesting is that I didn’t really actually have a childhood dream to be a “rocker.” In a way, it’s like it came and found me. But that’s not entirely accurate. ‘Cause there was also a certain point when I was obsessed with music. We’d get rides and go see shows in Hollywood or even at bars in the Valley.
BFM: Going back to the obsession feeling, you said it’s like a “vacuum.” Was there a certain moment, whether in surfing or painting, when you really felt that vacuum effect? Where you thought, “Oh, no. Well, there’s no going back.”
Brandon: (laughs) There were many of those moments, growing up. And I still experience them. I think that whole vacuum analogy is quite accurate, ‘cause it’s almost what that feels like when you feel that creative impulse approaching and then you allow it, and make space for it. You feel trust into this beautiful, chaotic, kind of Nebula atmosphere where it almost feels like you’re allowing yourself to plug into the source of the universe. It’s a beautiful feeling when it works. It’s also what makes when you experience, like when any artist feels a block of some kind. That would be the antithesis of The Vacuum. You’re like, “Why can’t I plug in?!” You start trying to knock into walls.
Photo By Derek Bahn
BFM: You have the American plug and the European outlet.
Brandon: Yeah, “It’s not working! What’s wrong with me? What’s wrong with the universe?!” Then, it also, makes it that much more beautiful when you plug back in. Because you always plug back in. The thing I’ve learned is that you can’t control as much when it’s going to plug back in or when the vacuum effect is going to occur. You can only sense it com-ing. I’ll have these long periods of consumption, creative consumption whether it’s film or art shows or literature. Music, going to shows. And at a certain point, you kind of vomit it all back up. But it’s through your filter and that’s when the beautiful thing happens.
BFM: Do you find moments where you’re straddling the line? Where one day, you’re consuming and then the next, you’re vomiting as you put it?
Brandon: Those are some of the most special times, because you have it all. You have your cake and you’re eating it too. I feel like I’m on the cusp of one of those. I’ve been drawing and making a lot of music, and consuming a lot of literature too. But, you can’t control it. You can only sense it coming, so you start making room and clearing out your schedule. “I’m about to be really busy!”… Then sometimes, there’s this occasion that happens, where something that you do whether it’s in art or music, and in my case it’s been in music, happens to click. And it reaches lots and lots and lots of people in a short time and some of it lasts. And you get this extended wind at your back.
BFM: Let’s get a little specific with your fine art. We’ve gone in and out a bit talking about your style and process. Would you say you have a specific style and, if so, how would you describe it?
Photo By Derek Bahn
Brandon: I wouldn’t. I know that I have a highly stylized way of drawing and when I paint it’s more like draw-painting. I basically just draw with paint and a brush. At the moment, I’ve been feeling my way through it. And it’s a lot of fun, and very challenging, and very rewarding. I remember when I was in art classes as a kid, like life drawing or something, and my teacher would walk by and say, “There you go with that style again.” And, I wouldn’t really know what they were talking about. And now, I know I have a “style” but I wouldn’t know how to describe it. I think that’s better left for someone else.
BFM: Right, it’s difficult to “describe” your style. But even in your answer you reveal something about it. Like, if I asked Hemmingway, maybe his answer would be, “None.” And that to me is his style, and I think you represent your own style unconsciously. Now, as far as process. Do you have a particular process?
Brandon: Um. (laughs) Sort of. I make space, so in a way it’s sort of meditative as I clear out. I very rarely have an image in my mind before I start something. I sort of feel it, and then choose a medium. This is with music too. So, I like to have a lot of tools around me when I get started. It could be a pen, or a piece of paper, or an old beat up acoustic guitar that’s slightly out of tune. It’s more about that impetuous, “Woah, grab something!” I like to have them within arm’s reach. And [my process] is still defining itself as I go.
BFM: In my experience, most artists start with an idea, a method, or a tool. Sounds like you start with a tool.
Photo By Derek Bahn
Brandon: Exactly. And sometimes a tool can create inspiration. A neighbor of mine, I went over to his house. And he had this amazing 1940s Gibson parlor guitar and I tuned it up and it had this beautiful chug to it. So I borrowed it for like eight months and wrote [his solo] record. I feel bad, ‘cause I hijacked his guitar. But I’m forever in his debt ‘cause I walked in and there’s this beautiful antique tool waiting to be exploited.
BFM: You repaid him in lessons right?
Brandon: Absolutely. No, it’s funny because I’m a shitty guitar player so I don’t have much to offer. But I can write on that tool. That’s what’s fun about it to me. I’m not a great painter; I’m not a great musician. I just have a desire and a true love of the process and I make things as a result.
BFM: I create, therefore I am. (laughs) Do you find recurring themes in your work?
Brandon: Very much so. A recurring theme, in particular with art, are those amorphous waves. Those hairlines, whatever they are. … I did my first mural. Hurley gave me this large space, two assistants, and a scissor-lift and all the paint I could use. They were like, “Do a mural.” We agreed on this idea that we wanted to perpetuate this idea of getting single-use plastics start to make their way out of our general conscious-ness. Plastic is a remarkable invention but it lasts like thousands of years. It quite literally doesn’t biodegrade forever then when it does, it leeches … it’s horrible. And most of it’s ending up in the water. It’s a sequence of twisting, bending lines. Folding in and out of each other and it’s very inaccurate but very alive too. I don’t know what it is. Maybe it’s my visual interpretation of the Ether. That thing that we’re all plugged into, but you have the choice whether or not to pay attention to it. That we are all … literally interconnected with each other and everything that has ever existed. So, what is that invisible connection?
BFM: Now, being a creator across multiple mediums. What does art mean to you? How do you define art?
BFM: I know, that’s about as loaded as it comes.
Brandon: (laughs) Right? I could basically give you a different answer every day of the week. Today… why don’t we call art whatever exists between the lines? Whether it’s the blank space or what you see in the blank space or what you interpret that to be. At one point, I would’ve said that art is necessity, art is a mirror, art is useless, art is meaningful uselessness. But, that’s the beautiful thing about it, it is this amorphous structure that is constantly evolving. And all you gotta do is grab a little bit of it and let yourself be elastic enough that it can just guide you through. It’s a beautiful existence to chase that. It’s also really frustrating, and challenging, and complex. Especially, if you do it professionally.
BFM: As far as the half-life of our world and our repercussions onto it. Where do you think art stands there? In helping that?Brandon: It very rarely got the credit it deserved in its heyday. Take the artist out of the occasion; take art on its own. It seems like it will be credited in the moment, but because of the expedient nature and also the exponential nature of our culture; this, “It’s gotta be faster and faster and faster.” And at a certain point, how much faster can this move? Is there a breaking point? Or, do we keep getting faster and faster? And what’s interesting is that so much art doesn’t get recognized until after the fact. You get 30 years away from it, and you can have these moments, like “Oh, that’s what they were talking about.” That’s really weird, and it’s weird when you date it. And it’s weird when you bring in all the other things that make sense in retrospect, whether it’s politically or culturally. … Artists really are the flag-bearers for culture.
Photo By Derek Bahn
BFM: Is it just limited to culture?
Brandon: Not necessarily, No. I feel like, because art is the thing that communicates to the deeper part of us, the place that language can’t reach. In a way, it’s almost like artists are the spiritual communicators as well — the ones bringing out these deep emotional things that can’t really be talked about accurately when they’re happening. That’s why an image will appear. Something that can, quite literally, become immortalized for a period of time.
Incubus Brandon Boyd Musician Art
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About The Author: Jacqueline Romano