DJ/keyboardist Chris Kilmore takes a look back at the band’s body of work for their new retrospective Monuments & Melodies, explains what their creative process is like, and looks ahead to what’s coming next.
I hear you’re a little lost right now.
Yeah, I’m a little lost. I think I’m still a little lost. I’m trying to get back to the venue, but I think I got it under control now [laughs].
What city are you in?
I’m in Boston. I was playing golf with a buddy this morning, so I’m trying to figure out how to get back to the venue [laughs].
How’s the tour going besides getting lost?
The tour’s going awesome. Everything’s been fun for us as a band. The venues have been pretty much sold out, or near sold out, every night. It’s been great.
So what does it feel like to have a greatest hits album out now?
I mean, you know, it was a tough thing for me to wrap my head around. Looking back on the course of music that I started listening to, a lot of groups I started listening to was through their greatest hits record. My first initial thought was, “Eh, it’s a greatest hits record. Does that mean it’s the end of my career [laughs]?”
But over time, I think I’m getting used to the idea. It was really easy to put that record together because we had a bunch of hit singles that have been top 10 singles. It was fun putting the record together because we got to look back at the history of the band. It was pretty nice.
How did you end up selecting the songs on the rarities disc?
The rarities one was a bunch of songs we had that were unfinished. A couple songs didn’t have a real home, songs that we wrote for records that we either didn’t end up finishing or they didn’t make the record. They were great songs, they just didn’t have a place.
I think the rarities disc was an awesome spot for them to come out, and for everybody to check them out and listen to those things. Some of those are demos. Some of those are finished. It’s like a hodgepodge of stuff.
When you were putting that together, were there any songs you wished had made an album?
No, everything worked out in due time. For us, it seemed natural. Every song on that rarities one seemed like a natural thing. It wasn’t hard. It wasn’t difficult. It just sort of fit together.
Looking back, are there any specific songs that stick out in your mind that you have done so far?
For me, it’s probably just personal taste. Every song is different. If I’m in a different mood, I’ll tell you something else. “Punch Drunk” is the one that sticks out to me the most on that album. It’s really fun to play live.
In addition, you recorded a couple new songs for this as well. How did those come about?
Before we decided to do the rarities disc, we decided to write a couple new songs for that. We hadn’t written songs in a little while. Mike was away at Harvard and José had a baby. Well, he didn’t have a baby but, you know [laughs]. He had a kid, and we just thought to get together.
Those songs we did real quick. It was pretty cool, real natural. We went into the studio and did those songs on a weekend. It was just something a little extra to give to the fans. Rather than just throwing out some singles, we thought we’d make it a little special thing.
Also when you buy the CD, you can go to this online Incubus vault. There’s pictures, movies and old video clips of all the stuff we’ve done over the years. It’s sort of like a walk back through memory lane kind of thing.
All five of you guys are really skilled musicians. What’s the creative process like when you’re writing?
Thanks. Most of the time, Mike will have a riff. He’ll be like, “Hey, I’ve been really working on this song. I’ve got this riff. I’ve got this idea. Let me play it for you guys.” Next thing you know, we start playing musical ping-pong. His idea will bounce off of me, go off of Ben, go off of Brandon, and next thing you know we have a song. It might not be what Mike was thinking, but it’s always different when you have one guy making a song as opposed to five guys making a song. By the time you get done with it, it’s something totally different.
Sometimes Brandon will have a lyric idea and be like, “I want this to go this way,” which is cool. Other times I’ll be jamming out something and have some really cool sounds. It’ll trigger a little light bulb in Mike’s head, and he’ll start writing around that. It’s different, but for the most part Mike will have a riff, like the opening riff, and then we work from that.
Is it usually something where you can tell right away you have a song, or does it take a little while to kind of hash out?
I would say it goes both ways. A lot of times, it just comes right out. We’re like “Ah, we got it.” When it starts to become work and it starts getting a little harder, that’s when we start to realize like, “Hey, maybe we should take this in a different direction. Stop working on it.” Something along those lines.
The songs that you guys hear that come out on the album have been actually fairly easy going. A couple of them have been hard, but usually when they start to get hard we put a stop to working on them.
You’ve worked pretty much exclusively with Brendan O’Brien for the last several years. What’s that relationship been like?
That relationship has been awesome, actually. It’s been really, really sweet. We have worked with him for many years. He’s like the sixth member of the band, you know? He’s a great, talented musician. Over the years, he gets to know us more and more, so he gets to learn more and more of what we like. It’s been amazing working with him.
Do you record a lot of the stuff live in the studio?
We do everything live just to lay down the map. We do it live until José gets a couple good takes. Then once José’s got a couple good takes, we go back in and overdub a bunch of stuff.
I really love your acoustic versions of songs, which you’ve been playing a couple of on this tour. Have you ever thought about doing an acoustic tour at some point?
You know, not really. It was something we put in the set that seemed real cool. A little change of pace to let everybody know we can still bang those songs out when they’re stripped down. We’ve never really thought about doing something totally acoustic, like a whole entire tour.
When you guys first broke into the mainstream and became popular, it was right around the time nu metal was in where it was hip to have a DJ in your band, or whatever. Now there’s not too many of those left. How has your role changed in the band throughout the years?
My role in the band has changed dramatically, man. When I started, I was just DJing. Back then, I was using strictly vinyl and pressing vinyl up. That whole process has changed to me DJing with MP3s. Then I started playing things live, and now I’ve got a whole keyboard rig. It’s just totally changed since back then.
Yeah, I’ve noticed on the last couple records you’ve added some more textures and layers to your sound.
Yeah. For me, I feel like that’s sort of my job. I sort of blend everything together, especially as a song’s coming together. I put a lot of different sounds together. I got a lot of different keyboards. I have my DJ rig. I have all that stuff. I’m the sound master [laughs].
While you’ve had a bunch of No. 1 and successful singles, you don’t sound like your typical radio band. What’s it like to have that type of success but remain different and your own band?
I think for us, we did start in that nu metal kind of category. That’s sort of what we kept getting classified as. I think it was fun for us to break out of that. None of us really listened to nu metal, and we don’t think we’re a nu metal band. It was an effort to be a little different than everybody. That’s a tough road to walk. It’s a thin line, and it’s really cool.
At a lot of concerts, we stick out like a sore thumb. We’ll be slotted in between, like, Slipknot and Metallica, and we don’t sound like either one of those bands. It’s something cool and fun to be different, but at the same time it’s tough sometimes. I like being different. I like playing a different kind of music than everybody else. We stick out a little bit, and that’s good with me.
So the other day I realized that this year is Make Yourself’s 10th anniversary. When you were making that record and touring off it, did you ever picture you’d be where you are now?
Absolutely not [laughs]. When we made Make Yourself, we were just having a blast. It was real fun. It was us five guys hanging out in a rehearsal studio with no windows, just rocking out. Then Make Yourself came out and we got a couple singles on the radio. Things just slowly started taking off for us. We didn’t make that record thinking anything would happen, really. We were just trying to make good music.
For about the last year, the band went on a little break of sorts. What had you been working on during that time period?
I’ve actually been hanging out with a bunch of musicians and trying to learn how to play keys better [laughs]. As far as DJing is concerned, I’ve been DJing all my life, but the keys are a fairly new thing for me. I was taking piano lessons and hanging out with some gnarly, gnarly keyboard cats, bouncing ideas and picking their brains. After a year’s gone by having done that, I can definitely notice I’m a way better keyboard player than I was a year ago, for sure.
You don’t really use traditional piano that much. Is that something you’d like to bring in a little bit more?
Yeah. You know, I like the old analog keys. The thing that’s awesome is that there is a lot of piano involved in a lot of our songs, but it’s just used as layering a lot. I like the Rhodes. It’s one of my favorite keyboards. I like playing the organ. I love those things. If it’s got keys, I’ll play it.
I know during the break a couple of the guys went back to college, and a lot of you have families now and stuff. What kind of impact do you think that will have on the band now and in the future?
Mike’s the only one that went back to college. José actually started taking some drum lessons. I was taking keyboard lessons. I think it’s worked out for us in the way we communicate with each other. Mike can write some things down and can say, “Hey, play a dominant seven chord right here.”
It’s steeped in knowledge now. Just the way we talk and communicate with each other is better and easier, I think. As far as the impact on the music, that’s yet to be seen. We haven’t written a whole record yet involved with all that kind of stuff.
You guys seem to get along really well. Do you ever fight or have disagreements, or anything like that?
No. I mean, everybody disagrees, especially when you live on a tour bus for a year with each other. You have little disagreements, but one thing we’ve always been good at is communicating those with each other. We’re all friends, and if somebody steps on somebody’s toes, we just talk it out and let each other know how we feel. It’s like one big therapy session [laughs]. We don’t let is escalate, really.
Another thing I’ve noticed is that some of you guys have a background in art, which you’ve then been able to incorporate into a lot of the artwork and videos. Has that been cool for you guys to do?
I don’t do any of the art. José and Brandon do pretty much all of the art, like design the album and things like that. The cool thing about that is it stays in-house. It’s not somebody else designing something that isn’t cool. It actually comes from us, and it’s just more authentic that way.
So, what’s the status of your next album?
We have tentative plans to start in January, and then hopefully have an album out by the summer. Hopefully, we’ll have that thing finished early next year and then get back out on tour.
Are there a lot of unfinished songs still lying around?
You know what? Not really. When we write a record, we usually write about 13-14 songs. We don’t really have a lot of extra stuff still lying around. There’s a couple things, but not many.
We like to work quick once we get in the studio. We don’t like to waste our time there, so we usually have a real good game plan. We know what songs we’re working on, and we go in there and bang them out. That doesn’t leave any room for a bunch of extra stuff lying around.
Do you have any idea what direction you’re going to go on this next one?
No. No clue. That’s the cool part about it. Even when a record starts being made, we don’t really know how it’s all going to piece together.
We’ve mentioned how you’ve had trips down memory lane with this whole thing. In the future, many years down the line, is there anything in particular you’d like Incubus to be remembered for?
Wow [laughs]. Everything, and nothing at the same time [laughs]. You know, I think when somebody says Incubus and looks back on us, I just hope they look at us as a solid rock band that put out good music and never really wavered in the wind. A strong, solid rock band that wrote good music, and did beneficial things for the world too.
Originally appeared on Mammoth Press