Bursting out of California and into the mainstream at the turn of the millennium, alt-rockers Incubus have maintained a steady profile as one of the defining acts of a generation. With a clutch of landmark albums including ‘Make Yourself’ and ‘Morning View’ behind them, the five-piece are still a vital force, as Ben Kenney tells us; “Making a record, it’s a dying art, but we like the process a lot.” We caught up with the bassist to chat the band’s forthcoming Ireland and U.K. shows, the recording of ‘8’, and the difficult process of replacing a founder member. Fungus amongus; Eamon O’Neill.
Hi Ben, how are you today?
I am well, I’m very well. Later today I’m going to go for a motorcycle ride with my girlfriend and I’m looking forward to that, a lot!
Have you a little bit of downtime right now?
Yeah, this whole summer has been between festivals, so we rehearse for a couple of days, go out and play shows for a couple of days, come home for a couple of days, and just do that; rinse and repeat, over and over again.
So it’s a pretty good work / life balance?
Yeah, this summer is a real treat. It’s different every time. Last summer we packed our bags and went out for, I think it was seven or eight weeks maybe, so we were out and we weren’t coming back until it was done. It’s different each year.
You’re returning to Ireland for a brace of shows in September; what’s taken you so long to return?
Oh man, I was tripping about that, because it was like 2007? Oh my God, I thought it was 2011 – that’s even worse if it was 2007! I don’t know, we’ve been really bad with getting back to the U.K., getting to Ireland, getting to Europe and Scandinavia, and getting back out in that area. And I don’t know the reason why, because I love being over there. It’s a shame, I think time just got the best of us and we let too much go by.
You’re playing your first ever date in Belfast on this run.
I believe so. I don’t think I’ve ever been to Belfast. I think the only shows we’ve done have been Dublin. It’s important to me because I don’t really know a lot about Ireland, and I was under the impression that there’s a significant kind of different vibe between Belfast and Dublin, and I want to see what that’s all about, because I love it out there.
Incubus has a very loyal following in places like the U.K.
Yeah, we definitely get a lot of love out there, and we’re finally getting back. We could probably one day just do a tour going through all the different spots in the U.K., and I would be down for that… in the summer! [*Laughing*]
You mentioned that you were busy last Summer; was that on the back of the release of the ‘8’ album?
Yeah, we were touring through the States, and getting that going. I think we might have even gone done to south America, but it’s kind of a blur, because it’s been going and going.
It took a while to get ‘8’ recorded; there were the EPs in between, but it was the longest break between Incubus album releases.
Yeah. Even though they’re not really the centre of how music is released these days for a lot of artists, we like making records, and we like being in the studio. Making a record gives you the ability to tell a story; to go from one vibe to the next, and make it feel more like a movie. But that’s kind of, it’s a dying art, I think. None of the big bands are really doing that much with records these days; they’re kind of releasing like, songs; one song here, one song there, but we like the process a lot.
There’s quite a variation in sounds on the album; was that down to the two producers you had working on it?
That definitely had an effect on the finished product, but I think we kind of came into it like we always do, like; “Let’s not do what we just did, let’s not do what we’ve done before, let’s try to move”, and it’s real small movements, real slight differences in the brush strokes. We just try to never do something like; “Oh, this is just like the other thing” – let’s have a purpose to move forward.
How does the song-writing process work for Incubus?
For doing ‘8’, we shacked up in this warehouse rehearsal space, and we just spent a couple of weeks in there; just writing songs every day, getting in, and just kind of beating on each other for days and days on end until we all felt good about what we were doing. It’s a group thing; we all get together, and we all bang it out. Brandon [Boyd, front man and founder], of course writes all the lyrics – we don’t really get in his wires with that, but the music is something that the five of us get in a room and just fight.
You fight to get your ideas in there?
Yeah, it’s a beautiful way; it’s like ‘reductive sculpture’.
You joined the band mid-way through their career; was that an easy transition for you?
When I look back at it, everything seemed natural, everything seemed to flow. The years may go faster now, but life was going by really fast back then. So, all the stuff that was happening, everything just seemed like it was in its right place. It never really struck me as odd or anything.
You took over from Dirk Lance, who was a founder member of the band; did that add pressure?
Well, whenever I was playing music with the guys, and we were all in the same room, everything felt like it was in its right place. It didn’t feel like there was pressure because of that. But I will say that it was amazing how a tonne of fans had already decided that they would hate me ‘til the end of time, before I’d ever even played a note. I’d never really realised how that whole thing goes before, like; “Okay, these people are adamantly against me no matter what I do, so, I might as well not worry about it.”
That must have been unexpected.
Where people have so much invested in a band, and have so many experiences listening to the music, it becomes the soundtrack to their lives, and when you replace one of the ingredients in that, a lot of people are not going to like it, just on principle; on the principle that it’s different. So, that was shocking for me, because every other band that I had been in, I was in the band and it was like; “He’s the guy in the band” – now it was like; “YOU RUINED MY BAND!”, and it was like; [*Puzzled*] “What the fuck?” [*Laughing*] I was like; “What did I DO?!” I don’t know man, I can only be me, and I’ve got to try to do that the best I can, and that’s all I’m here to do.
You’ve been with Incubus fourteen years now; what have been some of the highlights?
We’ve done so much stuff that I get hit with memories of; “I can’t believe that happened!”. Last summer, I was listening to the radio, and The Pretenders song ‘The Reason We’re Here’ comes on, and I’m like, jamming out to it, and all of a sudden – because I had completely forgotten in this library of memories – I remembered we performed that song with them on television. So, all of a sudden from not having it in my memory at all, I was remembering the whole day; remembering the guys from Kings Of Leon were there. We did this show and it was awesome, and it was really fun. So, just from hearing this song on the radio, I had this huge wave of positive memories, and that stuff happens all the time because there’s just been so much that’s gone on.
You’re obviously still enjoying it, almost a decade and a half after you joined.
Absolutely! I don’t know what it’s like out there [in Europe], but it’s really not the era of rock and roll in the States right now, and we’re still out there playing rock and roll, so that to me feels rebellious in a good way, and it feels awesome, and it feels like it’s really special to still be doing it.
Does the band’s continued popularity surprise you?
Yeah, I can’t believe it. I’ve seen other bands come and go, I’ve seen better bands come and go, and we’re still out here getting to do our thing. It’s just humbling, and I’m determined to not take it for granted.
What do you think the secret to maintaining that success is?
I can’t tell, really. If I knew then I’d probably be corrupted with the knowledge of knowing, and then become a force for evil! I don’t know man, something about it clicks with people, something about it resonates with people, and that’s all you could ever ask for. I mean, that’s all you could ever hope for.
Finally, what’s next for Incubus?
We’ve got no end date in sight, no plans for stopping right now. We’re pretty well rested right now, so we’re going to do these shows and then I think we’ll take the holidays off, like Christmas and stuff. But next year we’re going to jump back into whatever there is to do, because we’re still young enough to get away with doing this, so we’re going to try to keep doing this as much as we can.
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Incubus play Belfast’s Ulster Hall on 10th September, and Dublin’s Bord Gáis Energy Theatre on 11th September. For ticketing, click on the venue links.