Brandon Boyd: Son Of The Sea

Before launching his first U.S. tour with Sons of the Sea later this month, Incubus frontman Brandon Boyd talked to Pollstar about collaborating on the project with producer Brendan O’ Brien.

Sons of the Sea’s self-titled debut, which the singer/songwriter/visual artist calls “decidedly accessible” and “quite poppy in certain ways,” was released in September. With help from session drummer Josh Freese, the album features Boyd on vocals and percussion and O’Brien on guitar, bass and keyboard.

Boyd discusses how the timing was right to pursue the project following the conclusion of Incubus’ world tour in September 2012. He and O’Brien – who has produced Incubus, Pearl Jam, The Killers, and Rage Against The Machine – worked on Sons of the Sea’s debut while Incubus took more than a year off the road. But Boyd says the biggest reason Sons of the Sea came to be “was there were song ideas that were starting to drive me crazy.”

The U.S. tour, which will feature Boyd backed by a full band, begins Jan. 27 in Washington, D.C.

Photo: Brian Bowen Smith

In 2010 you released your debut solo album, The Wild Trapeze. Did you ever consider releasing Sons of the Sea’s material under your own name?

I toyed with the idea of releasing it under my name again but the further into the recording process I got with Brendan [O’Brien] I started to just get this sense that … not calling it a Brandon Boyd record would give it a little bit more potential to be versatile and to allow it to be kind of an open door of creativity between other musicians and other places … to be so many more things than if it was just under my name.

And so I talked with Brendan about it and got his sense of it. He really felt the same way that it could be potentially more fun, I guess you could say, in a creative sense if we had a project name and allowed it to be a project with a revolving door. So in that sense I’m very excited about what it could continue to be.

And when you say a revolving door, do you plan on working with different musicians in the lineup?

Yeah, exactly. Sons of the Sea, what I want it to be is really anything and everything. It will be whatever it wants to be. It can just constantly change and evolve as it needs to and as it wants to.

In Incubus we have obviously changed and evolved so much over the years, and very organically for that matter. But you know, it’s the same players and it’s the same band, which is wonderful, but that’s its own thing. There’s a part of me that always dreamed about doing a project that could be even more versatile than that if it wanted to be, so that’s kind of what the idea with Sons of the Sea is.

Photo: Brian Bowen Smith

Do you already have the lineup for the debut tour locked down?

Yes. I’ve put together a band, really for only the second time in my life, which is kind of weird. And I didn’t really put Incubus together, it was more like Michael and Jose and I were best buds and we were like, “Hey, we’re best buds, let’s go play some songs together!” And then we just kept doing it so you can’t really say that we put that band together. In a lot of ways this is the first time I put a band together.

Who will be joining you on tour in January and February?    

I am going to not say who they are yet. But there will be guitar, bass, drums and keyboard as well as me singing.

Why was the timing right to pursue Sons of the Sea now?

So many reasons. Probably the biggest reason was there were song ideas that were starting to drive me crazy [laughs]. They needed to be sort of born and formulated and crafted and let go of in order to make room for other stuff … I make songs, I make art, and it’s almost like a house cleaning, like I’m doing this sort of spiritual garage sale [laughs]. I let go of everything, And actually putting it out into the world, for better or for worse, has become very much part of the process. It feels really good to do so because it almost feels like you’re setting it free, not to get too esoteric. … And it continues to grow, even if the song is quote/unquote finished, or the book is finished, it gets to continue on its journey, on its process through the eyes and the ears of the people that listen to it or look at it. The way that they interpret it changes it and it hopefully alters them in some way, small or large, and then they share it and it continues to change. And it’s just this wonderful, ongoing kind of conversation.

So as far as the timing of Sons of the Sea, there’s that and then there’s also this space that we gave ourselves permission to have as Incubus. We’ve been a band for over two decades and we came off a pretty extensive world tour around the last record. It was also quite arduous in certain ways. I got sick once and had to cancel a couple of shows. And then Mike got sick and had to cancel a couple of shows. … It was one of those situations where it was like we should probably go home pretty soon and rest. We’re not in our 20s any more. [laughs]

We had almost covered the whole planet … [and] almost done the entire tour. The only place that we didn’t go, really, was South America but we actually just came back from South America about two weeks ago. We ended up getting that covered finally and it was probably the most rewarding part of the whole tour because we took a year.

But in that downtime you’re home and you’re resting but it doesn’t mean that the ideas stop coming. In certain ways they’ll arrive even more quickly. … Brendan and I had talked a lot in recent years about attempting to write a song together to see what would happen with no real agenda and no time frame. So we did, we got together [and] we had all this lovely freedom. We had no record label any more … no time frame … no budget constraints. It was just him and I and a recording studio. We just basically put our heads together and this is what happened. I’m actually really stoked on the way it turned out.

What was the writing process like with Brendan O’Brien compared to writing for an Incubus album?

It’s a little different every time but usually how it works [with Incubus] is Michael will have a guitar riff that he’ll present to me and I will knock it around in my head for a little while and I’ll start to write lyrics to it and certain melodic structures to it. Then we sort of share those skeletons of songs with the rest of the guys. The way I always [explain] it is Michael and I will erect the frame of the house, then we share it with the rest of the guys and altogether we sort of decorate the house.

It might be a little too mechanistic but it is most of the time an apt description of our process. These are architectures that we’re creating and we’re problem-solving amongst the creation of these neat little structures.

So with Brendan, it wasn’t totally dissimilar. It was just that he would share with me guitar ideas and certain piano ideas and I would respond to them with lyrics and melodies and things. The biggest difference is that Brendan is a totally different musician. He comes from a different generation of music, a generation of music which I’m constantly referencing. Whether it’s Led Zeppelin or The Beatles or even someone like Harry Nilsson or The Beach Boys. … I think it’s part of why he’s such a good musician because he [grew] up in this era and saw these bands actually play multiple times.

And I have a long history with him at this point of making Incubus albums with him. He started to show me these ideas, these riffs that he had and I was responding really quickly and really organically to them. Then I would share with him my melodic ideas that were kind of flooding in and he would respond to them with guitar riffs and it was just this beautiful kind of back-and-forth collaboration that we came up with that was really, really enjoyable.

You mentioned some of the acts that Brendan grew up going to see. What are some of the acts that influenced you for the project?

A lot of times when I’m actually in the music-writing process I stop listening to music. I know that might sound weird, but I turn off the radio in the car. I’ll go into this hibernation period and I’ll start drawing on different references, stuff that kind of feels like it comes out of nowhere but I know it doesn’t. It [sounds] like things I listened to a year before or a movie I had seen or a book I had read or a sound that you hear that creates a curious rhythm as you’re walking down the street. … What’s beautiful about the song writing process is that there are no rules and it’s as if everything becomes fuel, from the sound of the coffee maker to the leaf blower to the traffic going by to like that weird hum that gets created in a room full of people when you stop trying to pay attention to any one conversation. … Everything starts to influence you. … What’s so fun about writing songs is you’re allowed to draw from any of it and there are no rules.

It’s interesting for me to listen to the Sons of The Sea record as it’s finished because it’s decidedly accessible, it’s quite poppy in certain ways. And I wasn’t actively searching out pop music or actively referencing things, with the rare exception of, there’s a song called “Come Together” on the album. I started writing the melody to it and the lyrics and I couldn’t get a scene from “Fast Times at Ridgemont High” out of my head. So I let it happen and I went and found the scene I was looking for on YouTube. I just sort of played it on a loop and wrote a lot of lyrics [laughs] inspired by this one scene. … Then I had this song that’s kind of weird and poppy and fun and funny.

Did you set out to make music that was more accessible or did it just work out that way?
It kind of just worked out that way but I will say that maybe somewhere between three or five years ago, I stopped fighting a tendency I have to write kind of pop-ish choruses. I write choruses that I’m blessed that people want to sing along to. There was a while where I almost tried not to and I’m over that. Actually I’m proud of the fact that I like to write choruses that people might like to sing along to. God forbid, you know that someone might remember your song. [laughs]

It happened very organically. I love a good chorus, I love a chorus that’s sort of anthemic or howling that people can sing it back to you at the top of their lungs. We had [a] wonderful example of it when … we were just in South America and the audiences down there are just unbelievable. They’re completely, unabashedly passionate if they like something. … I’ll be singing at the top of my lungs and then I’ll open my eyes and look into the audience and they’re singing more intensely at the top of their lungs at me! It’s rad though, it’s so cool. It feels like a crazy blessing to have that kind of experience, so I’m really grateful.

Photo: Brian Bowen Smith

Upcoming dates for Sons of the Sea:

Jan. 27 – Washington, D.C., 9:30 Club     
Jan. 29 – Philadelphia, Pa., Theatre Of The Living Arts     
Jan. 30 – New York, N.Y., Irving Plaza Powered By Klipsch     
Jan. 31 – Boston, Mass., Paradise Rock Club     
Feb. 11 – San Diego, Calif., House Of Blues     
Feb. 12 – Pomona, Calif., Glass House     
Feb. 13 – Los Angeles, Calif., The Belasco Theater     
Feb. 15 – San Francisco, Calif., The Fillmore

For more information click here for Brandon Boyd’s website.