Brandon Boyd and I are looking at the cover of his new record, Sons of the Sea — a twilight-studded sky with pinpoints of stars looming over the canyons, rainbow solar flares in the corners, the whole thing overlaid with a curious image somewhere between an arrow and a dream catcher.
“I thought that would be a cool tattoo,” Boyd says, after explaining that an artist from Brazil had created the image by using some sort of mirroring technique. “Not that we need any more tattoos.” He looks down at his inked-up arms and then at mine. “You have some cool tattoos,” he says, touching the Eye of Horus on my wrist. “I have this on my ankle from when I was like 15… It has a scar that runs straight through it. It was cut in half in an accident and the doctor used it to line the skin back up. So I have that tattoo, but it has this great, like, perfect line straight through it.”
“What do you think it does to the Eye of Horus when it gets split?” I ask.
“I’m not sure,” he replies. “That occurred to me as I was recovering from that whole situation — what does it mean that the eye was split in half and sewn back together?”
“I think it’s supposed to see, like, sunshine or something. So maybe it’s the opposite,” I speculate, half-remembering what the symbol that I chose to get permanently etched into my skin at a walk-in tattoo parlor in Bushwick actually means.
“Maybe now it can see both,” Boyd muses. “It’s like ‘Ladyhawk,’ have you seen that movie? Oh my God, see that movie!”
As Boyd launches into a description of an ’80s film in which an evil ruler, addled by unrequited love, puts a curse on two lovers so that they’ll be forced to live apart — she becomes a hawk, he a wolf — and how that might have unconsciously inspired his sad ballad about missed opportunities “Lady Black,” two things occur to me: 1). Brandon Boyd touched my wrist, oh my god, Brandon Boyd touched my wrist and 2). Brandon Boyd has gotten pretty zen.
If you’re anything like me — IE an angsty music fan currently pushing 30 — it’s likely that you spent many a teenaged car ride to school/the mall/nowhere blasting Incubus albums like Make Yourself, screaming behind what you (erroneously) believed to be soundproof windows, “And if I fuck me/ I fuck me in my own way!” The Incubus of my youth was about fighting against the stream in many ways, struggling, and could probably best be summed up by a lyric from their classic jam, “Pardon Me”: “Lately I’ve been thinking of combustication as a welcome vacation from the burdens of the planet Earth.” Heavy, dude.
Sons of the Sea, if the band’s self-titled debut album is any indication, is a very different animal. From its zenned-out album cover to the tracks therein, Sons of the Sea is an album about searching and finding and seeing — from the dreamy “Avalanche” (“There’s art in that wave of debris”) to anthemic call to move forward “Untethered” (“Let go of the all the lies/ We’ll learn to be untethered”). Yes, Boyd is no longer 23 — and he seems to be on the verge of something wholly different than combustication.
After Incubus went on hiatus after 2011’s If Not Now, When?, Boyd started looking for his next project. And this seachange — pun intended — just happened to coincide with a new sense of positivity bubbling within the musician. According to Boyd, he had been, for a while, mired a bit in a kind of jaded space, but over the last five years or so he started to allow himself to see what he calls “magic” again — to experience and not ask where those experiences came from. Specifically, he started tapping his dreams for new music.
“I would be walking around singing a melody and lyrics and then I would realize I was dreaming and that the song was actually really good. Then when I would wake up I would sing it into my recorder,” he says. These lucid dreams birthed two tracks on the album: the opening song, “Jet Black Crow” — which builds from choral vocals to a kind of “stomping playfulness,” as Boyd calls it — and “Avalanche,” a track that evokes traditional bands like the Clancy Brothers with its singsong warmth.
Yup, in essence Boyd has done what Samuel Taylor Coleridge could not with his poem “Kubla Khan” — finished something started in a dream. Not bad for a surfer dude from California.
Speaking of surfing, Boyd says that a lot of the sounds on the record were inspired by bands like the Beach Boys, bands that his parents used to listen to while he was rolling in the back of the car as a kid. That throwback quality, in part, also comes courtesy of collaborator and long-time producer Brendan O’Brien’s guitar collection, which is replete with six-strings that were “built before we were born,” Boyd says, and is currently covered in a layer of grime. (Apparently they sound better that way.) After particularly vigorous practices, Boyd says that the duo’s hands are often coated in dirt, which inspired what almost became the band’s name: “Hobo Hands,” a moniker that might give crying fans pause when on the verge of asking for a picture.
In the end, though, the guys settled on Sons of the Sea — which received the ringing endorsement “I don’t hate it” from O’Brien — and effectively brought Boyd back to his Californian roots. It also leaves the project open for other collaborators — future “sons” if you will — which Boyd fully intends to bring on board over the years.
A fiercely independent musician and artist — he wrote his most recent book “So The Echo” sans editor and directed all the lyric videos for the record — this capacity to bring others into the fold is something Boyd is trying to do more of. One of the first steps was enlisting an artist to do the album cover instead of doing it himself. “I figured I had put enough of my stamp on everything and have designed album covers,” he says. “I figured it was time to sort of diversify a little bit. I didn’t want to be that guy too much.”
He’s also currently taking singing lessons — after 20+ years of being a musician — and plans to take a creative writing class to hone his skills for his next literary project — which could potentially be a novel. (At least, he’s not adverse to the idea.) “There’s a lot of grammatical errors and mis-references in there,” Boyd says, laughing, about “So The Echo.”
As the interview winds down and the publicist comes forward to usher Boyd to another interview, I ask — feeling like an idiot — “Can I get a picture with you? My 16-year-old self would hate me forever if I didn’t ask.” Boyd, graciously, allows it.
And as I stand there, making an unfortunate face into the camera, another two things occurr to me, 1). Brandon Boyd is touching my shoulder, oh my god, Brandon Boyd is touching my shoulder, and, 2). Brandon Boyd really is taking his 14-year-old advice. He really is making himself — all over again.
Sons of the Sea is out now on AVOW! Records.