Since forming in 1991 and releasing their first album in 1995, Incubus has been one of the few celebrated rock bands to span multiple eras of music. If popularity was solely based on record sales their numbers should speak for themselves, having sold over 8 million albums in the United States, and over 13 million worldwide. But their impressive sales doesn’t scratch the surface of their popularity and, even more impressively, the band continues to make music, following up 2011’s If Not Now, When? with a new album currently in the works. Amidst entering their third decade of working together, it is guitarist, Michael Einziger, who has expanded his presence far from the rock band he formed while attending High School in Calabasas.
Off duty for Incubus, Einziger calls his latest chapter a time period that he “wanted to start branching out and writing music with other people,” and he’s certainly done so. On one end joining Hans Zimmer in scoring films and on the other inadvertently getting his hands on the steering wheel of EDM. Mike established that “EDM” (he too prefers quotations around the acronym) culture had been previously foreign to him, and still relatively is. As such, he chuckles when confirming that he’s been at the forefront of the movement. But where did it all begin?
“I first got connected with Avicii about a year and a half ago,” he traces back the connection through his manager’s involvment with Interscope records, then to Tim’s A&R guy Neil Jacobson who pitched the idea. Unfamiliar with Avicii, it didn’t take long for Mike to find his answer. “I realized he produced that song “Levels” which I personally think is kind of a masterpiece production wise, I figured if he can do that he’d be someone I’d like to get together and work with.”
His detailed description of linking up with Tim is surprisingly simple:
“We spoke for a few hours and made a plan to write songs together, and the very first thing that happened when we worked together is we wrote ‘Wake Me Up.’ That was our first attempt at writing music together, which is crazy looking back on it.”
Einziger attributes their chemistry to sharing very similar musical goals and seeing things the same way. “We were able to just sit down at talk about ideas that were exciting, things were flowing very easily. So the first time we got together it just seemed like the ideas came very quickly and easily.” Shaking hands, sitting down, going to work, and instantly producing hit sounds like a musician’s fairytale, and his humble account reveals it as such. “He sat down in front of a piano in my studio and I had my guitar, we just starting messing around with chords the same way I would with anyone else really. We got this chord progression going where we were both very happy with it.”
Giving Avicii credit as someone with a first-hand account of his work ethic, Einziger describes him as “very specific about things he likes and doesn’t like,” something he admires in a collaborator. “Somebody’s who’s very opinionated and knows what they like and don’t like, that’s really important, a good thing right off the bat.”
As one of the most revered guitarists on the planet who is just now managing his longevity in a world with technology redefining production and instrumentation, Mike speaks candidly on the changing times. He embraces technology’s impact on music rather than fighting it. “The fact that technology influences music making and art in general to me is very exciting. I just really love how music making tools are so powerful now.” Name dropping programs and tools to create music, and the power in which they each hold, he’s amazed at how accessible the power is to create and make impact. “I think that it’s completely amazing that any person who can get their hands on music making programs can change the world with music.”
The parallel he draws between today’s musicians and those of decades past is as deep as creative ignition, as direct as being young and inspired. “I just know from my own experience that these musical ideas could end up connecting with an audience around the world. What millions and millions of people listen to start off as little ideas that we write in bedrooms and in living rooms and garages,” he explains, “anyone can create something that changes the world.” He refers to there still being the highest of production quality despite volume, and the ability for it to instantly be shared — something that didn’t happen when he was a kid. “That obviously presents its own set of new challenges and issues and new directions, I personally find it exciting.”
Although he doesn’t listen to music that he says is generalized as “EDM” he speaks on what he does listen to, a lot of music that uses electronic music technologies.
“It’s funny that I’ve been writing music that’s at the forefront of that movement, at least recently, but it’s something that’s totally alien to me in many other ways because of my background.”
He says the electronic side of music he listened to growing up doesn’t sound anything like today’s electronic music, and laughs in reflection. Looking back, however, he pinpoints electronic influence for Incubus being the drum n’ bass he heard while touring Europe. “There were artists like Roni Size and Talvin Singh, a lot of drum n’ bass artists in England in Europe doing cool stuff. That was a lot of the musical influence that we brought back with us to the US when we started making, at the time with Incubus, an album that came out in 1999 called Make Yourself,” he recalls memories of 15 years go and entails some of Incubus’ most popular music. “There were elements of what we were trying to emulate, some live drum n’ bass music in certain spots. We have a song called “Pardon Me,” the verses in that song were totally lifted from us listening to those artists.”
Talking his time away from Incubus and exploring new tasks, he breaks them down by way of each musical situation having its own unique set of circumstances. “Each time I throw myself into these situations that feel foreign to me, that’s when I learn the most about what I’m doing and how big music is,” he continues, “music is a really big place. It’s easy to get bogged down in a certain sound or formula for doing things, but I’m actually really enjoying this stage of my career where I’m able to work with all these people.”
From working with Hans Zimmer to satisfy a director’s visuals in one world of music and songwriting with unexpected partners in another, Mike is certain these experiences will shine through new material he’s working on with Incubus. “I’m working with my band as well and we’re starting to write new music and make songs together, it’s interesting to be doing that after having all these experiences,” he says,”the music will definitely be influenced by that in someway, I don’t know if I can really pinpoint how or what it will sound like as result, but it definitely be influenced by it in some capacity.”
Recently taking to Bonnaroo, Einziger played a key role in Skrillex’s Superjam experiment, he says “doing what we did at Bonaroo is what music making really is all about — getting together with different people of really varying backgrounds and actually just throwing it all together and making something exciting and different happen.” He calls it one of the most fun musical experiences of his life. Indescribably fun, in fact, and instantly offers praise to the host.
“Skrillex is, in my opinion, one of the most important musicians of the last ten years. Very few people can change the way music sounds that dramatically.”
Mike refers to Sonny Moore’s innovation, and the impact is truly had upon all of music, how “people started to emulate him in such a way, the things he was doing at the time sounds normal now but the time when he started doing it it was this thing that was shocking.” Recalling the first time he heard “Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites,” Einziger says it was something that would’ve had him pull his car over if he had been driving, something that doesn’t happen too often. “He offered me one of those moments in my life, and when that happens, I have a massive amount of respect for him and what he’s done.” Talking about their on-stage chemistry, the honor it was to share the stage and collaborate with different musicians live, he hones in on one moment: “At one point me, Robby from The Doors and Skrillex were kind of having a guitar battle on stage, it’s those moment that are so crazy, awesome.”
Then there’s his work with David Guetta, the recently released “Lovers On The Sun.” He got together with Guetta and co-producer Giorgio Tuinfort in London with only the idea to write music, no specific agenda. David had a song he was working on, that he knew was almost finished but still missing something. “I took a few listens and it seemed like it needed that sort of identifiable guitar riff,” Mike illustrates their session, “he wanted it to be that Morticoni sort of vibe that’s very guitar driven in many respects. I just played the first thing that came to me and it ended up becoming the right thing.” Nothing more than a fun time bouncing ideas back and forth, his respect for Guetta’s workflow is obvious, and he wraps up the track’s tale: “When I just started playing what I was playing, David and Giorgio just started freaking out. It gave the song a different dynamic and aesthetic, it completed the vision of it.”
What’s the come from his electronic hand before Incubus is back in full force? More music with David Guetta has been completed, but its fate is still undecided. The case is similar with Avicii, whom he’s reunited with on exciting new follow up material.
“Tim, I believe is trying to get ready to put a new album out, probably later in the year. We wrote a few new songs together. We did one together with Billie Joe of Green Day, that one’s really exciting. We did a few with AlunaGeorge, some stuff with Wyclef and Matisyahu.”
Mike doesn’t know what will make the final cut of the new album, since “Tim’s got so much stuff,” but confirms they’ve done a lot of writing together in recent months and is excited about the collaborators who’ve joined them and the potential for its 2014 release.