With its first new album in five years, Incubus looks to reclaim the flame with a raw, urgent record that puts the spotlight on Jose Pasillas’ groove machinery.
Oh, the life of the multiplatinum rock band in the year 2011. In an age when true rock bands are like true heroes — hard to find — California quintet Incubus continues to make its own mold and explode it at will. While the band’s last album, 2006’s Light Grenades, drew on the then-popular currency of RATMesque aggro rock (“Rogues,” “A Kiss To Send Us Off”).
Primus-inspired experimentalism (“Pendulous Threads”), and good old-fashioned hit-making machinery (“Dig”), the band’s new product, If Not Now, When?, sounds like a reflection of the modern era — a treatise on universal angst and peace-’n’-love solutions.
Soaring over guitarist Mike Einziger’s wide-open-spaces arena rock, singer Brandon Boyd channels his inner love child into self-concerned lyrics that cover everything from the end of the world (“Tomorrow’s Food”) to “the path of least resistance” (“Promises, Promises”). It’s a whole new Incubus, the band enjoying the grandeur of middle-of-the-road rock expressed in ginormous, feel-good grooves that eschew complexity and aggression for a cool blast of circular rhythm hypnosis.
For his part, drummer Jose Pasillas has never sounded so sure-footed, so deep in the pocket, so groovalicious and into pure rhythm. Where Light Grenades practically offered a different Pasillas on each track, If Not Now, When? is the sound of a drummer supremely comfortable in his own consistency, playing it simple, playing it powerful, and ultimately, playing for the music.
“The music itself lent to a deeper sort of groove,” Pasillas says from his home in Calabasas, California. “When we were recording, I was basically following the music. The music I heard this time was very cinematic, very lush, and it just called for those grooves. It was easy just to lay into a really deep groove and create a solid platform for the vocals and the melodies. That was my approach for the whole record.”
Pasillas creates a lush tapestry throughout the album, his pulse slightly laid-back, his sound as fat as Don Henley channeling Bernard Purdie, and his use of repetition as a rhythmic device, classic.
“It’s a different way of thinking,” Pasillas acknowledges. “I wasn’t dissecting it that much. I would find a groove that I thought was good. Then there were moments where I felt like I could do a fill or maybe loosen it up a little bit, but for the most part I was listening to the vocals and really laying a solid foundation from the rhythm section. We laid the most solid foundation for amazing melodies and amazing lyrics. This is really a vocal record, and we laid a beautiful path for Brandon to do whatever he does on top of it.”
But far from a simple less-is-more approach, Pasillas, assisted by producer Brendan O’Brien, often created the final drum part from multiple takes, or used an old ’80s drum machine as a rhythmic bed.
“In a couple songs I am playing beats that are layered on top of each other,” he explains. “But it’s not necessarily less–is-more all the time. The groove in ‘Friends And Lovers’ has this shuffle, it sounds really simple but it’s a forward-moving shuffle, which is really fun to play. It’s not just a very simple beat. And there are tom fills at the tail end on top of the groove there. Although it sounds like it’s very stripped down there are things going on, but the way it’s presented it sounds more downplayed.
“We were just messing around with different sounds,” he adds. “We weren’t really sure what would stick, so I just tried a few different things. Sometimes we heard them together, and they worked well like that. On ‘In The Company Of Wolves’ there’s a marching snare drum section — that was recorded in a very small room, while the main groove was recorded in a really big tracking room.”
And while Pasillas wasn’t a fan of the drum machine O’Brien brought into the sessions, a team player to the end, he complied.
“We played with a click track produced by that old drum machine,” Pasillas recalls. “We played with that a lot to fill in the grooves. This was Brendan’s idea. It often made it into the songs. It’s in most of the songs somewhere: in the beginning of ‘Thieves,’ and the affected drum machine sound in ‘The Original.’ It looked like a square 9x9 toy. It’s all little buttons — 100 of them — and each one had a different effect. You put it on any tempo and it will go across the buttons, and whichever one you push it will mimic that noise, in time. It’s like an old ’80s cheesy drum machine. But I didn’t care for it. To play with it is one thing; to keep it in the recording was another. I wasn’t a fan of it.”