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They've Become Almost Famous

How a funky metal rock band from Calabasas has refined its sound and found notoriety.

October 22, 2000|LINA LECARO | Lina Lecaro is an occasional contributor to Calendar

Imagine you're a 14-year-old Valley dude starting a band with your school buddies. You love metal, funk and weird stuff like Primus and Mr. Bungle. You pick an ominous name, practice in your garage and start playing neighborhood parties.

A few years later you're ready for the big time, that glitzy jungle just down the 101, the Sunset Strip. But it's the early '90s and the only gigs you can get are with spandex 'n' lipstick bands still milking their '80s glory days. Your group is decidedly more casual, with a couple of you even wearing dreadlocks. But you keep getting the gigs because you draw kids, lots of them, even if you are hard to categorize.

Finally a label notices how you pack a room and decides to give you a chance. The next thing you know, you're being put on bills with up-and-coming (and equally un-glam) buzz bands such as Limp Bizkit and Korn. You do a tour called Family Values and suddenly you're not the odd man out anymore but part of a scene, a sound and, eventually, a new genre.

That's what happened to Calabasas-based Incubus, a funky metal rock band that suddenly found itself lumped in with two of the biggest-selling acts around, and a form of music that's as formulaic as it is popular.

It would have been easy for Incubus to ride the wave. Instead, it released an album late last year that proved that "heavy" doesn't necessarily mean assaulting guitars and slap-happy beats. "Make Yourself" showed that it can also mean introspective, spill-your-guts lyrics and a textured fusion of melodies and grooves.

From the driving guitars and passionate vocals of the poppish "Privilege" to the freaky, hip-hop-fueled DJ free-for-all "Battlestar Scralatchtica," the record is more an infectious meld of diverse sounds and influences than a blistering noise fest.

"With this record, we've kind of come into our own," says bassist Dirk Lance. "The first few records we were kind of playing around with different versions of ourselves. 'Make Yourself' is a step forward and sideways from where we've been."

Singer Brandon Boyd agrees. "We've become painfully individual, I think as a result of having toured with all these bands. They inevitably influence you, and I think anyone who is aware that eyes are on them all the time would want to do something different from the bands they were touring with, almost out of respect for them too."

It's not surprising that members of Incubus remain reverent about the musicians they've played with, even while trying to set themselves apart from them. Boyd, Lance, guitarist Mile Einziger, drummer Jose Pasillas and DJ Chris Kilmore have received tons of exposure playing not only with Korn and Bizkit, but also opening for Black Sabbath on its reunion tour and on the 1998 and 2000 Ozzfest tours.

"This last Ozzfest did take a little getting used to because it was much more heavy metal this year," says Boyd. "We have a tendency as a band to do what a crowd doesn't want sometimes." Like going into a version of Madonna's "Like a Virgin" when they weren't connecting with the Pantera-loving audiences.

Incubus' material may have a more melodic flavor these days, but the kids who listen to rock radio are still eating it up.

"We've gotten great response on the two singles, 'Pardon Me' and 'Stellar,' " says Lisa Worden, music director at L.A.'s KROQ-FM (106.7). "They may be a little different, but kids can still relate to them lyrically, and some of the more aggressive stuff on the record has potential too."

While Incubus--part of the Deftones bill on Monday at UC Irvine's Bren Events Center and Tuesday at the Universal Amphitheatre--is definitely unlike the rap-rockers and head-banging hell-raisers it's played with, the members are even more distinct from each other.

Boyd is the dreamy "hippie at heart" who used to dissect Phish songs; his grade-school pal Pasillas is the tempestuous punk pounder who was into the Minutemen, TSOL and the Descendants. Lance, bred on the wacky rock of the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Faith No More, has a sardonic edge; Einziger, the enthusiastic nice guy of the bunch, listens to everything from Bjork to the Police. Kilmore is the laid-back gadget lover with a hip-hop background.

All of the members except Kilmore, who hails from Dillsburg, Pa., grew up in the same neighborhood in Calabasas. They started out doing Metallica songs, wrote their first original for an English class assignment and even considered having two bands--one funk and one rock. None is trained, but Boyd, Lance and Einziger did take a few music lessons. Pasillas learned by listening to his then-next-door neighbor, Guns N' Roses drummer Steven Adler.

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