23 Years Ago: Incubus Break Through With ‘Make Yourself’
Incubus have over two decades of rock radio presence, but their journey to get there was anything but an "overnight success." The big breakthrough for the band came with 1999's Make Yourself album, which dropped on Oct. 26, 1999, but it didn't exactly take off right out of the gate.
After a stellar debut with Fungus Amongus, the band signed a label deal for their sophomore set S.C.I.E.N.C.E., but they didn't exactly make the leap from underground buzz band to radio rockers just yet. There were hints of success to come.
A spot on Ozzfest really helped garner them some attention and show them what could be and how the state of the rock world was changing. "That tour was us, System of a Down, Tool, Megadeth and many others. It was heavy. We all liked heavy music, we all grew up listening and playing heavy music, but we wanted to be different to the male, aggressive, testosterone-fueled music that was happening at that time. So Make Yourself was our attempt at going a different path," recalls guitarist Mike Einziger.
So after some steady touring off their debut major label album, the group entered NRG studios in early 1999 with a clearer vision for their future music.
The group started the process with S.C.I.E.N.C.E. producer Jim Wirt, but didn't care for how the music was turning out, so they parted ways and began working on their own for a period.
Drummer Jose Pasillas told Grammy.com, "We spent a couple of weeks recording things and I think we just had two different visions. I feel like we stopped and thought, we can do this on our own and we can make it exactly how we want it. So we kept the same engineer and thought, let’s do an experiment and not have a producer."
Guitarist Mike Einziger recalls, "It was a bit of a scary position to be in as 19, 20 year-old kids, in a recording studio that costs thousands of dollars a day. But our A&R person at Epic Records trusted our vision."
While the band pushed forward on their own for a period, they eventually brought in Nirvana producer Scott Litt for assistance. "Scott really honed in on what the singles were going to be and he dedicated a lot of sonic energy to 'Drive' and 'Stellar,'" recalls singer Brandon Boyd. "We definitely got a real sonic boost when he came on board."
Incubus, "Pardon Me"
With the album complete, the band then turned their attention to the release of the record. The harder hitting "Pardon Me" was chosen as the lead single, a track that seemingly fit well with the ascension of heavier music emerging at the time. And with the release came their first radio play.
Jose Pasillas recalled that the group were at a Par 3 golf course when local station KROQ in Los Angeles played it for the first time. DJ Chris Kilmore recalls, "We were in the parking lot with our car doors open hanging out with each other and they played it." "We were so jazzed," adds Pasillas, stating, "It was such an incredible feeling to even get the chance to be heard on the radio. It was super special and it was the beginning of a new era for us."
But that elation tamped down for a bit as "Pardon Me" didn't exactly take off at radio. But the boys buckled down with a plan that worked. As Einziger recalled to Loudwire (see video at the bottom of this post), "We were in Chicago and we went to a studio to record a few acoustic songs which became the When Incubus Attacks EP."
Boyd adds, “Then we started getting requests to go play ‘Pardon Me’ acoustic on morning radio shows and that kind of helped propel people’s interest in it and then the actual album version of ‘Pardon Me’ began to get picked up. So it came out and got a couple of little hits here and there and it was the first time any of us had heard our music on the radio hut it wasn’t met with any kind of fanfare so we kind of had to go in and massage it.”
That massaging paid off as "Pardon Me" enjoyed a steady ascent at radio, hitting No. 3 on the Modern Rock Chart and No. 7 on the Mainstream Rock Chart, giving the band their first bonafide hit.
After the success of "Pardon Me," the band followed with "Stellar," a more mid-tempo track with some unique guitar work that sounded different from most of what their peers were providing. The track, about the consuming nature of a relationship, kept the momentum going, climbing to No. 2 on the Modern Rock Tracks chart and No. 17 for Mainstream Rock.
But that was only setting the stage for their biggest success yet as "Drive," the mid-tempo gem with some standout scratching from Kilmore connected in a way that even carried over to the pop charts. For the band it was a bit of a surprise as the group had already wrapped touring for Make Yourself and had started working on their Morning View follow up when the label decided to give "Drive" some run at radio.
"Our heads were in a different place, so when that song started getting played on television it was an unexpected surprise," said Boyd to Grammy.com. "'Drive' came out after [the album went platinum]," added Einziger. "On the back of that we sold another million albums. It was a really exciting time for us. The success just kept piling up and it all made perfect sense to me at the time, but looking back on it now I kind of can't believe it."
"Drive," a song based on how singer Brandon Boyd dealt with fears in his life, connected with fans in a way that catapulted the track to becoming their first No. 1 on the Modern Rock Tracks chart. It also hit No. 8 for Mainstream Rock radio and crossed over to become their first Hot 100 hit, peaking at No. 9.
Though the band had three big radio singles, Make Yourself is a deep record for the group with fans gravitating toward such other songs as the album opening "Privilege," "The Warmth," "I Miss You" and the instrumental "Battlestar Scralatchtica" also becoming fan favorites over the years.
On album three, Incubus had finally made it and their world had changed a bit. Kilmore recalls, "During S.C.I.E.N.C.E our crowd was all teenage kids wearing black and they were all men. Once 'Pardon Me' started getting some traction the crowd turned into half-girl crowds. Then when Stellar' and 'Drive' came out, those half-girl crowds became all screaming teenage girls in the front row."
Boyd adds, "It was very interesting. I never knew what it felt like to be objectified, and so after I had my shirt off on television, if I didn't do it at shows you'd hear women yelling, 'Take your fucking shirt off.'"
Even their peers noted the change with 311's Nick Hexum telling Grammy.com, "After Make Yourself came out I remember [saying] to Mark McGrath [of Sugar Ray], 'What happened to Incubus? They're all the sudden this totally important American band. We liked them before, but kinda got lost and confused by their complexity. Now they’re the shit!'"
By the time all was said and done, Incubus had surpassed platinum status with Make Yourself, eventually seeing the record surpass double platinum status in the U.S. Though the record only peaked at No. 47 on the Billboard 200 album chart, it has become one of their most revered works and the three big radio songs that helped launch their career are still popular to this date.
“Just the fact that that album connected on such a large scale to people in such a meaningful way, I just feel really appreciative that people really connected with it," Einziger tells Loudwire. "20 years later the fact that people still care about that music is like what more could you ask for as an artist? You hope that people are going to get something from the music you create and it’s pretty cool. It’s exhilarating for us.”