Considering his band's gradual estrangement from the nü-metal scene it helped take mainstream, you'd think Incubus DJ Chris Kilmore would be less sanguine about the group's free-floating status these days. After all, the perfunctory DJ scratch is one of the central elements that first distinguished nü-metal from regular old metal, so shouldn't Kilmore be worried that as front man/heartthrob Brandon Boyd becomes his generation's Jim Morrison, he's in serious danger of being replaced by an oboe player or an interpretive dancer?
"Me, personally, I think we're just sort of drifting along," Kilmore sighs on the phone from the Incubus tour bus, rolling down the East Coast toward Texas last week. "I mean, you ask any artist what scene they're in and they're not gonna categorize themselves like that. Just because we've sort of left the nü-metal scene, I don't think it means we've gone to another scene, you know what I mean? We're dipping into all kinds of things, just becoming our own entity."
Apparently secure in the fact that that includes the very occasional utilization of dusty vinyl, he's actually right: Morning View, the platinum album Incubus released last fall, might be the sound of nü-metal waking up and shaking its head in shame. An unapologetically flowery record, it wraps the angular, hard-edged funk-metal the band made in the early '90s (back when the memory of Jane's Addiction was still fresh and funny jokes included album titles such as Fungus Amongus) in a silvery wash of acoustic-guitar strumming, vaguely Eastern ambience, SoCal surfer beatitude and Lilith Fair-friendly sensitive-male empathy. Like Make Yourself, Morning View's predecessor and the album that housed "Drive," that pretty one about whatever tomorrow brings that first made clean-shaven guys like Incubus, it's baggy-pants rock for people who also dig Moby's electronic New Age blues--which is why the 36-year-old bald-headed techno-lover invited the band out on his Area: One tour last summer, an experience that helped crystallize what the group was already beginning to think.
Incubus with Phantom Planet
Smirnoff Music Centre
"We sort of made our minds up about nü-metal after the '98 Family Values tour," Kilmore says. "There was just a lot of the same bands--the exact same bands with different names. I mean, the music is all right; it's just not our thing. And on the Moby tour, there were people coming to the shows that had never heard of us, so you get more confidence and a stable platform, especially to write from."
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It's a platform that's served them well so far, but you get the impression from Morning View that it's one largely dependent on context: Would deliciously droopy pop-metal nuggets like current hits "Wish You Were Here" and "Nice to Know You" feel so fresh if Puddle of Mudd weren't busy banging their heavy heads? Kilmore's just enjoying the self-imposed exile from guyville. "We try to learn from everything, and that means good things and bad things," he says earnestly. "Now when the songs get slow, people break out the lighters."