José Pasillas II holds many titles. Father, husband, artist, cat enthusiast, and of course drummer and co-founder of the acclaimed rock band Incubus.
Adapting to a new environment of a reality paved by the pandemic, we welcomed each other to a Zoom conference call where conversations of who had the best background preceded his arrival. In his home office, Pasillas attentively sat as stacks of drum shells were tiled in the far corner and a vibrant drum rug draped the wall behind him.
During our talk, Pasillas framed every story with a brighter intention — a shared thread of positivity that became intertwined onto each of his projects. Sporting his new haircut given by his daughter, which rested under a knit beanie, Pasillas led the story that started at the initial suggestion of his wife, and ended at his daughter taking up the opportunity to act as her father’s barber.
“I'm kind of lazy and then you know my hair was just a wreck so I was like, ‘today's the day,’” he says. “And Frankie is like 'I wanna cut it!' and I'm like alright, go for it.” This became sort of the norm from Pasillas when telling stories. The stripped back and easy going nature of the artist’s tone always hovered in a reserved section of humbleness.
To Pasillas, quarantine life didn’t change much. A lifestyle that typically consisted of bike riding and being a homebody, with only one major difference of his daughter now being taught at home. Pasillas continued to shift to the lighter side. He and his wife were already entertaining the idea of homeschooling.
“Yeah you know, I mean, unfortunately it's under these circumstances but you know, me and my wife — and I think, you know the band in general — we kind of see the silver lining in situations like this,” says Pasillas. “I know personally I kinda tend to look for the silver lining in everything, so you know, this will pass, but I think it's actually been a good way to shake everybody up. Kind of wake everybody up in a certain way. I live in the canyons, so I'm seeing way more animals cruising about, the smog in LA is a lot less. I mean there's so many positive things that are coming out of this, obviously a lot of negative things as well, but you know I tend to look for those. The little shining lights at the end of the tunnel.”
One of many shining lights at the end of the tunnel can be seen on Pasillas’ latest canvas collection, Rhythm of Life. The project utilizes his familiarity from a previous collection with the visual art team SceneFour, while incorporating Pasillas’ own photography taken during bike rides. SceneFour — who curate abstract photos of drummers in the dark with lit up drumsticks and a long exposure — became a perfect marriage for the second collection.
Consisting of 13 pieces that were created throughout the course of a year, the collection became a multimedia portrayal of photography, the motions of drumming, and at times hand drawn line work. Of course seeing the project through the lens of an artist, Pasillas found the fun in putting the pieces together.
Pasillas, who now takes his bike on tour, captured many of the photographs throughout the course of being on the road with Incubus. Sharing that they’ve been to “all of the cities for the last 20+ years,” with the majority of time being spent in a dressing room, hotel, or bus, he found a “refreshing way of touring” while capturing a different perspective of each city.
Whatever the setting may be, Pasillas says he is constantly framing things. Being an artist at heart, armed with a GoPro, results in effortless shots which he confesses are simply from his “artistic point of view.”
“I'm inspired by everything around me all the time, that's just definitely just a part of it. And it seeps into me and comes out whether I'm painting or in music, it just becomes a part of everything else that I'm creating around me.”
The collection is lively, even in its portrayal of death. The celebratory piece “Transition” intentionally strays away from morbid connotations. And naturally inspired by the motives of the day of the dead, which Pasillas attributes to his Mexican background, the framing philosophy continues.
“I don't know what happens after life, you know I definitely feel like we're all energy and all connected and so I don't think, just the physical body is terminated, but I think our essence, energy or whatever, just continues out. So I do kind of think it is just a transition, and it's not an end to anything. So that picture I took when I was cycling through New Orleans, it was just a real cemetery where everything was above ground and just really old. It was kind of eerie and beautiful, and everything at the same time. Again, I kind of don't look at it so much as morbid but just as a transition.”
Sugar skulls, birds, flowers — all elements that can be seen in Pasillas’ normal paintings and merch. A favorite among them all is the artist’s inclusion of cats. Disappointed that cats didn’t make an appearance on his collaboration with Remo, Pasillas laughed and mentioned that the idea definitely went through his mind.
Locking out his cats from his office, Pasillas quickly went into a lighthearted story of his cat Baby, who is one of three cats who are each about 17 years old. “They're old,” he says. “My wife, she has her cat that she had before we met, I had two of them, and they're really, just our family. You know, they're very much our children.”
Baby is all white with a little gray patch on her head that Pasillas notes looks like a Mohawk and attributes to her being “very punk rock.” She most likely lost her hearing in the last year.
“She doesn't hear the food, cause usually she has a voracious appetite,” he says. “She always hears it and B-lines it to the kitchen. She hasn't been doing it and we've been noticing when we call her, there's nothing. So, we think she lost her hearing entirely, but just now I was in the kitchen and a bird flew — we have these, our front doors have these rod irons, like fencing in front of it so you could open it, and it's pretty open — and a bird flew in. Came in the kitchen, and Baby was sleeping on the couch, we have like this little bench around our table, and it landed right on her back. And she did not wake up. And it was flapping around and I was trying to catch it and she was knocked out. It was really funny. She's so old she just doesn't give a crap. They used to bring us birds as gifts all the time when they were younger but not anymore. They were like F it, we just want to sleep.”
Pasillas went into great detail with each story. It seemed impossible that it was only 30 minutes. He touched on the process of their latest EP, Trust Fall (Side B), alongside the end of a successful tour celebrating the 20th anniversary of the pristine Incubus album, Make Yourself.
That's such a great milestone to accomplish so congratulations. How was the feeling knowing something you helped create, and had a major impact on listeners, for 20 years, just how was that feeling?
It's crazy, you know, it's such a cool feeling, I mean. You don't think about those things and time continues to pass by and boom, 20 years later. It's like, you think about it and not only are we thinking of the time–that period of time, and everything we went through sort of right before and after. It was such a cool time in our band and to think that was 20 years ago is just mind blowing.
And you don't really think about the lives it has affected either, I mean, you know we have fans that are inspired by our music and its moving and touching every time someone says it, [and] reminds us that, you know what, we are sort of, reaching. We have this reach with music that can move people in so many different ways, and mostly positive ways, and to be reminded of that is just like, it's incredible. So doing a full tour just behind that, and playing that record from beginning to end…I swear the energy in those rooms were unlike any other shows we have done. And it was something completely different and it was really cool to experience that and to just celebrate it.
I was so curious on the other side, because as a fan and as a listener I could attest to that feeling. My sister wanted to throw her body somewhere [at that show]. You guys [also] just released the second half of Trust Fall, which is Side B. That's easily becoming one of my favorite nuggets of music. I get Morning View vibes, well I think just the feeling [but] why did you go from an EP, to a full length, to another EP?
Well, I mean, it wasn't planned that way. Our plans don't usually go more than a few days ahead of us [laughs] except for touring, that takes a little more time. But we made TF Side A, 2015 and toured behind that, and we always knew there would be a side b at some point. We didn't know exactly when, but we took a little bit of time away after supporting Side A, then we just had this idea of ‘hey let’s get together again and just start writing music.’ And that kind of led, without any plans of a side b, or what kind of record or anything like that, and that just sort of evolved into a batch of songs.
So instead of making an EP, we made a full-length and it became 8 which came out in 2017, and it just seemed right, you know? And again, we don't really conceptualize what we're going to do, we just sort of let what we're doing inform what we're going to do, and how we're going to present it. So 8 just seemed like the right thing to do and then we started, now that we have our own studio space which we've had for a few years, we're together a lot more. So, we're writing a lot more, just playing a lot more, until we had a handful of songs that we just started working on we were like 'you know what? lets maybe put something together,’ you know. And after we got a few of them, then the conversation came up and side b was sorta like it's time, and it makes sense. So again it was sort of, it just kind of happens naturally … we don't really force anything and it feels good.
The way that it came out, do you think it was more beneficial? I know right now in this, "age" so to say in the music industry, a lot of singles are more important. And shorter projects.
You know, I don't really know. I mean, putting out even an EP I don't know what's the best way. Records, EPs, just singles, we just kind of figure out what feels right for us. We always entertain 'let's put out singles,' but that always leads to the writing process, and anytime we get together, you put us in a room, we just start playing music. So, we just start writing more and more ideas, and we're like let's put this batch together, since we wrote it together, and just you know, we'll see what happens next. Not really sure what will happen next. You know, I don't know what's the right way.
It sounds for somebody, or for a group of people that are really just going with the flow so to say, it doesn't [really] sound like “that.”
What do you mean?
It sounds like there was an extreme amount of thought that went into the portrayal, and the distribution, execution so to say. The last three albums especially.
I was gonna say, we love what we do… and we always, when we kind of buckle down to do something, we put our hearts and souls into it. So nothing’s done without blood, sweat, and tears, that's for sure, but we again, we just kind of let what we're doing sort of lead us. You know, and I think that kinda just starts snowballing quickly.
For Trust Fall [Side B], I got a lot of, just a catharsis feeling, especially with the last two songs. So I don't know if this is a question for Brandon [Boyd], in regards to songwriting, but would you say maybe in tone this was an EP that kind of put away certain sounds of the past, or certain ideals of the past, and led towards a new direction?
I feel like every record is like that. Lyrically, lyrically especially. I mean, Brandon's you know, inspired by life in general. The good, bad, everything. Break-ups, love. And he writes about all of it and it's very much like our music. Our music is stylistically in so many places that it wouldn't be fun for us to do one thing and only one thing. And I think lyrically he feels the same way. And as time goes on, we're constantly learning, and growing, and shedding, so for us musically I think we're shedding a skin of sorts. And I think for Brandon, his skin is through his lyrics. I definitely think it's cathartic – leaving things behind and also sort of accepting what's here, now, and kind of looking forward to what can come. I think Brandon is really good with sort of looking at the silver lining, and those things too, and being optimistic, even though there might be like sort of like this grey overtone… I think overall it's optimistic.
So how was the creative process for [the] Trust Fall EP? Like with what you said right now, would he [Brandon] bring you these pieces of how he's expressing himself and then you [guys] kind of translate it in your own way?
You know usually it comes with music first. So, usually we're just jamming and Mike [Einziger] will just come up with a guitar line, or Ben [Kenny] and I will start jamming a riff, something like that. And then Brandon will sit with it as we're kinda just messing around, writing, figuring it out — he's constantly thinking. And Brandon is constantly writing. So he's just got pages and pages of things he could just use, take from, or start completely fresh. But again, it's us all in a room together.
Except, the only exception to that is "Paper Cuts." And that was actually done during the Trust Fall (Side A) 2015 era. Mike and Brandon had gotten together a bunch of times, actually sorry, that was for 8, the very beginning of 8. Mike and Brandon had gotten together just the two of them to put their heads together with some ideas that they had, and that was one of the bits that was demoed and never really got brought to light until this time around. And it just seemed like a really cool, refreshing little piece to add in there. Something completely different, something simple, and just kind of stark, yet powerful. Other than that, everything else is us in a room, playing together, and just working it out, as a band.
What about "Into the Summer?" That has a huge Bowie influence, right off the bat.
Where did this come from?
That idea was actually the bass of [what] was written for Trust Fall (Side A). And we probably wrote 20 ideas, and we were just constantly shredding through stuff. Play for a few hours, kind of just record it [and] put it away. We did like 20 songs like that, which is very rare for us. Usually when we write a record and there's 10 songs on it, we wrote 10 songs, you know. There's no surplus of anything. But during that period of time we were, just we had a lockout, and we kept playing everyday, just recording, writing ideas. And you know not everything inspires Brandon. Sometimes it takes a few years for him to get that inspiration from that one idea.
So anyways, that song Brandon came back to us like, I don’t know a year ago, and he was like 'you know that song?' it was called like “Yacht Funk” or something, I forgot [laughs]. I forgot what it was called when we demoed it, but he's like ‘I've got an idea for it.’ So we just started playing it again and you know, it does have that everything '80s feel. So Lost Boys, right down our alley, and that was a super— just that song came out really naturally once Brandon was like 'look I got an idea, let's start messing with it.' And that was one of the first songs out of this batch that we wrote and that kinda just paved the way for the rest of the stuff to come out.
Yeah, I love that song, it sits so well in the EP. Your drumming, it's so bouncier. The bass riffs, it's got that little [imitates bass plucks]. That's my worst impression, please don't ever bring that up again.
[Laughs] Thank you. And that song is actually super fun to play and we've played it during this past fall run and it was a nice color to add to the set.
It feels like it would be fun to play. Like I want to get a bass just so I could mess around.
Hey, that's what music does! It inspires.
You guys just released a home performance of Our Love, which I really liked. How did you guys shoot that?
You know, each one of us has our little studio at home, so we kind of just have like a gathering of the minds every couple of weeks. And everything is rapidly changing. Touring plans, just things that we had on the books, you know months ago, before all the quarantining and everything. So as we were just finding ourselves at home, we just thought what could we do to sort of like you know, involve us with the fans and give them something cool and something fun.
It wasn't an original idea, we saw a couple of other people doing things like that, but we were like let's do our own version but let's play it live, because The Rolling Stones did one, but they were kind of lip-syncing to one of their songs. And so we just wanted to put a different twist to it. We each recorded our own parts at home, videotaped ourselves and we just gave it to our photographer…and he kinda just dubbed it together. And it came out super cool, and it was a cool exercise because usually we don't write music that way. Sure, we'll write a guitar riff and send it to everybody, but that leads us to a room together; start jamming out. This, we kinda were just bouncing things back and forth to each other. Mike did his part, I layed my parts down, then Ben, then so on and so forth, and it was just a cool, fun project and it came out really cool.
I know that you guys just posted that you had to postpone your European Tour. I know that was for the safety of everybody so sorry about that. Hopefully if we do get out we can see you on tour this summer with, I believe 311?
That's the plan.
You know, we don't know what's gonna happen, we hope to do it. I've been looking forward to that for a long time and I think a lot of people are, so I don't know what's going to happen. Time will tell, but you know the goal is to just keep the plans as is until it's an impossibility. But you know it's unfortunate. Again we will get through this. And we will be playing shows, and we will be writing music, and none of that is going to stop. It might be postponed, pushed back to a later date, but we're gonna keep doing what we normally do. Which is writing music, and having fun, and traveling, and playing the music and sharing it.
That's all we can do, right?
I'll just pretend to play the imaginary bass, that's what I'm doing. Anything else you want to add, José?
You know, run fast, jump high. Yay.
Tickets for Incubus' North American Tour with 311 may be purchased here.
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