The luckiest of musicians enjoy a career blessed with longevity, but many can grow comfortable within their respective bands, neglecting to realize the potential that lies outside of their successful projects. For the past few years, Mike Einziger, perhaps best known as the guitarist for Incubus, has been transitioning from successful band member to legendary musician and producer, expanding his creative reach to previously untapped arenas.
Mike grew up in the musical nest of Los Angeles, and from a young age, his talent, dedication, and ability to get things done earned him notice within the industry. He found himself working at recording studios and labels as soon as he could legally drive to them, and it wasn’t long before Incubus, the band he formed with his friends, started getting recognition as well.
Fast-forward about twenty years, and we find Mike and the rest of Incubus working on their next album, tentatively due to come out early in 2015. Mike has also been dabbling in multiple genres and writing styles outside his Incubus work, collaborating behind the scenes with producers (Avicii), rappers (Tyler, the Creator), and composers (Hans Zimmer).
As if that wasn’t a diverse enough repertoire, Mike has also been seeking a college degree from Harvard University. He studies the History of Science and enjoys setting up camp in the library and writing research papers. Basically, he has taken away anyone’s ability to complain that there aren’t enough hours in the day.
I recently composed myself as best I could to sit down with Mike to talk about his flourishing career in and outside his legendary band.
How has writing the next Incubus album been going?
I feel like it’s the first album we’ve made since 2006. We start touring Australia in February and plan to just be on the road next year. I would imagine we’ll have something come out in February before the first tour starts early next year. Right now, we have about six songs in various stages of completion; a lot of them are just the music. Brandon’s been out of town, so we’ve been sending him music and he’s been writing lyrics while traveling. Our only concrete plan right now is to work until the end of the year.
Do you think your recent collaborations will influence the newest Incubus album?
Absolutely. I mean, we’re not making music that sounds like an Avicii song or something like that — it’s totally different — but every experience that I have as a musician informs whatever it is that comes next. I’ve done a lot of really fun collaborations recently with great artists.
Can you tell us about some of those?
There’s this band Skins that I’ve been working with. They’re exciting, and they have this youthful energy that’s really fun to be around. They’re a rock band, but they’re sort of hip-hop influenced. It’s funny because I’ve been doing a lot of hip-hop collaborations recently. I just did some work with Tyler, the Creator the other day. He’s amazing.
What other hip-hop work have you done?
I just did a record last year with Chuck English. There were a lot of features, like Mac Miller. One of my favorite tracks on that album is a song called “Legs” (featuring Chromeo). It was really fun to work with all of the hip-hop artists; that world had previously been very alien to me.
How did you find yourself getting into the hip-hop world?
It was kind of by accident. A couple of years ago I got a call from Frank Ocean’s people. They asked me to come in and fix some stuff that was going wrong and help with his set at Coachella. We learned thirteen songs in two days. The show was awesome. It was great.
Why did you start doing so many collaborations?
I would sit down with Rick Rubin every couple of months to talk and listen to music, and he would always say, “Challenge yourself. Get involved with things that you wouldn’t necessarily think you’d be in to. Throw yourself into situations that challenge your musicality.” When he said that, it really stuck with me.
I had been around pretty much the same guys making music for like 20 years — getting into that head space is its own unique thing — so I kind of actively started doing collaborations. People would call up and want to collaborate, and previously I might have said no. When I got the call to work with Avicii, I might not have said yes to that prior, but I really liked that song “Levels” that he did, so I said yes.*****After Mike said “Yes” to working with Avicii, he and the young producer wrote “Wake Me Up.”
Mike Einziger just might be one of the most fascinating musicians in the music industry…and the film industry as well. Through his working relationship with Hans Zimmer, Mike has contributed to quite a few of the composer’s cinematic masterpieces. Most recently, he worked with Hans on the score for The Amazing Spider-Man 2.
These contributions to music and film beg the question: What can’t Mike Einziger do? I jokingly suggested his next venture be writing an autobiography, but only time will tell.
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