When Incubus attacks
“When Incubus makes music together, it's a very difficult thing to explain,” ponders guitarist Mike Einziger, “but it's definitely based on our relationships with each other.
“If it doesn't feel right, or it's not working in a way that feels genuine and honest and sincere, it just can't happen, and there's no way for us to plan that: if we try to plan it, it doesn't work, at all.”
Incubus fans should feel suitably psyched, then, to have another unexpected gift landing this year in new full-length, 8, which, funnily enough, marks the California alt-rockers' eighth studio album proper.
Like much of the band's output over the past decade or so, it's a record that takes many stylistic twists and turns, but the common thread remains Incubus's unmistakable sense of musicianship.
A defining factor in the record's direction was the involvement of Sonny Moore, better known as EDM titan Skrillex, who had collaborated with Mike outside of the band in the past, but unexpectedly found himself sprinkling his production magic across the entire album.
“His involvement was really interesting; that happened in a really natural, organic way that was completely unplanned,” explains Mike.
“He's a good friend of mine and he wanted to hear some of the new songs that we were working on, so I played him some stuff, and he asked if he could come into the studio and just hang out.
“We were sitting there, listening to songs, and Sonny just spoke up, and was like, 'Hey man, I really like this one song - would you guys let me mess around with it a little bit?' He just did a couple of really simple things to the song - it's called Familiar Faces - and you could see everyone light up. After the session was over, Brandon [Boyd, singer] called me, and he was like, 'That was fucking awesome - wow: I had no idea that song could sound like that.'
“We ended up going through the entire album; we didn't stop working for two weeks. And at the end of it, everyone in the band was super-energised and excited about the way the music sounded. That was the period where we mixed the album, but during that phase, we made a lot of changes to a lot of the songs.
“It was really fun, because I got to bring in one of my collaborators outside of the band into the band, and it just tied a bunch of things together for me. I've been active as a musician outside of Incubus for the last few years, and it felt like a separate musical identity, but in many ways, bringing Skrillex into the Incubus album, it felt like I was bringing two of my own musical worlds together in a way that felt really organic, and it worked.”
Given his wealth of experience not only with Incubus, but also a career that's seen him cross paths with everyone from Hans Zimmer to Tyler, The Creator and Avicii, we quizzed Mike on his top tips for guitarists - and his learnings did not disappoint...
8 is out on 21 April via Virgin EMI.
1. Play for the song
“When I first started playing guitar, I was really into playing the guitar: specifically the way the guitar looked and felt, and all of these things were really inspiring, but I feel I had a breakthrough around the time that the  Incubus album Make Yourself was being written.
“I don't know what it was, but I felt like I suddenly had a much wider appreciation for the importance of the whole song, rather than just what I was doing as a guitar player. And that's the point in the career of the band that we went from being a band that played at smaller venues to really speaking to a much larger, wider audience.
“That was kind of a conscious thing, because for me, personally, I felt like everything I had done up until that point I was focusing specifically on what I was doing as a guitarist, and paying less attention to what else was happening in the songs and in the songwriting.
“At that point, I had gained a much greater appreciation for songwriting in general and paying a lot more attention to what was happening lyrically and emotionally, and how the rest of the band fits together in terms of emotional connectivity with an audience.
“You can hear it in the music; I mean, it's really obvious the difference between our  album S.C.I.E.N.C.E. and everything that came before that; and Make Yourself and everything that came after that was a result of that transitional breakthrough. It was a realisation that I needed to pay attention to other things that were happening and not just what I was playing on guitar.”
2. Keep it simple
“I am using fewer effects now, because I feel like in the late-'90s, early-2000s, people around me didn't have such crazy pedalboards, so it seemed like this unique thing to be using these effects - it just seemed like there was some element of originality to that, but now it's been done so much.
“And the way technology is now, you can run your guitar through all kinds of computer-driven technology that can literally turn your guitar into any instrument you want, and the capabilities or the possibilities of it are endless.
“It's really a great opportunity for doing original stuff, but at the same time, it also kind of just makes me want to play more simply, at least in the terms of the sounds that I'm using. It makes me want to just do one thing and do it really well, or do it in a simple way that feels like it fits with the music.”
3. Look after yourself
“In 2007, I had really bad carpal tunnel syndrome, and I got to a point where I had to have surgery or I had to stop playing. It was brutal, to be honest.
“We were in the middle of an album cycle; we had just released Light Grenades in 2006, and we were in the middle of a tour, and when we're in the middle of a tour and we cancel it, there are a lot of people that are affected by that.
“It just had a big impact on a lot of stuff, and I suppose it might have just been bad planning, because I definitely was telling everyone around me that this was gonna happen at some point, and that that point was coming and everybody kept going, 'No, don't worry about it, don't worry about it.'
“And then six weeks after [the surgery], I actually started playing guitar and I was back on tour; I should have probably taken a year off, but a lot of money gets made when bands go on tour like that, and so a lot of people wanted the pay cheques to keep coming in, and there was a lot of pressure on me to get back out on the road really fast.
“It took me a really long time to heal. For a few years, it was really difficult, but slowly it actually healed and got much better, and it's totally better now. But it probably would have healed a lot faster had I stayed off the road, and I just stayed off of playing guitar, but I'm lucky; I feel fortunate that I can still play.”
“A lot of my guitar changes have to do with my injury, to be honest. I was playing Jazzmasters, and those were actually really difficult guitars to play, and I was also using really heavy-gauge strings, because I didn't want to break 'em - I kept breaking strings. But then I didn't realise how hard it was on my wrist, and on the health of my playing abilities. I had no idea how damaging that would be to my body, so I switched.
“After playing Jazzmasters, I started playing SGs that were really customised and really light; they had really thin necks. But then I found that they were sitting on my body in a way that was making it a little more difficult to play, so I started playing those Ernie Ball [Albert Lee] guitars.
“I felt like I really liked it during a specific period of time, but as for what I'm playing now, I'm playing Teles, and they're these custom modified guitars that my guitar tech built for me. To me, there are similarities there with a Strat, which I really like and I couldn't get out of SGs or those Ernie Ball guitars, I've been using those since 2011 or something like that. And they work well across all the different stuff that I need to be able to do during a live show.
“That's the hard part, really: to cover all those different things that I need it to cover, and the fact that because of my past injury, it's difficult for me to use many different kinds of guitars during a performance. I don't like playing one guitar and then switching over to a guitar that feels drastically different. It's hard for me to do that.
“And we play for a long time - sometimes we'll play two-and-a-half hours, and in order for me to be able to stretch that out over a tour, the guitars have to be comfortable; I've just got to feel right about it. So, I feel like the Tele is a good middle point for me: being able to do all the different things I need to do across all these different albums and different songs.”
4. Collaborate, collaborate, collaborate
“I started getting involved with working with other artists, and I worked with a group called The Internet, I did a bunch of stuff with Tyler, The Creator; I actually found myself working in hip-hop a bunch. It was just really interesting working with those artists and being in the studio, in a totally different musical universe. It felt really creative and interesting to me, and I was just doing different things.
“And so Avicii sought me out, and I didn't really know who he was, to be perfectly honest, when it came through my manager [outside of Incubus]. Once I found out that Avicii wanted to work on music with me, I researched some of his stuff, and I really liked Levels; of course I recognised that song immediately.
“It wasn't the genre of music that I would necessarily be working in - at least, people wouldn't think that - but the whole point was to be doing different things and expanding, and I could appreciate the power and how well-produced that song is in how pervasive it was and how many people connected with it.
“I thought that would be interesting, and when we got together and started talking about music, it was really clear early on that we would be able to write together - he's a really prolific writer, and it's really crazy looking back on it now, because we got together and talking for an hour or two, and then we made a plan. Like, 'we're going to get together next week, and we'll just together and write a song.' And we did, and that song was Wake Me Up, and it obviously became a song that connected with people all over the world, which is crazy, because I never would have predicted that.
“It was a valuable experience for me: I'm glad I was open to it. I love collaborating, and I think the collaborative nature and process of making music, to me that's the best part. If I wanted to make music alone, I would just make music alone all the time, but that's not why I make music: I like collaborating with other people. I think that other people, who have a different perspective and different sets of skills, I work well with other people like that.”
5. Follow the musical thread
“The way that I write is I just put my fingers wherever it sounds good; it sounds silly, but when I'm writing, I'm not thinking about the theory or chord shapes or really anything like that. I just follow the notes where they wanna go, and it definitely pulls me into some odd directions sometimes.
“So I guess maybe once in a while I'll write something or play something, and then someone else will go, 'Oh, it would be much easier if you just played it like this' and show me a totally different way to play it that is much easier to execute, because it's probably the more correct way that it should be done.
“But because I'm not thinking about it like that, I just don't make many of those associations, so if I'm playing odd chord shapes or voicings, it's just because during the process of writing it, I just got there gradually, and I was usually following some kind of musical thread, some idea that led me to that. There's no real thought behind that - I don't do it deliberately.”
6. Stay curious
“In my formative guitar-playing years, when I was a bit younger, I just could not stop playing. I would play 10 hours a day sometimes, and I would hear passages and wanna know how to play them, so I would spend hours and hours and hours just focusing on certain sections of music.
“And I think for somebody who wants to get better, finding technically challenging musical pieces that you like and pulling them apart and figuring out how they work, and why they sound the way that they do, that to me is something any musician can do to get better.
“Learn how to play a song that you think is really cool and really challenging, and something that you will work hard at, because it's inspiring to you - not because you feel like you need to, but because you're curious about it.
“I think your own curiosity is the most valuable thing you have as a musician. And if you're truly curious about how something works and wanna know, then go through the agony of trying to learn it and eventually you'll have it.
“When I was a lot younger, I was really infatuated with Steve Morse's guitar playing. This had to have been like 1990, '91, maybe. He had this album called High Tension Wires, and I remember there were all these songs on that album that were technically pretty challenging, especially for a 14-year-old kid - I mean, for anybody they would be difficult. And I wanted to learn how to play them, and it was really gratifying to spend all this time trying to learn how to play these songs.
“And then, every once in a while, I'll go back and listen to it or try and play one of those songs, and it'll take me a while to get it back into my fingers, even though I spent all that time learning it. In certain ways, it stays with you, but in the details it doesn't. You gotta keep up on that.
“Find challenging music - it doesn't even have to be challenging, you know; you can do it with anything. Just as long as you're curious enough about it that you'll really commit yourself to learning it, that will make you a better player.”