Sound checks are generally just part of a band’s daily routine: Get to the venue, play a few songs to dial in the sound, get out until the show takes place hours later.
But that’s not the case for Incubus.
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“A lot of new music ideas we have actually come from sound checks when we’re on tour,” turntablist Chris Kilmore revealed in a recent phone interview.
The band has sustained a hefty touring schedule over the last decade, performing upward of 60 or so concerts a year. It’s been their bread and butter, since being founded in 1991.
They are making their first trek to Wilmington May 23.
“There was a period of time where all we did was tour,” Kilmore said. “We didn’t really have much time other than when we stepped off the tour bus to write a record real quick.”
After sound check, the band normally hits the record button as they break into a jam. It’s become the norm for Incubus’ songwriting process.
“It’s just a rough idea until it sparks an idea with somebody else,” Kilmore said. “And then it starts going around the rest of the guys, and before long it whips up into a song.”
Kilmore expects the veteran alternative rockers will have some new material to work on this year, after having been on the road for 49 concerts in 2022.
When everything halted due to the Covid-19 pandemic — Incubus played a cumulative 33 shows in 2020 and 2021 — it was a shock to the system, Kilmore indicated.
“We’re riding on this really cool tour bus and somebody just slams the brake on and says, ‘OK, you’re done. Stop, get out,'” he said. “And we’re in the middle of the desert or something, there’s no direction. What can we do?'”
During his down time, Kilmore took to the keyboards, learned more music theory and tried to further his turntable skills. He’s been performing on them since he was a pre-teen in Pennsylvania.
“I saw Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince when I was young and Jazzy Jeff blew my mind,” Kilmore said. “At that moment, I was like, ‘Man, I want to try to do that.’”
He started deejaying at 13, continued through high school and college in Washington D.C. before he moved to Los Angeles, and became part of the Jedi Knights DJ crew.
“We would link all of our turntables together,” Kilmore said. “We’d make beats and things live together. While we were scratching, it kind of (became) we’re a band … You’re playing the bass on a turntable. I’ve got a kick drum. This guy’s got a hi-hat and snare, and so on. I’m like, ‘We’re a band.’ That kind of opened up my mind.”
Invitations began rolling in for Kilmore to join a few rock bands that were adding DJs to the sound mix during the “nu metal” movement. Eventually, an invitation came from Incubus, who were looking to replace Gavin Koppel.
Joining Incubus for its 1998 tour behind the band’s album “S.C.I.E.N.C.E,” Kilmore went into the studio with Incubus to create “Make Yourself.” The 1999 double platinum breakthrough yanked the band out of the nu metal mass and into the rock mainstream.
“There was a point there where I felt like a DJ in a rock band was really cliché,” Kilmore admitted. “Every band out there was trying to come up with a DJ, but I felt like I was always a little different than those guys.”
In large part, Kilmore’s musical approach was rooted in incorporating the turntables like another instrument in the group’s sound.
“I always felt like when you scratch on top of music, regardless of what genre it is, it’s equivalent to a guitar solo,” he said. “It sticks out. It’s loud. It’s hard to sing over it or do other rhythmic things over top of it without scratching being the focal point. So I was always conscious of that.
That change wasn’t just evident musically; it could be seen in the Incubus audience, which Kilmore initially noticed during the “S.C.I.E.N.C.E.” tour. All guys primarily made up the audience before, often in mosh pits or shaking the barricades.
“And then, we wrote ‘Make Yourself’ and ‘Pardon Me’ came out, and we started seeing a little bit more girls,” he said. “As that album went on, and the singles came out, ‘Stellar’ came out, the front row was all girls, with those guys behind them. And then a crowd developed.”
The mixed audience has stayed with the band through its hit-making years in the early aughts, with “Morning View,” “A Crow Left of the Murder” and “Light Grenades.”
The band’s sound had solidified beyond nu metal and Kilmore’s scratching became a natural added layer.
“That was actually the hardest thing to achieve with this band,” he said. “How do I get into this and not stick out and blend in just like everybody else?”
Kilmore said today they try to keep the sound fresh and remain “flexible.”
“Obviously, we’ve been around for so long, we have so many songs we could play, we can throw in audibles as often as we like,” he said.
The band never is on rote repetition on tour, changing the setlist nightly. Last June in Spain wasn’t so easy as Kilmore was dealing with a bout with Covid-19 — “definitely the sickest I’ve ever been,” he said — and missed out on rehearsals. By the time he was healthy and joining on stage, he said muscle memory kicked in.
“It’s really funny how mentally you forget things,” he said. “You’re like, ‘Oh, what song is this or what setting is that?’ Once you get into it and don’t think about what you have to do, your body just takes over and it’s like, ‘This is how you do it.’”
Incubus will perform at downtown Wilmington’s Live Oak Bank Pavilion on Tuesday, May 23, with opening act Coheed and Cambria. Tickets are available here.
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