Provided that you’ve finished high school, you can probably see your high school friendships slowly withering as you realise that shared lunchtimes as a foundation for friendship only have so much use in the “real world”. Three of the five members of Incubus, however, started playing together in their second year of high school, and 20 years later, they’re still feeling as together as ever.

Ahead of the Australian tour in support of their seventh album, If Not Now, When?, Tone Deaf sat down for a chat with their original and renowned guitarist, Mike Einziger (aka that frizzy-haired guy who studied music at Harvard). And we found out that Incubus are a band who feel their best is ahead of them yet.

How has If Not Now, When? translated into your live shows?

We didn’t record it live like we recorded a lot of previous albums so it was a bit of a different process for these particular songs, figuring out and learning how to get them to translate live. It’s almost like we wish we could go back and re-record a few of them because they’ve taken on new livelihoods being played live, that changes things a little bit.

Has it typically been important to you and the band to bring something different to the stage that isn’t necessarily on the recordings, or has it been more important to remain relatively faithful to what fans have heard?

I think when we’re playing live, we kind of try and figure out what it is about the song that are the most important elements and stick to those. But at the same time, when we play, things just start happening, you know, sometimes the songs just start taking on characteristics of their own when put on the stage. Obviously the stage is a different scenario so different things are going to happen there than are happening in the studio. But it’s fun, it’s a fun challenge to be able to take music that we’ve recorded and try and figure out how it’s going to work in a live scenario.

Is the choice of songs you play live more audience-driven or what you guys personally want to play?

It’s both, it’s definitely both. I mean, we want to have a great time and we want to keep it interesting and exciting for us but at the same time, we’re also well aware that people are supporting us and buying concert tickets and there are songs that they want to hear as well … we’re very well in touch with our audience, you know, through various social media outlets. We communicate with our fans directly and they tell us what they like and what they don’t like and … we do pay attention. If there’s something very very out of place, we will know about it.

How long was Incubus actually inactive for, if at all, since you released Light Grenades?

Never for more than six or eight months actually. It seems like a long time because, we had five years between new albums being released but in between all that time was a lot of touring and we also released like a ‘Greatest Hits’ album and did a tour in support of that as well. We always either had something [happening] or were planning something.

In terms of releasing a Greatest Hits album, do you ever feel like an old soul in the music industry?

Absolutely, I mean we have been together for 20 years and we just released our seventh album and so a Greatest Hits album was actually justified. A lot of groups put out a Greatest Hits album and maybe there’ll be a few songs on it that got played on the radio and that people are familiar with, and then the rest of it is the band’s favourite album tracks. But I think at the time we put that album out, we’d had 15 consecutive top 10 singles on radio in the United States.

It was a contractual obligation that we had to put that album out but when we started thinking about it, talking about it, it actually seemed like a very worthwhile and important step for any band who’s been around for a long time to kind of make a collection of the songs that have, for better or for worse, made them commercially successful. At first it seemed cheesy and kind of silly but then upon closer inspection, it actually seemed like a pretty cool thing to even be able to get to a point in our careers that we would be releasing a Greatest Hits album, that’s kind of crazy.

If you were advising someone as to how to get into your music, would that be what you tell them to listen to first or is there a particular album you’d point to?

I’d say that that Greatest Hits album is probably a very good representation of what our band is, definitely. It’s not the whole picture but I mean, we have seven albums so it’s like, short of saying, hey go listen to all seven albums, I would definitely say go check out the Greatest Hits album as a good summation of the music that has been the most heard.

If Not Now, When? has been described as perhaps your most refined and cohesive release, is that how it felt when you were writing and recording it?

It’s tough for me to even have an opinion on that because I live inside of that music, I’m not objective at all. I’m just not a qualified person to really even answer that question but you know, people don’t really seem to have a shortage of opinions about that, you know! I mean the album definitely polarises our audience.

Do you find that your discography more generally is something of a chronicle of the lives of the band members as well as your careers?

They’re like photo albums, every album is a representation of what we were and who we were at that specific period of time that the album was made, so yeah absolutely.

Is there any advice you’d give your younger self to change your career or the trajectory that you’ve been on?

I honestly wouldn’t change anything. We love what we do, we feel, all of us in the band, we just feel lucky and fortunate and we’re just happy, we’re very happy with where we are. No question.

– Dunja Nedic

Incubus 2012 Australian Tour Dates:

Friday 3rd February – Hordern Pavilion, Sydney
Monday 6th February – AEC Theatre, Adelaide
Wednesday 8th February – Festival Hall, Melbourne
Friday 10th February – Convention Centre, Brisbane

More details here.