Incubus’s Jose Pasillas
On Tour & On Stage Making It Work On The Road
by “Pistol” Pete Kaufmann
This month we ask seven road dogs about the ups and downs of life on tour, and for useful tips on everything from dealing with odd personalities on the bus to working with a click track live to choosing the right gear for the long haul. Listen up—it’s the kind of stuff that can help make your next gig or tour a dream rather than a nightmare.
A year off for good drumming behavior: Incubus’s beat-smith dives headlong into jazz technique during an extended band hiatus, and comes out a stronger rock player.
After a yearlong break, the multiplatinum rock group Incubus recently released Monuments And Melodies, a greatest-hits double CD (replete with B-sides), and supported it with a summer tour. But don’t think for a minute that drummer Jose Pasillas and band had been relaxing while being away from the road. Pasillas had a baby, guitarist Mike Einziger studied music at Harvard, singer Brandon Boyd focused on his art (he designed the cover for Monuments), and bassist Ben Kenney worked on his own musical project.
At a tour stop at Radio City Music Hall, Pasillas fueled the band’s fire with his creative playing, ferociously attacking the drums with confidence, originality, and fluidity. He owned the music like it was a part of him. It seems that when you’ve played with the same band since high school, it’s hard to lose the connection or get too rusty, even after twelve months off.
While the group was in town, MD took advantage of the opportunity to pick the brain of this young veteran of the road. In opposition to his aggressive drumming style, in person Pasillas is humble and softspoken, and he gladly talked at length about the unique demands of life on tour with Incubus.
MD: After touring on and off for almost seventeen years, Incubus recently took a yearlong break. Why?
Jose: The break was much needed. We toured for a year and a half before that break, and we were ready for it. We had planned to do other things in our personal lives: Mike went back to school, I had a child… Everyone was pursuing different things. It was a good time for us to do that.
MD: Did you take a break from the drums while you were off tour, or did you keep playing?
Jose: No, I played every day. I ended up taking jazz drumming lessons for almost a year. I’d been meaning to take lessons and learn jazz for years; I finally had the opportunity, so I did it.
MD: Did you notice a difference in your playing after you took lessons?
Jose: It made me a better, more rounded player. I didn’t play anything but jazz for a long time. I went into it not knowing what to expect, just hoping that it would help me as a musician. And when I came back to rehearsals, I did feel a difference: Playing felt more effortless, and I was more at ease with my instrument.
MD: When I saw Incubus play the other night, I noticed your drumset was set up sideways. What made you shift your kit to the side?
Jose: One of my favorite drummers, Jon Fishman from Phish, always sets up stage left and sideways, and I thought it was a cool perspective. I got that idea when I was in high school, and I’ve pretty much done that since the beginning. I want people to see what I’m doing.
MD: The song “Monuments And Melodies” off the new album sounds like you’re playing with brushes and a cymbal with rivets in it.
Jose: Yeah, that’s right.
MD: Is that your jazz influence coming through? It’s not very often you hear a rock drummer exploring that kind of sonic territory. It would be cool to see you play that live.
Jose: We never mess with that song live; it didn’t get that much attention. But then again, we’ve been playing stuff we haven’t played in years, so there’s always the possibility that we’ll play it sometime.
MD: Bassist Ben Kenney has been in the band for a while now. He’s a much different bass player from Dirk Lance. They’re both incredible, but Ben comes in from a more polished, funkier perspective, having played with the Roots and all. Has playing with him changed or helped your drumming?
Jose: It’s a natural progression for us. It’s been so much fun playing with him, and he’s made me a better musician. I feel it every night; he’s a well-rounded, accomplished player and plays every instrument very well.
MD: You guys have been playing “Punch Drunk,” one of the B-sides from Monuments And Melodies. On that song your playing is very loose, and the band tends to stretch on it.
Jose: It’s turned into a cool live jam. All of us love playing that. And yeah, it’s really loosey goosey. We just slow it down or speed it up…it kind of undulates as it goes. It’s a cool song to play.
MD: You and DJ Chris Kilmore have to lock in live with the sequences. You use a click live, right?
Jose: I use a click during half the set.
MD: Did you use a click on “Love Hurts”? That’s a heavy groove.
Jose: Yeah. That’s a fun song to play. A lot of pocket in that one!
MD: “Pistola” is another great live Incubus jam. You guys do a nice version on the DVD Look Alive.
Jose: We kind of keep the middle open. We could play that song for five minutes or for ten minutes.
MD: Because playing drums for Incubus is physically demanding, do you warm up before you play?
Jose: I’ve tried warming up, but it doesn’t really do anything for me. It’s more about my psyche. All that practicing won’t help me; I’ll just feel awkward. I look at every song as a personal challenge. I don’t really prepare for it, I just try to get in the right frame of mind.
MD: Incubus tours a lot. It must be a challenge to be consistent night after night. Have you had any bad nights when you just weren’t feeling it?
Jose: We played the Hollywood Bowl, which was a big night for us, and…I didn’t play badly, but I wasn’t feeling well. It was kind of a low point for me; I wanted to have a good time, but I struggled through it. You try hard to get out of it, but sometimes you can’t. That night I couldn’t—it happens.
MD: On Late Night With Jimmy Fallon you covered “Let’s Go Crazy” by Prince, with Incubus and the Roots playing at the same time. What was that like? Did Questlove and those dudes just jump in? Did you rehearse?
Jose: We only went over it once or twice. They’re such good musicians. It came out really cool; it was pretty rad.
MD: I noticed you took the lead and Questlove followed. It’s always great to watch two drummers work together in musical ways.
Jose: It was cool getting up there and running with it. He’s a great musician.
MD: When I bumped into Ben Kenney the other night he was saying that sometimes you two play drum solos together for live shows.
Jose: Yeah, we’ve done that. We’re pretty eye-to-eye. We’re not battling each other, we’re battling with each other. [laughs] We have a good time.
Tools Of The Trade
Pasillas plays DW drums, including 4×13 and 8×14 snares (Rockit shells); 5×8, 5 1/2 x10, and 6×12 rack toms; 14×16 and 14×18 floor toms; an 18×20 bass drum; and an 18×6 tube tom. He uses Sabian cymbals, including a 4″ bell, an 8″ AAX splash, a 10″ HH China Kang, a 10″ AAX splash, a 12″ Evolution splash, 13″ Evolution hi-hats, an 18″ Paragon China, a 20″ Vault ride, a 21″ HH Vintage ride, a 21″ HH Raw Bell dry ride, and a 22″ prototype; DW hardware, including two low snare stands, two low tom stands, a three-leg 9500 series hihat stand, a 9000 series bass drum pedal, a low drum chair, and a cage with ten cymbal arms; Remo heads, including clear Controlled Sound Black Dots on the tops of the toms, clear Ambassadors on the bottoms of the toms, a coated Powersonic or clear Powerstroke 3 on the bass drum, coated Controlled Sound Black Dots on the tops of the snares, and Diplomats on the bottoms of the snares.
5 Drumming Highlights From Monuments And Melodies
Transcribed by Stephen Bidwell
Incubus took the opportunity to include rarities, live cuts, and a handful of new songs on the recent best-of release Monuments And Melodies. Leadoff track “Black Heart Inertia” utilizes some clever mixed meters that don’t sound angular and never detract from the lyrics. Jose Pasillas sets up a tom-intensive backbeat in the intro that he returns to in later choruses, with changing textures.
Pasillas and Co. dig into a dense Mars Volta–style groove during the opening and choruses of “Megalomaniac.”