Incubus returns with new album, new tour

If you go

Who: Incubus with Tom Morello

When: 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, Stage AE, 400 North Shore Drive, Pittsburgh

Tickets: $49 at Ticketmaster outlets

By John Benson

Like tightrope walkers steadily risking life and limb doing what they know best, the members of alt rock act Incubus are following their musical instincts on their recently released studio effort “If Not Now, When?”.

The aforementioned analogy is actually the cover of the band’s sixth studio effort, which is the follow-up to 2006’s “Light Grenades.”

It’s the latter part of that sentence that creates a pressure-filled scenario: A platinum band, known for hit singles such as “Drive,” “Megalomaniac,” “Anna Molly” and “Love Hurts,” returns from an extended hiatus only to give fans something unexpected.

Sure, it’s not “Kid A” but “If Not Now, When?” definitely feels like a lighter, if not less rocking, Incubus, which plays Wednesday at Stage AE in Pittsburgh.

“It’s pretty obvious, this album is much more slowed down, much more simple,” said Incubus guitarist Mike Einziger, calling from Los Angeles. “It felt like a necessary departure for us. We’ve covered a lot of musical ground in our career so far, but sort of slowing things down and writing songs out of these sort of minimalist principles of keeping things really simple and sparse. It’s definitely not something we’ve done before. It just felt like something that was a challenge that we needed to see if we could accomplish.

“My tendencies as a musician are usually to make things complex and intricate and busy and full. Anytime I see empty space in a song, my instinct is to fill it up with something. I had to really temper my musical instincts on this album, which was necessary. It was a strong lesson in restraint. It definitely doesn’t mean that every record we make is going to sound like that. It was what we needed to do at that specific time and place.”

While Einziger didn’t necessarily care too much for the characterization of “If Not Now, When?” as a light rock album, it’s hard not to paint the 11-track affair as more adult contemporary-friendly.

More so, the guitarist points to album track “In the Company of Wolves,” with its acoustic-guitar strumming and organ-heavy mid-tempo opening, as not only being one of the first songs written for the project but somewhat defining the recording sessions.

Changing colors is nothing new for Incubus, which emerged in the late ‘90s as a nu-metal rock act only to quickly change paces into more of a mainstream alt rock band.

So is the band experimenting or changing styles yet again?

“The idea behind it was not to be experimental,” Einziger said. “We were exploring ideas of simplicity.”

So how do previous albums affect “If Not Now, When?”

“They don’t, really,” he said. “I guess the only thing is it’s in the spirit of just trying not do things we’ve already done. Just trying to make something different happen. That’s the only way the older material could influence the newer material.”

Finally, Einziger admits “If Not Now, When?” may catch some fans off guard, but he believes it’s a risk well worth taking.

“I’m worried about it,” Einziger said. “That’s definitely happening but sort of the challenge and the beauty of it is to keep redefining what it is that makes us, us. All of us are well aware of the things that our audience likes about our music, but if we were to sort of cater to that, it would sort of defeat the purpose of the artistic process to begin with. To be like, ‘OK, I think we know what works here, let’s do it like that again.’ All we can do as musicians is really just follow our instincts in wherever they may lead.”

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