José Antonio Pasillas knows a thing or two about being a misfit. Growing up as the only Latino in his California neighborhood, he shocked his parents by wanting to become a rock musician. Today, as the drummer for the multi-platinum band Incubus, Pasillas has been creating unique sounds for 20 years.
“From the beginning we sort of stuck out like a sore thumb, we never really fit into anything, we’ve paved our own way and you know it’s been 20 years and we always just stuck to our guns. We all have different backgrounds which I think makes us who we are,” says Pasillas.
This summer, Pasillas is bringing his brand of intricate, eclectic alternative brand of rock to fans worldwide with Incubus’ release of their new CD/DVD album titled “Incubus HQ Live” this week.
Pasillas grew up in Calabasas, the son of engineer father and beautician mother, surrounded by family. “I grew up with my entire family around me you know, my mom comes from a family of ten and my dad a family of nine. So I have really large extended family, tons of cousins, second cousins and my godmother was always there,” explains Pasillas.
His mom was heavily into Spanish music, listening to Julio Iglesias, Juan Gabriel and salsa, while his father was a big Paul Simon fan. “I never really listen to Spanish music other than what was playing in my house and at family parties where everyone was always dancing,” says Pasillas.
With no formal training , Pasillas, who met lead singer Brandon Boyd in the 4th grade and would play air drums to Purple Rain, has become one of the most respected, multi-layered, and versatile drummers in the world. Influenced by Led Zeppelin and The Ramones at the age of 10, he didn’t become serious about playing drums until the age of 14. “I can’t really say that being Latino is what influences me playing drums, drums were always in me, the rhythm, the rhythmic aspect was there, listening [to] and playing music was innate and so that was just the most natural instrument for me to go to,” he adds.
While he has a great relationship with his parents now, it wasn’t always so easy for them to accept his likes and, eventually, his career choice. Thinking the way he dressed, his music and art or even the sports he played were just hobbies or a phase, his parents never quite understood why he chose music, art, skateboarding, and surfing over books, baseball or soccer, which he was actually very good at.
“It was a struggle, a point of contention, they really weren’t supportive, you know, art/music wasn’t something they considered you can make career of,” says Pasillas. Being a typical teenager he rebelled, but it wasn’t your typical rebellion, disobeying your parents for the sake of rebelling; it was about his love of music and that he believed he had “some talent.”
“I grew up in white suburbia so I was the only Mexican kid for miles, I never felt different for listening to rock as a kid,” describes Pasillas. ”But you have to understand I come from a very traditional family, you know my sister never had a boyfriend she got married when she was 25 and moved out of the house with her husband, that’s how traditional their influence is, even in this day and age when it’s totally a rare thing,” he adds.
Although it took some time, eventually his parents came around; now they are extremely proud and attend his shows. “I think it was hard for them you know, they had to break a lot of their traditions as well but I love my parents they are really great.”
Pasillas not only loves music and being a dad to his daughter Frankie Rose, he has a passion for art. He credits his madrina Elma for encouraging his creativity as a child. “As a kid my Nina would give me and my cousins pads and pencils, I always remember drawing and I’ve never stopped,” he explains.
While Pasillas music may not necessarily be influenced too much by his Latin roots, his art is a different story. “Maybe unconsciously my Latino influences come out in my painting I mean l love color, I love pop, I love flowers and people figures, all of that stuff always seems intriguing to me.” Pasillas, who in the past has been a bit shy about sharing his art, is planning on showcasing it in a gallery within the next year or so.
showcasing it in a gallery within the next year or so.
In addition to giving the world some of rock’s most intense, smart, groove-oriented music, Incubus also gives back in a big way thorough their “Make Yourself Foundation,“ a non-profit organization where portions of the proceeds collected through donations, ticket sales, meet and greets, auctions, record royalties, and special events are distributed to various charities locally and globally. “It’s just something we’ve always wanted to do and we thought it was a good time to do it, we were playing more shows the income was good to the point where we could start helping others,” says Pasillas. The foundation has raised over $1.3 million dollars since it launched in 2004.
While Pasillas does admit he isn’t well versed in Spanish, or even Spanish music, he is a fan of Maná, Manu Chao, Santana, a little salsa, and loves Mariachi music. Asked if he’d ever incorporate mariachi music into Incubus he says “I don’t think that would work with Incubus but I would be completely open for that. People do all sorts of things and I think you can make it works if you spend a little bit of time. It would be fun to do that.”
Eneida I. DelValle has worked in all areas of media from radio, television and print, traveling across the United States and Puerto Rico covering both the Latino and non-Latino communities. She previously worked at PBS owned Spanish Language station V-me and Peacock Productions a division of NBC News. A self-professed news junkie, book-worm, art and music lover, you can frequently find her at a rock or salsa concert and photographing the streets of New York