In 2014, Nineties metallic alternative band Failure agreed to reunite for the first time since 1997. In addition to opening for their good friends Tool, the resurrected trio – vocalist/multi-instrumentalists Greg Edwards and Ken Andrews and drummer Kellii Scott – released the remember-us EP, Tree of Stars, which featured four live songs and the new slow-building, cathartic track "Come Crashing."
'"Come Crashing' was definitely the first of a handful of songs where I was like, 'OK, this is new. It doesn't sound exactly like the old Failure, but it sounds familiar and it's cool,'" Andrews recalls.
Inspired by their renewed chemistry, Failure kept writing and in 2015 released their full-length comeback, The Heart Is a Monster, the L.A. band's first record in 19 years and their fourth album total. "My theoretical goal was to make the fourth Failure album that we would have made in around 1999 if we hadn't broken up," says Andrews. "But at the same time, I wanted it to be informed by music that had come out between 1997 and 2013."
As pleased as Failure were with The Heart Is a Monster, they became keenly aware that they were working in a radically different musical environment than they had been in the Nineties. They liked how quickly they were able to reach their fans when they released the Tree of Stars EP and realized the immediacy of the format. At the same time, Failure still have faith in the ability of the album format to take listeners on an immersive forty-plus minute journey that's impossible to achieve by hand selecting singles from streaming services.
So they decided to combine their love for albums with the public's need for instant gratification. Failure's upcoming album is technically three-quarters finished. Instead of putting out the record in one fell swoop, they're releasing it as four EPs in a similar way as Nine Inch Nails did with Bad Witch. Failure's In the Future EP came out March 30, Your Body Will Be dropped May 25 and The Furthest Thing is scheduled for a September 14th release. The full-length will follow, hopefully by year's end. It will include the previously released EPs, three new songs and the full title. Fans that have purchased the three EPs on the band's website will receive the album for free.
"Working this way is really fun for me," says Andrews, "because in the history of Failure, in the Nineties, we've had horrible problems finishing records and then having them not even come out until a year or two later. Now, after we finish a piece of music, we can put it out in two weeks or less after it's mastered. That's huge!"
Andrews and his bandmates are excited about the positive reactions they're receiving from the two EPs they've released and, to a certain extent, they're making an active effort to give the people what they want.
"What was really cool about the first two EPs was getting feedback from the fans and press about the first EP while we were literally working on the second EP," Andrews says. "It's nice to have that and we really value that kind of back and forth."
Revolver talked with Andrews during a brief break while Edwards played guitar on tour for A Perfect Circle (filling in for James Iha, who was on the road with the Smashing Pumpkins). Left to write on his own, the process is slower but enjoyable and Andrews is in a great mood as he recounts the early drug-dazed days of Failure, his belief that the term space rock was coined for his band, the process of turning multiple EPs into an album and his agreement to reboot the band.
YOU'RE OBVIOUSLY TAKING A DIFFERENT APPROACH IN RELEASING A SERIES OF EPS THAT WILL EVENTUALLY MAKE UP A FULL-LENGTH. BUT IN TERMS OF MUSICAL APPROACH, DID YOU HAVE A CLEAR INTENTION TO MAKE A DEPARTURE FROM FAILURE'S 2015 LP THE HEART IS A MONSTER?
KEN ANDREWS The way we work is we write and record at the same time. That's very different than what we did with Fantastic Planet in '95, '96. Back then, we went into a house and did the whole thing in six months. Then we went in and re-recorded everything and changed some of the lyrics around. When you work that way, the songs tend to come out kind of like chunks of time that are usually separated by other things. I'm not saying you end up with a better or worse album, but maybe you end up with a record that is slightly less cohesive.
DOES RELEASING THE SONGS AS SEPARATE EPS MAKE IT EASIER OR MORE DIFFICULT TO MAINTAIN THE FLOW OF THE ALBUM?
We have a loose way of approaching EPs, which works for us. We haven't set out to really define what each EP is going to be about. But by the nature of how we're doing it, it tends to be kind of cohesive. Like, we finish a song and then we're like, well, what do we want to do for the next song? Well, let's listen to what we've got so far.
DOES THE SONGWRITING APPROACH AFFECT THE LYRICAL CONTENT?
What happens is, because we're doing it in kind of a linear fashion and over a specific amount of time, the album tends to be about things that we're interested in during that time that kind of get into the songs.
WHEN IN THE FUTURE CAME OUT, GREG TALKED ABOUT HOW SOCIAL MEDIA WAS CAUSING USERS TO LOSE A GRIP ON REALITY. WILL THAT BE AN ONGOING THEME?
We both do lyrics, but for Greg, one of the issues that has been on his mind a lot is the depersonalization and de-socialization of people because of technology. That's an interesting issue and he's infused it into some of the songs we've already released.
YOU'RE REGARDED BY MANY AS A SPACEY, SCI-FI BAND. IT DOESN'T SOUND LIKE THIS ALBUM IS GOING TO BE YOUR SPACE ODDITY. IS THE UNPRECEDENTED WAY POLITICS ARE UNFOLDING THESE DAYS GOING TO FACTOR INTO YOUR LYRICS?
You know, I don't know that this album … and Greg even said it. At the outset, he was like, "I don't know how much I want to go into the whole space thing this time." So I don't know if the science-fiction references will be as obvious on this record. I think what we do that fits into the idea of space rock will still be there just because of the sound of the music, but I think, lyrically were not super-focused on science fiction on this album.
ARE YOU COMFORTABLE WITH THE TERM SPACE ROCK?
We love science fiction and we've always included it in our work, so I can see where that comes from. But if you listen to Fantastic Planet, it's pretty hard to pin down. I guess there are some elements of grunge in it, but we've never been a grunge band. We've always kind of tried to make our own sound. You know, I don't know for sure, but I think Failure as a band actually was one of the reasons that the whole term space rock even came into being.
I'm not trying to say that from some cocky point of view. In the Nineties when we were making Fantastic Planet I don't remember anyone using that as a genre term — space rock. I think maybe after Failure did its two albums — and there's another band in the Nineties called Hum — people were looking for a way to describe a certain sound and space rock came about. For me, I always thought that Failure makes its own sound and I felt like they had to come up with a term to describe us and I think space rock was the term. Whether or not that's an accurate term, I don't know.
THERE WERE SOME BANDS IN THE PAST, LIKE HAWKWIND, CHROME AND OMEGA THAT WERE SADDLED WITH THE SAME LABEL OVER THE DECADES. BUT NEVERMIND THAT. HAVE ANY MEMBERS OF THE BAND UNDERGONE ANY MAJOR LIFE CHANGES THAT MIGHT HAVE AFFECTED THE TONE OF THE NEW SONGS?
Greg had a new son. That was kind of a big deal. And I actually ended up getting divorced. So there's been some personal turmoil going on. For me, lyric writing is so similar to going to therapy, you know? You're trying to figure out what's going on with you internally and expressing that. Words and phrases just come out when I write lyrics. Greg is a little different. He keeps a lyric journal and works from that. I need to hear the music to get my bearings, and then all of a sudden words start coming to me. But I like trying to work unconsciously. It's like you have a block of clay and you're uncovering the work as opposed to creating the work. That's the feeling you get. The final piece is in there somewhere and you're just moving stuff out of the way so you can see it.
IN THE NINETIES WAS THERE A TIME WHEN THE PSYCHEDELIC EXPERIENCE IMPACTED THE MUSIC YOU CREATED?
Definitely, in the Nineties, we were experimenting with a lot of drugs. That's a fact. But how those experiments actually seeped into the music is hard to figure out. There's certain songs from back then that were definitely influenced by or even about drugs. But I don't remember doing a ton of acid and trying to tap into the secrets of the universe. And now, we're pretty much a sober band. But when I compare the music between then and now I don't find that one is more experimental or trippy than the other. I think we're still the same kind of artists now as we were then. And that was one of the reasons actually why I wanted to do the reboot.
DID YOU NEED SOME CONVINCING TO PLAY IN THE REUNITED FAILURE?
Well, I was really not super into the idea that when it first came up because I felt like we went out on a high note, creatively with Fantastic Planet, and I just didn't want to make something that wasn't as creatively rewarding as that album was just because we could. I didn't want to be one of these bands that get together for one of these reunion tours and tries to relive the old material. It was important to me for me to be current and vital, making new music that was contemporary.
PARTWAY THROUGH WORKING ON THE THIRD NEW EP, GREG ACCEPTED AN INVITATION TO TOUR WITH A PERFECT CIRCLE. WAS THAT A REAL BUMMER FOR YOU AND DID IT HALT YOU IN YOUR TRACKS?
I didn't really take it that way. When he first left I was in the middle of two other jobs that weren't Failure, anyway. In terms of the history of the reboot, since 2014 my stuff has impacted the schedule of the band more, than his stuff. So it doesn't really bother me. I think it was good for Greg to do the Perfect Circle thing. He's having a good time. And we're been friends with all those guys for so long, so it has been cool.
WHAT HAVE YOU BEEN INVOLVED IN RECENTLY BESIDES FAILURE?
I'm always mixing stuff. I just did some work for M83. I mixed the new Underoath album [Erase Me]. I'm mostly doing mixing, not producing because with the writing and producing I'm doing with Failure, my desires to produce are kind of filled up. But it's a nice break to just being the mixer on other albums. And I get to work on a lot of different genres, like some really heavy stuff that's much harder than Failure and a ton of very electronic, straight-up pop. Then, I get to go back to Failure, which is my baby and it tends to make working with the band again more enjoyable.