Failure: The Comeback Kings

In 1996, Failure released their third album, ‘Fantastic Planet’. It should have been a time for celebration, but it punctuated the end of a gruelling 18-month period which saw their label sit on the album as they tried to sell themselves to a major.

“It was beyond frustrating,” says Ken Andrews. “Greg [Edwards] went off the deep end with drugs and I was just beside myself with frustration and depression. That part of the band’s history was a nightmare, really.”

The band – who’d expanded to a quartet with the addition of Troy Van Leeuwen, later joining Queens Of The Stone Age – bagged themselves a spot on the Lollapalooza tour the following year. But by the end of November 1997, personal differences had taken their toll and the band called it a day.

Perhaps the root of the problem was that Failure were ahead of their time. Their multi-textured spacey rock earned a cult fanbase but never reached the heights they perhaps deserved. Before their reunion in 2014, their fanbase has swelled considerably with bands like Tool, Paramore and Cave In name checking the band as influences.

Their fourth full-length album, The Heart Is A Monster, is out now. TeamRock joined Ken, Greg and drummer Kellii Scott in London to discuss their reunion and the dangers of damaging a legacy…

WHAT LED TO FAILURE’S REUNION? Ken Andrews: “Basically, Greg and I becoming friends again. After the break up, there was at least four or five years where we didn’t see each other. We started different projects and then we slowly started seeing each other again, leading up to when both of us had our first kids, within six months of each other. There were play dates and this whole other side of our relationship grew. There was this kind of unsaid gravity pulling us. Friends and family weren’t really pushing us because they knew the sensitivity of the whole situation, but there was a recognition I think of the work we had done together.” Greg Edwards: “I had a feeling of obligation to at least try it again and see what we could do.”

BEFORE RELEASING 2004’S COMPILATION ‘GOLDEN’, DID ANY OF YOU REVISIT THE ALBUMS JUST FOR THE HELL OF IT? Ken: “I didn’t for a while.” Greg: “I remember listening to Saturday Savior for a sonic reference. I wanted to see what the frequency range was. I was amazed at the fidelity of it. I was amazed at the top end attack of the guitars and the warmth of it. The cool, warm darkness that was in there, and the fact that we recorded it on the original 16 bit ADATs, was incredible to me! That was the thing that blew me away the most.There was a 20 bit ADAT that went down, you know, years after Failure had broken up, and I took it in for repair. I opened up the top months later to clean it and whoever had repaired it had written a Failure lyric, on the inside of the components, inside that ADAT. It was from Frogs, I think [1994 album, Magnified]. Something like, ‘Frogs are leaping off my brain stem’.” Ken: “Wow, I didn’t know that.”

WHERE THERE ANY OTHER WEIRD COINCIDENCES THAT POINTED TOWARDS GETTING BACK TOGETHER? Ken: “The reboot had already sort of officially started and I think we were about four songs in to recording, and [Tool frontman] Maynard Keenan called me, and was like, ‘Hey would you consider reforming? I want to have a big birthday party, and I want my favourite bands to play a few songs at this show.’ I told him we’d reformed and he was like, ‘Oh great, so can I confirm you?’ [laughter].” Greg: “There was never a time when Failure just disappeared off my radar; there was always something. We were kind of like revolving around this central planet of gravity that was bringing us back to eventually working together. It was just like, every little thing like that seemed to increase the gravitational pull.”

DID FATHERHOOD STRIP EVERYTHING AWAY TO REVEAL WHAT’S REALLY IMPORTANT? ANY PETTINESS FROM THE INITIAL FALLING OUT? Ken: “I think the break up was due to a lot of, you know, broken trust maybe? Our friendship deepened with the shared experience of fatherhood.” Greg: “I mean, certainly that puts things in perspective because, becoming a parent is anything but petty. It was easier to begin [the friendship] from there and not have all of the baggage from the past crowd it too much.” Ken: “When I think about it now, there was no earlier time it could have happened for us personally. It happened when it could have happened.”

WHAT WERE THE FIRST STAGES OF THE REUNION, THEN? Ken: “We wrote and recorded a few songs, because that was the test really. We didn’t want to come back and just do a nostalgia tour and then call it a day. We just weren’t interested in that, so if we were to come back, for us, we needed to know that the material was going to be substantial, viable and still the sound of Failure…” Greg: “Not just like kind of a half-assed, thrown-in justification for a reunion, you know, but a fourth record that stood alongside the other three.”

THAT’S PROBABLY THE WORST THING A BAND COULD DO TO THEIR LEGACY. Greg: “Yeah, because we talked about that – let’s just not do it.” Ken: “I would rather re-master Fantastic Planet again and do like a big booklet or something of interesting quotes, than come out with a half-assed, nostalgia tour, you know. The other thing is, I think there’s somewhat of a feeling that the sound of this band is… maybe the time is now, you know, and it wasn’t then.”

HOW DID YOU FEEL WHEN YOU HEARD THE BAND WERE REUNITING, KELLII? Kellii: “I didn’t know these guys were hanging out. When Ken called me, I thought he was calling me to offer me a drum gig or something. I didn’t think anything of it, he left a message and I called him back. As soon as he said, ‘Well, I don’t know if you know but Greg and I have been hanging out, we’ve got kids, we’ve been doing play dates…’, I immediately knew what was coming. When they sent me the music they’d been working on, it was probably the weirdest, most emotionally un-tethered three weeks of my life. I had so many competing emotions. I thought [the reunion] was never going to happen.” Ken: “I thought about it before I called him. I thought this is going to be a bit of a shocker, it’s like, ‘Hey we’re back together and here’s some new songs’ [laughter].”

WHO TOOK THE SPLIT THE HARDEST? Ken: “I don’t think anyone wanted it to end. It was just kind of a survival thing at that point and it was a really, really hard decision. Very painful.”

WHAT DID YOU DO FOR THE FIRST MONTH AFTER THE SPLIT? Ken: “I don’t know, I think I was just upset for about maybe a month. Then I dove right into making music, and went a whole different direction musically – very little guitar and more electronic.” Kellii: “I joined another band called Blinker The Star.” Greg: “I fell off the face of the planet for a few months. I was heavily self-medicating at that point, and so I probably had the easiest time with it, because I just wasn’t feeling anything. I remember the phone call. Ken called me and basically said, ‘Let’s move on, this isn’t working’ and I just remember that there was a subterranean feeling of like, this is like a big, fucked up sad thing that’s happening. But I was so out of it that it was easy for me to just glide over that and spent probably six or seven months sliding downhill more and more. Then I came out of that and got better.”

HOW DID YOU OVERCOME THAT SITUATION? Greg: “You know, with some really, really good friends and family, and starting Autolux. They were very pivotal in helping me get out of what I was in, so that I could become functional and start that band. In terms of the role I played in the band breaking up and not being able to continue, I don’t think I fully took responsibility for that until much later. That was over a long period of time which led naturally up to Ken and I reconnecting. You know, it was very gradual and, in a way, it worked out perfectly for the reunion.”

**Failure in 1996 and now: **Kellii Scott, Ken Andrews and Greg Edwards

LET’S TALK ABOUT RECORDING OF ‘THE HEART IS A MONSTER’. WAS IT FAIRLY STRAIGHTFORWARD GIVEN YOU’D ALREADY RECORDED ‘COME CRASHING’ FOR 2014’S ‘TREE OF STARS’ EP? Greg: “Kellii made it easy, because his drumming is better than it ever was. He’s the most consistent musician in the band. Ken and I are a little hacky at times! When we were getting ready for the first reunion show, it had so much weight and pressure on it. Ken and I kept talking about that we’re really lucky that he’s the drummer, because it’s so easy for a drummer to stop playing. What if Kellii had not kept up his chops all this time?” Kellii: “When I joined this band, that’s when I became serious about getting really good. I mean pretty much every day I spent with these guys was about making them happy, working my ass off. To hear them say that, someday.”

DID YOU FIND IT DIFFICULT TRYING TO WRITE SONGS AS FAILURE, NOW YOU’VE ALL HAD MANY MORE YEARS OF MUSICAL EXPERIENCE UNDER YOUR BELT? Ken: “Making this record was easier in a sense, because we did have more experience and less distraction of drugs. If you really look at it day for day, we spent about the same amount of time making this record as we did for Fantastic Planet.” Greg: “We also, it’s not like we took our time, but we didn’t totally force it in a creatively unhealthy way, there was enough time to breathe and let new ideas emerge.” Kellii: “It wasn’t laboured, it felt effortless, like really easy and just things really connected quickly. It wasn’t stressful.” Ken: “Yeah, it wasn’t stressful, but there was definitely like this over-hanging feeling of following up Fantastic Planet because that record clearly was a touchstone for a lot of people and fans. So, in that sense there was some pressure there. I think that our experience at this point allowed us to say, ‘Yeah, but we made that record, so we can do better, fuck it,’ you know?” Greg: “The only thing we owe to ourselves and to people who love the older music is just to make something that’s great. We do not owe it to them to give them any satisfaction in terms of, ‘Oh you, like that song from Fantastic Planet, and you’re looking for something like that here? Well, tough shit!’ [laughter] There’s something else for you to get into here, but it’s not necessarily going to be like putting on an old shoe. You might have to use a shoe horn and wear different pants.”

The Heart Is A Monster is out now. For more information on Failure, visit their official website.

Simon Young

Born in 1976 in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Simon Young has been a music journalist for over twenty years. His fanzine, Hit A Guy With Glasses, enjoyed a one-issue run before he secured a job at Kerrang! in 1999. His writing has also appeared in Classic RockMetal HammerProg, and Planet Rock. His first book, So Much For The 30 Year Plan: Therapy? — The Authorised Biography is available via Jawbone Press.