Bands reunite and break up all the time. It’s rare that a band reunion actually feels like something profound is happening. One such case is the recent reunion of Los Angeles band Failure. After merely a trio of stellar albums, the band broke up and splintered apart. Each member went on to a slew of other projects (some even in production) before ultimately reuniting in late 2013. Now, if you follow mxdwn, we have covered this reunion closely from the very first moment it was announced. We live for music, but in truth, our favorite moments are always the ones that are rarer and more special. Like a seldom-seen species that can only be found in remote environments, sometimes the hunt for it makes everything worthwhile. Not to slander the banality of everyday media, but a handful of pure and brilliant bands are what make music journalism an amazing profession. So, it should be no surprise that Failure’s reunion was the perfect reemergence of this kind. Like if the dodo came back to life to say, “Hi.” You likely have seen our coverage of their reunion, Cinquanta show with Maynard James Keenan, SXSW performances and the upcoming June 30th release of their first album in nearly twenty years, The Heart is a Monster. A while back it occurred to us that it might be fun to take a good look at the band’s vast influence through the words of those that they have impacted most; bands and artists from around the music industry. We knew we would find some great things out, but what was most impressive was how every member of Failure (Ken Andrews, Greg Edwards and Kellii Scott) have all greatly effected so many bands we know and love. In their own words, here is what a slew of artists have to say about one of the most influential bands from the 90’s, Failure.
Billy Howerdel – A Perfect Circle
Failure has an uncanny ability to straddle the line between esoteric sonic artistry and velvet, sweet ear candy.
Bill Gould – Faith No More
I have always had a bit of a soft spot for the band Failure. In particular was their fine use of layered guitars and chords. Thick and cascading while remaining very musical.
Dean DeLeo – Stone Temple Pilots
Here is what I wrote to Ken after hearing Mulholland Dr.
I just listened to your new song with phones. Absolutely amazing man. A real masterpiece. Nicely done all around.
They have once again written something so beautiful that I wished it was mine.
May I also add that Mr. Andrews saved the day by mixing the Army Of Anyone record.
Thank you boys. Keep’em comin.
Zach Gehring – Mae
Mae’s second record The Everglow was produced by Ken Andrews. So not only was Failure’s music an indirect influence on Mae, but Ken’s songwriting and production sensibilities had a direct influence on what I think is Mae’s most successful record. It was an unforgettable experience working with Ken Andrews and we’ll always remember it fondly.
My favorite Failure song is “Smoking Umbrellas” from Fantastic Planet. It’s such a heavy song with a great chorus. I flip out every time I listen to it. I absolutely love it.
Larry Herweg – Pelican
I first heard Failure back in 1996. My buddy knew I was obsessed with Quicksand and was like, “Man you have to check this band out! They’re like Quicksand, but way more drugged out and involved.” I think the first song he played me was “Daylight,” which did kinda sound like Quicksand, slowed way the hell down. So Fantastic Planet was my introduction to the band. Over the years it has become possibly my favorite album of all time. It has only gotten better with age. I play it more now than I did then. I still find new things to discover and like about it. The production and songs were so ahead of their time. They have the perfect balance of heaviness and melody. Kellii Scott’s drumming continues to inspire and influence me. I warm up to a few of the songs on the record like “Smoking Umbrellas,” “Another Space Song,” “Heliotropic” and “Stuck on You” (possibly my favorite song of all time). I am beyond stoked that they are a band again and putting out a new album! Kellii… send me a copy!
Kemble Walters – ÆGES
Failure has had a rather large impact on ÆGES, more specifically in its beginning stages. When the band was first starting out, we weren’t sure exactly which direction we wanted to go in. We all knew we wanted to be heavy (but not hardcore), we wanted to be dissonant (but not art-rock), and we wanted big vocal hooks (but not be a pop rock band). We all pulled our favorite albums and influences together and amongst the other few, Failure was a common denominator. That being said, we didn’t look to Failure as “We need to sound like THIS,” but more so a guide ’til we figured out exactly what the ÆGES sound was. So I suppose thanks are in order? Thank you Failure for being a “guiding light.”
A small bit of trivia for everyone out there in the world. Kellii Scott and I go back quite a bit actually. It’s rather unfortunate to say this, but we were playing in a band together around 2009-ish before I actually dug into the Failure catalog. His creativity and power behind the kit is second to none. One thing is for certain, Kellii’s awesome grooves definitely help define the uniqueness that is the Failure sound.
Denver Dalley – Desaparecidos/The Statistics/Broken Bats
Failure has always been ahead of their time especially sonically, in my opinion. Their songs are still relevant and sound current to me, the same way that the Pixies’ do. I personally sought out a whammy pedal because of Failure and that lead to a whole different approach to guitar and guitar sounds for me. Their sound has definitely been a major influence on my guitar playing–particularly in my guitar pedal selection.
I think that (obviously) “Stuck On You” was the first, major direct influence, but “Another Space Song” is my all time favorite song, from each and every sound they played, to the lyrics, to the production. Just a perfect song in my book. I used to cover it with my solo project, Statistics, because I just love it and loved playing it so much. I thought it was perfect and so it didn’t need me to elaborate or reinterpret it. I just wanted to play it live! Eventually I recorded it because our label requested it, but it really was almost like a karaoke version. We played it the same way they did and it sounded very similar because they had been such a major influence on us all as we were learning our instruments and buying our gear. Proud copycat, I suppose.
Stephen Brodsky – Cave In/Mutoid Man
What really strikes me about Failure is the adventurous nature with chord changes, and the way they tie it together with killer vocal melodies. The chorus in “Moth” is a great example – fairly obtuse on its own, but the vocal reigns it in (“No one’s ever gonna find out/from this shut mouth”). Nirvana kind of does that with “Drain You” and maybe “Lithium,” but I feel that Failure takes it a step further in terms of creating suspense. This was huge for me as a young teenager with a guitar–it made me wanna push the boundaries of what writing “catchy” music could possibly entail.
I think I read about Comfort in a skate magazine, then found a used copy of the album during one of my cassette-buying adventures in Boston–this was in the early-to-mid 90’s when I was still living in the suburbs. Honestly, I didn’t really dig the record, and only months later picked up Magnified merely by chance, which I immediately loved. More interesting though is the first time that Cave In hung out with Ken Andrews: he was actually one of the potential producers we had in mind for the Antenna album. One day, Ken was supposed to meet us at Cole Rehearsal to discuss possibly working together. We thought it’d be funny to have our gear set up so that once he entered the room, we’d toss him a mic in hopes of getting a surprise jam sesh going. So in comes Ken, and almost immediately we push a mic in front of him and say something to the effect of, “Hey Ken, you’re late for practice man!” then bust into our version of “Magnified.” But instead of grabbing the mic like we had hoped, Ken proceeds to plug his fingers deep into his ears. Well, we kept playing until the end of the song–then he goes “Man, you guys are fucking LOUD!” Fast forward a couple years to another scene on the Lollapalooza tour with Queens Of The Stone Age (Troy from Failure) and Campfire Girls (Kellii from Failure), when we managed to get 2 members of Failure onstage with us to play “Magnified.” Thankfully that was way less awkward.
Justin Meldal-Johnsen – Bassist Beck, Nine Inch Nails/Producer M83, Paramore, School of Seven Bells
There was a time, during the genesis of bands like Failure, where art rock and heavy music collided. In LA in the late 80’s, there was Jane’s Addiction and its numerous spawn, and that became the thing for several years. Then I suppose grunge hit in around ’90, and the result was that a vast number of imitators emerged. Many of these imitators revealed themselves as thinly disguised updates of the metal bands that they used to be just a few years prior (albeit with different names), with the uniform becoming flannel and jeans in lieu of leather and latex. Others were authentic, but were quickly found to be pale imitations of the great bands of the time (most of whom emerged from the Pacific Northwest and definitely not So Cal). Suffice to say, there was precious little art rock mixed in with the post-metal… Not since Jane’s Addiction, anyway. So I found myself averse to this new “heavy music” trend, as I was mostly a disciple of all things Matador, Factory and 4AD at the time. But then, there were a few bands in the shadows who were another thing altogether. And one of them soon proved to be greater than all the rest.
I first met Greg, Ken, and their first drummer Robert Gauss in 1990 when the Failure guys and my band at the time were neighbors at an old downtown building where bands rehearsed. Our two bands became instant friends and started doing shows together around LA. Failure, however, had a different recipe than any other bands around at the time. By working within the milieu of both heavy and arty with a very particular and fresh spin, they started arresting people’s attention. I was an immediate fan of their first two seven inches and found them totally captivating. The tools of their trade were very interesting: buried, gauzy vocals, fretless bass, caustic, angular guitar and pummeling, tribal drums. The artwork was likewise just as intriguing: simultaneously disturbing and alluring. Consciously or otherwise, they conveyed a perfect blend of mystery and menace that I’m sure most Failure fans also picked up on. For me personally, they helped remove the personal stigma that “heavy” music had, and opened the door to a new type of creating. They were somehow melding the influences of some surprising bedfellows: The Beatles, Talk Talk, Japan, The Pixies, Big Black, Jesus Lizard, and even Nirvana. It was peculiar, special and electrifying.
A personal relationship between myself and Ken in particular began at that point and continues to this day. We’ve enjoyed working together on all manner of things, projects like Blinker The Star, Beck, Nine Inch Nails, M83 and other stuff. I also ended up co-producing Ken’s solo album several years back, and we also formed Digital Noise Academy together with our other friends.
Sadie Dupuis, Mike Falcone, Darl Ferm, Devin McKnight – Speedy Ortiz
Us kiddos in Speedy Ortiz have been listening to (and covering) songs by Failure since we were, well, younger kiddos. And their songwriting—spacey verses, pounding choruses, alien interludes have left an impression on most of the bands we’ve played in. An abiding, cultish love for Failure inspired us when we recorded Speedy Ortiz’s first EP. A few years later, we got to open for them in Texas. We hung ten and nerded out to each other about our histories in Failure fandom—which is basically what we talk about every time we’re in a tour van, anyway.
Mike Falcone: How did I first hear Failure? Oh man. I saw an episode of 120 Minutes on MTV and I taped it. Deftones were hosting and they played a lot of videos they liked, like Depeche Mode and stuff. Then they played Failure’s “Stuck On You,” and it was the first time I’d heard that song. Then my friends wanted to start a band to cover it, and they were called Bernie, named after the Failure song “Bernie” ‘cuz they really liked Failure a lot. That was how I found out about Failure.
Sadie Dupuis: My story’s not that cool. I had that A Perfect Circle record on which they covered “The Nurse Who Loved Me.” I was like, “Damn, this song’s a lot cooler than the other songs.” Then I realized it was a cover. So I bought all the Failure CDs, ‘cuz I was all about CDs in high school. I covered that song a bunch in high school. Not too much longer after that the first Autolux album came out and I was pretty into Autolux, and only realized later it was Greg from Failure.
Mike: See, I was so obsessed with Failure I knew about that Autolux three song EP with “Sugarless” right when it came out. I got immersed in everything Failure.
Devin McKnight: You showed me Failure and I didn’t like it.
Sadie: Who showed you Failure?
Devin: You did!
Sadie: Me?! Really?!
Devin: Yeah! It was, like, a long time ago. Then Alex Molini [of The Dirty Dishes] showed it to me whilst… uh… on some drugs. But he showed me Magnified and not Fantastic Planet. But I came around later to the other stuff. But I think Magnified is the best of both worlds with them. They got some dark stuff in the beginning. Then they got real serious in the studio. Magnified has a little bit of both.
Darl Ferm: It’s like when worlds collide. Magnified was the first album I heard by Failure and it was the only one I heard for years. So it’s got a special place in my heart. I also like the tones a lot. It’s like my favorite bass tone on anything.
Sadie: I guess I’m gonna pick the Nevermind of Failure albums and say Fantastic Planet is my favorite. I think it was a pretty huge influence on me in terms of the songwriting, and I loved the segues. Both in Speedy and in my old band Quilty–who definitely were influenced by Failure–like, half our songs we just intentionally tried to rip off “Saturday Savior.” That’s the album that the sequencing and the whole presentation of it are just like… perfect. Also, we have that sentimental story about Fantastic Planet.
Mike: Yeah! I was wondering if you’d bring this up.
Sadie: Our first weekend as a band playing shows out of town we stayed at the studio of some friends in Philly, called The Sex Dungeon. And I guess we stayed up really late drinking beer–Darl had to go to a film class the next day.
Darl: At 8 am.
Sadie: We were there with our friends in Two Inch Astronaut. The dudes who run the studio, Dan and James, were like, “We could project the movie Fantastic Planet and listen to the album Fantastic Planet at the same time.” We were all like, “No way!” We did it. It was perfect. Wasn’t even fucked up on drugs. It was so cool. The next day we decided, “We have to go record an album with those guys.”
Mike: It was like 4 am. James was like, “Have you ever watched Fantastic Planet while LISTENING to Fantastic Planet?”
Darl: My perspective was, “I should sleep a couple hours before I drive us all for hours.” So all I remember is hearing that album blasting from the control room while sleeping in negative degree weather on the floor of the studio. I was shivering, like, “What the fuck is going on in there?”
Mike: I agree that’s my favorite album they’ve done. Or that any of those guys have ever worked on. Including Autolux and Lusk and all of ’em. My favorite song switches a lot but I think it’s “Smoking Umbrellas” at the moment.
Sadie: You’ve covered that, too, haven’t you?
Mike: No, we did “Sergeant Politeness.” We also did “Your Sister Says John” which I forgot was actually a Blinker the Star cover Ken Andrews did.
Sadie: My fave was “Another Space Song.” It was definitely my AOL Profile lyrics for a while.
Mike: There’s a trick on “Smoking Umbrellas” where if you pan it to one side you don’t hear the intro.
Sadie: Such good panning on that album. I feel like maybe it’s less obvious in Speedy Ortiz, but there are certain things I try to copy that are panning, or guitar lines, or like in Quilty I played in open C and tried to sound like Failure. Or, that little introduction part we have on the Speedy song “Mark VI” is supposed to sound like one of the Failure segues.
Sadie: We all got to play with Failure recently and I feel like it’s the first time that we’ve all been, like, watching a band and singing along to every single word.
Mike: All four of us all at once? Definitely.
Darl: We almost missed our flight to watch them. Also, they weren’t playing with amps!
Sadie: I thought it was nice that we recorded our first EP at a place ‘cuz Fantastic Planet was being played there, and then we got to see them again and play with them. As a band we’re in a pretty different place now than we were three years ago, but we were all so psyched. It was heartwarming.
Mike: I never thought they’d reform, honestly. To have to wait fifteen years, it was like, yes! Finally!
Darl: Also, all their last names are first names too. Boom. Exposed.
Sadie: I think that’s a good place to end.
Failure, Justin Meldal-Johnsen, Bill Gould and Speedy Ortiz photos by Raymond Flotat
Billy Howerdel photo by Marv Watson