Failure: The Road to Success

June 15th, 1994 | Category: Essays, Interviews

This piece was originally published in the June, 1994 issue of Pandemonium! Magazine, a couple of years before Failure’s landmark space-rock album Fantastic Planet. It was one of my first published magazine pieces.

The name of a band can certainly affect the way they are received by music buyers. It is nearly the only reference point one has (save label affiliation, production credits, or articles such as this one) previous to actually hearing their music. I guess with a name like Failure, the only way to go is up.

Failure

Having been together for only about three years, Failure have already left a considerable colorful history behind. Ken Andrews and Greg Edwards (they’ve had three drummers — the most current, Kellii Scott, was in Liquid Jesus at the time) released their first seven-inch single at about the same time as they started doing shows in their hometown of Los Angeles.

Instead of appealing to clubs with a demo tape, they decided to appeal to college radio with a seven inch. This angle of attack earned them substantial airplay and eventually a deal with Slash Records. Their second seven inch hit the airwaves when the ink on their deal with Slash was still wet. Their first record for Slash (1993’s Comfort, recorded with Steve Albini) wasn’t exactly what they had in mind.

“[Recording with Abini] was pretty arduous. It wasn’t very fun,” Ken tells me from his hotel room in Tempe, Arizona. “It was fun outside the studio. He knows about this pretty cool studio in Minnesota, so anytime he has a budget he pretty much goes there. That’s where he did P. J. Harvey and Nirvana… It has a cool house that you live in when you’re recording with an indoor pool, so that was fun…”

As far as the actual recording goes, Ken gave Mr. Albini credit for being able to get a certain sound. But, Ken also said he thought going in that Albini would be a little more open to what the band had to say about that sound.

That “sound” ended up restricting Failure more than helping them, and Comfort was a near disaster. Or, as Ken puts it, “unfortunately, we didn’t have enough balls to pull out before we crashed…”

So they produced their newest (Magnified, also on Slash) themselves. They also took a different approach to songwriting this time around.

Failure: Magnified“For this record, it was me and Greg writing in a home studio,” Ken explains. “We’d just jam on different instruments and program some drum beats, and occasionally there’d be vocal melodies that we’d put on. And there’d be a period where, usually I would go over the tapes and select things out and try to build songs from that… Much more studio-oriented. We didn’t play any of the songs live. We just wrote them in a home studio, which is totally different.”

The result is a brooding blend of heavy riffs, vocal melodies, and pop sensibility. Comparisons to Nirvana are abundant yet invalid. Magnified is a sonic joyride of moving rhythms and emotive vocals that don’t really point to anyone else, except maybe longtime friends, Tool, with a little more melody.

Magnified has grown on me like a very useful extra limb, and I’ve found myself unable to get through the average day without at least one listen. A plethora of styles and tempos make themselves apparent all the way through Magnified leaving the listener again with concrete reference points. “It’s hard to be original when you’re a rock band with guitar, bass, and drums,” Ken says, “but our music does have an emotional style and content all its own.”

Failure: Pandemonium!Indeed. “Moth,” the lead single (among many such candidates), is easily one of the best songs on college radio at the moment.

Failure are currently touring with Tool and The Flaming Lips but won’t be in the Pacific Northwest until May 28th when they’ll open KISW’s show with Candlebox, Tool, and others, as well as a possible club date on their own while in town. “The new songs are really working out live,” Ken says of the tour so far, “and the crowds have been really good to us.”

So, what’s in a name? Is this moniker some sort of sick twist on Freud’s reverse psychology?

“The name started out as a joke,” Ken deadpans. If Failure continue their current level of quality music, it will remain so.

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