A lot has happened for the members of Los Angeles experimental rockers Failure since resuming their activity two years ago. Aside from performing again to eager fans and releasing their long awaited new album The Heart is A Monster, they have booked their latest tour run with long time member Troy van Leeuwen (now of Queens of the Stone Age) joining them. This is their first time since the band’s inactivity that he has performed with them.
Drummer Kellii Scott shared his thoughts on the matter: “Oh yeah for sure. It’s actually just like it was when the three of us got back together. It was like long lost friends mutual relationship. For me, it literally was like we never parted. It’s pretty cool.”
“We rehearsed in a place where we hadn’t rehearsed in since the 90s. I think the last time we were there we actually recorded ‘Enjoy The Silence’ (Depeche Mode cover). That was kind of weird because we started rehearsing after we had started playing ‘Enjoy the Silence’ to do on the tour. So that gave us a little extra flashback. It was great.”
“Obviously there are a lot of songs we’re going to be able to play on this tour because we have an extra person. Troy will be playing guitars and keyboards and some percussion stuff and singing a little bit.”
Despite adding another member, he insists that simplifying is something that is foreign to the band. Instead they upped the challenge levels for themselves amongst the foursome with a slightly different group of songs to tackle.
“I don’t know if it really frees anyone up. I think the difficulty level in performing these songs is about the same. As we’ve chosen to play the songs that we’ve been already been performing out on tour, it probably would have freed everybody up and made things a little bit easier. Being in true Failure fashion, we chose to instead of doing that, choosing more complex songs we couldn’t perform as a three piece.”
“They were still pretty busy and it definitely requires a lot of focus on everyone’s part. It definitely doesn’t get any easier.”
He also shared what they are working on for the set list with Van Leeuwen.
“We’re adding in ‘Enjoy The Silence.’ We’re adding in ‘Moth,’ which we haven’t played since 1993 or 94. We’re adding in three songs from the new record that we definitely needed an extra guitar to perform. There are a couple other little surprises. I don’t want to give away too much.”
“It looks like an entirely new setlist from what people had seen before. There’s a lot of new stuff off of it that no one had seen us play in the past year. About half the set is new.”
Failure has kept the excitement levels at a high with working in new songs from their latest album, even prior to its release. Fans got a chance to hear select songs from the new album while also working on various songs from past recordings, making each show a different experience than the prior ones.
“We’re not really the kind of band…I know a lot of bands when they put out a record they decide on a setlist and they play that every night. They decide on the way the stage is going to look and do that every night. We’re not really that kind of band.”
“We know if we keep it interesting for ourselves, that’ll trigger into being interesting for the band. Some people have come out to multiple shows. We’re constantly trying to think when we should make the show new each time we go out on a tour,” said Scott, explaining how their inner workings within the band keeps things fresh and exciting.
Being on the road has reignited their creative juices and allowed them to explore new sounds for songs on their new album, just as well as rediscovering tunes from past releases. While much of The Heart Is A Monster is relatively a new release, Failure has yet to perform much of the album and Scott talks about their process of working towards making that a reality.
“You know I think in terms of how we perceive the record after the fact having listened to it – each of us recorded it and there isn’t anything on it we wished we had done differently.”
“A lot of referring to the last question, this album is still so really new for us. Each time we go out we find ourselves learning new songs that we hadn’t played on previous tours. So that keeps it interesting because before [the release of The Heart is a Monster], we would do one song at a time. We would literally have to go back and learn how to play them. So everything is still really new and fresh. We haven’t gotten through every song on the record yet. We’re getting close.”
“If we count this tour coming up, it’s ten songs off of the new record. So we’ve played most of the record live, but it’s still pretty fresh. We’re all still feeling very excited about it and still very, very proud of all of the things that created the record.”
“Even on Fantastic Planet there were a couple of little things. We don’t move on to the next song in the recording process until we’re happy with where we are. So in a sense, looking at things in retrospect, we’re not looking at it like ‘oh god I wish we’d done that differently…’ I think we’re proud of and to this point all of the records have stood the test of time.”
He also spoke about rediscovering certain aspects of the band since resuming activity. Being a band as musically experimental as Failure is, Scott explains their creative process and how they make things work internally.
“I think while we’re doing it we’re kind of on a creative autopilot. We’re in the zone and it’s all about your relationship working together and a bit of everyone’s intuition colliding. I don’t think it’s unlike what happens when any group of people when they’re working on something in common. Things just kind of transpire without a whole lot of…we’re in a whole another world.”
“I do know when we do get together it is always really easy. We’re not one of those really labored type of bands. Things tend to come to us pretty effortlessly. As far as the discovery, a lot of that is probably again due to the way we do things, like writing and recording things one by one, and coming up with all of the parts – melodies and things in that fashion. A lot of the discovery comes afterwards when we all have to sit down and learn what we played.”
“For example, we’re learning ‘Small Crimes’ with Troy, and we started playing that last year and we played that several times until you have a way of playing it live and you add stuff to it. I went back and listened to the original recordings on Magnified and there were several instances and parts where I was like ‘oh wow…I didn’t hear that the first time around.’ I kind of rediscovered it and integrated some of those really small things that I didn’t notice before that being to the performance of the song.”
“It’s actually not unlike one of those movies you’ve seen a million times. If it’s a really good movie there’s so many layers to it that no matter how many times you watch it, you always discover something new about it.”
“For me, that signifies that we were successful at what we were trying to achieve. We never get bored at playing stuff. It always seems fresh at playing it live. I think it also why these songs hold up 20 years. We’re playing songs from 20 years ago, and they still sound really cool and really fresh.”
Lastly, Scott talked about Failure’s effect driven sound that has subtly become an influence on many 90s-esque bands popping up in the scene today. Much of that is heard on each of their recordings and he tries to explain where that comes from.
“To a degree, it’s kind of like for example you probably have certain set of friends that you communicate with in a certain way, like a certain musical or a language. Then you have another group of friends that you have a certain language with and you put those two groups together, people are shaking their heads sometimes and saying ‘what are they talking about?’. It usually happens with people you grew up with. When they come in contact with people you’re friends with as an adult. It’s like you have this weird language together and people kind of scratch their heads at.”
“In our case, there’s certainly a musical language that the three of us have together, and Troy, that we don’t have with any of the other stuff we’ve done. I’ve played in so many bands before, but the only band and the only music that makes me play like I do is Ken [Andrews] and Greg [Edwards]. The way I play and respond to their music is completely exclusive to them and vice versa.”
“So part of it is we already have a built in musical language. When we’re writing a song, we’re responding to each other in a certain way. Then the other thing that comes once we get past the actual concept of writing the song is Ken is just a great engineer. The actual sonic and the meticulousness of the sound that you’re hearing, that comes directly from Ken turning knobs. I want the snares to sound big and this to sound like this. Every now and then again, there’s an influence…’can you make this snare drum sound…’ But for the most part Ken is the one turning the knobs so he definitely has a certain sonic sensibility that he uses as a gigantic paint brush to color over the ideas and songs that we’ve written.”
“It’s very unique to us. It’s the way we write. The music is very unique to us and the actual sounds that you hear come out of the speakers are unique to us. That’s part of the beauty of the band. We had no interest in being anything other than what we are, which is thankful different than everyone else.”
“Again the record is so long. If you had the same sounds on every single song, you’d be bored. Not to mention every single song has a different feeling and tension and vibe to it. You could be doing yourself a disservice if you didn’t try to create a different sonic mood for every single song. One song might be mad, one song might be happy – those two things don’t sound and feel the same. So they should appear to sound different. Again it makes it easier to listen to a record that’s so long. I have so many records and I’ll get into the eighth song and it’s the same snare sound, the same guitar sound, the singer’s singing the same and it gets a little hard to get through. It sounds too similar over and over and over.”