Ken Andrews: When Failure is an option
After one seriously long hiatus, L.A. indie rockers Failure reunited in 2014 to play their first show since 1997. That show went so well that the group stuck together. It’s just issued The Heart is a Monster, a hard-rocking follow-up to their space rock masterpiece, 1996’s Fantastic Planet. Singer-guitarist Ken Andrews recently phoned from his L.A. home to talk about the new album and the band’s return to touring.
The band reunited in 2013. What got the group back together and what was your first show together like?
Mainly just the friendship between Greg [Edwards] and me. The band broke up in 1997 and we didn’t really hang out for seven or eight years after that. We both had our first kids within six months of each other. We started seeing each other more and bonded over the fear of being new dads. It was like, “Why don’t we mess around in the studio?” We were both still doing music, so it seemed natural. A few months went by and we kept chipping away at a few song ideas and all of a sudden we had good demos of four songs. We liked them and wanted to keep going but we were curious about what the live situation would be like so we booked the El Rey.
What was that like?
That was a big opener. We realized we had a whole new fan base that was not from the ‘90s. People in their mid-20s made up the majority of the crowd. They knew the material so well and they were so into it. It was really different for us. In the ‘90s, we were struggling to build a fan base. We had some fans but there was some confusion about what we were. We didn’t have many crowds singing to the music because no one really knew it. Now, people are super familiar with it. They know the albums inside and out and it’s a whole different world.
How did that happen?
It’s really just a simple word-of-mouth between friends. In talking to these 20-year-olds, they have friends who got the record and then got hold of the other records. They just started getting into our band and just saw we were playing. They didn’t know we were a ‘90s band that broke up. The fact that the whole landscape has become more fractured helps us. Kids don’t feel the need to be limited by liking a certain genre. They just want to like the music and it’s less about going with the status quo.
I think Greg said your new album moves from outer space to inner space. Talk about that a bit.
I’ve been getting stuck having to talk about that. It’s kind of a problem. I think what he’s trying to say is that if Fantastic Planet was a metaphor for isolation and drug abuse, which was also part of that, then this album is more introspective and about questioning identity. That’s all I got for you.
The record seems heavier. Do you agree?
I don’t know. I’d have to compare it on that level. To me, there’s certain things we did differently on this record. We tried to pare some songs down to the real trio sound. There’s only one guitar at one time. On Fantastic Planet, there were rhythm guitars and lead lines going at the same time. I wanted to see if we could be heavy in the confines of a trio. If you say it sounds heavy, maybe it worked.
The tracks appear in the order in which you recorded them, is that right?
Except for the first four that we did which are spread out throughout the record. We did the record in two halves, or maybe more like two thirds. In 2013, we wanted to really see if what we could come up with song-wise and recording-wise was something worthy as a follow-up to Fantastic Planet. Those four songs – “Come Crashing,” “Snow Angel,” “The Focus” and one other one — are spread out. We did a tour to play the old songs and get it out of our system so the fans could have that tour of Fantastic Planet that they never got before. Now, we’re going to play more new songs. We’ll still play more than half as old songs . . . maybe 60/40. If we hadn’t done that tour it would have been a bummer because people want to hear their favorite old songs. After the Tree of Stars tour we didn’t want to release the four as an EP, which is what we were thinking of doing. We wanted to make a full album. We rented a studio space and hunkered down there from October through April. We gave ourselves six months of studio time to completely write and record and finish the whole thing.
How have your production skills changed?
I think it helped in the sense that we could get down to work a lot quicker. We weren’t dealing with the technicalities of recording as much. With Fantastic Planet, everything was a discovery process, including the engineering of it. We did some experimentation. This time we would get to the recording quicker and do fewer takes. All of us have kept going with music during the break. We were better musicians and more seasoned.
How did the band initially come together?
I was going to Cal State L.A. in the film department. My hobby on the side was Failure. I had written about five or six songs I had demoed by myself in my apartment bedroom. One of my roommates was a drummer. He ended up being the original drummer on Comfort. He heard the music I was doing. He thought it was really cool. He wanted to do a band. It took us about a year-and-a-half to find a third member to join the band. That was eventually Greg.
Did you know you were doing something that was different?
Yes. That was by design. We weren’t interested in doing it just to do it. For me, personally, having our live following grow and labels come around was a shocker to me. I wasn’t expecting that.
You plan to stick together now?
It’s been received really well from press and from fans and it feels really good now. Talk to me six months from now and I don’t know how I’ll feel then. Right now, it feels good. We constrained the tour a little. I don’t want to be out for more than four weeks at a time without a significant break. I have two little kids and I can’t handle being away from them for that long.