Selling a bunch of records, achieving high streaming numbers, gaining recognition from other artists, and amassing a huge fanbase doesn’t make musicians invincible from self-doubt.
Failure, the alternative/space-rock trio from Los Angeles, has had an interesting career path. The group exploded onto the rock scene in the 1990s, touring with rock legends Tool and receiving praise for their first few albums. The band broke up in 1997, and wouldn’t reunite until 2013. Since then, the band has toured the world, and has released three new albums—the latest being Wild Type Droid in 2021—adding to their brand of subtle ethereal rock, and further cementing themselves as standouts within the rock genre.
The band is headed for Pappy and Harriet’s on Friday, June 3, with a preview of a new documentary on Failure preceding the show.
During a recent phone interview with guitarist/bassist Greg Edwards, he said the writing and recording process for Wild Type Droid marked a big change.
“We just went into a room together for three weeks and recorded everything we played, and we didn’t really try to sculpt anything into a song form; we just were playing, kind of without even thinking,” Edwards said. “The idea was just to let that happen naturally, and then get that all on tape, and cut it down to the moments that we thought could be expanded into songs.
“A lot of these moments, that were just spontaneous jams, served as the foundation for what would become songs, and in some cases, we were able to use most of the guitar, drums and bass from the actual jam. I can hear that spontaneity and the freedom and energy of that jam setting made it into the final songs. I think there’s a simplicity to the parts; the arrangements are a lot sparser than on previous records, and the instruments seem to all each exist in their own space, which is probably a function of playing all at the same time in a room. … When you sit in front of speakers in a studio, and you’re trying to write a song, you tend to double things up and overdub, so from the get-go, it’s just a different kind of process. This was a more pure way of finding the song.”
Most of Failure’s music sounds like it was born out of a jam; consider hits like “Another Space Song” and “The Nurse Who Loved Me.”
“I like the spontaneous moments when a piece of potential just seemingly falls out of the sky. That can happen alone in a room with an acoustic guitar, or in a room playing with the three of us,” Edwards said. “The part that can be not so fun is when you then have to iron it all out and turn it into a song and make parts fit together. What you have to do sometimes on that end is manufacture the spontaneity and the organic naturalness of it—because it all needs to sound like it just fell out of the sky, or like it’s always existed. For me, the most exhilarating moments are when something really special and really amazing just happens out of nowhere and takes you by surprise. With the way that we wrote this record, I think we had a lot more of those moments than on the past few records.”
It had been a while since the members of Failure had gone back to the basics.
“Fantastic Planet (1996) started out as some jams in a rehearsal space that we then turned into songs in the studio when we were recording it,” Edwards said. “The first record, Comfort (1992), was really all done as a three-piece, just playing live and jamming and finding songs. It wasn’t an unfamiliar way to work.”
Failure created Wild Type Droid entirely on their own, to avoid the pressures of recording on other people’s time—with one exception.
“We pick out a few days, and Kellii (Scott, Failure’s drummer) is really prepared, and we go into a really nice, professional studio and record all the drums,” Edwards said. “But for the most part, we record at (lead vocalist and multi-instrumentalist) Ken (Andrews’) home studio. That’s how we wrote and recorded beyond the initial three weeks of jamming. There’s really no time limit except for the time limit of life, the family and children. … When you’re in a professional studio, you’re trying to write a part, or you want to get a sound right, but you don’t have enough time to do it. You have to justify how much it costs to be in that studio … so we don’t really use the big professional studios in that way anymore.”
Edwards said that after 30 years, he still feels pressure to create music that’s always better and different.
“For me, it’s always really stressful going into the creating/writing process, because no matter how many times I’ve done it now, I always feel like I don’t know what I’m doing,” he said. “There’s sort of a dark-arts element to writing songs; I don’t think you ever really feel like you know how to do it if you’re reaching for something unique and profound. I always think, ‘I don’t know how I was able to do it in the past, and certainly, this time is going to finally be the time where I can’t do it at all.’ … Somehow, within the process, it happens, but if I think about it, it’s all anxiety and stress. That’s what was great about starting the process just making noise together. It really didn’t feel like much of anything special was happening on most days, and then at the end of it all, when we went back and listened, it was a shocking relief just how many good moments there were.”
Edwards said playing in front of an audience makes the anxiety and pressure worthwhile.
“We haven’t done that yet for the new songs, so you never know what the reaction will be, or how playing the songs onstage will feel when it’s a new group of songs you’ve never performed before,” Edwards said. “That’s always interesting. You have certain expectations that one song should translate really well live, and another song maybe will be a bit of a sleeper—and then sometimes it turns out that the song that you thought would be a sleeper really connects with the audience, and the song you thought would kill doesn’t necessarily get that much traction.”
Setlist creation has become increasingly difficult as the band adds to its discography, Edwards said.
“It’s just impossible to play all the songs that we want to play—all the songs that are our personal favorites,” said Edwards. “We just have too many songs now. … There’ll be fans in the audience for whom it will also be a disappointment that a certain song is not in the set, so it’s painful to have to cut songs. This tour, we’re changing it up quite a bit. We’re playing quite a few songs that haven’t seen the light of day before—or, if they have, it was a long, long time ago. In some ways, it’s one of the biggest departures as a set since we’ve reformed. We’re playing a song or two from the first record that we haven’t played probably since 1992. We’re also playing some songs from Magnified (1994) that we’ve rarely played.”
Failure will perform at 9 p.m., Friday, June 3, at Pappy and Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace, 53688 Pioneertown Road, in Pioneertown. Tickets are $30. For tickets or more information, call 760-228-2222, or visit pappyandharriets.com.