s a wise philosopher once noted, the only constant is change. Perhaps that’s why Failure’s new album, The Heart is a Monster, is an unexpected surprise.
After a two-decade absence, a parade of band/side projects and against all logical odds, guitarist/vocalist Ken Andrews, bassist/vocalist Greg Edwards and drummer Kelli Scott reconvened to follow up 1996’s critically acclaimed and commercially ignored Fantastic Planet.
Monster sounds contemporarily fresh, yet still feels like a logical next step 19 years after its predecessor, which may well be Exhibit A that Failure was lightyears ahead of its mid-’90s curve. It most assuredly does not indicate that Monster was stitched together precisely the same way as Fantastic Planet.
“The only difference between this album and Fantastic Planet is that we’re older now and we have families and kids,” Andrews says from the band’s Burbank, Calif., studio space. “The idea of doing exactly what we did on Fantastic Planet, where we rented a house and lived like a little fraternity for six months, wasn’t going to happen.”
Failure’s reunion began nearly 10 years after the band’s 1997 dissolution, fueled by Edwards’ substance issues, although Andrews readily admits they all struggled in one way or another. None of their problems were ameliorated by Warner Brothers’ nudging insistence that the band immediately hit the studio to capitalize on Planet’s massively positive critical success.
“Drug addiction completely destroyed the band,” Andrews says flatly. “All of us had issues on and off throughout the band’s history; during the touring of Fantastic Planet, Greg went off the deep end with heroin. It wasn’t a matter of whether or not Failure was going to make another record, it was whether or not Greg was going to be alive in six months. I broke the band up because there was no band to function. I became more concerned with trying to make sure Greg didn’t die, and the band was just a distraction.
“Warner Brothers was like, ‘We did OK on this record, let’s get you guys back in the studio.’ And I was like, ‘Yeah, that’s not going to happen.’ It wasn’t that we came to creative loggerheads, it was a life problem. It took him a few years to get clean and emerge from that episode.”
After a fairly long stretch — during which Andrews pursued new directions with ON, Year of the Rabbit and a solo album, while the newly sober Edwards assembled Autolux — the pair rekindled its friendship. That process continued when Andrews and Edwards became first-time fathers and eventually expanded into informal jams at Andrews’ home studio.
“It was all super casual, but we came up with a couple songs that sort of sounded like Failure,” Andrews says. “The backdrop of us hanging out again was that our friends were like, ‘You guys need to get the band back together.’ But Greg was doing Autolux and still is, and my main job is mixing records for other people, so there wasn’t this huge, ‘We’ve got to do this because we don’t have anything else going on.’ It just came down to desire. I think we both started waking up and going, ‘What do we really want to do today?’ I wanted to get back in the studio with Greg and I think he wanted to get back in the studio with me.”
Eventually, Andrews and Edwards formalized the reunion with the stated purpose of crafting true Failure songs and creating the successor to one of the ’90s’ greatest albums. The sticking point for Andrews wasn’t necessarily in believing that Fantastic Planet was an influential and beloved work; it was whether or not there was demand for another Failure album in the new millennium.
“We keep hearing how Failure has become this cult favorite, but there’s no way to gauge what that means,” Andrews says. “We proved to ourselves that we could make something we think is cool and is potentially a worthy follow-up to Fantastic Planet, but is anyone out there who will listen to it or care? So we booked an L.A. show that happened in February 2014, and it sold out right away. That’s when we knew we should make a full go of this.”
The trio flirted with dropping an EP and leaving it at that, but the response to the L.A. show was overwhelmingly and undeniably positive. When the trio was greeted with the same kind of unbridled enthusiasm on its subsequent “Tree of Stars Tour,” Failure’s resurgence was assured beyond all doubt.
“The tour really helped us hang out more and get into Failure mode and be with the fans and get to know what the new fans like about the band,” Andrews says. “And it’s all the stuff that we like. It’s the stuff that makes us maybe a little different from other bands. We realized there’s a whole new audience for our band that we didn’t know about. All of that was an inspiration for us to really put our heads down and make this record.”
The Heart is a Monster crackles with Fantastic Planet’s incendiary passion and even mimics its physical structure — Segues 1, 2 and 3 on Fantastic Planet are mirrored by Segues 4, 5 and 6 on Monster. The blistering ring of Failure’s skewed metallic grunge remains as thrilling in the present tense as it did 20 years ago, and the trio has been energized by resurrecting the songs, sounds and processes created almost half a lifetime ago.
“(Failure’s) core sound is Greg and I working together — we’ve had different drummers, but I’d say Kelli is a big part of the sound now — but without us the Failure sound doesn’t happen,” Andrews says. “The first three albums were all pretty different. In the most functional way, we tried to emulate Fantastic Planet in terms of writing and recording songs one at a time, soup to nuts, before moving on. That was the major difference between Fantastic Planet and the albums before that. The studio becomes less about a technical exercise of recording a song you’ve already demoed and becomes a discovery thing, and it makes for an overall more creative experience.”
FAILURE performs Thursday at 20th Century Theater. Tickets/more info: the20thcenturytheatre.com.