When Failure announced a concert at the El Rey Theatre in Los Angeles this past February, it sold out in mere minutes. Under normal circumstances, that news wouldn’t be so terribly shocking; that is, until you consider the last time anyone heard from the alt rock band (and by anyone, we mean a very selective cult following), it was 1997 as the California-based trio was wrapping up a summer stint on Lollapalooza to promote their third, and most successful album to date, Fantastic Planet.
But by November of that year, the “Stuck On You” group had officially split up and fractured off into various other projects — frontman Ken Andrews biding his time as a studio man, producing the work of Pete Yorn and Black Motorcycle Club among others, fellow songwriter/instrumentlist Greg Edwards founding Autolux and drummer Kellii Scott going on to man the kit for bands like Veruca Salt — and Failure went off to the great time capsule of bands that could have been. But with all the cracks about their name aside, Failure did have all the potential to be a success if interpersonal issues, drug addictions, label sabotage and a greater critical understanding had been on their side.
“For me I saw no way to continue,” Andrews admits. “But who knows, if we would have been in better shape maybe we could have done another record and broke out … but it’s hard to know that.” At the time of their debut with 1992’s Comfort (produced by Steve Albini) up until the acrimonious split in ’97, bands like Pearl Jam, Nirvana and Soundgarden were exploding, “and a lot of people just didn’t get what we were doing,” he says.
While Failure was called grunge, the band didn’t stick to the “rules” of that tag with their experimental noise, more brainy arrangements and sonic textures that were ahead of their time. It’s proven by the wash of new respect and younger fans the band is now accumulating on its latest club tour, which brings the original lineup to Metro this week and Riot Fest in September.
“At the El Rey, I had asked the audience to raise their hands if they saw us in the ’90s and less than a third of them did. I thought it was going to be majority of people, and that really freaked me out,” admits Andrews, who says the band has been committed to playing the music from three older albums for all the new fans — even if that means really long rehearsals to relearn it all.
Failure’s timing now seems impeccable as their reunion coincides with a slew of ’90s restarts including Slint, A Minor Forest, Slowdive and Veruca Salt. “This was actually in the works for two years,” Andrews says, noting that in addition to the tour the band will release new music next year. “There really was a combination of factors behind it. Our breakup was not so great so it took us a long time to get cleaned up and restart friendships, especially between Greg and I.” They initially bonded over being new dads, and then started to get back in the studio where the two felt most comfortable together. “The stuff we started working on sounded like Failure, and we figured it was time.”