Back in 2020, the space rock trio Failure had planned on doing some extensive touring, including gigs in Chicago, L.A. and New York that would find it playing each of its first three records in their entirety during three-night stands. The pandemic wiped out those plans, but it didn’t deter the band from working on new material. In late summer of 2020, the band booked some studio time and jammed for several weeks in a row. Those jam sessions would form the songs that came out earlier this year on the band’s latest effort, Wild Type Droid.
“In a way, [getting grounded by the pandemic] worked out because we made this record in a different way than we had worked before, and that was dictated by the pandemic,” says bassist Greg Edwards via phone from Los Angeles, where Failure was rehearsing for the tour that brings it to the Grog Shop on Thursday, June 30. “We rented a soundstage and recorded every sound we made for about three weeks. In the past, we have recorded a lot of jams in rehearsals and getting some song ideas that way. This was different because we didn’t talk about it or think about it. We rarely stopped and worked out anything. We just played and recorded. All the analytical side of making a record was pushed to the back, and the source material happened in a very organic and spontaneous way.”
The editing process came afterward as the band then went through the “endless recordings” and picked out the moments it could turn into songs. Having years of experience (the band’s roots go back to the early ’90s), helped when it came time to sifting through the sessions.
“I think we have so much experience playing together, and that’s part of it,” Edwards says when asked about the editing process. “Another big part of it is having the experience and confidence of writing many songs in the past and knowing within a rough and spontaneous jam what kind of moments really will work for a song. It’s just knowing what stands out and being aware and paying attention to what is going to be an enduring part worthy of being on a record. That’s where the experience and time we spent together playing came into the picture.”
There are a few exceptions. “Bring Back the Sound” didn’t come out of the jam sessions, and “Undecided” was written a few years ago on the tour bus.
“There’s a flow to the record and even with things being very eclectic like ‘Bad Translation,’ which is quintessentially a jam song, that song goes into 'Half Moon,' and it works seamlessly even though they’re totally different songs. That’s something we always try to do. We try to create a seamless listening experience even with disparate songs and moods.”
Early on, the guys in the band had little sense that they were evolving into an underground sensation. With its intricate sonic textures, the band’s 1996 effort, Fantastic Planet, was heralded as something decidedly fresh upon its release, and acts such as Tool embraced the band’s space rock sound. But that wasn’t enough to keep the band together.
“My perception with the first three records was that each record, we were creatively much happier with each one,” Edwards says. “By the time we finished Fantastic Planet, we felt like we had achieved something and from that level, it was all satisfying. In terms of having any sense that we had a fanbase or that anybody gave a shit, there was none of that all. It was after we broke up when we weren’t even talking to each other that I would just hear things that we had some kind of cult following that was building through word of mouth. In the moment, it felt like we were an utterly unknown. If we had astronomical success at that moment, I might not be alive. It’s hard to say if that would have ended up any better or worse in terms of the band continuing on. There was a lot of creative tension and drug problems, of which I was the main culprit. There were a number of classic cliché band issues that broke the band up. In the end, it all seems to have worked out for the best.”
In 2014, the band reunited to play its first show since 1997. That show went so well that the group stuck together and eventually wound up in the studio to record 2015’s The Heart Is a Monster. If Fantastic Planet was a metaphor for isolation and drug abuse, then The Heart Is a Monster was more introspective and about questioning identity. It also expanded the band’s distinctive space rock sound and created a template that it could continue to follow with In the Future Your Body Will Be the Furthest Thing From Your Mind and even Wild Type Droid.
“For me, the main fear of a band that reforms after many years is that the quality will not be there,” says Edwards. “Often it’s not, and the band is a pale shadow of its former self. I like to think that we haven’t fallen prey to that syndrome yet. We’re still making music that is creative and pushing ourselves as much as we ever did, and the basic songwriting and collaboration is as functional and strong as ever.”
Jeff has been covering the Cleveland music scene for more than 20 years now. And on a regular basis, he tries to talk to whatever big acts are coming through town, too. If you're in a band that he needs to hear, email him at [email protected]