For 17 years, the story of Failure was thought to be written; finished. The L.A. alternative-rock band produced three albums' worth of carefully layered, atmospheric heaviness that was an uncomfortable fit for the grunge-dominated early '90s. After scoring a minor alt-rock hit with "Stuck On You" and joining the final Lollapalooza tour in 1997, the group disbanded under a black cloud of interpersonal conflict, drug abuse and label indifference -- not exactly an uncommon tale in '90s rock.
Unlike so many of their alternative peers who dabbled in heroin, however, nobody in Failure died...and neither did their music. Whether the group was simply ahead of its time or required the help of new digital distribution tools to be heard, Failure's acclaim continued to grow after the band's dissolution, with many new fans (and critics) coming to revere its final album, Fantastic Planet, as one of the decade's best.
Now all cleaned (and grown) up, Failure has reassembled to write a new and unexpected chapter in their story, with all of the potential for excitement and disappointment that such a return must entail. Before the band takes the stage at House of Blues tonight, Rocks Off spoke with older, wiser bandleader Ken Andrews about how and why Failure now finds itself with another stab at success.
"About six years ago, [guitarist] Greg [Edwards] and I both had children within six months of each other, and that really got us hanging out a lot more and kind of opened the friendship back up again," says Andrews. "I think it was maybe another two years until we found ourselves in the studio, kind of messing around to see what could happen. Eventually, we kind of stumbled on to some songs that started to sound like Failure."
Energized by the new material, Andrews and Edwards began to play it for friends, who encouraged the duo to mount a full-scale reunion. A whole new generation of fans, they were told, had discovered them in the last 15 years.
A tad skeptical, perhaps, Failure booked a show at the El Rey in Los Angeles to test the waters a bit and see if they could really be a band again. The show sold out in two minutes.
"We kind of knew something was up when that El Rey show sold out so quickly," Andrews says. "That would have never happened back in the '90s."
Buoyed by their ecstatic hometown reception, Failure signed on to open a string of arena dates for their old pals in Tool, suddenly playing in front of tens of thousands after a 17-year layoff. If there was any rust when that production rolled through Houston in March, it certainly didn't show. The cinematic, spacey sound that set Failure apart in the rock landscape of the '90s remained completely intact.
"We've all been doing music in some form or another over the past 15 years since we broke up," Andrews says. "Musician-wise, we're probably a bit better than we were, with more confidence as performers. Once we got our stage legs, it started feeling really good."
So good, in fact, that a full-fledged, headlining Failure tour became inevitable. Although all three '90s members are back, however, it hasn't exactly played out as a reunion.
Story continues on the next page.
"The biggest surprise for me is the fact that the majority of the people coming to the shows now are people that never saw us play in the '90s: They were too young," Andrews says. "It's like a whole new audience. I thought there would be some new fans, but not that they'd be the majority.
"Even at our best shows back in the '90s, no one was singing the lyrics to all the songs like they are now," he added.
To satiate the pent-up demand for their old material from their "new" fans, Failure is concentrating on delivering the classic '90s goods on their current trek. But the guitarist says the driving force behind the band's reunion has always been the creation of new music such as "Come Crashing," the band's first new song released in 18 years.
"We have all these younger fans now that have discovered us since we broke up," Andrews explained. "If we wait to do a tour on the new album, people will really still want to mostly hear the old songs. We wanted to kind of get that out of the way and then get back to working on the new album.
"We figured that we should just go for a logical next step from Fantastic Planet," he continues. "Now that we have some distance from that record and a lot of people like it, it's a nice, healthy challenge for us to live up to, to make a satisfying follow-up to that."
In the meantime, though, Failure is having fun slipping back into the sound that spawned a cult that spawned an audience that spawned a comeback.
"It feels really good," Andrews says. "It feels like we're flexing a muscle that's kind of been built up over time. Sinking back into the Failure sound has been comfortable, but creatively challenging in a really good way. I don't know how to describe it yet. It's all kind of new."
Failure plays with no opening act tonight at House of Blues, 1204 Carolin. Doors open at 7 p.m.
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