Review of Failure’s The Heart Is A Monster here.
One of the most interesting and unique bands to come out of the 90s was Failure. Their breed of atmospheric space rock catered to the fans of Post Rock and Industrial, but had enough hooks and David Bowie-esque flavor to take casual Alternative Rock listeners to the outer-rim where other bands at the time could only dream of. Now fro the first album in nearly twenty years, they have released a new LP. The Heart Is A Monster and it has been receiving rave reviews across the board (including a 5 out of 5 review from myself!). Things are definitely looking optimistic and it’s safe to say that Failure’s companion tour will be one of the brightest spots in the 2015 line-up.
I had the opportunity to speak with Failure’s percussionist Kellii Scott, to talk about the past, present, and also tried to see if I could get a slight peek into a into the future of the band.
First off, I want to say thank you for taking the time out for this interview. I got into Failure in 1996 when I saw “Stuck On You” on MTV. I remember buying the album and thinking it was just so different than just about anything the rest of ‘alternative rock’ was doing at the time. It STILL holds up today, have you listened to that record recently?
Well I hadn’t really listened to that record properly until we started getting together to do shows again. I love that record. at the time I believe that was the best record we could have made. There are so many great moments for me as a listener. I’m very proud of what we achieved on Fantastic Planet. Thank you for your description of our music, it’s nice to hear that we are something other than grunge.
It’s been so long since that album’s release and promotional tours, getting back out there on the road and playing those songs has to be surreal. Was it tough reestablishing the band’s chemistry or was it like riding a bike?
It was very surreal because it was like riding a bike. I found it incredibly easy to play with the guys again. It was like we had never stopped performing together. Actually, in a lot of ways I feel we interact with one another much better musically and personalty.
When you guys recorded Fantastic Planet I understand you holed yourselves up in a house owned by Lita Ford and you just wrote and recorded the bulk of the album like an experiment. What was recording The Heart Is A Monster like?
It was very similar In a lot of ways only this time instead of house we rented a proper studio for a few months and arrived to work Monday thru Friday from 9 am to 6 pm. We, previous to entering the studio, made several recordings of jam sessions back from when we were rehearsing for our Tree of Stars Tour. Some of those ideas made it on the record, but there are plenty left over for the next venture into the studio.
With the new album beginning with “Sugue 4” it seems like it is a continuation or the next chapter of Fantastic Planet? How are the two albums related?
Exactly in that I believe one of the first things Ken and Greg discussed when they started working together again was whether to pick up where we left off or whether to completely abandon the past and create something a bit more experimental in nature. So the two are definitely companions but in the same way as previous records, each one jumps ahead a bit in complexity and sonic scope.
What is your favorite song from the new record?
There are a few “A.M. Amnesia,” “Counterfeit Sky,” and “I Can See Houses.”
I think mine is “Come Crashing” I love the brooding atmosphere and how this beautiful, melodic chorus comes rushing in. That’s what always appealed to me with you guys, that blend of experimentation, progression, and passion. Is that dynamic something that comes naturally or is it something you have worked down to a science?
I think a bit of both. We are naturally drawn In that direction, but it’s certainly an ability that has been refined and possibly labored over. It certainly isn’t anything we sit and think about or consciously decide is going to happen, it just does.
After all of these years, I still have a tough time trying to categorize just what kind of music Failure is. What does Failure sound like to YOU?
I remember being a kid and walking into any chain record store and being able to pick up any record I heard on the radio. I bought Fantastic Planet at Tower Records when I was thirteen. With the current digital age of downloads and streams, do you think it hinders bands like yourselves or gives them a sort of ‘word of mouth’ edge?
Well can say with a reasonable amount of certainty that the old record store / radio model failed us miserably. The internet and word of mouth is the only reason we are here speaking today. The internet spread our music far and wide and I believe it’s the reason we were given a second chance at this. So I would say affirmative, the internet has been invaluable to a band like us.
Failure was criminally underrated but there is this cult following where just about everyone remembers you guys. To me this new tour and new album doesn’t really feel like one of those “90s Band Comes Back To Play The Hits” type of nostalgia trips, but an actual continuation of where you guys left off. How do you feel about such tours from such bands, and where does Failure stand in that?
I can’t really speak to other bands or their motives for doing what they do but for us the approach from day one was to pick up where we left off. I think that we are a band that doesn’t do anything half way and our motives are to always change ourselves and the people that listen to our music. I think, that’s why we are getting a second crack at this whole thing.
All of you guys have stayed pretty active even after the break-up in 1997, how did the whole reunion thing come about? Did you always have a new record in mind or did it start with that first, then the idea of touring later?
Your spot on. We initially were only going to record maybe an EP. As we moved forward some friends and family sorta nudged us in the direction of possibly thinking a little bigger with our plans and one thing led to another. A few recordings turned Into a show, which turned into a tour and that became an album and more touring and now we find ourselves here. crazy, right?!
Evolution is an important aspect of being an artist. How has your approach to playing the drums changed in the past 15 years and specifically how has it changed playing with Failure?
Good question. I think in general I’m a bit better about not thinking so much when I play. I try to stay lose and relaxed. From a personal perspective I try to be the best player I can be. I try to show up and give Ken and Greg anything and everything they need. I find that when I’m not being selfish and personally motivated is when I create my best work. As a team we are all bound by the song and what each song needs. Experience would be the one word answer.
I know it sounds like a generic question, but who do you think had the biggest impact on you as a musician?
Honestly, Ken and Greg. My style and approach to music didn’t really cement itself until I began playing in Fallure and frankly everything since was to reach that level of workmanship. It’s only recently since working with them again that I believe I have raised the bar agaln. That’s because of them. They bring something out in me that I haven’t been able to achieve on my own. It’s a perfect musical relationship.
What are you listening to now?
Failure. We’re learning new stuff for tour. lt’s all I listen to. Well that and NPR.
What’s the setlist like for the tour? It’s a given you will be playing tracks from the new album as well as Fantastic Planet but can we expect to hear some songs from Comfort and Magnified?
There will be some new stuff and for sure some cuts off of Fantastic Planet. Our sets are usually inclusive of all the early stuff also. Without giving anything away, there will be some deep cuts and I’ll leave it at that.
I would like thank you again for taking the time for the interview. The Heart Is A Monster is an amazing record so congratulations on that! Besides the upcoming tour, what does the future have in store for Failure and for you? Any new music or projects in the works?
I don’t have any plans outside of Failure at the moment. I have a feeling this album and it’s touring cycle will keep me busy for awhile. Thank you for your time and hopefully we’ll see you at one of the shows soon.
Aaron (or Coop) is a freelance writer, multi-instrumentalist and overall lover of all things music. As an advocate for indie record labels and artists, he is passionate about local scenes and do-it-yourself artistry. If it’s good, it’s good. If it’s bad, he’s not afraid to explain why.