On their new album Wild Type Droid— which is available now from Failure Records— the Los Angeles-tied space rock group Failure present an expansive, powerful vision of looking inward and lifting upward.
The record is intense. Tone-wise, Failure sound strikingly heavy at times, but Wild Type Droid never gets unwieldy, and it doesn’t hinge on bombast, no matter the intriguing rhythmic drama that appears.
The album communicates self-assured confidence carried on a hard rock edge— although even that can feel like pinning down the band too precisely. Failure have often pushed into their own musical path, apart from any easily defined genre, and that continues here. It’s simply compelling songwriting to the point that other concerns tend to fade away. Wild Type Droid lands like an open-ended exploration of the mind, forging ahead with the exact tools needed to clear the way.
The album turned out formidable and rollicking, but mellow, combining sweeping ambition with a striking attention to detail. Failure cultivate a particularly immersive atmosphere within Wild Type Droid, laying out a presentation that appears cinematic in scope. The variety of the song compositions ensures that the album consistently feels fresh, and it transfers some of this energy to its listeners. Among other notable components, Failure repeatedly wheel out moments of impressive triumph, giving observers a burst of energy to hang onto that’s cleanly accessible but remarkably exuberant.
Although Wild Type Droid can sound steeped in introspection, it’s ultimately also a simply riveting rock record. Rather than paring away the strength of their music by using mixes in which listeners can take things in without getting bowled over, Failure turn bystanders’ attention to a wellspring of ambition-delivering creativity that’s simmering nearby but might otherwise be missed. Limits on where the songs can take you are absent—but they still deliver a kick.
Below, check out what Failure vocalist and guitarist Ken Andrews has to say about the creation of Wild Type Droid, from the influence of the particular set of instruments used by The Cure on certain classic albums, to the almost 40 hours of continuous music that the band ended up recording.
So, Failure has a long history, and a lot of folks who’ve followed the project over the years. How have you tended to approach connecting with fans?
That’s a good question. And I have to go back to, like, 1995 to answer it because I distinctly remember as we were coming to the end of the recording process for [1996’s] Fantastic Planet, and I was listening to the album in kind of a sequence, and getting my first listen to it as objectively as I could at that point, but hearing it kind of in order, and it kind of flowing through.
And I remember having this thought like, man, if people like this record, it’s gonna give us a pretty wide berth in terms of what we can do after it artistically. Because I felt, at least at the time, that there were a lot of different flavors of songs on there. There were some fast, kind of punky things and some really slow, moody, weird pieces. And I thought it covered a pretty wide range of types of songs. And I remember thinking, if this goes over, we’ll have a pretty open field—and I think that has sort of turned out to be true.
Now I do think there’s that whole thing of like, the theory of: a band is really always just writing the same song. You know, they’re trying to achieve like the ultimate version of the same song.
So, I think for an outsider who would listen to our whole discography at this point, they’d be like, well, yeah, it’s the same band in every album. But to me at the time, I wasn’t hearing that much variation in what people were putting out. And I don’t know, I just thought it would be cool.
And it’s sort of gone from, yeah, we do get to experiment, to now where I just feel like my consciousness, or subconsciousness, in terms of pleasing myself with the music is so similar to our fans, that it’s just—that line has just been almost obliterated in a way. I feel like our fans are almost like part of the whole, they want to be challenged. They don’t want to hear the same album from us.
What has your experience connecting with, say, the quintessential Failure fan been like? Are there trends that you’ve noticed over time?
There are a group of people who were fans, and like, even saw us live in the ‘90s, who are still fans. Probably a majority of our fans at this point are people who found out about us after we broke up in ‘97. So, there’s a little bit of an age gap. I’m not sure exactly how to quantify it.
I do remember the very first show we played when we came back in 2014 at the El Rey Theatre in Los Angeles. I do remember looking out at one point during that show and thinking, wow, there’s way more younger people here than I thought would be. In fact, the people who were crowded in close to the front of the stage, like 200, 300, or so people—like, maybe a little under half of the room—they all looked like they were in their 20s. And that was actually part of the reason I felt confident about, or a little bit better about, the decision to actually move forward with making new music and trying to become a, you know, vital act again.
How has the history of the band tended to weigh on the creative process? Creatively speaking, do you sort of remain cognizant of a sort of comet tail stretching out behind the group—or is it more about the here and now? Some of both?
My thinking on that has evolved to this kind of simple reduction of it, which is, what is the definition of a band? And, to me, the definition of a band is a band that has an identity to their music, so that over the course of their whole discography, however long that is, it’s not that hard to kind of just know, oh, it’s them—because they have a sound.
So, I think, central to the definition of what a band is, you do have to have an identity that is—I don’t know if I would call it like, stable, or locked in, or something like that. But there has to be some level of sensibility to create an identity that is the thread through your whole existence.
But at the same time, if you’re not pushing those sorts of self-imposed boundaries, then you’re dying creatively. And our fans, I think, would be very quick to pick up on that. I mean, it’s very important to them that we not try and kind of rehash what we’ve already done. Because they like that stuff the way it is, and they want us to do something a little different and that feels fresh, but still is the band.
And so those two things, those two kind of competing forces, define the whole challenge for Failure at this point in time. Retaining identity, pushing the envelope—how do you do those at the same time and make something that’s entertaining? And I think, or at least I hope we’ve achieved that somewhat with this new record.
Among other elements of the new album, there’s the new gear that you guys used heading into the process of making the record. Are there particular sounds that you wanted to capture? How did that whole thing go?
One technique that has worked for me, almost in every project I’ve been a part of, but especially in Failure, is just the whole idea of adding new tools to the arsenal of tools we have—the guitars, the processing equipment, and, you know, drones—all the hardware, essentially, that we use, and software, too. It’s just one of those things where, like, I think so many musicians know this feeling. When you get a new toy, it’s like—you get a new toy; you get a new song.
It’s just the way it is. Not that you have to go out and buy an album’s worth of compositions in new equipment, but in a lot of cases, you can really point to the genesis of a song being a new sound that you found. And sometimes it’s just, you discover it with existing equipment that you already have that you just maybe recombined in a certain way that you hadn’t done before.
And sometimes, it’s an actual new thing, like a new guitar. In the lead-up to the very first writing, or sort of jam sessions for this record, I don’t know why, but I just kind of got really into my favorite The Cure records, which were probably Pornography, The Top, and Disintegration. And I started listening to them a lot. And I knew this intellectually, that they had used the Fender Bass VI, which is like a bass guitar— it’s in the same octave as a bass guitar, but it has six strings instead of four. And the strings are thinner. And it’s easier to play chords on it. It just has a sound that is not bass, normal bass or guitar—it’s kind of this other thing. And I really picked up on it during these weeks, when I was listening to those records.
And I just had the idea, why don’t we just introduce a Bass IV and a Baritone—which, I already had a Baritone that I have used on other projects, but I’d never brought it to Failure. So, we did, we introduced two completely new instruments to the band, because we pretty much use six-string guitars and four-string basses, but not on this album.
We’ve really added both of those instruments, especially the Baritone appears on more than half the record. So that was inspirational for sure, just anytime you put on a new instrument that actually has a different note on the fifth fret than you’re used to, you’re going to come up with different ideas and different ways of looking at it, or methods that you use to play.
As for the improvisational sessions that contributed to the making of the record—what was your thinking going into those? How did those go for you?
Well, we have a pretty long history of using improvs, as almost like a playbook, or a source book, or kind of like a well of material or ideas to pull from.
It’s just something we’ve been doing since Fantastic Planet. We like to write in the studio. Fantastic Planet was the first time where we really used improv sessions that had happened before the recording sessions as a source. But we’re talking about a cassette tape that had maybe 40 minutes total—sort of like a highlights reel of jams that we had done, or improvs that we had done, over maybe the ten months or so preceding going into the studio.
When I’m talking about improvs I’m talking about, like, sometimes you’ll hear the band playing together for, like, 30 seconds. And it’s like one riff. And the bass is doing something; the guitar is doing something; the drums are doing something, and we’ll play it for a few bars—like eight, 16 bars.
And sometimes, we’ll try and jump into a second part. But often, we won’t—we’ll just kind of fall apart and let that be recorded. We won’t even try to evaluate it or judge it at all at that point. We won’t even listen to it played back. And then we’ll just move on, again, to a whole other improv. So, they’re not songs; they’re more like musical moments or little musical nuggets, kind of. And sometimes there’s not much there.
So, for this record, I just suggested, why don’t we just really commit to the whole idea of improvising, and actually do it for like, weeks on end, and record it all and see what happens? Like we’ve done before, but let’s actually make it more organized and more planned when we do it. But let’s stick to the concept of not trying to compose songs, not trying to arrange songs, but simply improvise and see what happens—and not really discuss it or edit it in any way until we’ve done that, and then take those tapes, sit on them for a little bit. Clear your mind, maybe do another project, then evaluate those tapes and see what’s there.
So, I guess that’s what was different about this, is we had done that technique before, but we just did it in a higher volume. And what ended up happening is that we had a lot more good ideas to pull from, and that we still have probably what amounts to another two full albums worth of ideas in those jams, because we did it for almost a month.
The only thing that was hard about it was that I didn’t realize just how fatiguing it was to improvise for that many hours every day. It’s not that you’re just performing— performing is like you’re playing a song you already know. So, it’s a whole different thing. Improvising is, like, coming up with something you’ve never heard before, and trying to perform it well enough so it can be documented as an actual musical idea. That is exhausting if you try to do that even for like four hours a day. It’s pretty, pretty tiring.
But, I mean, essentially, I ended up with almost 40 hours of continuous music with no blank spaces. And I whittled that down to about four hours of highlights. And, of course, we didn’t even scratch the surface of those four hours for this album.
Check out the video for “Submarines” here:
Photo courtesy of Failure and Priscilla Scott