The cult rock band, known for a signature mix of post-grunge guitar and space-rock, is scheduled to return to North Texas for a performance at Trees on Sunday, June 12.
Ken Andrews, the band’s guitar-slinging frontman and sonic architect, is in mild Southern California, furiously putting together a setlist covering the band’s six LPs: three from the band’s original run in the '90s, and the three that have been born post-reunion, including their latest, Wild Type Droid.
Unlike many bands whose output in the '90s came to define their body of work — becoming ‘90s bands as they say — Failure’s return has been one of the most successful in recent years. The band has been together longer since their 2014 reunion than they were during their original 1990-1997 run.
“Well, the health of the band itself creatively and the three of us getting along, it couldn't be really any higher than it's ever been,” Andrews says. “The internal conflicts that we had when we were in our 20s in the '90s have largely evaporated.”
Andrews says that while a majority of the band’s fanbase has stuck around since their original run, a pretty large chunk of fans have come aboard since the reunion.
“I would say it's around 30 or 40% got into the band well after we broke up in ’97,” he says. “There was a lot more excitement when we first performed and went on those first few tours, you know, and it's like, ‘Oh, they're back!’ And you get to hear those songs and it was awesome, it was cool, and I would never take any of that back, but now we're kind of like, yeah, we're actually around now and we are going to keep making music.
"We still play songs from the old albums, but we're kind of like asking our fans to explore the new music as well. And that part of it is, for the most part, working out.”
These days, Andrews is doing "producer consultations" via Patreon in his spare time, for anyone who wants his advice on a musical project. He says that while the producer-artist role is typically an intimate one, giving advice to strangers has been an insightful experience and that the best thing about the online collaborations have been the communities formed around his advice.
“To be honest, the coolest thing about my Patreon is the [chat app] Discord that is attached to it,” he says. “My fans having relationships with each other, creative relationships, bands are getting formed out of this Discord, you know, it's pretty cool.”
During Failure’s decade-and-a-half hiatus, Andrews turned his attention to producing, engineering, and mixing, assisting in the creation of records by Stone Temple Pilots, A Day to Remember, Tenacious D, The Employment and many others.
"We still play songs from the old albums, but we're kind of li ke asking our fans to explore the new music as well. And that part of it is, for the most part, working out.” –Ken Andrews, guitarist
“One of the coolest things [about mixing] is you get to hear the work of so many different engineers, producers and bands,” Andrews says. “A lot of bands are self-producing and self-recording, and those ones are exciting in a lot of ways, because the tracks tend to sound kind of crazy sometimes and the people don't know what they're doing, in a good way. They're not following the norms because they don't know what the norms are.”
Occasionally, Andrews slips in additional instrumental parts to enhance the mix, and the artists almost never seem to mind.
“If I'm feeling that I hear a part in my head that's not there and I think it could be cool for the song and I think the artist might like it, I'll play it.” Andrews says. “I mix it in and I send it to them. Honestly, most of the time I don't tell him it's there and I wait to see if they notice it, and if they want it out or if they like it, if they want it quieter or louder.
"But truth be told, I'd say 25% of the time no one ever notices it,” he says laughing.
However, of all the records he had a hand in shaping, the 2013 smash hit self-titled Paramore album towers above the rest. Andrews says that his slick yet crackling mix that made songs like “Ain’t it Fun” and “Still Into You” radio staples in 2013 almost didn’t happen. His involvement was the result of a contest.
“When a ‘big artist’ is approaching an album, producer selection is a big deal,” Andrews says. “Lots of people involved in that decision. Maybe even more intensely scrutinized is the decision of who's going to mix it because there's a long history in the record business of mixing being a really important part of the process — especially as it relates to radio. There's a perception in the industry that, you know, having a certain kind of mix that can equate to more spins at radio, which then equates to more, you know, more sales and more money for everyone. Right?”
Andrews says the album's engineer Carlos De la Garza and its producer Justin Meldal-Johnsen, reached out for "a lot of discussions" before Meldal-Johnsen suggested a "mix-off," where they sent the same song to a handful of mixers for a blind test, not knowing who had done each track.
"Carlos got all the files together, put them in a ProTools session and then just [played] them for the band sitting in the control room," Andrews says. "They didn't know which mix was whose. Each mix had a letter A, B, C ... I went up to F and they picked my mix. And they were like, ‘Ken Andrews from Failure? What?!’”