mxdwn Interview: Greg Edwards of Failure Discusses Different Writing Process, His Hopes of a Summer Tour and Realizations That Past Years Have Brought

mxdwn sat down with Greg Edwards, the guitarist/bassist of alternative rock band Failure. Three years since their last album, Failure has come out with Wild Type Droid. This record proves that the band picked up exactly where they left off and came back in even stronger. Wild Type Droid showcases the growth and compatibility that the musicians have harnessed over the years. In this interview with mxdwn, Greg Edwards shares how the process of writing this album was different than previous ones, his hopes of a summer tour, the realizations that the past years has brought him and what he has been up to since 2018.

mxdwn: How do you feel this album is different than your previous ones?

Greg Edwards: I think one very basic way it’s different is the process of writing. We just decided to go into a sound stage and just play from scratch, like improvisationally, every day for five or six hours for about three weeks, and we recorded all of it. So we ended up having 50 hours of music that we then went through and sort of curated successive best of edits until we had about three hours. Then, from there, we decided which ideas we wanted to really work on and turn into songs. That was different compositionally than how we’ve done it in the past, where a lot of times there’s some jamming. Some ideas come out of a jam, but a lot of times, Ken and I are sitting in front of speakers with instruments on and we’re just sort of playing and composing, and maybe one of us will bring in an idea to work on, but this was a much more organic process because it was the three of us, you know with Kellii, and all these ideas kind of came out of thin air from the ground up.

mxdwn: Is there an overarching theme for this album?

GE: Yeah, I think for me, there is. I mean, I wrote the majority of the lyrics, and there’s definitely a few themes that I’m just hitting on continually. It’s the same if you go back all the way to Magnified, our second record. I mean whether it was “Small Crimes” or “Blank” or “The Nurse Who Loved Me” or “Heliotropic” or “Mulholland Dr.” On this record, “Bad Translation” and “Water with Hands” and “Half Moon” and there’s “Headstand,” I mean, it’s always this kind of obsession with the absurdity, just of the phenomenon, of being human. We’re creatures that have such limited knowledge about what the situation really is. It’s kind of like a prison, and it’s a miracle at the same time. I think that’s kind of what I’m always trying to draw out and narrate in some way.

mxdwn: How was it working together again since the reunion of Failure?

GE: It was such a long break, but the funny thing is, once we started back up, that chasm just collapsed. The suspension between the third album and the fourth album, it feels like it could have been a year later where we picked up because it was so seamless. I think we’re older and wiser, and we maybe allocate our individual resources better. We don’t get too precious or get bogged down, or just contentious ego-based stuff as much when we’re working. I think we’re much more focused on the work and just getting it done because we have so much history, and we’re so knowledgeable about how we work most efficiently. As I think about it, it’s really surprising how smoothly we just slipped back into the creative process of making records after all that time.

mxdwn: “Submarines” seems to refer to the pandemic with the lyrics, “I was so innocent before the plague/ Now I feel like a brand new machine.” How do you think the time spent in quarantine has changed the band if it has?

GE: Well, I mean, for one thing, it kind of dictated the whole process of this record because that was during quarantine and lockdown. We just decided to sort of lock ourselves away and do all this improvisational writing in this condensed period of about three weeks because we just didn’t know how much we were gonna be able to work together face to face. We sort of set that time apart and quarantined with each other and did all that recording. So actually, on the New Year’s Eve going into 2020, before the pandemic, there was this Failure New Year’s Eve party in Big Bear up at a cabin. The following New Year’s, all of us that had been up there were sending pictures around from that year before, and it just struck me, and suddenly I realized just how much more innocent we were in those hours, and literally only a month or two later the whole world changed. That’s sort of where that lyric came from. The contrast hadn’t struck me before that point, before the following New Year, just how different everything felt. Nobody was together; everybody was quarantining and locked down. I think it’s been a bigger trauma for the entire species than we even realize or are ready to admit or process. We’re just animals of denial, even at the species level. I mean, I’m sitting in my car, and it is littered with all used rapid tests, that luckily all just have the control line and nothing else, because with it being Christmas and going into the holidays and wanting everybody to be together and trying to keep everybody safe, it’s a crazy thing we’ve all been through. One thing that I think is in the lyrics is just a sort of sadness and disappointment that we couldn’t all deal with it better and come together. It had to be, instead of an existential threat and opportunity for us to come together as a species, it just became a reason to sort of exploit some rather superficial political differences. That just seems like a shame, though unfortunately not surprising.

mxdwn: What is the meaning behind the song “Bring Back the Sound”?

GE: For the most part, the songs were collaborative, but there was “Bring Back the Sound” and “Half Moon,” which is a song that I pretty much brought in finished. But “Bring Back the Sound” is a song that Ken brought in and finished. So, that’s one song I can’t speak to the lyrics on.

mxdwn: Do you think that as a band, you guys have grown since In the Future Your Body Will be the Furthest Thing From Your Mind?

GE: I think, yeah. That album was sort of written in sections because we released it as four EPs essentially, and I was doing a lot of touring when I was filling in for James Iha, who was doing Smashing Pumpkins, and he wasn’t able to tour with A Perfect Circle. So a lot of songs on that record were ideas that I had already that I would bring in and work up with Ken, but it didn’t feel as collaborative. It felt more compositional. Whereas this process was all three of us, and 75% of the music was really just spontaneously written in a room with the three of us playing together. So it’s really more of a trio experience, you know, and the strengths that we have as a band playing together than the previous two records.

mxdwn: How was it stepping in for James Iha for part of A Perfect Circle’s tour in 2018?

GE: I hadn’t really ever done anything like that. I’ve never been like a hired guy playing other people’s stuff. So that was kind of challenging to learn all these songs and jump into this other situation. But, of course, Maynard is one of my oldest friends, and I’ve known Billy for a while; I got to know him really well on the tour along with Matt and Jeff, the bass player and drummer. It was just a really fun experience with people that I really like and traveled all over the world with; it was great. But James apparently did like a little spoken word break in the show where he’d tell these very strange dry jokes and stories every night, and I have none of that ability to do anything like that, so I always felt like people were really missing out on the humor.

mxdwn: Do you think that you’ll go on tour with this album, given the state of the COVID pandemic right now?

GE: I mean, we’re really planning on it. We’re absolutely planning on a summer tour, and this latest variant, it seems to be milder but very contagious; everybody will eventually get it, and that will just help with the “herd immunity concept.” I hope that, within another year, this will just be sort of a new level of flu that we’re living with. I am optimistic that the touring in the summer will happen. I’m really looking forward to playing the songs live.

mxdwn: This album is a little shorter than some of the ones released in the past, but still showcases the amazing talent and versatility that Failure has. Was it planned out to be not as long as the others?

GE: Yeah, we did. After we listened and had whittled down to three hours of these improvisational jams, we kind of had picked out the moments that we wanted to expand out into songs. Ken and I really had this conversation about this record being the length of classic records from the past and records that we grew up loving. I mean, you look at Beatles records, not the White Album, but in general, Beatles records were somewhere between 38 to 42 minutes. A lot of records that I loved when I was a young teenager were very short, like this one record, The Cure’s Japanese Whispers compilation that I listen to all the time. You could get through it so quickly. Then it would flip around, and you’d be moving through the songs again. You have a different familiarity and a different sense of the interconnectedness from song to song when the last song goes into the first song in a shorter span of time, and I enjoy that. Then, the other part of it that is nice is that you can fit it on vinyl when it’s around 40 minutes total; 20 minutes or less on each side, you can fit it on vinyl with the highest bandwidth/the highest resolution without losing anything. Once it gets longer, you start to lose some fidelity, especially in the inner rings of the last songs on sides will have a little less bandwidth. So, we like that idea just from an audiophile perspective.

mxdwn: Each instrumental break in the songs are beautifully executed. Do you think these help the meaning of the lyrics resonate with the listeners more?

GE: Oh, yeah. I mean, it’s all sort of tied together. The mood of the music is always punctuating the lyric or adding a counterpoint. I think, a lot of times, the music is there first. Then I’m writing the lyrics and the vocal melody into the music, and I specifically know what that next part is gonna feel like; that will dictate what line is leading into that instrumental section.

mxdwn: What has the band been up to since the last album release in 2018?

GE: We toured in the spring of 2019 for In the Future Your Body Will be the Furthest Thing From Your Mind. Then we had a little bit of time off. I worked on a Puscifer record. I played bass and keyboards on the last Puscifer record, Existential Reckoning, and then the pandemic hit.

mxdwn: Did you have specific musical muses when this album was being produced?

GE: Yeah, it’s probably the same that I’ve always had. I’ve really been inspired by this female artist named Aldous Harding in the last few years who’s just a brilliant lyricist. I also have my top list of people that are always on my mind, like Scott Walker, Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, Joni Mitchell and Kate Bush. I’m constantly going back to those artists, listening to how they composed and how they told stories, and their lyrics and how abstract and strange they were able to get with words and then still come back to something that would just hit you on a gut level.

mxdwn: How does creating music now differ from when you created music in the ’90s?

GE: I think it’s funny, and I think this is like for artists in general and songwriters. I think this is a common experience you have as you get older and look back on your work, but I feel like I’ve got so much better at the craft and so much more evolved and advanced. But then I’ll look back at something I wrote, like “Small Crimes” or “The Nurse Who Loved Me,” and I’ll just think like, ‘how did I write that back then when I didn’t know anything?’ I was just a newborn idiot, basically, and yet I still wrote something that stands up. It’s just funny; everybody wants to believe that they’re doing their best work in the present, and I do feel that way, but I also have the larger perspective that there’s something very primitive and unrefined that creates the best work. It’s not about getting better because it was already there.

mxdwn: What do you hope listeners take away about Failure as a band after listening to this album?

GE: My hope is always that it’s a sonic companion to their life, especially if you’re going through something difficult. I like to think that you could be going through something really difficult and could listen to one of our songs at the right moment and kind of have a transcendent experience because that’s how I feel writing them. Sometimes, the mood and the lyric and everything just come together and sort of open a portal of understanding. I hope that people, other than us, can experience that too.

mxdwn: What do you see for the future of Failure?

GE: I imagine we’ll keep making records because we do it well, and I feel good. We came back from that long break, and my real ambition was to not retread what we had done in the ’90s but to just push the material into the future a bit and out of our comfort zone from the past. I think we did that on The Heart Is A Monster and In The Future. I was able to relax a little more on this record just because we’ve sort of reached this new plateau, and I’m excited for the next record because I think we’re at a good place right now to sort of enter the next trip tick of albums sort of gone in threes. So, the next three will be interesting.


Photo Credit: Marv Watson


Scott R. Banks