When you think of alternative rock music from the 1990s, bands like Pearl Jam, Nirvana, Stone Temple Pilots, The Smashing Pumpkins and Jane’s Addiction probably come to mind.
There’s another typical band from the 90s that you may not remember or may not even have heard of. You might know, and maybe even love, the band if it hadn’t been for some unfortunate twists of fate.
The band is called Failure, and it brought a wonderfully puzzling new sound to the alternative rock scene in its first incarnation from 1990 to 1997.
After that, the band seemingly vanished off the face of the earth – for 17 years – before resurfacing in 2014. Failure opened up for Jane’s Addiction at Stage AE on the North Shore in the summer of 2015.
Now, Failure returns to Pittsburgh on Wednesday, headlining an 8 p.m. show at the Mr. Smalls Theater in Millvale.
Some might classify Failure’s work as post grunge, alternative metal, or even art rock. But with what has been described as a “dark and dissonant” and “expansive” wall of guitar sound washed down with pensive and ethereal musical textures, the term space rock probably best describes the band’s sound.
“It really came out of wanting to sound unique, not to be confused with all the other bands that were coming out at the time. We were seeing how far we could go,” said the singer/songwriter and guitarist Failure’s lead, Ken Andrews, band member with vocalist and guitarist Greg Edwards, and drummer Kellii Scott.
“We all brought a kind of art student mentality to the band because we were all art students,” Andrews said.
Failure’s landmark album, 1996’s “Fantastic Planet,” with its retro sci-fi cover, produced a wonderful track called “Stuck on You,” the band’s best-known song and an alternative radio hit. , peaking at No. 23 on the Modern Rock chart.
Just like the lyrics of the song, “I thought I would let go of you easily. But that was not the case. You buried yourself like a summer tick“, the melody and the band have claimed a pioneering space in the consciousness of alternative rock.
“The riff on ‘Stuck on You’ sounds like it’s an SOS beamed in from another galaxy,” record producer Butch Vig said in an upcoming Failure documentary that’s been in the works since 2018. Vig said that he put “Fantastic Planet” on his list of the 25 greatest albums of all time. “It’s just this crazy, weird sound. I was obsessed with it.
The accompanying video for ‘Stuck on You,’ resembling the opening credits of the James Bond film ‘The Spy Who Loved Me,’ has aired on MTV, but maybe not enough to make you wonder. remember her like other videos from that time.
And yet, “Stuck on You” and other album gems such as “Saturday Savior” and “The Nurse Who Loved Me”, have so inscribed themselves with the cult of Failure, including a significant number of personalities from rock music and entertainment, as they lined up to sing the group’s praises in the documentary Failure.
“I saw (the arrival of Failure) as finally, new blood injected into this sport,” said Tommy Lee, drummer for Motley Crue.
Actress/comedian Margaret Cho said Failure’s signature sound made her an immediate fan. “It was like nothing else,” Cho said. “It’s crisp and loud but quiet at the same time. It’s like a dull roar of silence. It’s really weird.
“Fantastic Planet” sold 100,000 records and Failure played Lollapalooza in 1997. Everything was on an upward trajectory.
But like the brightest stars in the night sky, the Los Angeles-based band shone brightly before fading away. So what happened to Failure? How could a group that left such an indelible impression on so many people disappear?
According to Andrews, the group imploded primarily because of drugs, including heroin. But he says their drug addiction issues were exacerbated by their independent label, Slash records, which delayed the release of ‘Fantastic Planet’.
“We artistically, creatively and emotionally put everything we had into creating ‘Fantastic Planet’. We knew it had a chance to get bigger for us,” Andrews said.
Just as they were finishing the record, they learned that no one knew when, or if, it was going to be released. The record ended up sitting on the shelf with no release plans for 18 months.
“During this period, the level of discouragement, depression and self-destruction through addiction became very high,” Andrews said. “Warner Brothers ended up releasing ‘Fantastic Planet.’ But it ended up being almost two years after we had mastered it. And by the time we set out to promote it, we were having real trouble with Drugs.
Andrews said he thought the failure was completely over by then, but was more concerned about the health of teammate Edwards who was in particularly poor condition.
“My goal was to make sure he didn’t die,” Andrews said. “I was doing my best to help. I was in contact with his parents. We were debating whether or not to make an intervention. Basically, I had to separate the group because everyone was waiting to see what was going to happen and I was like ‘nothing will happen’. We’re just trying to live right now. ”
Eventually, they all got help and got sober, Andrews said.
So how was Failure able to find its way back after nearly two decades? For one thing, even after the band broke up, fans continued to revisit their work and younger bands continued to cite them as an influence. Eventually, Andrews, Edwards, and Scott were inspired to reboot Failure in 2014.
Since then, there have been three albums – matching the release of their original incarnation – including a new one released this year called “Wild Type Droid”. With songs like “Water with Hands”, “Head Stand” and “Undecided”, Failure sounds fresher than ever.
“I think it comes down to the fact that the sound of the band has just been the combination of the people involved,” Andrews said. “It’s almost hard for us to do anything other than the sound of failure when we’re writing together. It’s just something that happens when Greg, me and Kellii walk into the room together.
Paul Guggenheimer is a staff writer for Tribune-Review. You can contact Paul at 724-226-7706 or [email protected]