Profiles

Failure's Ken Andrews on the Absurdity of Hair Metal

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Westword:The time period in which Failure was getting started a lot of people's impression of L.A. is that it was that it was dominated by glam rock.

Ken Andrews: The hair bands. Yeah. It was like Warrant-type bands and Ratt and stuff like that. I actually sort of liked Ratt but most of it we really didn't like at all. Naming the band Failure was kind of in reaction to all the ads we would see for bands looking for musicians and/or musicians looking for bands in the classifieds in L.A.. They were all like, "must have pro attitude and pro look," "hair has to be like this" and just ridiculous requirements. We just thought it was funny. All those bands were super focused on making it and being a big success and just getting on a label as soon as possible. They rarely even talked about the music in a lot of these ads. It was more about being a pro and coming in and kicking butt or whatever.

We just thought it would be funny for those guys to see a band called Failure playing a show in L.A. "Why would someone do that? Oh my god, it's so ridiculous!" For us it was just that, a hobby and something fun to do. But then we started getting a bit of a following after five or ten shows. All of a sudden, people started showing up to see us play. Then it kind of became this different thing and labels started coming to the shows.

Then I was like, "Well, what's going to happen with this?" I was still in college and I was planning on doing that and going down that path. Right around my senior year in college we started getting offers from labels and stuff. I was actually already working as a music video director and kind of had to make the choice of pursuing the whole indie rock thing or not. I decided to go for it and went out and recorded our first record with Steve Albini and got in the van and started touring.

The Paisley Underground and punk was going strong in the '80s in Los Angeles but by the time the 90s rolled around were there other bands you were able to connect with and play shows with that may have been at least somewhat like-minded? Perhaps Medicine?

None really. We eventually did become friends with Medicine but our schedules never really linked up. We may have played one show with them but looking back, now that I'm super good friends with those guys and work with a couple of them as producers, we should have hooked up with them because they were really probably one of the only like-minded bands in L.A. at the time. I think that's what made it a little easier to get a deal. There were a lot of labels that were just not into the whole hair band thing and were waiting for it to go away. So if you weren't doing that you instantly got some kind of attention because you were outside the norm.

When we signed with Slash they were doing Faith No More, L7, Los Lobos and Grant Lee Buffalo. It was an eclectic label and creatively we were happy to be there. Their take on us was creatively pretty liberating. They let us do what we wanted to do. It was funny because they liked our demos better than our finished record on the first records. And we kind of did too, in a way, although the demos for the second record were all drum machines and it was really just placeholder because we knew we wanted live drums there but we didn't have a drummer at the time. They actually wanted to release the demos for the second record as the record because they thought it was a more interesting take on the songs.

When we got to the third record and they picked up the option I told our manager, "What do you think the idea of us self-producing it and not having a proper producer at the controls." He said, "I don't think the label's going to go for it because you guys have zero sales track record and they're going to want to have someone in there who knows how to make a record." I asked, "Can we just take a meeting and give me five minutes to make my pitch to the label." About two minutes into my pitch they were just like, "Sounds good. Here's the budget."

My pitch was, "Give us our budget. We're going to buy some equipment and rent a house and do it our way and you're going to have to trust us to deliver something cool." They went back to the demos and said, "Well, we liked the demos better for the second album and if you can make something as good or better than that, we'll put it out." That's what Fantastic Planet was.

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Tom Murphy is a writer, visual artist and musician from Aurora, Colorado. He was a prolific music writer for Westword and a documenter of the Denver music scene.