Nevermind The Posers

See ya in the pit.

Live Review: Failure at the Stone Pony June 17, 2014


May 31, 2014

The musical career of Failure can be summed up in one word: ignored. Over the course of close to a decade, three albums of increasing sonic greatness came and went with some critical success, but out much notice from the public. The gritty, lo-fi ridden quality of 1992’s Comfort was lost in the burgeoning grunge scene (which thankfully ended as soon as it began,) 1994’s Magnified was cast aside in the ashes of grunge for the emergence of alternative ‘music’ and their magnum opus (and last album,) the everlasting sonic landscape of 1996’s Fantastic Planet, was unable to find much of an audience thanks to the combined burnout from grunge/alternative, causing the masses to flee towards the developing era of commercialized hip-hop. Regardless of whether it was poor timing or major label incompetence (the band themselves have hinted towards both,) the group was never was able to catch the break that they needed and deserved. Case in point: a YouTube search for ‘Failure Live’ turns up an assortment of gigs, including a fair quality video for one of their last shows in 1997, which was big on sound for a shockingly sparse crowd.

Then, in late 2013 a surprise announcement for the reunion of Failure was announced; a band stratospheric on talent and lowly on record sales had decided to give the music world at large another shot. In the time that they had quietly gone away, Ken Andrews became a sought after Producer/Mixer, Greg Edwards found deserved success with Autolux, and Kellii Scott became in demand as a session drummer. So why reunite and tour extensively? It could have been for a number of reasons: Ken and Greg’s renewed friendship/musical partnership, a surge in album sales as of late, or the fact that their first announced gig in 17 years in February at the El Rey Theatre in Los Angeles sold out in 5 minutes. It could be anyone’s guess.

The real issue for Failure now is whether 17 years of dust and rust will result in a phoned in performance screaming of nostalgia or whether they would have a solid return, with the energy of a band finally basking in newly found glory, as they took the stage at the Stone Pony in Asbury Park, NJ. Forgoing an opening act in favor of a short film composed of clips from influential films might have helped to draw the crowd in. But it was a clip from the eerie animated film Fantastic Planet that provided the real hook for their imminent arrival, providing a perfect segue into the expansive space-rock beauty of “Another Space Song” from Fantastic Planet. Led by bone crushing beats from Kellii Scott’s mighty drumming, Failure took the stage to a screaming audience and quickly laid all fears of nostalgia to rest.

Failure1They easily kept the momentum escalating, tearing through Magnified’s “Frogs” and “Wet Gravity,” continually slamming the crowd with the droning crunch that fans have lovingly embraced since their arrival in 1990.  And before the crowd could get comfortable, they fearlessly changed pace launching into the chords of the slow burning “Saturday Savior”. The rapidly unfolding evening revealed a carefully constructed set list, which placed songs in an order that managed to lean each cut against the next, creating a set that was compiled with true love for the material and the people who kept it alive.

The live vocals of the great Ken Andrews were vastly superior to his studio voice, reaching its chilling heights during fan favorites “Pillowhead” and “Smoking Umbrellas,” which were ironically two songs that Andrews had expressed displeasure with in his Facebook rehearsal posts. On the opposite side of the stage, the shadow-looming guitar painting of Greg Edwards provided the meticulously layered foundations for the vocals to glide over, with heavily processed sounds that wouldn’t be out-of-place in a NASA control room. The songs that benefited the most from his sci-fi soundscapes took the forms of the rhythmic angst of “Solaris” and what was definitely a welcomed surprise, the lonely, planet-orbiting “Segue 3.”

The award for hero of the evening ultimately goes to drummer Kellii Scott, who somehow managed to avoid possible jail time for instrument endangerment, brutally beating his drum set into oblivion as he matched the body smashing power of the artillery level speakers’ slam for slam, all while visibly enjoying himself. It’s rare to have a drummer who can beat low-end frequencies into submission, but Scott managed to wreck it every second of the set, reaching his peak with the best song of the night “Heliotropic.” Failure2

The only disappointment was the lack of any Comfort era songs, which originally was supposed to make an appearance in the form of “Macaque” (it ultimately had an audible called on it in favor of the more popular “Bernie”,) but it was more than made up for with the debut of a new track titled “The Focus,” which helped to fire up the anticipation in lead-up to their fourth studio album, due in 2015.

The show ended on a dramatic high with the towering “Daylight,” which felt like more of a sentimental choice in the fact that it also closed Fantastic Planet.

It was a night of ear ringing, heartbeat disturbing chaos that was masterfully put together by a band that was more than welcomed back. In Ken’s words toward the end, he remarked that the night’s show was “the best show in Asbury Park that [the band] had ever had”. I would more than agree.

-Mark B.


Charlotte Martin Interview at World Café Live October 16, 2009

If watching the latest MTV Music awards has illustrated anything (and not just Kanye West’s “outburst”), it’s that today’s music scene is a world full of jaded, over-pampered, attention seeking, product hawking, uptight musicians, or as everyone else calls them, dicks.  Thankfully, we have someone like Charlotte Martin, who has proven to be a sonic savior, an artist who has delivered fresh and inventive music into the gag-inducing music scene for 10 years running. Her compositions float seamlessly between pop, electro, dance, and singer/songwriter, with her powerful opera-trained vocal chords leading the charge, paired with a piano playing dexterity that has the fury of a monsoon delivered with the delicateness of a soft caress. She is a music industry veteran who has clocked a decade in the field; from her humble beginnings in local Los Angeles clubs, to going through the trials and tribulations of a major label record contract and living to tell about it, to the present challenges of motherhood and gaining the freedom to guide her own career. And rather than enjoying the fruits of her labors, she chose to tough it out by launching the “Mad Fast Acoustic Tour” in the middle of recording a new album, with family in tow. 

     Mark from Nevermind the Posers had the chance to sit down with Charlotte at World Café Live in Philadelphia, PA on the first night of her 4 date tour (September 30, 2009) to discuss the fans, family life, music, the horrors of post-nasal drip, and her new instrumental release Piano Trees. 



M (Mark):  You’re a working mother who’s charting the course of her career, in the midst of recording a new album, and you have just completed a side project. With so much going on, why choose to launch a mini-tour in the midst of all of this?

CM (Charlotte Martin):  I don’t know… because I’m insane. Honestly, I just want people to know that I am still able to tour; it’s really hard to tour with a baby, but actually mine is really easy [being that] he’s a good kid. The only thing that’s difficult is the extra gear [pointing to all of the baby gear]. I can’t do as much anymore, not all at the same time.  I’m multi-tasking as a mom, and trying to run a house, so much that I can’t work on a record and tour at the same time.  And the reason that this side project came out is because I have awesome people that helped me put it together. I wouldn’t have been able to do that by myself; I fully give props. As far as the writing goes, I’m still a bit slow. I mean we’ve recorded about 6 songs; most of it is written, but I am kind of at the mercy of Ken’s [Ken Andrews, Charlotte’s husband and producer] schedule, because I want to work with him.  When we get back from these dates he’s going to work pretty much for a solid 3 weeks, so I am hoping to finish it by the end of the year… [by] early January, because my team wants to try to put it out next year.

M: On this tour you are releasing a side-project called Piano Trees and I read that you wrote it specifically to inspire other artists.

CM: I did. It didn’t seem like I was. I was actually going to write a book called ‘Word Trees’, because I write a lot of my songs from these lists that I have been brainstorming, broken thoughts and words, I call Word Trees. And I have 20-30 something books now; I was going to make a coffee table sort of art book, and the Piano Trees CD was going to go with the book, but it’s ridiculously expensive to make a book. So, when I figured out my record probably wasn’t going to be done this year, I figured [that] I have got to give everybody something, so why not? And fast forward from 2005 ’til now, lots of dancers dance to my stuff on all of these shows, which is amazing. 

M: Like ‘So You Think You Can Dance’?

CM: Yeah! Tons of dancers, painters, photographers, actors and other musicians, and I thought “this would be really good for people”. Then the point became very clear that it might be cool for people if they are in the process of writing something. Honestly, you can’t write music to it, but if you’re a musician… I write lyrics while listening to my favorite bands all of the time, which is probably why the song “The Kick Inside” by Kate Bush is in the song “Up All Night”.

M:  I know a lot of people ask you about your influences. You’ve name checked artists like New Order, The Cure, Kate Bush; I was wondering who are some of the other artists that you listened to that inspired you while you were making Piano Trees?

CM: A band called Stars of the Lid, a band called Explosions in the Sky; I’m really, really into M83, Radio Department, this piano player named Dustin O’Halloran; his music is pretty similar to Piano Trees except that it’s way sweeter, almost more proper classical. It’s all of my Shoe-Gazer stuff that I don’t sound like but that I want to be [laughing]. I really love it all, I just never do that… ever.

M: Along with past tour releases Darkest Hours, Veins, and the Rarities series, Piano Trees is also being released on tour, why release such a steady amount of material during tours?

CM:  I feel like it gives me an excuse to tour because I have something coming out, otherwise I don’t know if I would tour just to tour. It’s for fun; I feel like it’s my obligation to give you good new music if you’re going to buy a ticket to come see me play.

M: A lot of other artists milk the same thing for years.

CM: No, I have never done a record cycle for longer than a year, because the records weren’t quite that huge. You know, on my level you have to release a lot of material to make a living… and I am blessed that people buy it, but I have got to release a lot. I’m just really lucky; I mean they are the reason that I have a job. 

M: One of the things that is noticeable about the shows, in addition to the growing crowds, are the familiar faces that I see. What effect has having such a dedicated fan base had on your writing and career? 

CM: Everything. I write thinking, “Is this going to bore people? Are people going to be into this”? I mean, I write for myself too, but I’m very conscientious. I know that there is a lot of my fan base that wants me to do a solo record, and honestly I feel like saying, “You think that you want that for a whole record, but I don’t think you want it that… stark”. Even On Your Shore was in a lot of ways as dense as Stromata, it was just orchestra, but there were lots of layers. People think they want [another] On Your Shore because it’s sparse, but it really isn’t, it just has sparser moments.

M: Around the time of On Your Shore, you started collaborating with a lot of dance acts; you did a song with the Crystal Method (“Glass Breaker”), with DJ Tiesto (“Sweet Things”), and most recently, I was ecstatic to see that you collaborated with BT on his next album. how did that come about? How was the recording process? Was it any different than what you are used to?

CM: Well, he sent me a track, and I recorded over it and sent it back to him.  

M: So that’s pretty much it with BT then? 

CM: Yeah.  I really don’t know what he’s doing right now. He’s been working on it for a while, because we did that song 2 years ago. It’s called “Feed the Monster”, it’s slammin’…  it’s Garbage, meets Shiny Toy Guns, meets BT.

M: Each of your records seem to have its own distinct sound and atmosphere, how do you determine which sonic direction that you want to take during the recording process?

CM: Well, with Stromata we decided pretty quickly. With this new record, the writing, or the actual song itself tells Ken and I where it should go. I mean we do get stumped; there is this one [song] now that is called “Everything is Tied to Little Strings” that we just can’t crack. We actually asked Greg [Greg Edwards of Autolux and Failure] to work on it because it’s super weird. It’s a really tough nut to crack, but I have had songs that were tough to crack before. I mean “Every Time It Rains” is a simple pop song, and this [new track] is way more complex than that… like this is arty art. And that took us years to finish the album version of “Every Time It Rains”, I mean I have 5 versions of that song. We wrote it in the studio while cutting it,  it was always evolving.

M: Being that you’re an independent artist with a still flourishing career, how important would you say that word of mouth has been in the development of your career? 

CM:  It’s all. It could be a lot more too, because what I have is all people… it doesn’t get any more grassroots than this. I’ve never had a break, I just slugged it out and toured… and I’ve had some good tours; Liz Phair’s “Chicks with Attitude” tour and Howie Day. 

M: I was surprised to read about in your newsletter is that you allow your shows to be taped. Why do you allow it?

CM: I have a lot of international fans. I have been doing this for 10 years and it’s been tragic that I haven’t made it over to tour, especially in Japan, where On Your Shore did okay on import. I don’t know how to do that yet, so I’m just like “tape it all”.  And if they can remain a fan and connect to me that way, then go for it. 

M: Something like that ties into the fact that a lot of the praise coming from your fans is your personal interaction with them. During shows, I know that you make faces at people, you’ve made faces at me; and on this tour you took another step [with fan interaction] and you invited your fans to post song requests on your websites message boards. 

CM: I’m going to do my best… I rehearsed a lot of them, and there were A LOT of requests. It’s finding that balance, because I am going to play a couple of new ones, and I want to play a couple that I know people want to hear, and then there’s the fans that want to hear everything obscure, and I don’t think that would make for a good show, personally.  

M: My last question could be directed at both of you [Charlotte and Ken]. There was a project a while back that both of you were supposed to be involved in called Digital Noise Academy. I know that it involved a lot of your collaborators and friends, and I was just wondering whatever became of it?

[Ken Andrews joins the interview] 

KA: Well, it exists…

CM: A whole record. 

KA: No one’s heard it except the band, because we haven’t had the time to organize a release. I know that that sounds ridiculous, but it’s actually true. With everyone’s projects, and the baby, and one of the other members also having a baby… that this project even happened at all was amazing. And now the fact that it is sitting there waiting to be released is kind of a bummer, but we’re pursuing it. We’re just looking for the right way to release it, because it’s not a real band in the sense that we don’t play shows all of the time, and it’s not like we’re going to tour on top of the release. 

CM: And we’re not going out for a big record deal. We’re all doing our personal artist careers, production careers… we all have our own things. But it’s a very artistically fulfilling project. 

KA: It’s going to come out 

CM: It’ll come out. It makes me sad to think of it not coming out.

Photos and interview by Mark B.