Interview

Greg Edwards On Failure’s Four-EP LP, Replacing James Iha In A Perfect Circle, And More

Tracking Down is a Stereogum franchise in which we talk to artists who have been out of the spotlight for a minute.

No one would blame you if you slept on Failure’s fifth studio album, In The Future Your Body Will Be The Furthest Thing From Your Mind.

The recently reunited post-grunge group quietly rolled their record out in four EPs over the course of a year, finally culminating with an LP containing every track in November of 2018. The year-long unveiling, singer-songwriter Greg Edwards says, may have been unconventional, but it actually helped him to stay on schedule in between non-Failure projects.

“Some of my bad habits as a songwriter are putting things off or really indulging in a potential of an idea,” he says. “Like, ‘This will be great when I finally find this lyric.’ There just wasn’t time for that.”

Goodness knows Edwards, who comprises Failure with Ken Andrews and drummer Kellii Scott, has a lot on his plate. In addition to recording with Failure, who released their previous album, The Heart Is A Monster, in 2015, nearly two decades after their ’97 split, Edwards spent a chunk of last year touring with A Perfect Circle (replacing James Iha, who left to tour with Smashing Pumpkins). Edwards is also angling to record with electronic-rock experimentalists Autolux, whose last album, Pussy’s Dead, arrived in 2016.   

Though Edwards co-wrote and recorded In The Future in between A Perfect Circle tour dates, today’s moody, angular Failure sounds comfortably in tune with the trio’s early ’90s work, which at the time earned frequent comparisons to alt-radio kings Nirvana and Soundgarden. But Failure, who originally played from 1990 to 1997, didn’t need to ride anyone’s coattails. Constantly tinkering with melody, Failure did specialize in muddy, grungy songs like “Magnified,” but they’d pivot to slick, STP-sounding tracks like “Wet Gravity.”

We called up Edwards to talk about In The Future, the myriad ways his first band has evolved since the ’90s, the personal hurdles he’s had to overcome, and why Tool fans are a lot more open-minded than they used to be.

STEREOGUM: Congrats on Failure’s latest album! Well, I should say, collection-of-EPs-turned-album?

GREG EDWARDS: The way we released it is very different from what we’ve done in the past. But it’s nice to have the whole thing finished. Because I’ve remained, throughout the process, completely skeptical about this EP model leading up to the final release. The kind of music listener I am, I would have preferred to just release the final record with all the songs and maybe have one or two teaser songs up front, but drop the whole batch.

And so this is just very different. However, having said that, the process of working in this way where we really were just like, “Now we’ve got to do four tracks and send it off,” the writing was really spontaneous. You just had to make it happen as you were working and writing.

Then we could sequence the whole record, and that was the other thing to me. Sequencing has always been a huge part of the process. And in the end, the sequence was set in stone as we were going, and that was a battle for me to accept.

STEREOGUM: Do you recall why you decided to release a record this way, in segments, as opposed to all at once?

EDWARDS: I don’t remember the genesis of it, if it came from our manager or one of the other guys. I stayed out of the conversation. I was ambivalent about it.

The title for the record, In The Future Your Body Will Be The Furthest Thing From Your Mind, that’s a title that I’ve had for a long time, for maybe 10 years. I always wanted to have a record by that title, and for the last record, I put it up on our board while we were working on The Heart is A Monster. That was actually in the running early on, but we didn’t end up going with that. [Drummer] Kellii [Scott] remembered that title, and when this EP idea came up, he said, “What if we did EPs where each EP was like a phrase from a longer title?”

STEREOGUM: Listening to the record and listening to your older work, it’s remarkable to me how unchanged Failure’s aesthetic is, even years into playing together.

EDWARDS: I take that as a high compliment, I think.

STEREOGUM: I meant it as one.

EDWARDS: It’s just like, very focused. I don’t know how to describe it. Every time I go into it — and this has been for Autolux, too — I’m just like, “I don’t know how to do this and I don’t know that I’m ever going to write anything cool again.”

So I’m always desperately trying to find something unique that justifies itself to me. I believe Ken [Andrews] is the same way. We gravitate towards certain moods and emotions and ideas. No matter how much we have the sense that we’re evolving, there’s still some very cohesive, coherent thread that you can almost take back all the way to the first Failure record.

STEREOGUM: Anxiety around artistry isn’t always productive, but in some ways it can be useful if it pushes you to keep challenging yourself.

EDWARDS: Well, the thing is, you hear people talk about the whole “channeling when you’re writing.” That always makes my skin crawl. But it’s a useful way to talk about the creative process, which does have some mysterious elements to it where a lot of the best things that you do just seem to drop out of the sky.

The best songs just come effortlessly. There might be things that you have to really bang and shape within those, but the core idea, I don’t know where it comes from. It’s that feeling of a lack of control that you don’t know what created that state where you were able to do that, and you don’t know that you’ll ever get back to it again.

The last two Failure records, I feel really lucky because I felt very prolific and it’s been relatively easy and effortless. I’ve evoked the moods in the music that I wanted to, and that’s also a scary feeling. It’s like I’m already getting neurotic about what’s next, or is this the end?

STEREOGUM: Now that you’ve been back together as Failure for a few years, it seems like all of you are fully committed to the band in a way that perhaps you hadn’t been in the ’90s. What do you think changed?

EDWARDS: Yeah. I mean the chemistry that I have with Ken and the way that we complement each other and fill in for each other’s weaknesses, it’s something that I’ve really grown to appreciate more and more since we reformed and on these last two records.

Conversations and even arguments and friction… It’s all just resolved fast. I feel like I could imagine making six more Failure records easily, looking three, five years down the road. It’s basically like if we have four months blocked out, Failure will deliver a record. That feels good. I feel like it’s a well-oiled machine and we’re not just repeating formula. There’s a lot of experimentation and discovery, and we have intelligent conversations about what we disagree about and what we’re trying to do, and we find a way through those. It’s everything that I would hope for in a collaboration. A lot of things didn’t exist in the earlier days with Fantastic Planet.

STEREOGUM: What do you think didn’t exist that does now?

EDWARDS: Well, we were younger. I feel like my abilities and powers as a musician and a songwriter are so much stronger now, and my open-mindedness in general is on another level. When I think back to who I was when I was 25, it is terrifying to think about, where my ego was at in certain moments. Then you add to that the kind of lifestyle that I was living… It was me in that moment, but it wasn’t someone that I stand behind.

STEREOGUM: I was reading a Rolling Stone interview from a few years ago, when The Heart Is A Monster came out, and Ken was pretty candid about the role substance abuse played in Failure’s breakup. If you’re comfortable talking about it, what do you think it took for you to overcome that particular personal hurdle?

EDWARDS: There’s so many things that make it so easy to fall into that as a musician and probably as an actor and as a painter. I mean just doing something like that, where you’re expected to be brilliant for a few moments or for a concentrated period of time, whether it’s on stage or on film or on the page or in the studio.

I just think it’s very easy to fall into bad habits, especially in music. Who didn’t have bad habits when you look at all the greats? I mean, it’s like a rite of passage.

It’s not so much in musical history that the rite of passage is going through that period and then getting healthy. People don’t really talk about that. I think Bowie is a great example, but even that doesn’t get talked about. I mean, you talk about Bowie and you talk about cocaine and the period he went through with drugs and when he was super skinny. You don’t talk about the fact that he got sober later and he was this incredibly wise, intelligent artist and intellectual who continued making interesting work right up to the end. I mean, that’s not romantic.

I don’t know if I’m answering the question, but for me, it was just like a moral imperative that I changed the way that I had been living my life, and realized that any kind of modification to my mental and emotional being was off the table. I was not going to use that anymore.

If I couldn’t do it through exercise or for sex or whatever, or meditation or things like that, I was stuck with where I’m at, what I am. When I was in the midst of the darkness in the ’90s and some of the 2000s, I could never imagine that I would be here now, feeling the way I am, and having been so prolific as an artist.

Because that was the great fear, that somehow, my creativity is directly related to me being in these altered states. And that was just like a self-perpetuating cycle. It’s tough to break out of that and then get your legs again, and then actually realize that, no, you’re not more creative in that state. That’s an illusion.

I’m just as weird and neurotic and screwed up [without drugs]. And I think my songs, my lyrics — I think they’re probably darker and more hopeless in a way than they ever were. So I don’t think I lost anything at all. I think I’ve only gained.

STEREOGUM: I strongly agree with that statement. I also think that it’s everyone’s personal journey to realize that they are enough — by themselves.

EDWARDS: There are other ways of dissociating and being creative that don’t involve drugs or mental illness that are healthy. You just have to find what that is and how you access that.

STEREOGUM: You mentioned the darker, moodier turn Failure’s more recent work has taken. To what extent does that reflect the album’s title, In The Future Your Body Will Be The Furthest Thing From Your Mind?

EDWARDS: I don’t know where that came from. I didn’t formulate it. It just was in my head, and I just liked it for a number of reasons. It was somehow poetically expanding on this period in time when there were a lot of beheadings going on. I was traumatized by that.

STEREOGUM: Do you mean overseas, like an ISIS kind of thing?

EDWARDS: Yes. There were some journalists, and… That, as a metaphor, your head being cut off from your body, and then what happens with technology now and how people just pour themselves into these small devices. And we’re also
potentially so connected across the whole planet, everybody knows where everybody is and you can contact anybody at any time, and you can GPS yourself to anywhere you need to go.

But I don’t know. Are we any more connected? Has it brought anybody closer in any way? I don’t really think so. I think it’s the opposite. It’s an illusion of connection. In the song “Force Fed Rainbow,” those lyrics were dealing with that directly, which is the whole idea that “all this input turns to violence, and disconnection is love,” which you could take in a lot of ways.

I think this record is really me feeling hopeless about our situation as humans. Because at least what you get from social media and Twitter, and if you read CNN and then you read Fox News — it feels completely hopeless that all of these dreams that existed in the ’60s and ’70s, and maybe even ’80s and ’90s a little bit, all of that is just gone.

It’s too clear how divided we are, and how you can’t even have conversations anymore. People from two different sides, they have language that sets each other off. And they don’t have enough compassion for each other to even hear what the other person’s trying to say. They just want to imprint, overlay the intention that works for their narrative over that other person without really trying to hear them. Everybody is just defensive.

Like “The Pineal Electorate,” that song was really me trying to come to terms with this whole idea that has always obsessed me. You look at our situation as a species and what we know about the universe, and our little place in it, and the fact that our whole species, relative to everything that’s going on, will have this short, little life, and then you look at what information exists out there for anybody to have.

I mean, things like religion and dogma get in the way of seeing that clearly, but that’s kind of the Naked Lunch of our predicament: You look at what the planet looks like and what we’re acting like and where it’s headed, and the fact that we have this person as our President right now. How can that be when we seem to be a creature that has so much potential for compassion and emotion?

It’s just like the cognitive dissonance there is, this boring chaos that I don’t understand how you heal that.

STEREOGUM: I was also curious to talk about some of your other projects. Bearing in mind that you released an album in 2016, what’s happening with Autolux lately?  

EDWARDS: Well, Carla [Azar] has been touring with Jack White as his drummer. And I’ve been touring, filling in for James Iha in A Perfect Circle for this last year. The Failure EPs had to come quickly in these little gaps where I was around.

But Carla and I have a studio and we’re definitely talking constantly about what’s next and when that will be. There’ll absolutely be something else from us. It’s just figuring out when and how quickly we can get it done.

STEREOGUM: Yeah, how did you end up replacing James Iha with A Perfect Circle?

EDWARDS: Maynard has been a friend since the beginning of Failure. That was when Tool was in LA and coming up at the same time and took us out on a tour in Europe and the US right around the time that the second Failure record, Magnified, was released.

It was us first, the Flaming Lips, who were touring on Transmissions From The Satellite Heart, and then Tool, which was a really great deal. I think a lot of Tool fans were not so happy about it necessarily. But for me, being able to watch the Flaming Lips every night was amazing.

STEREOGUM: Oh, Tool fans weren’t really on board with Wayne and his giant plastic bubble?

EDWARDS: Yeah. I mean Tool fans back then… I think Tool fans have become more open-minded now, and they’re so big now that their audience base is pretty broad and eclectic. But back then, it was very, like, aggressive, male lovers of metal and heavy music.

And you think about the Flaming Lips and “She Don’t Use Jelly,” and Wayne’s got Christmas lights duct taped all over his body and his guitar, and there’s bubbles going.

STEREOGUM: Ah yeah, I could see how the crowds might clash.

EDWARDS: So Maynard, I’ve known Maynard all through the years, and I guess all of a sudden, I got a call at the beginning of 2018 from their manager just saying, “James Iha is going back to Smashing Pumpkins and they want you to fill in,” which was like… I’ve never done anything like that. I’ve only really worked in my own projects.

I’ve never been the side man. It was like a lot to take on. But it was actually a really fun experience, and I know everybody. They’re all friends, and it was a challenge to learn that much material that I didn’t have a lot of familiarity with in a short period of time, and just go right out and tour on it. So it really just fell out of the blue.

I can’t think of another situation where I would do it. But it just made total sense to me because I’ve known Maynard for so long. It just felt right.