An Interview with Kellii Scott of Failure

Paul Caparotta
Failure's Kellii Scott, Ken Andrews, and Greg Edwards (Photo: Priscilla C. Scott)
Failure's Kellii Scott, Ken Andrews, and Greg Edwards (Photo: Priscilla C. Scott)
Failure are one of those bands who are too good to die. After recording three great albums, including the classic Fantastic Planet (iTunes), they took a nine year hiatus before coming back with the powerful The Heart is a Monster (iTunes) in 2015. Last year, the band added another entry to their oeuvre with In The Future Your Body Will be the Furthest Thing From Your Mind (iTunes). It's an album that takes a bunch of chances and becomes more rewarding the more you listen to it.

We had a chance to catch up with Failure's drummer, Kellii Scott, between gigs to talk about their upcoming show with Swervedriver at The Fillmore on April 23rd. At the moment, tickets are still available here.

SFBayAreaConcerts: Thanks for making time for us -- we know you're in the middle of a tour and we're enjoying the new album. Let's start with saying that some albums are more memorable because of their percussion; on Cloud Nothing's Attack on Memory (iTunes), Jayson Gerycz’s drumming expands Dylan Baldi’s melodies. Much of In The Future... is buoyed by some great persuasion, especially on "No One Left" and "What Makes it Easy". The shift in time signatures, fills, breaks—what was the inspiration for your sound on the album?

Kellii Scott: I definitely want to push some boundaries and not be too repetitive. Personally, I want to be able to carve out a space for trying new things -- especially when you start playing stuff live. It gives a more complete picture; you don't feel like you're hearing the same song over and over.

I think a lot of my choices are definitely informed and inspired by the music. What I do, the way I write in general is an unconscious reaction to what I'm listening to. I know some people like to chart things out or specifically think about what they're playing -- I'm a little bit more subconscious about it than that. I like to write in a creative sense, and a little less of a literal sense.

SFBAC: That makes complete sense. In The Future Your Body Will Be The Furthest Thing From Your Mind seems very intentionally constructed, balanced. How do you bring an album like that to life? It's different from what you've done before.

Kellii Scott: Especially on this record, some of the way that we've achieved the drum parts on this record was in the way we approached, wrote and recorded the record. On the last one, we got in a room and wrote most of the stuff together. We'd come up with a riff and everyone starts coming up with their parts, 'Oh, that's a song!' We'd arrange it and record the drum part, and then spend a week or two doing overdubs and vocals.

On this one, it was kind of done more or less the opposite of that. Ken and Greg got together a couple of times per month and demoed the songs out. So there were definitely some instances where I really loved the drum part that they had there on the demo.

I would add certain things to it -- transitions or little things -- change the kick drum part around. There's also stuff like Ken writing "Distorted Fields"; he gave us everything recorded on the demo. We came up with a couple of other parts when we recorded it, but the demo drum track he created was impressive.

In my case, with the respect I have for my fellow band members, I know well enough that both of these guys have great ideas. If I want to grow as a drummer, the best way to do that is to work best with good people. By myself I tend to do what I do over and over and over again.

People ask me 'what are your influences?' My influences are the people I play with. I think I'm more influenced by that than anything else. Sure, as a kid growing up I had my favorite drummers, but I wouldn't necessarily consider them influences as much as the guys in Failure. It wasn't until we started playing together that my style and my voice became set in stone.

SFBAC: You talk about coming together as a band. Like many fans, I became familiar with the band on Fantastic Planet. It synthesized a lot of styles I hadn't heard put together that way before. Looking at your earlier work, does it feel as energetic and eclectic to you today as it did over 23 years ago?

Kellii Scott: Yeah, it actually does. Even live, we still do a bunch of those songs. Right now, the live show right now is a journey through all our records. Four of which come from Fantastic Planet, and we end the show with some Comfort (iTunes) stuff. There's a couple of Magnified (iTunes) songs in there.

But the one thing I've found over the years, the more I play those songs, the better I play them. They still definitely -- that's what I was trying to allude to with the new stuff -- I'm sensitive to that stuff when we do a new record. I always want to keep in mind the territory we've traveled on previous records.

Eventually when we start to take this stuff out, 'what is this body of work going to look like once we put it together?' In that way, up until this point... the live set covers so much ground on the drum parts of each song.

You get those moments of those slow/heavy Failure tunes -- they have a uniqueness because there's all these other combinations of other rhythms that run through our songs.

SFBAC: I have to admit, I had no idea The Heart Is A Monster was coming -- even though we knew you were reuniting for those live shows. What drove the three of you to come back together and record real, vital music?

Kellii Scott: The funny thing is that the recording of the album came before wanting to go out and do shows. When we got back together the idea roughly was Ken and Greg started hanging out, and they recently started working on music again. They had a group of songs which would be the first five songs for The Heart Is a Monster which they were confident were really good.

Ken reached out to me and caught me up, "Yeah, Greg and I have been hanging out -- we've been working on music together. We're up to five songs that we've written and demoed out. We want to look at putting some drums on them."

We weren't entirely sure what we were going to do -- maybe release an EP, maybe do a secret show; it was very vague. But the inspiration for getting back together started with the music first and morphed into becoming a live, active band and finishing a full record.

SFBAC: You started using the segues on Fantastic Planet and continue to run them through the last two releases. Some are ambient, some dissonant. What are they about and how do they fit into the Failure sound?

Kellii Scott: The segues actually first appeared on Magnify. There were two segues -- although on Magnify they were included as part of the tracks. They weren't broken out as "Segue 1" or "Segue 2" like on Fantastic Planet. But I believe there were maybe three segues on Magnify. For us, it's kind of like when you go to a sushi place and in between each variety of sushi you have some ginger to clear your palette.

It's a really easy way to connect things; a really clear way to change the direction of the music -- it smooths out transitions when you're trying to change the mood of a record. Our records tend to be so long that it can feel a bit forced if you come right out of one song and into another constantly. Especially if it's a different mood from the last song.

It's a creative way to keep things moving forward without that -- stop, new song. Especially on Fantastic Planet where it feels like there are three distinct parts to it. Each one of those parts are led into by a segue.

The segues on The Heart is a Monster were for the most part done by Greg. While Ken was mixing the record in one room, Greg was working on the sequencing and the segues.

On the new one, those were pretty much created by Ken and Greg together during the demo phase, because we'd do three songs and a segue.

Yeah, generally I think it's an interesting and creative way to keep such a sprawling, long record flowing.

SFBAC: Like Failure, San Francisco is a space where elements come together to create a powerful compound. Failure, as a band are also like that. Any special memories with three of you guys playing in the Bay?

Kellii Scott: There are so many amazing venues in San Francisco -- I think more so than most cities.

SFBAC: New York and L.A. are great, but the venues in San Francisco have their own distinct personalities.

Kellii Scott: We've always had a great, great draw to there. People who love Failure in a way that you don't -- I might not want to use the word 'rabid,' but there's a certain intensity to the San Francisco crowd; a certain passion for what we do.

SFBAC: I've read about you're a fan of Beach House's 7 (iTunes) in Revolver. What they did with that album seems very much in line with what you've done; take a singular sound and make some big shifts, big adjustments, but still keep the core of the band intact.

Kellii Scott: A lot of bands, once they have a type of success, they want to keep that success. They're less likely to mess with what got them there. Sometimes that's having business people around that are now dependent on giving you advice, encouraging you to keep things as they are.

They get reluctant to go out on a limb and be creative. It's a risk to keep moving forward.

How that all fits into Failure is the one rule with the band, we don't want to make the same record twice. We're just not those type of people. Because we haven't had that much success really.

SFBAC: Well, I don't know about that.

Kellii Scott: [Laughs] Well not in a way that it is an outside force that becomes part of our decision making. Collectively, and individually, the one thing that we're always trying to gain when we sit down, write and create new records is that we always want to be pushing ourselves.

If it doesn't sell a whole lot, we want to be able to say 'well, we gave it out best shot and we created something we're proud of.' We can look back and say 'we had no regrets.'

Most important, after every record we want to grow as people and artists. New elements get added to our sound every time. When you go to one of our shows, it's part of a journey -- it just keeps going forward.

SFBAC: Thanks for the time Kellii -- we're excited to see you bring the new album to the Bay and we'll see you in a few weeks at The Fillmore!

Kellii Scott: Thanks for your time; I'm always humbled that there are people out there that want to hear what I have to say! I can't wait to get out there. I think people are going to dig the show we are going to put on. We've really changed up the production, and it should be fantastic to see.

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