Silent Uproar: As a musician I am sure you are always working on song ideas, but at what point did you decide it was time to release a new album of material?
Ken Andrews: Probably last summer. I had three or four songs I liked and I started playing them for friends who liked them and said I should try and release them somehow. I just started working on a few more songs and realized I could probably just do a whole record. So I made that a goal and kept chipping away at it in between production gigs and it got finished in January of this year.
SU: Do you feel that producing records for other bands has expanded your musical tastes and maybe allowed you to find enjoyment in music you wouldn’t typically be interested in?
Ken: Definitely. I think you learn things, like techniques for song writing and recording ideas, the whole gamut when you are working with other people. There’s also the inspiration to work on your own stuff – at least for me - after you work on a few records for a while I am kinda anxious to work on my own stuff. So separating from my own stuff for a while actually inspires me too.
SU: How did you choose the members that make up the live incarnation of the band?
Ken: I picked a whole band. There was a band called First Wave Hello that wanted to support me on the tour and I had mixed their record so I was familiar with their sound. I really loved that album and knew I loved their music and their band, but I didn’t know what they were like live so they sent me a video of them playing live and I was like wow they are really cool and are kind of musicians I would like to have backing me. A light bulb went off in my head and I thought why don’t I ask them if they want to play two sets, to learn my songs and go on as First Wave Hello, take a few minutes off and then come back on and play my set. That’s what we ended up doing so it was a complete band.
SU: I am sure taking that approach brought some inherent tightness to the live incarnation of the record because they were all so used to playing with each other already.
Ken: Exactly. It’s also really good technically for the show because basically they just sound check me and the rest is good to go. We move like one pedal board and one mic between sets.
SU: I am sure you get requests for Failure songs when playing shows – are you happy to oblige or do you try and keep the focus on the new material?
Ken: We definitely play Failure songs, we played like 5 or 6 Failure songs on this current tour. We ended up playing a couple of On songs, a couple of Year of the Rabbit songs and five or six new songs, so it was a nice blend of all the different projects I have done as an artist.
SU: Does it matter what the particular song is – like are you more prone to play a Failure song you wrote as opposed to one Greg maybe wrote? Or are there certain fan favorites? How do you pick which songs to highlight?
Ken: I kinda just picked the fan favorites. I tried to pick the songs that I thought people would most want to hear. Obviously there is a lot of different opinions and ideas around that, but Jacob the singer and guitar player for First Wave Hello helped me make the set list a lot. I trusted his opinion because I knew he was a big fan from way back and he followed me through all my different projects. So I enjoyed his input on what songs to play.
The other consideration is what songs sounded good. One of my favorite songs from Fantastic Planet is “Another Space Song”, but that song never really came off live, even when Failure played it. The drum loop that we came up with in the studio is really important to the hypnotic-ness of that song and live drums just don’t create the same effect. So that was more of a production based song that was really good on the album, but maybe not so great live. So that also influences what songs we decided to play.
SU: What is the most rewarding collaboration that you have been involved in?
Ken: The project I started about a year ago, which is slightly stalled right now because I have been so busy doing other records and doing this record. But I have this project called Los Angeles Digital Noise Academy that is a collaborative – I was trying to figure out a way to do collaborative music with all these different people I have worked with over the years, whether it’s someone who has been in my band project or even people I have just mixed a record for. I really like almost all the musicians I have worked with and I‘d like to do things with them so I wanted to do a server-based, internet-based collaboration project.
We have some server space where we log in and we have an initial ideas folder, an in progress folder, and an almost finished folder. We basically write and record songs by uploading an idea like maybe a drum beat or guitar riff and someone else listens to those ideas and maybe they find one that they think is cool and they can add something to. So they download it, add something to it, and upload that. The cycle keeps going until we have a finished song. We have 4 finished songs right now (two of which are on the MySpace page).
So far, creatively, that has been the funnest thing and most satisfying thing I have ever done. I put up one song where all I put up was vocal and acoustic guitar and then I didn’t listen to it while people worked on it. I heard the finished version like a month later and it was so awesome to hear all these different ideas on there that I never would have thought of.
SU: So as a collective, how do you make the decision that a song is complete? I could see the tinkering process continuing on and on.
Ken: Well basically as people lash onto a song and actually add something, they become part of the voting community for that song. The person who put up the initial idea is sort of like the band leader for that song and if two people add something to it then those two people are the band for that song. Then if another person comes in, those two people can decide if they like what the 3rd person added. If they do then that person now becomes a member of that song’s decision making process as well. So it just keeps growing like that. So if someone comes in and adds something to a song that people are already working on and the other people don’t like it, then it doesn’t get added. So each song has it’s own committee, just like any band would. So far it’s worked out that every song has 3-5 people working on it.
SU: Is the idea to keep who wrote the specific songs or parts of songs separate from the idea that you all as a collective are presenting this song?
Ken: No, I think we will credit who played on what because I think that is interesting for fans to see. When it’s ready to come out we will have a master list of everyone who is involved and you will be able to see who did what on which songs. I think that will be part of t he fun of it. It’s also really good for cross-promoting everyone’s other projects. It’s like so-and-so from this band did this and some people may have never heard of his band or her before but they like the LA DNA song they were on so they check into them. It’s kind of a cool project and its in it’s early phase right now, but I’m really excited about it.
SU: It sounds like a pretty amazing idea from not only the music collaboration side of it and each song having it’s own life, but also from the technical side of it that you are forming songs all digitally over the net. It’s a really cool idea, I will be interested to see how it goes and hear things as they come out.
SU: What artists have you worked with that you feel is the most underappreciated or misunderstood?
Ken: Hmm. Well I can give you a laundry list or underappreciated, but misunderstood, I don’t know about that….
SU: We’ll go with people that you feel are underappreciated.
Ken: Well this band that I just toured with is great. Basically I pick one or two records a year to mix that maybe don’t’ have much of a budget or maybe not even a record label, but that I hear and feel like I just have to work with them. So if they want me to do it, and are asking me to do it, but don’t have the money - if I really like it -then I will do it. This First Wave Hello record is definitely one of those records.
At first they called me and were asking how much I’d cost and I told them and they were just like ‘ugh, we don’t have that.’ So I told them to send me the music and I’d get back to them. When I heard the music I was just floored and decided I really have to work with this band and I had a ball doing it. So I will occasionally do that if I have the time. I think those guys are amazing and could be really really popular. There is a little Failure in there, some Rentals, maybe some Pixies and Radiohead mixed in, it’s a really cool, advanced band that not many people know about so I am trying to change that.
SU: What made you decide to start your own label – Dinosaur Fight?
Ken: I think between my wife and I, we really weren’t into being A&Red anymore. I have certainly made a lot of records over the years and have been in the business for quite a while and the idea of signing with a major label and having to deal with promoting myself within the label and getting people to believe in me as an artist is just something I’m not into anymore. I’d rather do it myself and probably have a lot less money to promote the record, but not have to answer to anyone creatively or even marketing wise. I am able to do what I want. I am just at that point in my career as an artist where it just made sense.
SU: Do you think you would still have that attitude or viewpoint if the internet and online sales and marketing hadn’t made it so much easier for small labels and even unsigned bands to be successful without the huge budgets?
Ken: I don’t know, that’s a tough question. Artists have been starting their own labels for a long time, and maybe selling CDs online is easier but selling CDs in stores is still not any easier for a small artist.
SU: Right, but I think what’s changed is you don’t have to sell a lot of CDs in stores to be successful anymore.
Ken: True. So yeah, probably, I think I may have thought twice about it. I have released a few things on CD Baby so I knew what was possible even with just that and mail order CDs. I have a fan base that is small, but aggressive so they will seek me out and buy something off the internet if they are into it.
SU: Are there set plans for other upcoming releases from other artists/bands or is this really focused on getting your own material out there?
Ken: I see us working with other artists and we are sort of right on the cusp of making that decision right now, so that is definitely in the future for the label for sure.
SU: Like maybe the new Matt Mahaffey/ Self music, I hear he is looking for a new label home?
Ken: Yeah, totally. Since we have only released two records we are still trying to figure out things financially, but I definitely see record from other artists in the future for us.
SU: Will there be another ON album or was that just a one-time moniker for your band at the time?
Ken: I think that is just going to be a one-time thing. I would have called this one ON, but in the age of the internet it is just impossible to promote a band name like that.
SU: It’s interesting that that plays into it. It is very true, but I never would have considered it.
Ken: Yeah, it’s just hard because you can’t search on it. The web footprint of my name is bigger than even Failure so it just made the most internet marketing sense. As you know, when you are on a small label, internet marketing is your primary focus.
SU: Producers are often faced with the choice of working on a project to put food on the table versus working on a project to that they have passion about or truly enjoy. Do you feel that at times you have had to make this decision and are there bands you have turned down because you were just never able to get behind the music?
Ken: Oh yeah, for me it’s music, schedule, and money in that order. That’s my criteria for whether I take on a project or not. But like I was saying with First Wave Hello, sometimes I hear something that I just love so much I will work on it even if there isn’t a budget.
SU: With regards to Failure, has the kind of late stage appreciation of the band surprised you at all?
Ken: Yeah. It’s been a slow build, but I am surprised that as many people are totally into the band as there are and that new people are discovering the band now, ten years after we broke up.
SU: Obviously you already have quite a legacy with Failure and all the production work you have done – what is the thing you are most proud of in your career as a musician?
Ken: That’s a tough question. I think most artist are most proud of their current work because that’s the freshest in their mind, and obviously I am really proud of this record and it is fresh in my mind, but at the same time I can really see what an impact Fantastic Planet has made on people – both fans and other artists. Even when I listen to it, I hear that and can see what and impact it has had so I can’t say I am not totally proud of that record too.