From Failure to Strange Floating Grooves: Autolux Return
Six years since their last LP—and the reemergence of Edwards's seminal 90s band Failure—Autolux return with Beyoncé's producer Boots helping craft their experi-shoegaze.
For those of us who like our shoegaze spiked with noise, menace, stylistic experimentation, and jarring dynamic shifts, there are few greater sonic pleasures than Autolux. The only trouble is that the Los Angeles trio has eked out just two full-length albums since forming in 2001, the last of which, Transit Transit, is approaching its sixth birthday. Devotees swooned when principal member Greg Edwards revived his criminally under-appreciated prior band Failure in recent years, but worried that such a move would delay fresh Autolux music even longer. Thankfully, with the help of producer Boots, best known for his work on Beyoncé’s 2013 self-titled album, the group has wrapped work on the awesomely named new LP Pussy’s Dead, which will be released April 1 via Danger Mouse’s Columbia imprint, 30th Century Records.
“Soft Scene” is a tantalizing appetizer to Pussy’s Dead as it rides a bass-and-programmed-drums groove that would make Radiohead drool into five minutes of disorienting, creepy bliss. The band’s signature heavy jams are well-represented on “Listen to the Order” and the Carla Azar-sung “Brainwasher,” while on the other end of the spectrum, “Change My Head” puts the Autolux spin on a sneakily straightforward piano ballad.
Edwards, who is flanked in Autolux by Azar as well as vocalist/bassist Eugene Goreshter, chatted with us about the group’s slow re-emergence, bonding with Boots over Beyoncé, and returning to the road in March.
Noisey: Take us back to the end of the cycle for Transit Transit. What was the status of the band at that point?
Greg Edwards: When that cycle ended, we did sort of jump back into writing. But Carla started playing with Jack White and was also in a movie, so that took up a good year-and-a-half where she was unavailable. I started working again with Failure too. That put a big gap in there. It’s no secret that we’re not the fastest band in the world in terms of getting all the songs together and completing them. When it’s happening, it’s happening fast. But there are just periods in between where the smooth flow isn’t there and we have to step back or go at a slower pace. That’s just the way it is with Autolux. For this record, there was a period of a week or two where a lot of the basic ideas were written in a raw form. It was probably sometime in 2012; “Selectallcopy,” “Hamster Suite,” “Listen to the Order,” “Junk for Code,” and I think “Soft Scene” were written then. And getting a chorus for “Becker.” We could never find the right chorus or bridge. In the end, Boots got it on a deep level. He was a real fan. He knew both records backward and forward, so it gave him a unique perspective. He almost became a fourth member in that way. He could tell we wanted to move into some new territory and a sonic universe we hadn’t created before.
How did the band get hooked up with Boots in the first place?
It’s funny and fortuitous—somewhat like fate, as much as I despise that idea. I somehow, not having any interest in Beyoncé, aside from thinking she’s a beautiful, sexy woman, became interested in the record of hers that Boots worked on. I bought it when it came out because I liked the press story. I was blown away by Boots’ production and what possessed Beyoncé to all of the sudden to make an art record. The minimalism of songs like “Partition” really threw me. I immediately played it for Carla in our studio and she loved it too.
Then, Boots got in touch with us a few months later through our management. He talked to Carla and she told him what big fans we were. A week later, he was in our studio and we were playing him all the raw ideas. He infiltrated our world in a way that nobody else has ever come close to doing. We are usually pretty guarded playing early or raw demos but we knew he’d hear the value in anything no matter what form it was in. That was a great thing for us. He made it very clear to us that we had the whole record there. When the process takes so long, you can lose the bigger picture. If it all happens in one or two years, it’s easy to have the view of the whole body of song. When it stretches out over years like it does with us, it’s easy to lose it. He came in fresh.
How would you characterize this batch of songs? To my ears, there are definitely new experiments, like the beats and textures on “Soft Scene.”
That’s a great example. We started working on that from that beat. We were trying to do something very different than anything we’d done, and this was before we’d heard that Beyoncé record. Boots was a kindred spirit sonically. We wanted to stretch Autolux into that world a little bit. A lot of people might hear it as Boots’ influence on the record, but we were already going in that direction.
Can you think of a song that really changed once Boots came into the fold?
“Junk for Code” was actually a relatively straight-ahead guitar idea, with the same vocal melody that’s on the record. The rhythm track was very simple, and it bummed Carla out. I wanted the lyric to be on the record. We brought it to Boots and he loved something about it. He builds scaffolding around the structure you have. You think he’s going to go in and sandblast it, but what ends up happening is that he takes the whole structure down, and the scaffolding stays up. On that song, the vocal stayed but he completely removed the meaning of it by changing everything happening underneath. We were still able to create a chorus out of it. Chordally, you don’t really know where you are. The vocal floats over this strange groove.
The thing about this record that sets it apart is that when I look at each song, no matter how simple it is in terms of writing, the things that make it what it is are just so diverse. It’s such a synthesis of different ideas and subtle things that can turn it on its head. “Change My Head,” which is such a “song” song, is the oldest song by far. We’d already done two prior iterations of that song, as an early demo and a B-side. This is sort of another approach. In a lot of ways, this version is the least produced of the three. I think the lyric comes across more directly.
“Anonymous” was just a piano song I wrote and recorded on my computer quickly one day. I played it for Boots and Carla. To me it was a little ballad-y. Boots immediately jumped on it. He had an idea to use a rhythm track from “Soft Scene,” but slowed to half-speed. And sure enough, it worked as the underpinning of this piano song. He went to someone who had a reel-to-reel, put it on there, sped it down by half, brought it to the session and put it underneath. It was a great, spontaneous moment. Even Eugene’s bass slowed down worked. As the piano chords change and go from chorus to verse, the bass keeps doing this low, droning groove. We generally think we have pretty strange ears, and Boots was right there with us.
When did Autolux last play live? Are you guys starting to figure out how to play these new songs?
The Desert Daze festival, which I think was the beginning of 2014. We played a somewhat far-along version of “Soft Scene” and an early one of “Listen to the Order.” We’re getting into the translation process right now. My experience of it so far is that it seems like it will be more of a challenge than it is when we get into it. For the most part, the way the songs work between the rhythm and the vocal and whatever music is going on, they come across very easily in a live setting. We’ll figure it out. But we won’t need a bunch of tracks playing or anything like that. We have a good month-and-a-half of touring right off the bat, and then another leg up to Sasquatch. We’ll do Europe, and then Lollapalooza.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t get a Failure update from you. For fans who never got the see the band in the 90s, the reunion was a real thrill. Do you consider Failure an an ongoing concern at this point?
Right now, I’m focused on Autolux, but it’s not something that the book has been closed on at all. That’s the most I can say, but there’s no reason for me to think Failure won’t continue.
Autolux Tour Dates
03/16 – Phoenix, AZ @ Crescent Ballroom
03/17 – El Paso, TX @ Lowbrow Palace
03/21 – Houston, TX @ White Oak Music Hall – The Raven Tower
03/22 – Dallas, TX @ Club Dada
03/23 – Little Rock, AZ @ Revolution! Music Room
03/25 – Memphis, TN @ 1884 Lounge
03/28 – Atlanta, GA @ Terminal West
03/29 – Charlotte, NC @ Visulite Theater
03/30 – Raleigh, NC @ Lincoln Theatre
04/01 – Washington, DC @ Rock & Roll Hotel
04/02 – Philadelphia, PA @ Underground Arts
04/03 – Boston, MA @ Middle East Downstairs
04/05 – New York, NY @ Bowery Ballroom
04/07 – Toronto, Ontario @ Lee’s Palace
04/08 – Cleveland, OH @ Grog Shop
04/09 – Chicago, IL @ The Empty Bottle
04/10 – Minneapolis, MN @ Triple Rock
04/12 – Denver, CO @ Urban Lounge
04/13 – Salt Lake City, UT @ Urban Lounge
04/17 – Indio, CA @ Coachella Music Festival
04/24 – Indio, CA @ Coachella Music Festival
05/27-30 – George, WA @ Sasquatch! Music Festival
06/06 – Paris, FR @ La Maroquinerie
06/07 – Amsterdam, NL @ Paradiso
06/08 – Hamburg, DE @ Molotow
06/09 – Berlin, DE @ Lido
06/13 – London, UK @ ATP Pop-Up Venue
Jonathan Cohen knows way too much about 90s music. Follow him on Twitter.