Pink Reason
Here Comes the Sun
by Kevin J. Elliott

Hyperbole aside, way back in 2007 when Kevin Failure released Cleaning the Mirror, his debut album under the Pink Reason moniker, it really was a landmark for underground music. Though it was the progeny of a long lineage of downer psych and folk records from the likes of Jandek and Jim Shepard (and even farther back to Syd Barrett and Skip Spence), the record found an increased and intrigued audience due to the resurrection of the once legendary Siltbreeze and the subsequent shitstorm of lip service being given to the new harbingers of lo-fi the label was grooming (namely Times New Viking and Psychedelic Horseshit). Anyone, though, who dared enter the sprawling, miserable void that was Cleaning the Mirror knew clear and well that Pink Reason was nothing like its contemporaries. But what Pink Reason may have lacked in hooks and frivolous buzz, it more than compensated with a hypnotic sturm und drang of deeply personal blank blues. Once you tackled Cleaning the Mirror, you were a different man (or woman) indeed. Since that time, the record has become such a defining monument to one-man, do-it-yourself, folk-punk nihilism (and consequently has spawned a sea of imitators), that it has also become common belief that this would be the only full album to ever bear the Pink Reason name. In the time since Cleaning the Mirror’s release, there have always been the random (and welcomed) singles and whispered rumors that a follow-up was almost done, but there was also a sense that such a sequel would never see the light of day.

It’s fitting then that the finally released Shit in the Garden sounds bathed in morning sunlight. This is a different mood for Failure. It’s the kind of change that in real-time took four long years to produce and record. Such a shift was met with trials and tribulations, and you can hear it in every note. Shit in the Garden sonically projects the struggles of a nomadic songwriter, who can’t ever seem to get set on the proper path, but who often finds an intoxicating diversion, characterized on the record in lengthy, sludgy jams that ride each song into a state of flux. Are these extraneous hallucinations or the endpoint Failure had envisioned for Shit in the Garden’s six psychedelic entanglements all along? Whether it is the junkbox beats which skitter underneath the post-grunge wasteland of “Holding On” or the mammoth guitar waves that peak on the crystalline “Sixteen Years,” every twist and turn on Shit in the Garden has a purpose in Failure’s mental map.

I recently talked with Failure to discuss how that map has unfolded and, among other things, his thoughts on how the lo-fi renaissance, which he had a hand in launching, has evolved since those salad days.

I suppose the first question would be to ask why Shit in the Garden has taken so long to complete. There have been rumblings about it being done for more than a year now, so why were there are almost four years separating this and Cleaning the Mirror?

Kevin Failure: Things take time with me. Cleaning the Mirror took about three years for me to put together, and actually some of Shit in the Garden was written before I even finished Cleaning the Mirror. It’s been in a state of near completion for a very long time. I wasn’t completely happy with it, and I wasn’t in the right place to put the finishing touches on it. Living in New York made it very difficult to get things done and to record. But that’s how it is with me. Sometimes things happen really quickly and sometimes it can take forever.

Though I still find your music to be impenetrable for many listeners, I feel like this album is less of a downer. Songs like “Sixteen Years” and “Cranes Are Flying” almost sound speckled with sunshine compared to your other work. What do you think has been the biggest change between then and now, and do you think that change is reflected in Shit in the Garden?

KF: Before Cleaning the Mirror came out, there was no real audience for what I was doing. When I put out that album and there was a positive response, it really threw me for a loop. It’s what I really wanted, but at the same time, it put me in a position I wasn’t ready for. The music on that album was really dark and depressing, and once people are listening, it’s a big weight lifted off your shoulders, and you can’t continue to write from that place without being somewhat dishonest. It put me in a position where my life was going in a different direction. Some things haven’t changed at all, but now I’m just a much happier person. Lyrically, there are still some heavy themes, but musically, I’ve just wanted to do different things, hear different sounds and express different emotions with it. I feel that there were other things along the way that I recorded that didn’t fit on the album, didn’t fit the flow and got pushed onto other releases. Each album, each 7-inch is always one full thing for me. They’re not randomly slapped together. It might take five years to make a two-minute 7-inch. It all depends on how thing work together.

Then again, a recent review called the record “music for masochists,” and most of these songs do diverge into fairly atonal noise jams that are easy to get lost in. Is this just the nature of your songwriting and recording or is it more an intentional move on your part to contradict the prettier moments with an ugly, sludgy glaze?

KF: There’s not a whole lot in the songwriting process where I do things intentionally. It’s just the way it happens. When I’m recording I’m trying to turn my mind off completely and lock into something. Wherever that inspiration comes from you just try to connect to that current and not overanalyze things or think too much about what’s going on. That’s why I think my songs tend to be really long. Once you’re locked in you’re almost hypnotized. It’s seems a lot quicker than it is when you listen back.

The one-sheet for the record boasts that Cleaning the Mirror was one of the most influential albums of the past four years. Looking back, I’d tend to agree with that statement, but I’d love to know your thoughts why you think that is so?

KF: I didn’t write that. I wouldn’t write something like that myself, but if I was wasted, I might start ranting about how things really are different now than they were when Cleaning the Mirror came out. I can’t take credit for that, but I do think I played a part in that. You can look at the landscape of underground music today and see that it’s a lot different. Before Cleaning the Mirror came out, people would tell me, “I love the music, but I can’t release it because there’s no audience for this.” People would tell me that it was too undefined or that it wasn’t the right fidelity or it wasn’t garage rock or hardcore. Now it’s what everyone is trying to do. Everyone is trying to find their niche where they combine “x” with “y” and come out with something that is supposed to be unfamiliar. There are a lot of people who had a part in this and now, in a lot of ways, I think it has somewhat gotten away from us.

Back in 2007–08 you were connected to that camp of artists who were touted as being responsible for bringing back lo-fi and bringing Siltbreeze out of retirement. And now in 2011, both Times New Viking and Psychedelic Horseshit have made albums with increased fidelity. Do you still see a connection with those crews, with that aesthetic?

KF: I feel a connection with them on a personal level, but I never thought there was a great connection with our music. All of our bands had a very different sense of fidelity. Times New Viking is buried in static and fuzz and Psychedelic Horseshit is on a different thing completely. I never thought of them within a lo-fi context. It was more thrown together and half-assed, and in that way, it was beautiful. I don’t think Pink Reason had anything to do with whatever it was that people were getting from lo-fi. I think people got something very different out of it than what it meant to us. To me, it was purely economic. Now I’m not trying to reject lo-fi, but now as more tools become available to me, I better utilize them or else I’m being dishonest. I’m not going to pretend that I don’t have access to my buddy’s reel-to-reel now.

Your press sheet also says that you continue to use the “cheapest technology imaginable.” Is that a rule you stridently follow or do you ever have aspirations to go into a studio, work with a producer and up the ante sonically?

KF: I’d definitely like to go in to a studio, but a producer? I don’t know. I have never really been good at working with other people. I’m trying to work with other musicians to make Pink Reason more of a band. I’m always trying to do that, even if it’s difficult. The Almost Ready record (the Desperate Living EP) was recorded with a full band in a studio, and that’s how I would like to record the next record. I don’t want to keep on repeating myself.

The singles you’ve released in between albums have focused a lot more on your hardcore roots and your love of punk. Are your albums not the right place for those songs? Is it important for you to separate those spheres from each other? Do you prefer one over the other?

KF: It’s all equally important to me, but it’s harder to put together a good album of hardcore songs. It’s not that I’m trying to keep it all separate consciously, it’s just that certain things fit together a certain way like puzzle pieces. Every time I get some hardcore songs recorded, instead of saving them, they just are better to put out as singles. That’s just the way they fit. I would like to put out a full album of hardcore stuff, but it just hasn’t come to me yet where I’m able to do that.

I know you try to avoid naming influences, but for the sake of readers and listeners who don’t know what you do, I can only compare Shit in the Garden to Jim Shepard and his V-3 catalog. There’s a heavy Shepard vibe on this record. Do you care to comment on the inspiration he provides for your music?

KF: I first heard his name when someone referenced it in a review for Pink Reason. I started checking his music out right when I started making friends with people in Columbus over the internet. When I heard it, there was something about it that hit deeply. I don’t know if back then I had the balls to ever compare his music to mine, but it was definitely something that felt familiar. Over time, I’ve listened to it so much that I don’t know if I can even say that it’s an influence, but it’s very important music to me. To me, it connects very deeply with other music that was an influence to me. Jim Shepard and V-3 are not that far removed from Grazhdanskaya Oborona, and that stuff is not that far removed from Peter Jefferies. That kind of music just tends to resonate with me on a very personal level. It tends to transcend time and place.