Los Angeles has played a vital role in the history of punk rock in America. From the resurgence of hardcore in the early 80s to iconic local scenes like Nardcore, Los Angeles’ music underbelly has always been a welcome contrast to the city’s glamorous (and commercial) sheen of the pop industry. Through the 90s it became the hotbed for the punk explosion, as labels from Epitaph Records to Reprise Records found incredible success from the goldmine of California punk. Their artists became the sound of the genre’s mainstream persona that would end up changing the landscape of popular music.
Punk in LA continues to thrive amongst the gloss, a scene ever-changing with the city but one that remains close to its roots. LA-based punk band Failing Up have called the city home since their formation in 2015, and have found that even though it is filled to the teeth with artists trying to establish themselves, they have found community and comradeship amongst LA’s punks.
Fresh from the release of their new EP, the terrific Sword and the Wall, we spoke to Tanya, Adam, and Ben from the band and corresponded about Los Angeles, the importance of community, their new EP, and what it is like being a punk band in 2019 LA.
Congrats on the new EP- how does it feel now that it’s out?
Tanya: Feels good now that we are finally done and it’s out. We put a lot of work into it, and we are really looking forward to continuing to write more music.
The reception to the EP has been good so far- how do you all respond to the positive feedback?
Ben: I have trouble dealing with praise sometimes. I guess that’s a thing for a lot of artists, to be super self-critical. But I’m getting better at it.
Tanya: It has been surreal. We put a lot of hard work into Sword and the Wall and we are super proud of this release. It has a lot of cool sounds that represent us as a whole and it is a good push to write more.
Tell us how Failing Up came together. How did you all meet? Are you all originally from Southern California?
Ben: We all come from different places, but we met here in LA. I met Tanya in 2015, when I auditioned for a band that she was singing for called The Newports. We played in that band together for just under a year, until things sort of fell apart. After she quit, she approached me and asked if I wanted to collaborate on a new project. I said yes, and we got to work right away writing what would become the first Failing Up songs. Adam joined shortly after, and that’s when our sound really started to take shape.
Adam: I saw Ben and Tanya play in a band opening up for our buddies Rayner from my hometown, Las Vegas, and was impressed with their vocal delivery. A few months later, I saw an ad they posted for a guitarist in a new project, and I hit them up. The rest is history as they say.
Tanya: Adam came to audition, and we hit it off super well. We played with different drummers in the past, but it was just last year when Andy joined Failing Up, and he blew me out of the water with his versatility and style. I grew up in Puerto Rico, so punk music wasn’t necessarily the norm on such a small island. I’m super stoked to be in this small DIY scene.
How did you get into punk? What were the bands and the records?
Tanya: When I first started listening, I was only exposed to mainstream punk bands. It was only several years ago that I was introduced to the DIY scene that I love so much now.
Adam: For me it started with Green Day’s Dookie, The Offspring’s Smash and Bad Religion’s Against the Grain. There are countless other records that have influenced me but those 3 were the first!
Ben: I started listening to punk back in the sixth grade. It was the first genre of music that I really felt connected with. Misfits, Operation Ivy, Dead Kennedys, and NOFX were all in heavy rotation. I’ve grown to appreciate other types of music over the years, but punk will always be my first love.
Failing Up have been around for a few years only, but from the first release you seem to gel really well together. What would you say has been working really well for you?
Tanya: Personally, I think the ability to communicate and respect each other’s creative ideas has worked really well for me in the past, and I try to incorporate that in our newer releases.
I was in LA a few years ago- as a tourist, doing tourist things- but I found it very sprawling. I used to live in Stockton (terrible place), so it was tiny in comparison. I know LA has a historic place in punk history, but what is it like for bands and punks today?
Ben: It’s very cool to be in a place with so much history. But it can also be tough sometimes because there’s so much going on. On any given night, there might be multiple punk shows happening across town. So it can be hard to get people’s attention.
Tanya: It can definitely be challenging for DIY punk bands to grow within the scene. But we have a lot of friends who are in LA-based punk bands and that makes the community awesome.
Is it a good place for young bands to record, play shows and meet likeminded people?
Ben: Definitely a great place to meet like-minded people. We are really fortunate to have so many talented friends in the scene, and we all try to support each other whenever we can.
Tanya: LA has a lot to offer in terms of venues that cater to live music. There are so many rad places where you can go record, whether it’s a live video at a studio, or recording some awesome material for future band work. We have a lot of friends in the scene who are down to earth and likeminded. Any of the DIY punk events that you go to in LA allow for opportunities to meet other musicians or people who genuinely enjoy the music and company.
Next time I’m in LA, where do I go to check out some bands or even do simple things like, find a cool record store?
Tanya: Support the local scene! My advice is to look through any local shows nearby on social media.
Ben: Five Star Bar or The Redwood are good places to check out local bands. Amoeba is king of the record stores. But also make sure to check out Headline Records on Melrose. It’s a small shop, but they have a lot of hard-to-find punk and hardcore.
You guys recently played with Naked Aggression- how was that?
Tanya: It was a great experience. They are awesome people who have great energy both on and off stage and are super solid musicians.
Ben: They’re veterans on the scene, so obviously we look up to their work ethic and their ability to stay relevant. Plus, they’re super nice people! We’ll be doing some more shows with them for sure.
I love the album art on your records- they were done by Amy Pate?
Adam: Yes! Thank you. Amy is an old friend of mine from Las Vegas. We used to play shows together with my old bands. Check out her art on Instagram @tattooer_amy_pate, and her bands, Sounds of Threat, Candy Warpop, and Child Endangerment.
Musically, Sword and the Wall is an absolute punch in the face (like “Deal With This”) but you also switch things up a little with tracks like “The Method”. Did you approach the songwriting a certain way, wanting to get a specific sound, how did it all come together?
Ben: I always liked the idea of having some variety in the sound. I don’t want Failing Up to easily fit into any subgenre of punk. We all contribute to songwriting so that helps to mix it up a bit.
Adam: I actually wrote the core music for “The Method” about 5 years ago, and it had a few different renditions before it found traction in Failing Up. We have different ideas and interpretations as musicians that make everything sort of fall into place, rather than achieving a specific “sound”.
Do you guys do everything DIY? Booking, marketing, merch, etc?
Tanya: Absolutely, all aspects are a collective effort amongst the band. It can be challenging sometimes, but it is a good learning experience and you get to meet such amazing people that are always willing to help, whether they help you set up a show if you’re touring, or even housing you for the night.
Ben: We get by with a little help from our friends, but we have no manager or anything like that.
I know the EP just came out, but is there a full length in the works, and what are some of your plans for 2019?
Tanya: We are currently working on new music for a full-length album. We have some shows coming up locally, as well as a mid-summer tour on the West coast. Writing the full length this year is a priority, while also working on the momentum of shows and potential tours for the rest of the year.