Failure Machine: grunged-up soul

Failure Machine

Reno garage soul band Failure Machine is, from left, Harold Mahoney, Zac Curtis, Clint Philbin, Pierre Cirac and Spencer Kilpatrick.
Tim Parsons / Tahoe Onstage

It might be called Failure Machine, but this band is working its ass off.

Hailing from Reno, the self-described “garage soul” group has cranked out original music and toured the West Coast for two years, expanding its membership and its sound along the way.

Failure Machine is Spencer Kilpatrick (vocals, guitar), Clint Philbin (drums), Harold Mahoney (alto sax), and Zac Curtis (trumpet). The four share a dedication to classic soul music, done up in their own style. Adam Carpenter plays bass on the latest EP. Pierre Cirac plays in the live shows.

“We call it garage soul. It’s basically just a grunged-up take on mid-60s soul, Stax records, Motown, things like that,” Kilpatrick said. “We’re all really into Wilson Pickett and Otis Redding; so we try to write with that pop sensibility, but we have the instrumentation of a rock band.”

What began as a duo of Kilpatrick and Philbin, Failure Machine is joined by a number of “part-time” members, friends from the Reno music scene.

One core commitment of the group has been releasing a steady diet of new material to its fans, with eight EP releases in Failure Machine’s relatively short history. The most recent debut was March 27 at Shea’s Tavern in Reno, a dual EP drop of “F.M.A.S. (Failure Machine Ain’t Shit)” and “EP II,” released digitally, on CD, and as “A” and “B” sides on a cassette, of all things.

The idea to use an actual tape arose out of fan feedback on recent Failure Machine tours of the Western United States.

“We had been asked about that on our last couple tours,” Kilpatrick said. “In L.A. and Phoenix, and Portland and Seattle, those kinds of places, tapes are getting kind of hot, which was insane to me. It didn’t make any sense to me, but I figured if the draw was there, let’s do that.”

For Failure Machine, EP releases are the most sensible way to constantly provide new songs to its listeners.

“The reason we’ve only done EP’s is, every time we get a certain group of songs, they’re so cohesive with that time that we wrote them, that we think ‘OK, we’ll release this as a snapshot of where the band is right now,’” Kilpatrick said.

Audience feedback is a key part of FM’s song development process.

“As soon as we write something, we start playing it live, and then based on reactions we get from the crowd we’ll change the arrangement and some of the voicing,” Kilpatrick said. “Then we’ll go back into the basement during rehearsal and we’ll kind of figure out what we liked, what we didn’t like and we’ll go into the studio.”

Another element is speed; the group wastes no time in moving songs along from concept to recording. The oldest material on the dual March EP was eight months old at the time of release, Kilpatrick said.

“As soon as we write something that we think communicates what the band wants to communicate, then we get to the studio regularly,” he said.

This pace of production allows Failure Machine to constantly vary its onstage offering. This most recent batch has been well-received, both at Reno shows and on the road.

“It’s been great. We’ve been playing it for awhile before we recorded it, so it’s kind of a staple of what we’re doing,” Kilpatrick said. “Only a couple of songs from our earlier releases are still in the main set.”

While EPs have been a tried-and-true method of releasing material, the group is currently exploring the idea of a full length album.

“We started on what we think is going to be our first full-length album,” Kilpatrick said. “We got three tracks down and thought, ‘these can be part of something larger than we’ve done in the past.’ ”

Tim Parsons / Tahoe Onstage

About Josh Sweigert

Josh grew up on the California coast with a deep appreciation for bluegrass and string band music as well as the great outdoors. A guitarist and singer, he plays solo acoustic gigs in South Lake Tahoe.

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