Bummers in full bloom: Ann Arbor's Failed Flowers

You'd not be faulted for calling Ann Arbor's Failed Flowers a local supergroup, seeing as Fred Thomas, Miles Haney, Autumn Welti, and Erin Davis have been in such truly essential area bands as Saturday Looks Good To Me, Rebel Kind, Swimsuit, Endless, City Center, and Bad Indians.

One of the band's singer-guitarists, the enigmatic Fred Thomas, talks about the past, present, and future of one of the area's most buzzed-about acts, as told to the Metro Times.

The band got together because of a conversation Miles and I had about (U.K. indie-pop label) Sarah Records. We had been roommates and before that had done shows together, more or less meeting when I was living in New York and did a big noise show his solo thing Evenings played on. We've been good friends for a long time and have jammed together but never really thought about having a band until we started talking about twee, C86, and other more soft-hearted offshoots of punk. I've been into that stuff since my teen years and have played on a bunch of K Records releases. But it was cool to see my friend who mostly made intense or difficult music coming to it with a new perspective.

We talked to our friends Erin and Autumn and half-jokingly said, "Let's have a twee band." We got together a few times and had seven songs by our third practice. This was in June. We played our first show in July, and I set up mics at our practices to record everything, eventually adding vocal overdubs to the best takes of our songs. Sometimes the band wasn't even aware we were recording because I just let the tape roll. These eight songs became our demo, which was recorded in my living room in August and released a week or so later.

"Failed Flowers" comes from a line in an Emily Dickinson poem; Miles had the idea to use it as a band name. When we started, there was maybe a little more jokey feeling about being as twee as possible. So we had a bunch of really awful band name ideas. We settled on "Summer Crush" at first, which is just irrevocably bad. We realized pretty quickly that a twee ideal was just a jumping off point, and we dropped that and all of its trappings pretty quickly.

Everyone in the band has been super close for a really long time. We've all lived together, worked jobs together, and been in bands together for years. Failed Flowers is a good culmination of everyone's strengths. I can't remember exactly when Autumn and I met, but I know it was when I'd just moved back from New York about five years ago. She eventually started playing with Bad Indians and when she began playing her own songs live solo as Rebel Kind, I offered to record her and put an album out. That ended up being Laurel Canyon, her totally solo thing before Rebel Kind became a trio. But that's around the time we started working on music together.

Everyone introduces song skeletons and those basics get filled out in collaborative jams. It's pretty instinctual, how we write songs. I'm really excited about bands with two singers — singing lots and lots of lyrics in harmony for the entire duration of the song — so I'm always pushing for that. When the voices and music all get numbingly blurred together, I love that.

There have been outright offers and lots of curious attention from a lot of labels who want to release our record. It's really flattering and cool, if somewhat premature. We presently have no label and no plans on who would release an album for us. It still might make more sense to do it ourselves. It's a strange age for record labels, and for how music gets around. Our demo was put up on Bandcamp on a Tuesday and there was a really glowing Pitchfork write-up about it by the end of the week. This meant so many more people heard about the band than would have regularly. And lots of them gave it a chance, liked it based solely on that one write-up.

Hopefully this year we'll finish up our album and do a West Coast tour. Our tape has done really well; we've sold a hundred or more. A lot of bands release everything they record and have a new tape of every practice, rough idea, and live show. We just didn't want to do that. Our demo was deliberately going to be our only thing available until there was something else, and widely, cheaply available in no limited fashion.

About The Author

Mike McGonigal

Metro Times music editor Mike McGonigal has written about music since 1984, when he started the fanzine Chemical Imbalance at age sixteen with money saved from mowing lawns in Florida. He's since written for Spin, Pitchfork, the Village VOICE and Artforum. He's been a museum guard, a financial reporter, a bicycle...
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