No one's more shocked about Fury's second album, Failed Entertainment, than themselves. When the band started in 2014, the goal was to make a demo, play a couple of shows, and call it a day — standard practice for a hardcore band. But the band quickly realized that they didn’t have an interest in playing things straight; talking to vocalist Jeremy Stith and guitarist Madison Woodward, it’s clear that even though Fury still consider themselves an Orange County hardcore band, they’re doing things their progenitors never could — like making a good second album.
On Paramount, Fury lovingly replicated the sounds of bands like Uniform Choice and Unity, Orange County bands that were flying the flag of straight edge, helping establish the nebulous genre of youth crew alongside their New York City contemporaries. But with Failed Entertainment, Fury has taken those sounds to places their predecessors bands often struggled to reach. Uniform Choice’s 1988 album Staring Into The Sun is largely reviled for its shift toward alt-rock textures, emblematic of the confused late-’80s period that was plaguing many of the genre’s greats. Failed Entertainment threads that needle between a classic youth-crew sound and the elasticity of early-’90s Sub Pop releases — all without diminishing the band’s attack.
During a phone conversation with Stith and Woodward, they explain that once they decided to keep Fury going, the only choice they had was to blow out the walls and see what they could do without limitations. The result is Failed Entertainment, the title of which references the working title of David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest. Just like the bands they grew up referencing, Failed Entertainment will likely alienate people who only want songs they can mosh to — but that’s kind of the point. Failed Entertainment sets its ambitions high and delivers at every turn, proving that Orange County hardcore is alive and well — and so is Fury.
When did you start work on the new record?
JEREMY STITH: During our first European tour with Praise and Insist, I'd been talking to James [Vinciguerra] from Total Control for a while — he’d done some artwork for us and we’d become pen pals after meeting at an Orange County festival in 2015. They’re my favorite band, and on New Year’s Day he emailed me a poem that he'd heard the night before from Andrew Savage of Parquet Courts and Teenage Cool Kids.
He sent it to me because he thought I’d enjoy it, but I don’t think he realized that it'd really do me in — the same way that David Foster Wallace’s “This Is Water” speech had hit me. I kept thinking about it for a few days, and I really felt I had a lot more to say. On the way to our last show in France, I kicked Madi’s foot when we were in the van and was like, “What do you think about doing another record?” He was like, “Dude, I wasn’t going to tell you, but I’m ready to go. Let’s go.” It snowballed from there.
Your friends read chunks of that poem on the album. When did you decide to include that?
At the very end. I remember sitting with the record and feeling it wasn’t all the way done. I kept trying to think of why, and it hit me like a ton of bricks. I didn’t think Andrew would let us do it. I wanted as many of my friends involved with it as I could, so I told them to record themselves on their phone and just send it to me and I’d figure out a way to make it work. People will be surprised who's on there when they read the liner notes — a lot of familiar faces, and maybe not-so-familiar faces.
Was it important to find ways that expanded Fury’s sound that didn’t seem obvious?
It was really important. I’m desperate to not be alone. I have to ask myself all the time, “Why do I have this urge to scream?” How many times in your life do you scream? That’s very rare. I can’t be screaming just because I like hardcore — there had to be a bigger reason, and it’s because I don’t want to be alone. I genuinely don’t feel like I’m alone because of the people that go to our gigs, and my friends around the world that play this kind of music. They’re multifaceted, extremely beautiful, and intelligent people.
MADISON WOODWARD: It was about growing as a human. We started the band five years ago — and during that time, I’ve moved, found a partner who I live with, grown closer with my family and friends, lost some friends. It’s a whole different worldview, and with that comes latching onto records you haven’t listened to in years that hit you in this moment differently than they did when you were 16. It was about acquiring new things and leaving other things behind.
How did you get comfortable with Fury being a hardcore band without feeling limited by that descriptor?
It was inevitable, to be honest. When I started the band, I wanted it to be NYHC and Uniform Choice worship — a very specific era of hardcore — but we could only be that kind of band for so long before we expressed other views and influences that have started to blossom on this record. To be honest, when we started this band, I only wanted to do 7" releases — I never wanted to do an LP, let alone two. The fact that we’ve come this far was just inevitable.
When you’re writing a riff, you have an idea of how the audience is going to take it, and with this genre of music, you always want the audience to be high-energy. But I got more into the songwriting process and trying to create an overall better song. I was okay with putting in parts where everybody would just be standing around or taking breaks.
Jeremy, you’re writing impressionistically on Failed Entertainment about disconnection and the inherent transience of existence. How did you approach these themes without making them overly simplified or reductive?
STITH: I’m a terrible communicator in my real life. I had to let go of the biggest relationship in my life as I was doing this. I was writing about it before the relationship ended, but it wasn’t until reading it now that I understand what I was trying to say. I love art, movies, and music, and not just on a surface level — they really make me feel like I’m not alone. They really move me, and I just can’t be that guy that listens to Floorpunch for the rest of my life. Actually, I probably could. [Laughs] But I wanted to make something that was about everything I was going through, because I felt like I was going to go crazy if I didn’t get those things out. I went into it wanting to make something small, similar to how Paul Thomas Anderson wanted to make something small with Magnolia, but it turned into this three-hour epic.
I definitely don’t want it to seem like I’m just jerking off all these things I’ve seen or listened to — it’s quite the opposite. These are the things that really move me, and I really wanted to make something like that of my own. The vehicle I have in my life, with my friends, is this band. It's like an art project. I grew up in hardcore, but I never thought I’d be in a hardcore band. I’d gone to school for art, and I was trying to be an abstract painter. After that ship sailed, this was my outlet. I love the challenge of this genre — I love the constraints, it's such a juicy medium to express myself in this way. Obviously, there are guys like Ross [Farrar] from Ceremony and George [Hirsch] from Blacklisted who have been doing this for a decade, and I'm just trying to do that in my own way.
Was it hard finding a way to be an artist in the full sense of the word while knowing that certain people might not accept it as valid?
STITH: I wanted the album to be challenging — like a movie that you watch for the first time and just glides by, but on the 10th or 20th time around, there's something new. I wanted people to grow with it. I’d rather have just 10 people jump on board than 1,000 people just letting it go by. I like hiding in plain sight. I look at every single line on the record in 10 different ways. I want the things that I’m saying to be taken in a certain way that first time and maybe a different way the next time. If a pronoun is “You,” I’m just as much looking in a mirror as pointing to someone big. In my eyes, it’s a really political record. I didn’t want to beat people over the head with it, but I liked hiding it. I wanted it to be a challenge, because the things I’m talking about are still challenging to me, and I hope I continue to deal with them for as long as I’m alive.
You mentioned David Foster Wallace earlier. What strikes you about his work, and why did you want to draw a direct line back to him with this album?
STITH: I’m the billionth white, 20-something male to find a connection with Infinite Jest and David Foster Wallace — I’m sure people will scoff at that and I’m perfectly fine with that. He put a dent in how I see things and in how I think, and I always loved that phrase. I love the word “entertainment” — I love how it looked on the Gang of Four record, and I love that monologue at the beginning of Raging Bull where De Niro is talking about “That’s entertainment.” I’d written a line about failing to entertain — of failing to entertain certain thoughts. I feel connected to Burt Reynolds’ character Jack Horner in Boogie Nights. He’s trying to make this beautiful film in this, for lack of a better word, dirty world of pornography. He failed at it, but not without trying.