Interview with Trever Keith of Face to Face

Photo: Brandon Osborn

It’s been nine years since their last studio album, but punk rock veterans Face to Face are kicking things back into gear with their latest release, ‘Laugh Now, Laugh Later.’ The long-awaited album is another solid offering of the punk rock mastery which has kept their beloved fans at their side for all this time. After reuniting in 2008, the California-based band played massive gigs like Australia’s Soundwave Festival in 2009 and the Vans Warped Tour in 2010. With the four-piece back on the road this year and a killer new full-length in stores, Face to Face show they still have enough energy to take over the world.

Rock Edition caught up with Face to Face frontman Trever Keith right before the band’s show at New York City’s Best Buy Theater. Check out what Trever had to say about the band’s new record and more below.

Back in 2006, you said the idea of a reunion tour wasn’t too appealing. Since then you’ve played Soundwave in Australia, and you did Warped Tour last year. What changed your mind?

When we originally broke the band up, the idea behind it was that — especially Scott and I — wanted to focus on some other kinds of projects that we never had the opportunity to do. It was probably a bad idea to go for the full break up since many other bands just put the hiatus thing on. But, at the time, we felt like what we had to do was a break up so that people would take our other projects seriously. In hindsight, that probably was a mistake. We took the time to make other records and try some other stuff creatively. Ultimately, we just realized that we really missed Face to Face. [The band] is sort of a unique thing that all of us have in common and we couldn’t recreate it with any of the other projects, so it sort of left a bit of a void. I mean, that’s really the bottom line. We went, “Well, we all get along, and we still like each other.” I also kept in touch with Scott [Shiflett] through the whole time we weren’t active, so we were like, “Is there any good reason for us not to be doing Face to Face?” We couldn’t come up with any reason not to.

And, you know, show offers had continued to come in through the whole time of the break up. At first we were like, “No, no, no!” And the producer was like, “How much are you offering?” So I’d gotta be lying if I said that wasn’t a factor too. Just the fact that we were able to do it full-time and that we’re lucky enough that there’s enough of a demand to keep us doing it full-time — we’re like, “Why are we fighting this?” It just makes good sense and we all love doing it. It all came about in baby steps. And, yeah, you’re right, I said stuff like, “I don’t really like the idea of a reunion tour” and then I said, “Well, we’d probably never make another record but we’re just gonna do a few shows.” Everything’s kind of come back incrementally. I’m trying to learn from my mistakes and not speak in absolutes about anything that would concern Face to Face for the future because I think it’s better to leave your options open and just see how things go.

How did you decide which songs to play on this tour?

It’s not difficult. Over the years, we’ve kind of been able to weed out the songs that work better and don’t fly and get a feel for what the audiences want to hear the most. [The good ones] just end up staying on the set year after year. We’re sneaking in about three or four new songs on this tour. I think for now, until the record’s had a moment to get out and connect with people, that’s probably enough to give everyone a taste without changing the momentum of the show too much.

This is your first studio album since 2002, so it’s been 9 years — are you fearful at all that people may not remember you guys?

I’ve not been fearful that people wouldn’t remember us. Other people have asked if I was fearful that people wouldn’t like the new record, but you just can’t operate like that as an artist. If you live in fear of those kinds of things, you’ll never do anything. I try to not let that be a factor in anything. A lot of our hardcore fans have gotten older right along with us and they’ll support us till the day they die. There’s also a certain portion of our fanbase that have gotten older and they don’t like going out to shows so much anymore and don’t really care about buying records. They’ve moved onto other things, and that’s just the way life goes. As an artist and a musician and a band, you just have to try to find ways to get music to people.

There’s a track on ‘Laugh Now, Laugh Later’ called “It’s All About You.” Is that about a specific person or experience?

It’s called “It’s Not All About You” actually. It was called “It’s All About You” in the beginning and then I changed it. No, it’s not really about anyone in particular, it’s more of just a commentary on the selfish nature of a lot of people that I’ve encountered in my life. That song fits several people that I’ve known. But, no, it’s not about anyone in particular.

How do you think punk music and the punk scene has changed since you started out?

Well, it’s changed an awful lot. We came in during — I don’t even know what you call it — maybe the fourth wave of punk rock? At least at that time, in that early ’90s kind of pop punk resurgence, there were still a lot of things about punk rock that hadn’t changed. It was before the internet, cell phones, and all that kind of stuff. There were still very clear scenes in different parts of the country. We went to Chicago and that was a different scene from the scene in New York, or the scene in Philly or DC. Largely, that’s gone away because with the internet everyone’s connected instantly. What hasn’t changed is the true spirit of what punk rock is. I don’t think a lot of the kids that have bands on the Warped Tour, for example, are really playing punk rock anymore. But, there are a few pockets here and there. There are some labels that still put out punk rock records and there are younger bands that are still doing punk rock stuff, but it doesn’t dominate the independent or underground scene the way that it did in the early to mid ’90s. It’s more like hardcore, metal, screamo, and stuff like that.

Face to Face recently released a split with Rise Against. How did you end up collaborating with them?

Yeah, actually that just came out last week. I knew the guys from 88 Fingers Louie going way back. Zach [Blair], who was an old friend of ours who played in a band called Hagfish that we toured with extensively, joined Rise Against maybe a year or two ago. Once I found out he was in the band and we were gonna do a festival together I was like, “Oh man, I’m so stoked to see Zach!” So we got together and hung out a little bit, and then we were talking about doing some sort of project together and the split 7″ thing came up. They were open to it, and I think it was a cool thing for us to do. For them, it’s good because at least some of the dudes in the band are fans and like our records, and we like the stuff they’re doing too. Obviously, they’re a newer band, so it was a smart thing for us to do to kind of help remind people that we’re still here and what the relevance is between our bands.

With the new record, did you get a chance to try stuff you never really did before?

Not too much, but with every record we try to do some stuff we’ve never done before. It can be as simple as just changing the way that we record the album or the type of studio we put ourselves in. Without getting too overly technical, I like to try to find ways of putting limits and boundaries on our recordings so that it forces us to work within a framework that will affect the sound of the record. For this one, we didn’t work with Chad Blinman, who mixed the live record and did everything for ‘How to Ruin Everything.’ He moved to Boston, so that made it logistically impossible to do the record with him. We hooked up with my friend Joby [J. Ford] who plays guitar in The Bronx. They bought a studio in Van Nuys — the band did, with one of their advances -– and Joby runs it and is the engineer there. I was working on another record for a band that I was producing and Joby was like, “Dude, why don’t you come and record the record here?” It’s a smaller project studio, but I like the challenge of trying to get good big drum sounds out of a small room. All of his gear is super nice, he just doesn’t have a lot of it, which kind of put different constraints on the recording. Where we spent the bulk of our money — ’cause we recorded the record and paid for it on our own without a label — was on a mixer. We were lucky enough to get Joe Barresi to mix it, and he did an awesome job. It sounds really good and we’re super stoked.

Today it seems like advances don’t really happen much. Labels aren’t putting money out there and saying to the bands, “Okay, we trust you guys, spend this!”

No, that’s really not happening to a large degree. [‘Laugh Now, Laugh Later’ was put out through] my label, which is an independent label and really an imprint more than anything, so we still needed to find a distribution and marketing company. We waited to do that until after the record was done so we didn’t have anyone breathing down our neck or whatever. They still want you to pay for it. They’re not going to give you an advance, but most labels will be happy to do a deal with you and give you no money and let you pay for the album while they’re still calling all the shots while you do it. [laughs] So we wanted to take that out of the equation completely. We made the record on our own, and then went looking for a partner.

Do you think your style has changed since ‘Don’t Turn Away’?

Yes and no. There are key elements that I think we try to be aware of and that we’re sensitive to that make Face to Face what it is. We have certain signature things in our songwriting and our arrangements that I think are important for us to keep repeating and make an element of our music. The challenge is to write new sounding music and to come up with new melodies and new things, but to also keep it in a sonic framework that is still reminiscent of a Face to Face sound, which at its core, is pretty basic. It’s really about the energy and the heart more than about shredding riffs or super complicated arrangements. As long as we can keep that intensity, I think that’s a constant. What has changed about the band’s sound is that songs will sound different after playing together for a long time. If we play a song like “I Want” tonight, for example, it’s not going to sound a whole lot like it did 15 years ago because you just get better at playing songs over time. As you do them over and over again, you might change a little thing here or there and then you get stuck in that. There are little things we’ve picked up over the years that just become a part of the way we play songs live. I think that’s better ultimately, but it’s a little less rough around the edges. You get a little more polished the more you do it.

Do you see yourselves going on another tour 20 more years down the road?

Twenty years? Jesus, I’ll be in my sixties! You know what, back to your earlier question: never say never. I can’t speak in absolutes about anything, so I don’t know. We’re having the best time ever right now. We just put out a new album, so we’d like to keep promoting this record for at least a couple years before we start thinking about more material. The goal right now is just to play lots of shows. While we were out of Face to Face, we realized that the most important part about what we had was the shared experience with the fans. We really do have this amazing connection with our fanbase that I wouldn’t say no other band has — ’cause plenty of other bands have it — but we’re not the kind of band that has singles on the radio or commercial success. We have an almost religious fanbase, and there’s a real shared experience that we’ve really learned to value, especially during our time off. As long as we continue to remain relevant to those people and we’re able to do something meaningful with them, we want to keep doing that as long as that can continue to happen.

Pick up Face to Face’s new record Laugh Now, Laugh Later.

For the band’s upcoming tour dates, check out their official website.