California’s Face To Face put out a little record 25 years ago on what was at the time a new little label called Fat Wreck Chords, founded by NOFX’s Fat Mike. With the mid-90s explosion of punk on the airwaves, the band found themselves with a surprise radio hit with their song “Disconnected” and jumped into the mainstream by signing a major label deal with A&M. Over the next quarter century they jumped from label to label, only to find out there’s really no place like home. The band have returned to Fat Wreck Chords for their ninth studio album Protection. Face To Face’s Trever Keith explains it wasn’t always a picnic for the band in the early days. And even harder once they were on the verge of success.
FACE TO FACE IS BACK ON FAT WRECK CHORDS? THAT’S EXCITING!
Trever: It’s crazy how much things come back around. We’re back on Fat Wreck Chords, which is a full circle move for us.
We put our first record out on Fat. Now they’ve been around 25 years, and we’re celebrating our 25th anniversary as a band this year. It just really makes perfect sense.
It’s been a very interesting ride coming from obscurity to having a radio single (with ‘Disconnected’) and the spotlight, and then trying to figure out how to make the most of that, but then still continue a career. I’m proud of the fact that we’re in our 25th year and we just made what is probably our best punk rock record.
We recorded the new record, Protection, at the Blasting Room in Fort Collins with Bill Stevenson (of the Descendents) and Jason Livermore. It was cool to make a record with one of my punk rock heroes and to have him collaborate on songs and melodies and all that stuff. So that was a blast. I think it’s the most focused punk rock album that we’ve ever made. We looked back at our first three albums and tried to tap into that energy, just a good aggressive energy.
KROQ-FM RADIO IN LOS ANGELES STILL PLAYS YOUR RADIO SINGLE ‘DISCONNECTED’ ON A REGULAR BASIS. YOU’VE WRITTEN A GREAT BODY OF WORK SINCE THEN, BUT THAT SONG STILL RESONATES AND REALLY BROKE FACE TO FACE THROUGH THE GLASS CEILING OF THE PUNK ROCK SCENE. WHEN YOU WERE WRITING IT, DID YOU KNOW, “HEY, THIS SONG IS SOMETHING!”
No. I really don’t think that we did.
Before Face To Face, as teenagers growing up in the desert, we were playing metal and trying to be Iron Maiden. When we turned away from that pirate rock sound, we knew we wanted to do something different. We didn’t start off super Punk Rock, we were more New Wave, for lack of a better description. It started with trying to emulate the Cure and Psychedelic Furs. We lived in the (California) High Desert and we started going down to shows at the Barn and Spanky’s in Riverside and seeing bands like Guttermouth and Voodoo Glow Skulls. And we were getting inspired by that movement. Cooler people were having us check out Descendents and Bad Religion, and I remember someone was really stoked to show me that Fugazi record Repeater. Then we started getting a little more aggressive with our music. But we were never a hardcore band.
I hate to say it, but ‘Disconnected’ was an amalgamation of the music I was listening to that had influenced me so much. But it was so new (to us) that it wasn’t like a blatant direct rip off. There’s some Descendents in there, a little Fugazi, specifically the song Styrofoam. That chi-n-uh-chi riff was us just trying to play off of the Fugazi song. When you run those influences through the filters and they come back the way that we could play it, it just sort of came out that way.
But I will say this, when we started writing the song, we were all in the room together and just playing. Matt (Riddle), the bass player and I were playing the parts independent of one another, and in the weirdest way, it came together and just happened. It happened very quickly. No one labored over the song, no one was sitting in the practice room for hours going, “What if we put this bridge here?” I remember everything fell into place quickly, almost as if we knew what the song was already. The inspiration was so immediate that it just kind of fell into place. A good song just comes together. So maybe in that regard we sort of knew that it was a good song.
We really didn’t know it could get on the radio.
IT SOUNDS LIKE IT’S REALLY IMPORTANT TO HAVE A BROAD BASE OF MUSICAL INFLUENCES AND NOT JUST PIGEONHOLE YOURSELF WITH ONE GENRE.
That’s totally accurate. And that isolation of living up in the desert and not being exposed to a lot of the bands. If we wanted to go to a record store and find punk rock records we had to drive for an hour. And then you had to know people who were even into it. There were maybe half a dozen punks at my high school, and they had Dead Kennedys records and that was the extent of it. What I really fell in love with was pop punk. And it was happening right under my nose. I just didn’t know where to find it.
We didn’t have the internet back then. We lived in the desert. In my defense, we were isolated.
As adults now having lived with the internet it’s almost hard to comprehend what it was like before it existed. We toured before the internet. You really had to search things out. Punk rock used to be a series of all these scenes in different parts of the country. It was really cool because it was regional. That was incredible about going on tour. You’d arrive in Seattle, or Chicago in the Midwest, or New York or Florida or Texas, and there were these very specific scenes, certain bands came out, there was a sound that went with each region, and there were fanzines that were from those regions that talked about those bands. You got a real sense into what to expect from these cities. When you rolled into the Midwest scene you’d hear Naked Raygun. It had a real vibe about it.
As great as it is to have a global community with the internet, there is something special about how the different scenes were because people were isolated to some extent. I had that growing up in the desert. We didn’t have constant exposure to what was going on musically around us, so it felt like we were creating brand new things. And then you later get a frame of reference, and then you go, “Oh, ok, well maybe we were ripping the band off, I guess.”
IN FRANCE, THEY CALLED IT AN ‘HOMAGE.’
Exactly. But an “homage” is having the knowledge of what you’re ripping off. We didn’t really know. We thought we were doing something new. But there’s not a whole lot new to do in Rock ’N’ Roll. Somebody has probably already done it before, whether you knew it or not. So we had this excitement for creating something that we felt was new and unique. Even thought it might not have been. Had we lived in L.A., there would have been tons of people around to tell us, “Oh yeah, you sound like the such and such.” We didn’t have that.
IGNORANCE IS BLISS.
It happens. It definitely happens. Now it’s a bit of a game trying to figure out how much you can borrow without ripping it off entirely.
I’M SURE YOU HAVE A CACHE OF BAD GIGS UNDER YOUR BELT. WHAT’S THE WORST GIG YOU CAN RECALL?
There’s millions of them. I try to only remember the good ones.
Some of those early shows were poorly attended. Those are the ones that are really bad for me. If you’re not in the band, it’s hard to know how that feels. It feels really crappy when you’re in the band and nobody comes. The only time we ever played in Indianapolis, we played in a youth center off of a university, and only 4 or 5 people turned up to it. It was a show we maybe should have skipped. Afterwards the promoter was like, “That show was so awesome. Thanks for playing even though it was poorly attended.” We were like, “Yeah cool. You said you were going to give us some money.” And he was like, “Ah dude, I don’t have any money.” I remember we followed him to the ATM and he took $40 bucks out and paid us some gas money so we could get to the next city. That was pretty grim. But I think almost every band has a story like that.
Well, shit. That reminds me of one of the worst shows ever. We played a show that was billed as Board in Orange County/South Bay. It was Bad Religion and tons of bands on. The 90s were a weird time where if you were a punk band but you had a song on the radio everyone called you a sell out, and this was during that period. So we take the stage, and people start yelling “Sell Out” at us, which baffled me because we were on stage with other bands that had bigger radio hits than us.
Then people were throwing coins at us. And I was just a smart ass and said, “You guys can’t hit the broadside of a barn,” which was a terrible thing for me to say because then so many coins came up onto the stage. They were hitting us in the face and the eyes. It hurt really bad.
After the show the stage guys were sweeping up quarters and they made like $20/$30 bucks. Maybe more. Maybe it was $100 bucks. I don’t know. But they were stoked and pocketing the money.
Then during that set, the guy with the Offspring that did the “You gotta keep em separated” little voice-over part of the song, he took it upon himself out of nowhere,to come running at me from behind and ram into me from the back. I never even got a look to even know what was happening.
I flip over the monitors and go flying down the stage and land on the ground below. We are on a big stage 8 feet high with a barricade that’s like 10 or 15 feet back from the stage. It’s not like a club punk rock show where people are getting on stage and everyone is going crazy. It was more of a controlled festival environment.
And I flipped end over end with my guitar on and landed on my hip, and my guitar got busted. Luckily I wasn’t more seriously hurt. I did bruise up pretty good. It really sucked.
We were playing for one of the biggest crowds we had ever played to, and I thought everything was going pretty well up until that point. That was a pretty bad gig, getting totally bulldozed off the stage by the Keep ‘em Separated guy. That was one of the worst shows. It was super lame of him to do that.
Here’s how much things keep on coming around on themselves. Not long after that show, we ended up getting a new drummer named Pete (Parada). He stayed with us all the up to our hiatus in 2004. And then while we were on hiatus, Pete joined the Offspring! Hahaha! And the Offspring are still out there going strong, too.
FOR THE MOST PART, IT SEEMS LIKE THE PUNK ROCK COMMUNITY HAS WARMED UP TO FACE TO FACE, AND YOU’VE REALLY WON THEM OVER.
Punk rock is an interesting community that has been supportive of us, but has also flipped us off and thrown quarters and dimes and nickels at us.
Face To Face will be playing Groezrock in Belgium on Aril 30th, Punk Rock Bowling in Las Vegas on May 30th, and at the Lost Highway Fest at the Sam Manuel Amphitheater in San Bernardino, California on July 23rd.
Protection is out now on Fat Wreck Chords.