Other than a brief hiatus beginning in 2005, Face To Face have been going strong since 1991, historically known as ‘the year punk broke’. This slogan was mainly attributed to Nirvana after the release of their landmark Nevermind album. Punk didn’t really break till ’94 though, when The Offspring, Rancid and Green Day became global phenomenons. But it’s fitting that Face To Face’s mark on punk music history can be traced back to that fortuitous year. A year later they released their debut album Don’t Turn Away on the new Fat Wreck Chords label out of San Francisco. The rest, as they say, is history.
Face To Face as a band is as synonymous with great punk music as any of the bands that laid the foundations of the genre in the 90’s.
It’s lucky for us then, that their hiatus only lasted a couple of years and their creative output since has been so solid and welcome.
We had a chance to speak with singer/guitarist Trevor Keith about the band’s history and their newest album Protection. Their first album released on Fat Wreck in nearly 25 years.
Your last album Three Chords and a Half Truth saw you guys trying some new things. This album feels more raw, like you were reconnecting to a previous era.
Trevor: When we make records we just kind of write how we’re feeling at the moment, what we were inspired to write. Three Chords was a fun record to make and we liked the songs. But we quickly noticed that, even though we were really into the songs and it was the kind of punk rock we were influenced by, it wasn’t representative of the kind of punk rock that our fans liked. So since that was a little bit off the target, we made a bit of a conscious effort to go back toward making a record that was a little more true to the Face To Face sound.
How did you get yourselves into that head space?
Trevor: Well, we went back and revisited our older records and set up those Triple Crown shows were we only played our first three albums. I wouldn’t say it was super deliberate, but we did try to get ourselves back in that head space of what it was like when we were starting out. And I think it definitely ended up rubbing off on the songwriting and the style of the songs. But the production was really left up to Bill Stevenson and Jason Livermore at The Blasting Room. They have a lot to do with the way the record actually sounds and the rawness you were talking about.
Yeah Bill and Jason are to0 punk now, what Ryan Greene was to punk in the 90’s, right?
Trevor: Except they make good sounding records, ohhhhhh! (laughs)
Oh man. I’ll leave that out of the interview.
Trevor: No, I’m kidding. That’s actually not so much a dig on Ryan Greene as it is to say I think that Bill and Jason are doing far better work.
Agreed. I’ve heard from other bands that those guys are work horses over there. How was your experience, a lot of twelve hour days?
Trevor: Yeah, but that’s not uncommon. As a band we have a crazy work ethic. We’re not the kind of laid back slackers that take forever to get shit done. We’re pretty good at setting a goal and meeting it. We were really focused on this album. We spent a lot of time on the writing and preproduction phase, just on our own. Then we had another round of preproduction with Bill before we ever recorded anything. So I think going through those two processes, they really helped us out with any of the problems or unfinished ideas or songwriting elements that needed to be flushed out at that point. So it was good to be able to do that. But we didn’t mind the long days. In fact, there were many times that I would’ve been willing to put in even longer hours, but I respect that Bill and Jason have homes and lives to get to (laughs).
It must’ve been nice for you guys to get some mental breaks in there as well.
Trevor: I think it was a good balance overall. But we lived at the studio while we were recording and that tends to get a little monotonous. You have to get out and take walks, or go to a bar, or go shop or something to break up that monotony of being in the same place, or you’d get cabin fever.
This is your first Fat Wreck release since Don’t Turn Away back in ’92. How is it being back on the Fat label?
Trevor: You know what, it’s been really great. I don’t know if it would’ve been as good at any other point in time. I look back on our career and occasionally regret jumping around to so many different record labels, but we were trying to find a situation that felt right and suited us. And Fat Wreck Chords, as a 25 year-plus, going strong label that’s remained independent, those people just know what they’re doing. Not that they weren’t good in the early days, but I think at this point in time, they’re one of the top few punk labels you can be at. These people just know how to market and sell punk rock records. They know how to find the fans, they know where they are, and they know how to tell them about the new punk rock records coming out. It’s really just as simple as that. But so many labels get that simple concept wrong.
And you guys are in a good place to judge that sort of thing, because you’ve been on a number of different independent labels, but you’ve also done the major label thing.
Trevor: I think so. You don’t need to spend a ridiculous amount of money or time, you just need to know how to best apply your efforts. And that’s what Fat is great at. So it’s been great. More people have become aware of this record, than any record we’ve released in a long time. So it’s been a very good thing and I’m looking forward in the future to hopefully doing more with them.
Listening to this record, a theme I keep coming across is redemption. Comeback. Was that a subject you were purposefully exploring here?
Trevor: You know, there were very few things I consciously went after. This is our ninth album and I’ve written quite a few songs, so it can be difficult to stay inspired.
For me the hardest thing to do is not to repeat themes or phrases or become redundant. But I try to write from my perspective. I’m a 47 year old guy. I’ve been through a lot of stuff and the things that are important to you in life, especially in the short term, kind of change as you move through life.
And I’ve always written a lot about trying to become better. Trying to become a better version of yourself. That’s a theme I’ve come back to again and again. And within that, that idea of redemption you were talking about comes up. And then on some of the angrier songs, it was my perspective of the world, complaining about some of the things I’ve witnessed at least. Songs like ’Fourteen Fifty-Nine’, which go after the whole reality star thing that has come up in our culture over the last decade or so. And I hate it (laughs).
‘Fourteen Fifty-Nine’ is especially angry, even within the context of the rest of the album. It’s about reality TV?
Trevor: Not reality TV so much, because I do watch some reality TV. But it’s about this whole phenomenon of creating the reality TV star, because of a sextape, or a blog. And all these people know who this person is and they’re able to convert it into fame and money, or whatever. Basically for not doing shit, for having no skills, no talent. Nothing redeemable, other than that other people want to watch them. I hope I’m not showing my age and my allegiance to my generation by crying out against that. But for the most part, the people that we’re celebrating are just shit bags.
And the song title-
Trevor: It’s an Andy Warhol quote. In the future, everyone will have fifteen minutes of fame. So you’ve got about a second left, hopefully.
And it’s a figurative death, when I say ‘I hope it won’t be long before you die’. The death of their fame or career.
Face To Face consistently has some of the coolest cover art in punk. The cover for Three Chords and a Half Truth is just amazing. Who did the cover for Protection?
Trevor: Thanks man. A lot of those concepts come from within the band. Most of those concepts are Scott and mine together. I had a bunch of ideas for this album and Scott shot most of them down (laughs). We butted heads and argued a little bit about it until we both came up with this locked door idea. We wanted something that was stark and reminiscent of those early album covers. So I think it succeeded in doing that, but we didn’t even know what we wanted to call the album. We went through a bunch of different album titles but we settled on Protection, because we wanted to put forth the idea that protection is basically an illusion. This is no protection, physical, or spiritual, or abstract. The photo was actually taken from an exhibit in a Christian museum (laughs). We thought it was the best photo because it was an exhibit showing this door with all these padlocks on it. And it was supposed to represent how it would be at the end times. We thought it was hilarious and just so perfect.
To me the cover represents paranoia and the locks are ironic.
Trevor: Exactly. You get it. And the title song is about a codependent, dysfunctional relationship. It’s not specific, but it’s that concept about how we have these things in life that makes us feel comfortable and the things we need to be strong enough to make it through. And I hope what people take away from that song, and this album, is that none of those things are going to work, until you finally find the strength to pull it off yourself.