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Lighting the Way: The Ghost of Face to Face Rises

Face to Face pic #1
Faced with the current glut of "sincere" punk-with-melody-and-emotion out there these days, it's easy to forget that it hasn't always been this way. There was a time -- only a decade and a half back, now -- when punk bands were snotty, goofy, pseudo-political streetpunks from the Bay Area, tough-talking hardcore guys from the East Coast, or flannel-wearing depressives from the rainy Northwest, without much room for anything in-between. It's kind of surprising in retrospect, then, that the image-conscious concrete sprawl of the L.A. 'burbs (Victorville, CA, to be exact) would give birth to a band like Face to Face.
At the time, they were a new breed of punk band, one that blended metal guitars with beautiful melodies, hardcore shout-along choruses, and meaningful, personal lyrics about relationships, loss, honesty, and being an individual, and they breathed new life into the punk world. The elements had all existed beforehand, sure, but they'd never really been brought together in that raw a way before -- on their debut full-length, Don't Turn Away, Face to Face sounded like a brand new animal.
The band was headed for big things right at the start, but the obstacles they faced proved difficult to overcome. They jumped from indies Dr. Strange and Fat Wreck on up to Victory Music/JVC, where they put out the seminal Big Choise before the label itself went bankrupt, tossing the band over onto A&M Records. The move to a major label prompted a backlash from punk "purists," while at the same time the label itself appeared to be uninterested in really working to help the band succeed or promoting their self-titled 1996 release. Towards the end of the '90s, Face to Face managed to get out of their deal with A&M just in time to dodge a label merger, but again found themselves adrift -- with a new album, Ignorance Is Bliss, but no label to release it. Even after they found a new home on Beyond Music and put out the album, the dismal response from fans effectively killed it and pushed the band back towards its punk roots. After two more albums (and yet another label), 2001's Reactionary (on Beyond Music) and How To Ruin Everything (on Vagrant), the members of the band finally agreed in 2004 to pull the plug.
Face to Face had gone up fast but come down hard, enduring jabs from both the punk scene they'd grown up in and the as-yet-unappreciative mainstream. While a faithful core of fans stayed true to the band and the music, the members of Face to Face never achieved the kind of real success at which the music seemed to hint. In the post-Face to Face era, however, their influence can be felt everywhere, from the depths of the punk underground to the airwaves of "alternative" stations all over. In a way, they almost could be called the Velvet Underground of the punk scene -- they themselves never cracked the heights of success like, say, Green Day or The Offspring, but it sure seems like every single person who loved them as a fan started a band and incorporated the Face to Face sound. Other bands might've made big bucks, yeah, but these guys were important in the grand scheme of rock.
With so many of Face to Face's "followers" making it big right now, it seems fitting that the band lift its head up once again, this time with Shoot the Moon: The Essential Collection, a career retrospective hand-picked and released by ex-FTF frontman, guitarist, and songwriter Trever Keith himself, on his own Antagonist Records label. With the record in hand and all those classic songs bouncing around the room, Space City Rock was overjoyed to be able to speak with Keith and throw him some questions about the past, present, and future of his band and his music.

SCR: I guess the big question, since Face to Face has been dead and gone for a little while now, is this one: what are you guys up to these days?
Trever: I have started a record label, Antagonist Records, which is the home for Face to Face, Shoot the Moon: The Essential Collection, and upcoming releases include KRS-One, The Legion of Doom, and Footsoldiers.
Scott has been working on finishing up the Viva Death record and starting a label called Functional Equivalent Recordings.
Pete plays drums in Saves The Day.
So, do you guys keep in touch at all?
Yes, we do.
I took a look at the Antagonist roster, by the way, and it's impressive, not to mention eclectic -- how'd you get KRS-One on board? How'd you get interested in running a label? From what I've seen, being the boss of an indie record label has got to be one of the most thankless jobs in the world...
The KRS-One deal happened because of a producer I met this past year that I've been working with. Running a label is pretty thankless, but I feel like it's a way for me to do my part in an otherwise corrupt industry.
I'm guessing you guys didn't have the best of experiences dealing with labels; what was it like, being a fairly independent-minded punk band and being thrown into that arena?
We weren't really thrown into the arena. We wanted a major label deal, knowing full-well how screwed up it could be. I guess I felt like I had to learn for myself.
The first time we spoke, you mentioned that you'd just gone into the recording studio -- what're you working on? Is there a new band in the works?
I'm currently working on my next album. I'm calling the band Pablum. It's still very new, I haven't even put together a Website or anything yet. Once I have the music sorted out, expect to hear more about it.
-- Face to Face record cover
(Music courtesy of Antagonist Records.)

Excellent; I look forward to it. You said it's very new -- does that mean that it's going to be something new for you, a new musical direction? Any hints as to what it could sound like? How'd the new band come about?
It's definitely a new musical direction. I can't really describe the sound. You'll just have to wait until it's finished.
Not to prod, but is it going to be anything akin to the Face to Face stuff lyrically? You seemed to come back to the same themes a lot of the time back then, about thinking for yourself and not backing down, all that positive stuff -- it almost felt like the band was a kind of therapy for you. Is that still a part of your songwriting, or is the new music something completely different?
It's still me, so I guess there are certain aspects of my writing that will remain a constant.
Any plans for a reunion somewhere down the line? Is everybody still on speaking terms?
There aren't any plans for a reunion, nor do I think the idea is very appealing to any of us.
I don't suppose there's any hope of you all touring in support of Shoot the Moon, the new "best-of" compilation, is there?
Damn. I figured as much, but I had to ask. Do you get a lot of that from us old Face to Face fans? I don't mean to reopen old wounds or anything, honest.
Yes, I get a lot of that, and it's cool to be appreciated. There just isn't any reality in a F2F tour.
Face to Face pic #2
How did the new comp come about? What made you decide that, "yeah, okay, this is the right time for this"?
Once we agreed that it was time to break up the band, I felt like we needed a CD to chronicle our career.
I take it that the CD's been in the works for quite a while, then?
More than a year.
How'd you select which songs would go on the comp? It seems to me to be somewhat skewed towards the "classic" stuff, as opposed to the later recordings, but that may be because the "classics" are what I'm more familiar with. Is the disc in strictly chronological order?
I just went by what had become our set list over the past five years or so. Those seem to be the songs that people really react to. It's not like we ever had "hits," so it was a matter of appealing to the fans. The CD is in chronological order.
Have you gotten reactions yet from any die-hard Face to Face fans?
Some people are bummed that the CD doesn't include anything from IIB [Ed. Note: 1999's Ignorance is Bliss], but it just didn't sound right for the CD.
Also, it's funny, but when I hear a lot of the bigger "punk" bands out there now, I hear a hell of a lot of you guys. I know you slogged through the music business morass for more than a decade with relatively little mainstream success to show for it, and yet it seems like you pretty much wrote the blueprint for what came after. Was it just the wrong time for Face to Face back then?
Who knows? We were successful; I have no regrets.
If you had to do it all over again, would you do anything differently, do you think?
Sure, but wouldn't anybody? I don't know what I would do different, specifically.
And given the influence you guys had on what's out there today, are there any bands or musicians you particularly like right now?
My Chemical Romance, Everytime I Die.
While we're at it, how does this comp compare to Everything Is Everything? Aren't a lot of the same songs on both that comp and Shoot the Moon?
I guess some of the songs are the same. Everything is Everything is a European release, though. It also does not contain the extensive liner notes from the band members or rare photos. The packaging on Shoot the Moon: The Essential Collection is really what makes it stand out.
Ah, okay -- I've only seen the promo version, so I wasn't sure what the final product would look like. So, what's the future hold for you? Are you in the music thing for life, do you think?
I'm going to be in music for as long as I can make it work. END