Photos by Punknews.org Video Editor Chris Moran
Note from the writer: For two decades, Face to Face has remained a steady force in the volatile scene of punk rock, delivering accessible and catchy songs that have just enough honesty and attitude to keep music purists interested. After listening to Big Choice in 1994, my musical world opened up, taking my punk rock-virginity and leaving me happily exposed to a new world of sounds and experiences.
Before a sold-out show which kick-started their tour with Strung Out, I had the pleasure to sit down with Trever Keith, Scott Shiflett and the silent, albeit happy, Chad Yaro to talk about – among other things – the new album, Laugh Now, Laugh Later and their relationship with “Disconnected.”
How would you describe the new album?
Trever: It’s an urgent, immediate punk rock album. There’s not a lot of layers, textures and whatnot on it – it’s in the face, it’s raw and it communicates the emotion clearly and directly. It’s a visceral album.
What were the influences for this album? Was it 20 years of being a band? Other types of music?
Trever: I don’t know. When Scott and I set out to write the album, we actually wrote independently from one another for the first week or two – I have a home studio and so does he. We demoed up a bunch of songs on our own before we got together and compared notes and collaborated with one another. My stuff was pretty poppy and pretty vanilla and I do what I do. Scott’s stuff was pretty rocking…
The two styles balance each other out?
Trever: Yeah we totally do. I think the combination helped give us an idea of where the other person was creatively and then we were able to go from there. We wrote about a half-a-dozen songs each and then we wrote a few more together and then pursued what we thought were the strongest and were the most like Face to Face.
It’s been almost a decade since you guys released your last album ( How to Ruin Everything). What have you learned as a band over the past 10 years?
Trever: Well, we did split up for about four-and-a-half years and Scott and I were working on these other projects that we didn’t have time to get to. That was kind of the impetus for the split-up. Instead of us doing it in tandem with running Face to Face, we thought we’d have to be absolute about it and break the band up.
Scott: And to not force people to accept some of our more esoteric, outside stuff as Face to Face. Because we were experimenting a bit and stretching the boundaries with Ignorance is Bliss, which we were fine with, but realized maybe it’s not the right thing to do to our legacy as Face to Face.
We want to keep Face to Face as Face to Face – that straight-ahead approach to writing and producing the records. We want to keep it with more of a live feel and not get into the dripping water off of violin strings in the studio.
And that’s what has struck me most about the new songs that I’ve heard so far – it sounds like the band I got into in high school.
Scott: There was something about the core of Face to Face that we all loved and missed really. We wanted this album to sound like our true selves rather than taking it off too far into the side. We still do that in other things because most musicians have a myriad of styles and sounds they like to try before the kick off and we’re no different.
What do you think Trever?
Trever: What he said.
Aside from resolving some identity issues, what else has the band learned over the years?
Scott: We learned that our side projects don’t pay our rent.
Trever: (looks at Chad) That’s very honest.
Trever: Not only that, we also treat Face to Face with a little more respect and we appreciate it more. Once we took it away, it gave us the opportunity to realize what a special entity it is and also what the fans had allowed us to do through their support – it’s a whole symbiotic thing. We’re really more aware of that now and we’re trying to take Face to Face to the fullest while still having time to do other stuff.
Do you think you took it all for granted? Especially when the last album came out?
Trever: Oh yeah, for sure. There were many times throughout our career that we’ve taken the band for granted and I think it was probably the most during that time.
The title of the new album is Laugh Now, Laugh Later. Is that a reference to maybe taking things a little less seriously and enjoying the band more?
Trever: Yeah absolutely. We collaborated with Corey Miller, who did all of the art for the album, and he was hanging out with us a lot when we were writing and recording the album. So we would talk to him about what we were working on and he would talk to us about what he was working on and he was like, “I just keep thinking of this phrase, ‘laugh now, laugh later’.” I was like, “Man, that would be a perfect album title.”
It just sums up the general attitude of the band going forward from where we are now. We’re celebrating our 20th year as a band now – we have a lot of history and a lot of road under our wheels. We try now, going forward, to really take everything in stride. We love what we do and we take that very seriously, but we try not to take the whole process seriously.
After 20 years and back to being a four-piece again, what’s the dynamic like in the band?
Trever: Well, we don’t really like each other and we each have our own bus…
Scott: You’re such a fuck…
Trever: One thing about this band is that we’ve always gotten along pretty well and like I said, we’ve been around for 20 years. Early on in the band, some of the personality conflicts and stuff reared their ugly heads and I think they were dealt with many, many years ago. What has been the core of the band for the past couple of decades really has been a bunch of guys like family. I won’t say brothers, but I’ll say like, weird, second-cousins. Like people who show up to a family reunion and are like, “Oh yeah, that guy.” No, but we do…we get along.
Better than before?
Trever: Well, not really because we always got along.
Scott: We just don’t let all of the external stuff get to us and cause tension which invariably spills out within the dynamic of the band. Lord knows we faced our share of that like any other band. The bottom line is, we definitely remained friends in our downtime and it’s something we missed in our other projects that just weren’t going to satisfy that. I consider this time, this whole phase, the postscript – we can just have fun, stress free, and enjoy it.
What is it about Big Choice that makes it such a timeless record?
Scott: That’s a byproduct of everybody’s life. If you talk to somebody who was 15 in the 50s, they’re going to tell you that that stuff lit their world on fire. People do get very attached to more innocent ages of their life and how profound music impacts them. That never dies – I have records back from the 80s that I pop on and I fucking love it.
Trever: I would say that by the same token there is music I liked as a teen that doesn’t hold up over time. I feel happy that we’ve held up, at least with you, because that means we’ve managed to make some music that wasn’t too locked into a style or time and it’s able to stay relevant afterward – so that’s a huge compliment. We try to pay attention to that so we’re not doing stuff that’s too trendy or stylish because those are the things that tend to age poorly.
Are you guys aware of how influential you have been over the last 20 years?
Trever: That is such a loaded question. (laughs) That’s like, “I want to hear how conceited you are.”
(laughs) So you don’t think you’ve been influential?
Trever: We have become aware of it because people have come up to us and said, “You guys are the reason I started a band,” or “I learned to play guitar because I listened to your records.” It’s amazing and it’s a real honour to have made an impact on people in that way. But do we feel really influential? Not really. We’re just doing what we do. You stick around long enough and hopefully you will have that connection.
Chad: (smiles and shrugs shoulders)
Since you got together in 1991, what are some of the biggest changes you’ve seen in punk rock?
Trever: I was talking to somebody about this the other day and the biggest change for me, in punk rock, is that there really aren’t scenes like there used to be. Like, there aren’t local scenes. You would go on tour and it would be very different from Chicago to New York to L.A. I think the internet is mostly to blame for that. It’s not a bad thing, but it’s sort of changed the face of how punk rock used to work. There are different ways to apply the DIY ethic now, but I don’t think there’s a whole lot of punk rock that still exists with younger, newer bands. It’s few and far between but it’s still out there.
When we came up in the 90s, what we were doing wasn’t necessarily something every band our age was doing. It wasn’t really in vogue, but it became that pretty quickly with the success of Green Day and The Offspring and all those bands. We saw lots of bands do that but they’ve all fallen off. Now, bands a few generations later are wearing skinny jeans, combing their hair to the side and screaming and all of that. There’s not a whole lot about that that’s punk rock to me – it’s a strange hybrid of Disney Channel and hardcore. I get it, but it’s not my taste and it doesn’t feel punk rock because they’re marketing themselves in a way almost like 80s ass-metal on the Sunset Strip. It’s all in your face and very obnoxious. On Warped Tour you have everybody throwing flyers in your face with megaphones and headphones saying, “Listen to my band.” It’s just irritating and there’s just too many god damn bands all trying to vie for everyone’s attention.
So that would be the biggest change that I’ve seen, but for example, we have The Darlings out with us and they’re one of the younger, upcoming bands that are doing something very cool and reminiscent of how we did our thing coming up. So it does exist, but you just have to look a little harder to find it.
Through the masses of crap…
Trever: Through the masses of Warped Tour bands. (laughs)
Do you still consider yourselves a punk rock band?
Trever: Yeah, absolutely.
Why is that?
Trever: Because for me, punk rock has always been a liberating thing. It has always meant doing what you want to do and having the freedom to do that – getting your message out in a way you feel comfortable doing. I think we’ve been able to do that since the beginning of the band. Our sound has changed and varied a little bit from record to record. We got a little experimental here and there, but at our core, we are a punk rock band – we have that aggression and that energy and vibe.
Last question, do you still have a love-hate relationship with the song “Disconnected?”
Trever: (laughs) I can say now, 20 years later, I don’t have any hate whatsoever.
But you did though…
Trever: It was easy to gripe about it when it was first becoming a popular song of ours and there did come a time when it became irritating to play the song over and over again. But from the perspective I have now, I think that being in a band that has a recognizable song is fucking awesome. I feel lucky that we have one of those anthemic, recognizable songs. I never get sick of playing it man – I’d rather be playing it than some cover of another band. It’s our thing and it never gets old. Shit, I mean, our set tonight will be three quarters of our old stuff or more.
Scott, how about you?
Scott: I’ve never been sick of it. It’s always gone over well and it makes me happy that it makes everyone else happy – all of our songs do. We’ve been playing them for 20 fucking years and they’re still fun.