Live is Life

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Posted April 3, 2008 in Feature Story

Ask Face to Face manager and Vagrant Records boss Rich Egan what he did to eventually coax the Victorville-bred punk foursome back to the stage, and he’ll offer a time-tested strategy that has worked not only in getting bands to reunite. Kids have cunningly utilized it to gain goodies from their folks. Creditors seeking deadbeat customers have worked it to their advantage. Even some religious groups have made such techniques de rigueur when proselytizing to new members.

So, just what did Egan do to convince a dormant punk band to dust off their wares and head back up on stage after serving over a decade of distortion ‘n’ drums duty, and after calling it quits some four years ago?

“I just bugged the living crap out of them,” Egan says. “Christmas. Easter. Halloween. Whenever [Face to Face vocalist/guitarist] Trever [Keith] was over at the house, I just wouldn’t let up. I think that there’s four-and-a-half or five years of constant badgering, and he finally gave in.”

However, simply raising the white flag to one’s management doesn’t exactly make for the most logical reason for a band to reunite. There’s got to be hope for some sort of catalyst that would make these four souls, who once shipped the entire shebang off to the grave via a farewell tour in the fall of 2004, truly want to get back on stage. Fortunately, there was. “I think, ultimately, it’s that they loved playing together,” says Egan.

“We sat down and talked about it, and we were like, ‘You know, is there any real reason why we couldn’t just continue to go out and play live?,’” adds Keith. “Because live was like, the thing that was always, I think, the best part of Face to Face.”

But the band’s recorded efforts—six proper studio full-lengths in all—shouldn’t be relegated to overflowing bins labeled “forgettable” (well, five weren’t; 1999’s Ignorance Is Bliss is another story all to itself). Face to Face’s sonic fire spread quickly throughout the Southland after nabbing major rotation on KROQ, particularly through two singles, “Disconnected” (which appears on the band’s first two full-lengths, 1992’s Don’t Turn Away and 1995’s Big Choice, and continues to be a staple of the station’s programming to this day) and the similarly-titled “Disappointed” off 2000’s Reactionary

Still, Face to Face had built its reputation as a live act first and foremost. And when the band threw in the towel, the decision really came about from Keith and company simply feeling stymied in the creative department. 

“We were like, what’s the next record we would even make?,” says Keith. “We kind of just felt like we had reached a dead end there. So, I think a bit prematurely, we decided that the best thing to do would be to cut everything off. And so we just sort of re-examined that and thought, man, we ought to be able to play live for as long as we’re able to, and it’s fun for us, and we want to, and as long as there are people out there that want to show up and go see us play live. That’s kind of how that came about.”

Face to Face marks their return this week with a pair of Pomona dates at the Glass House and a highly-billed appearance at Bamboozle Left in Irvine. But, really, they could’ve done this a year ago, or three years from tomorrow. So, why now?

“That’s a very interesting question,” Keith responds. “And the way it’s phrased makes it sound more like it was calculated, and quite honestly, it really wasn’t. The timing was right because, to us, it just felt like we had been away long enough, and we all just feel ready to come back. So the Bamboozle offer just happened to come at the right time, really. And so, in a way, we don’t really do a lot of big festival dates, and particularly in Orange County and the Inland Empire. We have Coachella, and that’s a nice established festival that we have out here on the West. But aside from that, there’s not really that much else. So with Bamboozle Left, doing something out here in LA for the first time, and with all the great bands on it, everything just came together at the right time.”

 

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However, 2008 hasn’t been the only “right time” for Face to Face. After forming in the early ’90s in the High Desert, the band—then a trio—began to cover serious local ground through its infectious melodic punk sound, landing somewhere between the workingman’s aesthetic of Social Distortion and the more cerebral arrangements of Minneapolis power trio, Hüsker Dü.

But, as Keith recalls, “Victorville had no scene at all. So we would have to drive into the Inland Empire, and play places like Spanky’s and The Green Door. That’s where the scene was.”

A signing to the ubiquitous indie label Dr. Strange—located straight down the 15 in Alta Loma—afforded them the notoriety necessary to spread their punk fusion across the nation, gaining attention through the release of Don’t Turn Away (which was subsequently re-released via Fat Wreck Chords). The album’s production was unrefined by today’s ProTooled-to-perfection thresholds, but the performance was more than just promising—it was setting the template for a successful future.

And it was right about that same time, after hearing the Don’t Turn Away release, that Egan took an interest in the band. Egan had already been managing Portland-based indie rockers Pond, and took on Face to Face as his second client in 1995. (Egan has since built a management empire, with acts like Dashboard Confessional, Senses Fail and Augustana on his roster.)

“I thought, even back then, that they were a notch above everyone else,” Egan recalls. “It was probably 90 percent fan boy and 10 percent business decision.”

Just as Face to Face was rising in the punk underground, a budding institution that would gain incredible significance was just starting to materialize. Dubbed the Vans Warped Tour, it was founded and spearheaded by IE native Kevin Lyman, who signed the band on to the tour’s inaugural outing.

“That first year, they were either visionaries or just too dumb to say no, I’m not sure,” Lyman says. “But it is great to look at the first-year [Warped Tour] poster and see their name there with Sublime, CIV, Quicksand, L7 and the other bands.”

The combination of consistent musical output (save for the aforementioned Ignorance Is Bliss, which found the band taking an abrupt tangent into experimentalism), frequent KROQ love, Warped Tour visibility and the adoration of an ever-expanding fanbase found Face to Face fast becoming one of the genre’s flagships, aptly carrying them right through into the new decade, despite significant shifts in the roster (Keith is the sole original member; drummer Rob Kurth and bassist Matt Riddle had exited the line-up by the late ’90s).

The band hit the Warped Tour again in 2003, this time as a well-oiled trio (Keith, backed by drummer Pete Parada and bassist Scott Shiflett) on one of the main stages, in support of its final album, How To Ruin Everything. Just as they had wowed audiences a decade earlier with their incredibly energetic live shows, Face to Face had reached a pinnacle as one of the elderstatesmen of the scene. But while their stage show was more active than ever, their creative output was at a complete standstill. Enter the exit.

 

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More than four years later, Egan gets a request for Face to Face to perform at Bamboozle Left. Though he’s ran through the drill several times before, he’s obligated to let them know that an offer stands. However, this time, the offer isn’t left standing.

“He came to us,” says Keith, of Egan. “He’s been trying to get us to reunite since we broke up. It’s been like that since day one. It’s like, ‘Are you sure you don’t want to do this?’ ‘Yeah, we’re sure.’ And then the next day, it’s like, ‘I’ve got an offer for you to go play here!’ We’ve been turning down offers for the last four years. It’s not so much that we broke down, it’s just like, all right, I think we’ve had enough of a break here from the band.”

At the time of the interview, the band had two rehearsals in the bag. “It sounded great, just like riding a bike,” says Keith, of revisiting his former (and now current) band. “It almost all comes back, like muscle memory, because I’ve done it so many times.”

The first comeback shows are a pair of Glass House dates, just before the Bamboozle Left appearance. Keith says he selected the venue largely due to the fact that it’s located in the Inland Empire. 

“It just goes back to our roots. It’s the roots of our beginnings. It’s absolutely important. We’ve had a ton of support from that area. We put a couple warm-up shows together at the Glass House, just so we could sort of work out the kinks, shake off the cobwebs and stuff. But it’s also going to be a great, smaller environment. I think it’ll be a lot of fun to get out there with the fans.” 

After this forthcoming trio of local appearances, the band plans to hit a few other festivals internationally. As of now, Keith thinks that’s about all they’ll do for the rest of the year. But might there be a chance at the band producing some new material?

“That’s not really the plan because I’ve been writing for my solo record, and I’m trying to launch more of a, I guess, solo career,” he says. “In support of the [solo] album, I’ve got tour dates booked in April. I’ve got a band I’ve put together, and we’re rehearsing a bunch for that. And that’s really the thrust of my creative side is going into, is writing and creating material for that. Also in the last years that Face to Face has been inactive, I’ve started up a project with a friend of mine, Chad Blinman, called the Legion of Doom. And we’ve been pretty successful with that. It’s a remix, kind of mash-up team that we formed. And we’ve done a bunch of music for some great movies and soundtracks. We made a mash-up album called Incorporated that’s been extremely successful on the Internet. So the Legion of Doom and my solo thing are really more of my focus creatively. And Face to Face, I see it as something that will remain as a great way for us to reunite as old friends and get out there and play the music live. It’s just such a unique experience. It’s something we want to do as long as we can.”

So, what’s going to be different about a Face to Face show, circa 2008, as opposed to one in, say, 1998?

“We’re hoping not to fall and break a hip,” says Keith. “I don’t know if it’s going to be all that different from what it’s ever been. What will be different is to have me, Scott and [guitarist] Chad Yaro up on the stage, all at the same time. That hasn’t happened in about eight years. So that’s going to be awesome, having that. Other than that, we’re doing a smattering from all of our albums. But it’s skewed a little bit more heavily towards the older stuff, which is more of a crowd pleaser. It’s just going to be the Face to Face show that I think people that are fans of the band are going to want to see. No fireworks, or giant walking puppets or anything. Just punk rock.”

Validation of the band’s return has come from reaction from the band’s fanbase. Since Keith recently added a blog to the band’s official website, fans have been posting their comments about Face to Face’s homecoming. “It’s been almost overwhelming,” says Keith. “It’s been amazing. People are putting stuff up there everyday. And it’s great to see that there are so many fans still out there that want to come and see Face to Face play. It’s awesome.”

“Did they ever really go away?,” asks Lyman. “Face to Face songs are pretty timeless and their songs are great. Just as long as they did not get too fat and can still move around, people will be stoked on seeing them again.”

“Looking at Face to Face as something that doesn’t require it to be a full-time thing for us, gives us the freedom and the flexibility that we’re revisiting it in a way that’s totally refreshing, and it’s a very cool thing for everybody,” adds Keith. “We’re not trying to break a single at radio or any other kinds of bullshit that can be really stressful. It creates an environment on the tour of like, ‘Oh, we’re not doing well enough. We need to work harder!’ It’s just go out, play the songs and have a great time.”

Face to Face at Bamboozle Left, at the Verizon Amphitheater, 8808 Irvine Center Drive, Irvine, (949) 855-6111. Saturday, April 5; two-day pass $75. Also at the Glass House, 200 W. Second Street, Pomona, (909) 865-3802, on Thursday, April 3 and Friday, April 4. Doors at 7PM, tickets $25 in advance, and $29 at the door.

 


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