INTERVIEW: Trever Keith and Scott Shiflett of Face To Face

2011_05May_31_FaceToFace

20-year punk rock veterans, Face to Face, recently rolled through town in support of their first release in almost a decade. Laugh Now, Laugh Later,marks the bands 7th full-length studio album. I was fortunate enough to sit down with lead singer/guitarist Trever Keith and talk about the history of Face to Face. I had a handful of questions written out but a few minutes into the conversation there was no need. It was like sitting down in a bar, hanging out, and having a couple of beers with an old friend.

About halfway through the conversation bassist Scott Shiflett came into the room and soon thereafter guitarist Chad Yaro as well. Needless to say I was 35 going on 17 again. You hear stories about people meeting their idols or someone they’ve looked up to for so many years turn out to be surly and cocky like they have something else they’d rather be doing. Meeting and hanging out with Face to Face was the complete opposite of that.

Even after a career that spans two decades, line-up changes within the band, and differences that are inevitable when you spend countless years touring over and over again, these guys are genuine and honest.

I know you guys have to get ready to take the stage here in a little bit so I’ll keep it short. First and foremost and I think I can speak for Florida on this, thank you for not booking the tour again during hurricane season.

Trever Keith: HAHAHA! Yea, it worked out well this year.

(Note: In 2003 during Face to Face’s last tour they had to reschedule the first date in Orlando due to a hurricane only to then have to cancel the rescheduled show for the same reason, only a different hurricane)

Your music helped me through the best and worst of times growing up. As I’m sure many others can relate, how do you take in that you’ve made that kind of impact on people’s lives?

TK: Quite honestly, I don’t think it does sink in because it’s a pretty heavy concept. You know what I mean?  It’s great to get compliments from people and it feels good to have touched other peoples lives. It’s amazing, it feels great. It’s the validation of all the hard work we’ve been doing for the past 20 years in the band. On that level it’s very gratifying but it’s also a little bit overwhelming.

At the end of the day you already have that passion to write the lyrics and the music so to get that validation has to go to be the best feeling as a musician. Like, “Whoa, I didn’t mean to do that but I’m happy I did.”

TK: Yea man, it’s feels great when you connect in that way. I think when you make music it’s for selfish reasons. You’re writing about your own stuff but when people can personalize or internalize the lyrics to their own lives then it takes on a whole other life in it’s own.

Staying on the topic of connecting and on the new record, the Kickstarter program you did for the vinyl release is an amazing concept. I bought a copy… and I’m still waiting for it but I read the fine print so I’m not going to bust stones over it.

TK: Haha. Everyone is still waiting for it. Incidentally this vinyl will be the first pressing of vinyl done for the record because the label I just did a deal with doesn’t even make any vinyl. So these Antagonist releases are the first. There going to come, obviously, later than everything else because after the Kickstarter deal is over then they pay you, then you order the records and that process takes 6-8 weeks just to order the records.

I found it funny because people seemed to be up in arms about not getting the record even though it clearly states on the site exactly what you just said.

TK: Yea. I’m supposed to get records the first week in June – actually this coming week. Then comes the long arduous process of filling the orders.

How did that come about anyway. Do you think the Kickstarter program is a great avenue for any band large or small to raise money without having to deal with a record label fronting them money?

Yea, when it came time to record it had been almost a decade since we put a record out. The landscape has changed quite a bit and I’m always looking for new ways to try and promote records or have a spin on the release. Having Corey Miller do the artwork for the record was kind of our spin but I kind of wanted something extra we could share with our core fans. I learned about the Kickstarter program because I was researching United Record Pressing out of Nashville and they participate in the program. It’s a really cool thing they do.

You raise money for projects basically. I think I raised about 15 grand for the release. Being a small record label, I didn’t have that kind of money just sitting in the bank to write a check and make those portfolios of records. So I really did need the help of the fans to raise the cash and it worked out really cool.

It also allows people to buy something that is direct. You’re not going to see these things in stores. I mean if you do they’re going to me marked up as collector’s items, marked up something ridiculous. So the entire thing is just a cool way to communicate directly with the fans and offer them something not everyone has access to.

You’ve always been good at communicating with your fans and it’s really great you take the time to acknowledge them. I also noticed a little treat some fans may or may not have noticed on the new record. I know “Pushover” is the same song from your 2008 solo record, Melancholics Anonymous, which I thought was super rad to hear recorded with Face to Face.

TK: You’re the first person to mention it.

Really?

TK: I’m sure a lot of people have already put it together but you’re the person I’ve talked to in an interview that’s pointed that out. It’s one of those insider little things I did on the record that I thought, “this would work so good as a Face to Face song”, that when I released my solo record on iTunes I pulled it off and put the other song on because I wanted to save it. The original version of Pushover only exists on the CD version of my solo record but you can’t get those anymore either.

So it’s not going to turn into the next Disconnected or anything and be recorded multiple times is it? Haha.

TK: Oh, no no no.

Well on this record I know Chad (Yaro) is back in the band and due to Pete (Parada)’s commintment to the Offspring you’ve also got a new drummer, Danny Thompson. How was it recording both with an old buddy and a totally new member?

TK: It was great. Actually, Danny has been playing with us for just about 3 years now. So by the time we recorded the record we had already done a ton of shows and a ton of tours with him and whatnot so Danny has actually come into the band and fit right in. He’s really one of us. He’s a solid dude and we relate to him on every level – musically, personally and everything else so he was just an automatic fit so really recording the record was really easy.

So did you write the new record entirely or was is a collaborative effort?

Well Scott and I collaborated on the writing. Actually I wrote about a half-dozen songs by myself and Scott wrote a half-dozen by himself. He used his 4-Track and recorded a bunch of songs and I used Logic.

What? Like an old Tascam with cassettes?

TK: HAHA! Yea he’s a little more old school. I use Logic instead of Pro-Tools and we demoed stuff up and then once we got together I made comments on his songs, he made comments on mine then we kind of tweaked them a bit. Then we wrote a couple extra songs together too. Then he and I demoed all the songs up with drums and bass and guitars; everything but vocals and we gave those demos to Danny and Chad to learn.  We rehearsed them for about a week and went right in and recorded them.

You live in Nashville now so did you have to go back and forth digitally with the demos or what was your process there?

TK: I flew back and forth. Scott and I actually had the record written before I moved to Nashville. We also had tours around the same time the record wasdone but for lyrics I hadn’t written anything so I spent a lot of time writing lyrics on airplanes when it came down to finalize everything and get the record finished. It was actually a really seamless recording. We tried not to over think anything. We didn’t want to drag the process out. We didn’t want to do it quickly though either and make something we didn’t care about.

We didn’t want to labor over it to the point where it scrubbed the heart and the life out of it. There’s things about the record I wish I could go back and change but you do that with every album. But I think we were able to capture some heart and vibe and spirit by keeping things quick and not giving ourselves time to second guess things.

I’ve listened to the record over and over again and you can hear the whole span of your career. It’s not just an “ok, let’s do this again” and make the same record you did last time. Each of your records have a distinct sound.

TK: I would say that around the time you make your third record you’ve either established your sound or not as a band. Bands are pretty much locked into what they are by their third record and we decided on our fourth record to go off the rails and we reigned that back in after Ignorance Is Bliss and made a more punk rock record but the record that followed was even pretty different after that. So with this one we didn’t have any agenda at all about how we wanted to write it. I think we were just real honest with our creativity and we kind of just wrote what was in our heads and our hearts. That’s why it has a more pure feel to it that covers our entire catalog because we weren’t like “lets make an English record” or “lets make a rock record” or whatever.  We said “let’s just write some songs”.

Scott Shiflett: Just like a classic example of the one thing I can think hearkens back to the Ignorance Is Bliss record, which I don’t think this record is like, but there’s some interesting, different melodic moments where like on Ignorance where Trever would write something or I would write something and at first we were real reticent to take it to the band.

We play each other our ideas. I had written two or three fast songs for this record. I was like “we need something fast”. When I wrote “Stopgap” I was like, I like this but it’s not very Face to Face and Trever will probably just shoot it down and so I didn’t really think about it. But Trever was like, nah this fast stuff – it’s a little too gutter punk so instead lets go with Stopgap and I was just like, “whaaaat?”.

TK: Yea I shot down the songs he thought were going to be a shoe in and went with “Stopgap,” which is more of a dark horse.

SS: Which is why it kind of reminds me of the Ignorance record. I don’t mean the song, I mean that sort of approach. Like, these are the songs I wrote and this is just something I did (referring to Stopgap). Instead of going for that Trever goes for this so it kind of reminded me of that era.

Speaking of Ignorance is Bliss I know you guys don’t play those songs live or it may not just fit in the set to you but over the years it’s become a huge fan favorite. I mean if you’re a Face to Face fan you love that record.

TK: It’s become a favorite, yea.

The first song on the record would fit easily but that’s just my personal opinion, I’m not trying to muscle my way in or anything. Haha.

SS: Done. It’s in. We’re gonna open the set with it tonight.

If you did, I could die happy but I get it. But with that record do you just look back and put it on the shelf and go, you know, we did a great thing there and just let it be and keep moving forward? (Scott started playing Overcome on his bass and I think I shed a single tear)

TK: Yea I mean as a part of our catalog it’s a record we’re all very proud of. We worked very hard on that record and I think it came out great. When we toured it, it just didn’t hit the mark with our audience because we have something live that is kind of unique and special that connects with the fans. We had to go through the process and make that record to learn that. You know what I mean?

Playing those songs doesn’t really have the right feel. There’s a vibe and a darkness to it that just doesn’t fit in when you’re playing songs off Big Choice and self-titled and even the new record. We’ve tried peppering in those songs before and it just hasn’t felt right.

SS: You know, the thing is at that point our main and almost only outlet was the band. It was an honest record and it was probably the most band-like we ever were back in those days. After that we were like, we can have other side-projects like Trever’s solo record or my Viva Death thing and we can get out what other people might deem kooky or experimental music that we still want to do because we’re creative people.

Like Trever said, we tried to pepper in those songs but it just doesn’t work. We want out shows to be punchy and high energy. For a minute we thought maybe we could be a shoe-gazer band and people could just stand and watch but we don’t like when people just stand there! We want people to have fun and go nuts.

TK: I would also say we’re a little bit self-conscience because when people aren’t going nuts we start to wonder what we’re doing wrong. We’re like, did we play a song too slow? So our whole thing is to go out there and just pummel the audience. Which may or may not be good but it’s kind of just what we’ve done for so long. We’re adjusting a little bit on this tour because having been gone for so long and then coming back our audience has grown older just as we have. Most of them but we have young kids out there too.

A lot of the people that have stuck with us over the past 20 years are now in their mid to late 30’s and, uh, they don’t just jump around as much as they used to.

It hurts now.

TK: Yea, you wanna hang back and have a drink and when I think about it, if I wanna go see Social D or whoever, I’m gonna stand in the back and drink a beer. You’re not gonna find me down in the pit.

SS: No matter how exciting Mike Ness makes it you’re not gonna go get down in the front to get hurt.

TK: HELL NO. So yea, it’s been a little bit of an adjustment for us on this tour.

Yea but the tour is still as energetic as it was 15 and 20 years ago.

TK: Absolutely. We’ve just learned not to blame ourselves for that. We’re like OK, we’re not doing anything wrong. Everything is still good. Everyone else has just mellowed out a little bit. There’s still the crazies that get in there and I have no idea what tonight will be like. It depends from city to city. Some nights in Canada were just as off the chain as they were when we were in our mid to late 20’s. Then some other dates in the US, like last night for example in Fort Lauderdale were more subdued and laid back, having drinks and enjoying the show.

How would you compare it to Orlando the other night? Florida is typically hot or cold like that. It’s either absolute chaos or just everyone kind of hanging out.

Orlando was good. Orlando was more crazy but I think everyone was really drunk in Fort Lauderdale. I think they started drinking at like 4 o’clock in the afternoon.

You’re probably right. It is Memorial Day weekend and all. I personally took a break from it so I could do this interview with you and I’m glad I did so now if the recorder dies I can at least remember everything. Haha.

TK: Well you know that drinking can help a show to a point but once it becomes a 12 pack of beer or your 5th shot you’re not going to be going crazy anymore.

Yea at that point you can’t even decipher what song is being played. Well listen, I know you guys have to get ready to play here in a few minutes so I just want to thank you so much for taking the time to hang out and answer a few questions.

TK: Yea man, absolutely. Good talking with you. Thank you so much. I have to do so many interviews with douchebags that irritate me so it’s pleasant to do one with someone that knows about the band where we can have a discussion and it not feel like work.

I’m gonna be honest with you. I’ve never interviewed a band before so it was refreshing to me that it went this well.

TK: Cool. Yea well I dig your style. It’s really cool to just have a conversation than feel like I’m being interrogated. Like ,“So Trever you broke the band up and then you brought it back together. Does that make you a liar then or a liar now?”.

SS: Dammit, we could have taken this opportunity to be real surly and difficult.

That’s why I didn’t say anything! HAHA! Thanks again guys and good luck tonight and the rest of the tour.