Back to the ruins
Punk trio Face to Face flirted with major label success but is now back to its roots and loving it
A decade into their careers, the members of Face to Face seem to have come to terms with their place in music.
By all accounts, it’s been a roller-coaster ride to this point. The band, which includes singer/guitarist Tever Keith, bassist Scott Shiflett and drummer Pete Parada, has been through extended periods of internal upheavals.
The musicians have had their hopes raised for making a big commercial breakthrough after signing record deals with three different major labels—Victory, A&M and Beyond Records—only to see all three deals go sour and four records released by those labels come and go without reaching a mainstream audience.
They’ve endured their share of criticism from fans for courting major-label success and veering temporarily from their punk roots.
Such events would be enough to split up many bands—or at least create a tense atmosphere that would hurt the band’s creative chemistry.
But to Shiflett, the ups and downs in the end have enabled Face to Face to get its priorities in order.
“We may be in our 11th year as a band, and for all I know we’re past the chance of ever being a big band, which is fine. Whatever. That’s life,” Shiflett said. “But we’re in a better state now than honestly we’ve ever been since I joined the band seven or eight years ago. There’s a certain camaraderie and joy for what we’re doing and certainly a reverence for the band and for each other. We respect each other a lot and enjoy each other’s company. And it’s really a pleasure.”
In several important ways, the arrival of the new Face to Face CD, How to Ruin Everything, signifies a new era of harmony and enthusiasm for the group.
For one thing, the CD, the band’s eighth full-length release, marks a return to Vagrant Records. The band had first worked with the label in 1996, releasing an EP, Econolive, through Vagrant in partnership with the band’s own imprint, Lady Luck Records, followed by a 1997 full-length concert CD, Live. Those two releases helped Vagrant get off the ground as a company.
The band also settled a long-standing source of internal uncertainty with the departure of guitarist Chad Yaro in 2000. Shiflett said Yaro for years had been torn between his commitment to the band and to his family before finally choosing to quit Face to Face and begin earning a regular paycheck for his family.
“We have no ill will or animosity toward Chad,” Shiflett said. “He’s a sweetheart, and we love him and miss him, but he had a lot of heavy choices to make in his own life that were bleeding into the band and becoming very tense. It was creating an air of uncertainty and tension amongst the group that was really sucking the life out of it.”
But perhaps the greatest sense of satisfaction has arrived on a musical level with the new CD, which marks a full-fledged return to the early punk roots of the Los Angeles-area band, which formed in 1992. Of course, that approach wouldn’t have mattered without good material, and How to Ruin Everything features some of the band’s most potent songs yet.
Tracks like “Bill of Goods” and “Double Standard” have the rough edge of punk yet pack plenty of melodic punch behind their hooky guitar riffs and Keith’s forceful vocal melodies. Other songs broaden the CD’s reach by bridging the gap between punk and the British mod rock sound typified by early Who or, in the ‘80s, a band like the Jam.
“If you listen to the new record, you’ll notice that though it is raw, though it is intense and it’s very energetic, it isn’t the fastest record,” Shiflett said. “It isn’t full of those breakneck drum beats. Really, one of the main inspirations for this new record, for this simplistic raw approach, was a more almost Brit rock, like old Brit punk.
“We wanted to write a record that was essentially easy to perform as a three-piece. I think we did it," Shiflett said. "We’re all super pleased with it. And we think it’s energetic, we think it’s catchy, and for my money it’s a stronger caliber of tunes. From beginning to end, I think it’s a stronger record."