As I write this, the East Coast leg of Face To Face‘s Econo-Live ’17 tour had just came to a close, and the band will have a little over a week off before round two kicks off in Salt Lake City (dates here). The tour marks their first lengthy string of dates in the US in the more than fourteen months since the release of their latest album, Protection, which itself marked the band’s triumphant release to their former label home, Fat Wreck Chords. We’ve caught up with Face To Face’s founding frontman Trever Keith on numerous occasions throughout the years, but last week in Boston (well, Somerville, but close enough) marked the first time we sat down for an in-depth, face-to-face (pun obviously intended) chat about the current state of things in the legendary SoCal punk rocker’s camp. Suffice it to say, we had a lot to talk about.
If you’re not familiar with the Econo-Live ’17 tour, allow us to catch you up to speed. If we rewind the tape Face To Face Band History tape a couple of decades, we’ll come to their initial Econo-Live tour in 1996, a quick run of shows in which the band packed into a van and played a handful of smaller clubs around the country. The project was recorded at various stops along the way and turned into the now highly-sought-after Econo-Live EP. Given that we just rounded the corner on twenty years since the original, it seemed to Keith to be a good time to dust off those particular cobwebs and try it again in a way that seems equal parts fresh and familiar. “When you’re a kid,” says Keith with more than a little youthful exuberance still in his voice, “you’re just like “I just want to play shows! I don’t care! I’ll play every night!” After you’ve been doing it for a while – we want to play shows that matter.” Between the increased amount of entertainment options and the increasing responsibilities that come along with being a forty-something punk rock fan (never mind bandmate), it’s an understatement to note that the live music scene circa 2017 is a bit of a different animal than it was in 1992. “We want to be more strategic about when and where we play and make sure that it’s something that is going to be an event that will get 40-somethings off the couch! (*both laugh*) I’m guilty of the same thing for bands I love. You’ve got to do something that’s a little bit above and beyond, so if you don’t have the package, you do something like we did here.“
The package he’s referring to is a VIP experience that more and more bands have been incorporating in recent years. Specifically in this case, the tour combines some of the ideas that were represented by a few limited-run Face To Face tours over the last couple of years that a majority of their fan base clamored for a chance to experience: their acoustic Ignorance Is Bliss set, and their “Triple Crown” shows that highlighted the band’s immensely popular first three studio albums. In addition to a meet-and-greet and autograph session, each of these shows finds the four-piece playing an eight- or nine-song acoustic pre-set before doors open to the general public. The results have been positive, particularly among the band’s dedicated fanbase, which maintains an ever-growing online presence through a closed Facebook group maintained by a small handful of hardcore, longtime fans and collectors. “That’s an amazing thing,” Keith comments, with genuine appreciation in his tone. “It’s totally taken on a life of its own, no credit to us. We’re thrilled that there’s such a supportive, tight-knit community of Face To Face fans and collectors. Jack (Cohenour) has been great, and some of the other people like Jessica (Sakolinsky, who also co-runs the Mable Syndrome podcast) are people that run that thing day-to-day and organize events. It’s really, really cool.”
“Really, really cool” also seems to sum up the general consensus concerning not only the band’s latest album, Protection, but their return to Fat Wreck Chords after an extended period of time bouncing between labels of various shapes and sizes. Being on a label — almost any label — in 2017 doesn’t necessarily mean the same thing that it used two a quarter-century ago when Face To Face first appeared on Fat. So what does their return mean now? “It means one thing and one thing only: it means community,” says an emphatic Keith. “That’s something that we missed by hopping around from label to label.” Going the “major label” route could have spelled the kiss of death for the band in the long-term, though their seemingly never-ending label purgatory seems admirable in hindsight, as it kept the band playing by their own, internal set of rules. “All the old punk rockers said “don’t go to a major label! You’re going to sell out! They’re going to fuck you!” explains Keith, quickly adding “I had to learn that for myself. I wasn’t going to listen to anybody and take their word for it!“
As you might imagine, the band changed their own way of doing things yet again on Protection. Due to Keith residing in Nashville at the time that writing was taking place, he and Shiflett wrote and demoed largely on their own, the latter from his Los Angeles home, before coming together briefly to put ideas together. If you’ve spent any time with Keith and Shiflett, together or independently, you’re probably familiar with how their personalities differ. Those differences, of course, balance out the songwriting process: “(Shiflett) will write a seven-minute song, and I’ll write like a one-and-a-half minute song. We’re kind of opposites that way. I need him to come in on my ideas a lot and write a middle eight or a bridge or even flesh out a pre-chorus or a chorus more. I’m like, super economical to a fault, where the songs can be a little too boring, and Scott comes in and adds a little bit of that sauce and some of that flavor and a little bit more depth. And with him sometimes, he’ll just demo with no filter. I think he wrote maybe twenty-eight or thirty songs for Protection!“
For years, Keith and bassist Scott Shiflett were not only the primary writing team, but manned the lion’s share of production duties as well. On Protection, they took a different route, choosing to work with Descendents’ drummer and long-time punk rock producer extraordinaire Bill Stevenson at his Blasting Room studio in Fort Collins, Colorado, for the first time. “Bill is super talented,” says Keith with noted reverence for the backbone of one of his own long-time favorite bands. “He just hears these pop melodies and pop arrangements, and it’s good to have someone outside the band who can trim the fat.”
Keith and I (and, at times, Shiflett) covered a lot of ground during our chat, including some fascinating “Inside Baseball” type information surrounding the record labels they bounced between in the first half of their career as a band. Head below to check out our full discussion!