FACE TO FACE'S TREVER KEITH
Interview by Vinnie Baggadonuts

IF IT WEREN'T FOR PUNK ROCK AND HIP-HOP, I MIGHT HAVE GROWN UP A DRUG ADDICT, PROFESSIONAL ATHLETE, OR POLITICIAN. THANKFULLY, THE MUSIC SAVED ME. AND AMONG THE BANDS RESPONSIBLE FOR GUIDING ME DOWN A BETTER WAY OF LIFE IS FACE TO FACE. THEY WERE ABOUT AS PUNK AS THEY COME-- ENERGETIC, AGGRESSIVE-- BUT THEY ALSO HAD MELODIES AND HARMONIES THAT SET THEM APART FROM THE EIGHT MILLION OTHER SOUND-ALIKE PUNK BANDS THAT ROSE TO POPULARITY IN THE MID-NINETIES. NOW, A FEW YEARS AFTER THEIR FINAL SHOW, FRONTMAN TREVER KEITH CALLED TO TALK ABOUT HIS NEW LABEL, THE FACE TO FACE RETROSPECTIVE YOU ALL SHOULD BY, AND WHAT HE KNOWS ABOUT A CERTAIN HIP-HOP LEGEND'S NEXT ALBUM.

Vinnie Baggadonuts: I thought it was so great that you put this retrospective out. What made you decide to do it now?

Trever Keith: Well, I think itís a great way to have a release that encapsulates our entire career. Itís a great way for people who werenít around to see us play live or werenít there for the records as they came out to get an overall view of the band. One of my favorite punk rock bands ever is the Descendents, but I didnít really get into them until theyíd broken up.

Both: (laugh)

TK: So, when Somery came out, that was my favorite CD ever. Then they got back together, and that was super-cool.

Both: (laugh)

TK: This was kind of like our Somery, I guess.

VB: And itís a pretty good selection, song-wise. I donít feel like anythingís really missing. Well, other than the Ignorance Is Bliss stuff. It seriously sounds like you just put out another album.

TK: Awesome!

VB: Were these the twenty-one songs you chose right out of the gate, or did you have preliminary track lists?

TK: Oh, I definitely played around with it. I mean, originally, I had Ignorance Is Bliss songs in there as well. We had another kind of collection like this that we did on Kung Fu Records a few years ago. It only came out overseas.

VB: Really?

TK: Yeah. Itís called Everything Is Everything. Itís in very limited print. So, this is like the real version.

Both: (laugh)

TK: I kinda wanted to not make the same mistakes we made with that one. Like I said, we did have some songs from Ignorance Is Bliss on there, but every time I listened to it, those songs really stuck out like a sore thumb. I wanted this record to be really seamless, even though the albums sound vastly different from one another. I put the songs in chronological order, so when you listen through it, it all kind of makes sense. The sound of everything changes a little bit, but itís not very dramatic. And Joe Gasper, who mastered it, did a really, really great job. I basically just picked songs we stuck to live. It was pretty much the set list we stuck to over the last four or five years.

VB: And itís nice that, like you said, it shows the evolution of the band.

TK: Yeah.

VB: If you donít mind me asking, what is it about Ignorance Is Bliss that made you decide to not put it on there? I mean, of course you like the album, and I know you said it sticks out from the rest of the stuff, but....

TK: Well, sonically, it sticks out. Itís such a different sounding album, and the way the songs are written. The overall emotional tone of the album is dark and melancholy. Itís not much like anything else we did as a band. I think itís definitely one of our best achievements as a band-- not only for the songwriting, but also the production. We never did anything else like it. Itís super-cool, but ultimately, it wasnít really indicative of Face To Face. Itís definitely the dark horse of our catalog.

VB: I always thought it was a nice next step from the self-titled Face To Face album, but it also reminds me a bit of the Viva Death stuff that you did-- just the feel of it.

TK: I donít know. Thatís cool if thatís the impression you got from it, but to me, theyíre completely different albums. The first Viva Death record was aggressive, which is what makes it different from Ignorance. Thatís more of a rainy day kind of record. But, you know, itís all the same guys writing the songs, so....

Both: (laugh)

VB: I didnít get the liner notes on this, but Mike [Cubillos, Earshot Media] said they contain stories from all the guys, remembering stuff from over the years.

TK: When I was putting this thing together, I called up everyone whoíd ever been in the band, which is not a very short list.

Both: (laugh)

TK: I told them what I wanted to do with the "best of" collection, and that I wanted everyone to be involved. I wanted everyone to write a paragraph recounting their experiences with each record. Everyone was really cool about doing it, too. You get some photos of the record, what the band was doing onstage, and then everyone recounts the experience, including each of the engineers.

VB: So, putting this all together and reading what everyone had to say about their experience, did it make you think about what Face To Face contributed to music and punk rock, especially to a lot of the bands out now?

TK: Yeah, definitely. You know, thatís a really difficult thing to comment on, because I think I have a skewed perspective on it. If I were to say, "We were a really important band and we influenced a lot of the bands that have come up," that sounds arrogant. But if I completely ignore it, thatís kind of dumb. So itís really difficult to comment on it. I know that when I read a lot of the emails and mail we get from our fans, quite a few people say our records helped them through really difficult times in their lives, and the music had a really positive effect. Thatís great stuff to hear, so I know in some way we contributed to the overall punk rock scene. And definitely, in the time we were around, we made an impression on our era.

VB: Do you ever hear from any of the bands you took on tour with you saying stuff like that?

TK: Yeah, we have. I canít think of any specific examples at the moment, but Iíve gotten that from bands before.

VB: How different was it ending the band than when you first started, as far as the ease of recording and touring went?

TK: You know, I donít know if recording ever got any easier. I do think we got more confident in recording our albums, though. And the live shows definitely got easier, because you do something enough and youíre bound to get better at it. Emotionally, though, it was a lot more difficult to do that final tour than I thought. I didnít know what kind of effect it would have on me, emotionally. I remember when I was up on that stage the first night of that last tour, and I said good night to Atlanta, it all kind of hit me: this will be the last time youíre in Face To Face in this city. And that pretty much happened every night for the rest of that tour. It was heavy. There were a lot of emotions there that I wasnít really prepared for, to tell you the truth. (laughs) But I think we had a great run. Iím really proud of what we did as a band. We didnít always make the best decisions, but it was what it was, and Iím glad we were able to share an overall positive experience with people.

VB: And you ended on a good note, too.

TK: Yeah, absolutely. There are a ton of bands that continue to go on like the Energizer Bunny, and good for them. I wouldnít discount anything anyone chooses to do. But for us, I felt like we did everything we could do in Face To Face, and I wanted to wrap it up. I donít know. Itís kind of like the old phrase, "Die young, and leave a pretty corpse."

Both: (laugh)

VB: When you were putting this together, listening to every song, thinking back to recording, are there any really great stories you remember?

TK: The most bizarre stuff, which is potentially the funniest, happened in the earliest days of the band. We were so clueless, you just kind of go into everything wide-eyed and amazed by the whole process. Like, when we went in and recorded Over It, a few of those songs were pulled off the 7" they came out on originally. But we went and re-recorded a couple so weíd have some new tracks, and we did them with this guy named Geza X, who was a former punk rock guy who had a record called You Goddamn Kids or something.

Both: (laugh)

TK: It was a really trippy experience. He was a Hollywood hipster dude that our manager hooked us up with. He was kinda crazy. [Guitarist] Chad Yaro had just joined the band, and we wanted to psyche him out. Heíd never been in the studio before, and he was super-nervous, so we told him Geza had a glass eye, and that he shouldnít look into it. We told him he was a crazy Vietnam vet and all this stuff, so Chad wouldnít look him in the eye at all. We let him in on the joke a few days later.

Both: (laugh)

TK: We had a really interesting recording session with [producer] Thom Wilson, who did Big Choice. He was this crazy hippy-dippy dude who brought in all these Tibetan and Hindu artifacts, and all these candles into the studio. Heíd do all this crazy spiritual shit, like dissipate clouds with the power of his mind and all this kind of stuff. That was a really weird, Far Eastern religious experience.

Both: (laugh)

TK: At the end of each session every night weíd all sit around and hold hands, and he claimed he could pass power between us through our hands. Just a bunch of crazy shit like that.

Both: (laugh)

TK: But once we got a little further along in our careers and started working with some of the same people, we became a little more comfortable. You kind of get your shit together and start running it more like a machine. You become a family, almost.

VB: When you were young, did you ever imagine youíd come to a point where youíre looking back on this band you were in for over a decade, and you made all this music and toured all over the world?

TK: When I was young, I imagined I would be in a band full-time, and whatever that entailed. Thatís all I was ever focused on, from the time I was 13 or 14. And I worked my ass of at it every day of my life until I pulled it off. I had no idea what it was going to be, but I was going to keep trying until I got there.

VB: Well, what does it feel like to have a dream, and to have actually made it a reality?

TK: Itís bittersweet, really. Because on the one hand, I donít know that I actually achieved all the goals I had set out to achieve. But on the other hand, we were afforded opportunities that 99% of other people in the same shoes never see. So, itís weird. Itís very gratifying and fulfilling because we did achieve a lot of really great things. But on the other hand, I feel like there were a lot of missed opportunities.

VB: Are there any of those missed opportunities that youíre still hell-bent on achieving?

TK: No, not in Face To Face, of course. Thatís over now. So, I mean... I donít have goals like, "I must have a platinum record," or any bullshit like that. Itís really more about being able to sustain a career that will last longer than Face To Face did. When I was younger I would set these weird milestones, like getting a gold record and crap like that. But going through what I went through in Face To Face, you learn that that stuff doesnít really matter that much.

VB: So, now you have this label, Antagonist Records. Thatís strictly yours, correct?

TK: Yes.

VB: What are you going to be doing with it?

TK: Well, when I was younger, I didnít want anyone to tell me that major labels were going to be a bad thing. I knew how evil they could be. I wasnít completely unaware. But I had to figure out for myself why they were bad.

Both: (laugh)

TK: We didnít even get to deal with one straight-up. We just landed at A&M [Records] because the parent company that owned us went bankrupt, so we were transferred there. But having really experienced the full crap that is a major label experience, and then being on-- even worse-- a middle-level label with major distribution, but no money or power to back it up, I think those experiences gave me a new appreciation and fondness for promoting independent music. And thatís the main thrust of Antagonist Records. I have independent distribution. Itís an independent record label. I plan to keep it that way. I want to help foster cool and new independent music. Itís not just for punk rock or hardcore. Actually, Iím a little jaded and kind of burned out with whatís happening on that front. What I think is actually fresh and brand-new with independent music is, Iíve shifted my focus more towards hip-hop.

VB: Really?

TK: Itís the new punk rock in the way the major label industry has gobbled it up, but thatís fostered this whole scene of indie labels, like Rhymesayers, in a really cool way. Antagonist wonít be strictly limited to that. Weíll do punk rock, hardcore, hip-hop, electronic... but itís all just stuff I think is worth listening to. I want to give back to the scene and community I came out of, which helped us in Face To Face. So, Iím putting out this Face To Face record, a couple of hip-hop records... Iím actually putting out a new KRS-One album. For me, I want to do something thatís a little more outside.

VB: I hope it does well, man.