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Jeff Caudill was enjoying a quiet vacation in Minnesota when the world around him came tumbling down. The former Gameface singer/guitarist was in the state with his wife and daughter for a wedding on the day the I-35W Mississippi River bridge collapsed, killing 13 people and injuring hundreds more. Caudill—who was in the Mall of America when the disaster occurred—booked a handful of solo gigs during his trip, one of which was in Minneapolis the night of the tragedy. "I drove over that bridge maybe three or fours hours before it happened," Caudill says. "I felt like I was watching television, like the stuff was happening, but not to me. I played a very small show that night; it was kind of a downer."
Bumming people out isn't Caudill's area of expertise. Whether it's material from his recent solo records or Gameface songs, Caudill's voice grabs listeners and hits notes that match perfectly with whatever feeling he is trying to convey. His voice has always shone because of his penchant for writing hook-laden music that acts as a backdrop for his emotive vocals. Before the term existed, he was emo. Even when the song is of a sad or serious matter, a glimmer of hope shines through. Caudill possesses the uncanny ability to transform a negative into a positive by creating art from difficult situations in a manner that recalls R.E.M. singer Michael Stipe, whom he calls a major influence on his voice. "I didn't sing well right out of the gate," Caudill says. "I don't know when it clicked in, but I know it was because of R.E.M. I learned how to sing from their early records. When I listen to my old stuff, I feel like I sound like an early Stipe."
The Irvine native-turned-Culver City resident ("I lived in OC before it was called 'The OC,'" Caudill notes) has been a full-time solo artist since Gameface's 2003 demise, but his solo history predates his former band's breakup, as the first records billed to Jeff Caudill were released during Gameface's final hurrah. While almost all of his solo output bears only his name, the singer has recently put together a backing group called the Goodtimes Band with former Farside singer/guitarist Michael "Popeye" Vogelsang on guitar, drummer Robbie Rist (best-known as Cousin Oliver from The Brady Bunch), bassist Kevin Keller and mandolin player Michael Bains, who performed alongside Caudill in the singer's first band in high school. Along with a stylistic shift from post-hardcore to Americana-tinged pop, another major change for the singer is the songwriting process itself. "Gameface songs were already finished when I brought them to the band," Caudill says. "I still can't write too far away from my personality, so it's comforting to have other perspectives. Now, the fun is discovering what someone else in the band will bring to my songs."
Unlike Sting, Iggy Pop or Paul McCartney, Caudill steers the Goodtimes Band's repertoire clear of material from his former group. Although Gameface began as a heralded post-hardcore act, the group slowly morphed into a more pop-oriented focus on each of its five full-lengths and numerous EPs. A chronological listen to Caudill's Gameface output clearly sets a path for the front man's solo work, but Caudill is careful to draw a line between the two. This desire to leave the past in the past stems from wanting to move forward creatively mixed with not knowing if anyone really wants to hear those songs played live. Whatever the status of his previous group might be, the singer says he's happy with what his band accomplished. "I have no idea how popular Gameface is today," Caudill says. "It would be really sad if no one cared. We're not becoming a cult, but I don't think we're forgotten, either."
Once king of the scene, Caudill admits he's not as current on what's going on in local music scenes as he used to be. This comes from his role as parent, which the singer credits as a direct path to uncoolness. "In fact, I'd like to have another kid to get even more uncool."
Jeff Caudill & the Goodtimes Band perform at DiPiazza's, 5205 E. Pacific Coast Hwy., Long Beach, (562) 498-2461; www.dipiazzas.com. Sat., 9 p.m. $10. All ages.