By Daniel Kohn
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Face to Face have never been real big on surprises. Ever since the Victorville-bred, LA-based pop/skate/punk outfit formed back in 1991, they've doggedly clung to the elements that initially brought them success. Their hooks are hefty and satisfying, their record production is crisp and professional, but never polished to the point of artificiality, and guitarist/vocalist/bandleader Trever Keith is always flip-flopping between holding out hope and giving in to his cynical side. The most they've ever strayed from their path was with 1999's Ignorance Is Bliss, and even that record wasn't some freaky experimental foray—just an album that had a feel closer to alt-rock than something released on Fat Wreck Chords or Epitaph.
The band's origin story is pretty straightforward, as well. "We rehearsed an awful lot, and I tried to get us [gigs] every weekend, if possible," remembers Keith, now in his early forties. "We did a lot of shows in the Inland Empire area, with a lot of local bands at places such as Spanky's and some of the local clubs in Riverside and Ontario and San Bernardino and whatnot."
The hard work paid off. They recorded several albums, beginning with their 1992 debut, Don't Turn Away; they landed on a major label, allowing them to commit to music seriously; and they built a healthy audience just as pop/punk got a renewed sense of mainstream prestige, as Green Day, Blink-182 and the like took off. Face to Face even had a minor hit in "Disconnected," which showed up in 1995's Tank Girl. Realistically, they were never going to be a huge, culture-dominating deal—their music lacked the panache and crackle to ever be a phenomenon.
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But by 2004, Face to Face had split up. They received offer after offer to return, but they declined, downplaying the possibility. (In a 2005 interview, Keith said, "I felt like we did everything we could do in Face to Face, and I wanted to wrap it up. . . . It's kind of like the old phrase: 'Die young, and leave a pretty corpse.'")
Eventually, the itch got too overwhelming not to scratch, so Face to Face reunited for the 2008 incarnation of the Bamboozle, New Jersey's sprawling festival. "There was a really giant hole there without having Face to Face being active, and nothing else could really fill that," Keith explains. "[The break-up has] given us a new appreciation for everything. I definitely look at it different for that. You spend a lot of time doing your work and laying the groundwork and playing lots of shows, and you feel like you're climbing up something, but if you do it long enough, you get the ability to take a step back and look at what it is that you've been building and what the fans have allowed you to build with their support."
The first real sign that Face to Face were mounting an actual comeback was a full set of dates on last year's Warped Tour. Even though the tour has changed dramatically since the band played the first one in 1995, this was a homecoming of sorts. And the release of May's Laugh Now, Laugh Later—their first LP since 2002—has made this return wholly legit. This sixth album never strays from the band's standard routine, but it has a respectable palette of melodies. "Doing something like this is a journey." Keith says. "Every time you make a record or do another tour or experience the road under your feet, you can't not help but feel influenced by the things you've done previously."
Even if the beats of Face to Face's story have been rather predictable—they toiled away, got their footing, lost and gained some members, burned out, and happily reunited—it's kind of comforting to see a punk group come to a good place after two decades. "I'm really happy to be still doing this," Keith says, "and I feel lucky that our fans have followed and supported us for this amount of time, that we can continue to do it."
This article appeared in print as "Saving Face to Face: The pop/punk outfit's reunion is for real, and front man Trever Keith couldn't be happier."