Face To Face - Biography
Face to Face should have risen to the same ranks of popularity and chart success as Blink 182 and Sum 41. Along with Green Day, they created the pop/punk cash cow that would make stars out of so many of their imitators. But instead of cashing in on a trend they'd set, the band diverted from the pop/punk path and took the high road, making a great album full of mid-tempo hard-rock songs, none of which made it onto the radio. After that, the band's fan base was reduced to a cult audience, but it was a massive cult audience just the same. If nothing else, Face to Face proved that a punk band in the 90's with a penchant for melody could still be punk, and not some disposable pop outfit.
Face to Face began in 1988 as Zero Tolerance. They formed in Southern California as a four-piece consisting of Trever Keith (vocals, guitar), Rob Kurth (drums), Matt Riddle (bass), and Mark Haake (guitar). A 1989 demo is the only known document of this lineup, as Haake soon left the band to meet the demands of the Air Force. The remaining members believed they could make it as a trio, and changed their name to Face to Face in 1991. Early in 1992, the band released their first album, Don't Turn Away, on the Dr. Strange label. Although only two thousand copies were shipped out (it was all Dr. Strange could afford, as the label went out of business shortly after the album's release), the LP showed promise, and Fat Wreck Chords didn't waste any time signing the band and re-releasing the debut on a grander scale.
The band spent three weeks on tour in Germany supporting Lagwagon when they realized it was time to give their live sound a bit more power. Face to Face added a second guitarist, Chad Yaro, and went on a touring rampage that lasted for months. For the next couple of years, the band did not put out any albums, but did release several singles, all of which turned up on the 1994 six-song compilation, Over It, released on the band's new label, Victory Records. One of the singles, “Disconnected,” became a hit on Los Angeles radio station KROQ, going into heavy rotation. Based on that exposure, their second album proper, Big Choice, sold over 100,000 copies. It was the third Face to Face album overall, and the third one to include “Disconnected” in the tracklist. And this time, the song made its way into the modern rock charts, climbing to the number 39 spot.
Major labels were after the band now, and Face to Face signed a contract with A&M. Riddle left the group before they could make their major label debut however, and the band replaced him with Scott Shiflett. A&M put out the band's self-titled album in 1996. The new LP was a triumph for the band, as Keith had fully mastered the pop/punk technique, turning the oft-lambasted genre into something that could be taken seriously. His lyrics were often dark, somber and plaintive, standing in stark contrast to the juvenile humor employed by his contemporaries. He even rivaled the appeal of “Disconnected” with new single “I Won't Lay Down,” a song with even more attack and melody than their old standby hit.
Despite its quality and good critical reception, Face to Face did not sell as well as anticipated, and the contract with A&M did not last for another album. Neither did drummer Kurth, who quit the band and was replaced by Pete Parada. In 1998, the band issued a live album, simply called Live, on the VP label before signing with Beyond to release their next studio album. By now, bands like Blink 182 were hitting pay dirt by emphasizing the pop side of pop/punk to an almost cutesy level. Face to Face, who had been walking that line for years, were expected to jettison some of their angst in favor of more radio-friendly material, thereby assuring themselves a spot on the charts alongside their imitators. They decided to go a different way, releasing a daring ten-song set of mid-tempo hard rock tunes called Ignorance is Bliss (1999, Beyond). Although it was virtually ignored by rock radio, the LP impressed critics and still found a place in the charts, peaking at number 162 on the Billboard 200.
The next year, the band decided to return to their punk roots with Reactionary, released in 2000 on their own label, Lady Luck Records (a subsidiary of Vagrant). The set of songs that made it onto Reactionary was largely dictated by fans of the band. Through a partnership with MP3.com, fans were able to download samples of all the songs Face to Face had recorded, and then cast their vote as to which ones should make the final cut. During the six weeks of the promotion, almost two million votes were placed. In early 2001, Vagrant Records issued Standards and Practices, an LP of the band's covers featuring renditions of songs by Fugazi, the Jam, the Smiths, the Pixies, and the Pogues, among others. Before 2001 was over, Yaro departed and Face to Face had once again become a three-piece.
2002 was a busy year for Face to Face and Keith in particular. First, they teamed up with the Dropkick Murphys for the February 15th release of their split EP, Face to Face vs Dropkick Murphys (2002, Vagrant). Just two months later, the band returned with a new set of originals called How to Ruin Everything (2002, Vagrant), arguably the strongest set of songs they ever released. The band's popularity had definitely waned over the years, and was by now mostly reduced to obsessive devotees. Even so, the album managed to enter the Billboard 200, proving that there was still a lot of love for Face to Face. Strengthening the bond between them and their fans, they headlined the Warped Tour that year, their first appearance on the annual tour since 1997. Keith and Shiflett finished out the year by releasing the debut album by their side project, Viva Death, a supergroup of sorts that also featured Josh Freese and Shiflett's brother, Chris Shiflett (of No Use For a Name and Foo Fighters). Viva Death released their self-titled album on Vagrant that September.
Face to Face officially disbanded in 2003, but did embark on a 2004 farewell tour. A retrospective called Shoot the Moon: The Essential Collection, hit stores in 2005. It was released on Keith's own label, Antagonist Records. In the wake of their breakup, Parada joined the Offspring while Shiflett and Keith put out the second album by Viva Death. In early 2008, the band acknowledged the rumors of a reunion by stating on their website that the rumors were true. Face to Face reunited and went on a short tour later that year. Since then, Keith has admitted that the release of a new Face to Face album, though not a certainty, is entirely possible.