face to face
Photo By: Nathaniel Shannon
When you think of West Coast punk rock—Hell, when you think of punk rock in general—there aren’t many names more culturally resonant than face fo face, the melodic-punk group formed by frontman Trever Keith 27 years ago. The band has weathered the shifting sands of punk rock and pop culture more times than anyone can count, and here they are, nearly three decades later, not only still going strong but finding new and exciting ways to keep their band and their fans invigorated.
Case in point: Hold Fast (Acoustic Sessions), the brand new full-length from face fo face, releasing July 27 on Fat Wreck Chords. As its title so handily points out, this is an acoustic record—the first of face fo face’s career—but the album has more than a few sonic twists and turns, with a career-spanning tracklisting, jumping from 1992’s genre classic Don’t Turn Away to the band’s most recent effort, 2016’s return-to-form Protection. As Keith explains, this was sort of a happy accident.
“During last year’s Econo-Live tour, we included a VIP package for the first time ever,” he begins. “I wanted to do something more than just signing autographs or taking pictures, so we added an acoustic set every night before the show. What came out of that experience was this realization that our songs, when stripped down, had a really cool identity that didn’t exist the way that we play them as a full band, punk-rock style. We started to notice this connection with the people who were watching, and we started thinking, ‘Maybe we should record this.’”
So Keith and his band—longtime bassist Scott Shiflett, drummer Danny Thompson and guitarist Dennis Hill—did just that, booking a studio during an off-day on tour to capture this raw, stripped-down snapshot of their catalog. From there, the band approached Fat about releasing the album, but even though the label was supportive of the project, Keith himself wasn’t happy with the result: He decided to scrap the original sessions and have the band hit the studio once more, this time with more songs and refined arrangements that include guest musicians (including accomplished pedal-steel player Gary Brandin and Dirty Heads percussionist Jon Olazabal) and unique instrumentation such as mandolin, piano and harmonium.
“Anyone familiar with our band knows that one thing our band is, for better or worse, is adventurous, starting back in 1999 with Ignorance Is Bliss,” Keith explains. “We haven’t stayed the path as your stalwart punk-rock band that’s going to keep giving you the same-sounding punk record every time with different song titles.”
While some of face fo face’s most popular tracks are on Hold Fast, the band’s signature song, “Disconnected,” was actually not a part of the original acoustic sessions.
“The first version of the acoustic record was only eight songs and we needed more material for a full-length record, so we put it to a vote with our fans on Facebook,” Keith says. “As a result of that poll, we added ‘Disconnected’ and ‘Ordinary,’ and they turned out to be some of my favorite arrangements on the record.”
Keith says to expect a different side of the band on their coast-to-coast headlining tour that will begin this July.
“These are acoustic-only shows in different types of venues—some will be seated,” the frontman reveals. “It’s a tour where people can come to the show and kick back and relax a little bit. You won’t have to worry about crowd surfing or a circle pit. It will be a more chilled out experience.”
Of course, since there are only 10 songs on Hold Fast, fans can expect to hear all of them in the set along with some other surprises.
“We might throw in a cover or two, as well as some Ignorance Is Bliss songs,” Keith says. “In fact, we purposely steered clear of Ignorance Is Bliss songs on Hold Fast because I think we might do an entire acoustic version of that album in the future.”
Which brings us to the album title: What exactly does Hold Fast signify?
“We’re a band that isn’t afraid to try new things and stretch out beyond what people define as punk rock. It’s part of our career ethic and something we will never change,” Keith says. “An acoustic record is something we never would have done in 1994 because it wasn’t ‘punk rock’ then, but the world has changed, our supporters have changed, we’ve changed, and the timing just feels right.”