The eighth studio LP from long-running Southern California punks Face to Face is a bit of a departure. Drawing from classic British punk influences like The Clash and The Jam as well as American rock acts like Bob Seger and Bruce Springsteen, Three Chords and a Half-Truth has a more lived-in, laid back vibe than previous outings, even if longtime fans may complain about the slower tempos. We talked to the band’s singer-guitarist Trevor Keith about the album, the process of making it, and how he discovered he’s not really a people person. Face to Face play the Showbox Market on June 30th.
Has writing a record gotten harder or easier as you’ve gotten older? I don’t really think age is much of a factor. I think every record we’ve written is probably equally difficult or easy, depending on whether you’re in your creative flow or not. I’ll either write a bunch of songs at once or I’ll go for several months and not have any song ideas.
Have you figured out what causes that ebb and flow? Not really, no. Getting older probably doesn’t have a whole lot to do with it other than the fact that I’ve put a bunch of records out. One of the things that you have to be mindful of as you keep going, or at least that I’m mindful of, is that I’m always trying to not repeat myself if I can avoid it.
Is there usually talk of what you want a record to sound like before the writing begins? I think that’s varied from record to record throughout our career. In the early days there wasn’t as much thought given to that. I will say with Three Chords and a Half-Truth that it was more thematic. [Bassist Scott Shiflett] and I had more of an idea of the kind of record we wanted to make and the kind of songs we were looking to work on. Scott actually wrote a ton of songs for the record, like thirty. And I wrote about half a dozen or so.
What were the conversations about this record like? What were you interested in trying to do? We were excited about the fact that although we’d already made seven studio records, we’d never made a record that was like The Clash’s London Calling, something that had good, mid-tempo songwriting that was also inspiring punk rock music that didn’t really rely on a fast drum beat or some of the other stuff that just seems so easy in punk rock. We wanted to do something that was a little more based around song. We didn’t use London Calling as a template…
Well, you don’t want to set the bar too high for yourselves. Oh god no, that’s an amazing record. But just a record like that, that we could proud of, that would be a feather in our cap. We relied a lot on influences like The Clash and The Jam and Stiff Little Fingers and 999–that early British punk rock stuff. But what ultimately ended up coming out was a mixture of this early British punk rock and this real American influence, like Springsteen, that also ended up finding its way into the mix. Rather than kicking that to the side, we just kind of let in whatever we felt worked as part of the record.
I read that a lot of the songs were written backwards in a sense, that you came up with a title first and then wrote the song around the title. Where did this idea come from, how did it work, and where do the titles usually come from? That’s something I tried on the last record we made, Laugh Now, Laugh Later. I was just so happy with the process because it helps dictate what you’re going to do with the lyrics. In the past, a lot of the songwriting was done at band practice. As we were working on songs or rehearsing parts, sometimes a lyric line or a few words would stick in my mind as we rehearsed it and if it was something that I thought was interesting then I would base my lyrics off of that.
Is the title, which riffs on the famous Harlan Howard quote, meant to be cheeky or sincere? Are you commenting on your own writing or just taking the piss of punk rock in general? I think it’s a little bit of everything. I am being cheeky and self-effacing in that I try not to take what we do too seriously. I’m proud of the music we make and we love what we do, but I think it’s important to never take yourself too seriously. I think rock ‘n’ roll in general is three chords and a half-truth. Harlan Howard came up with the quote when asked about country music. And I think that’s so much more of a loaded question with rock ‘n’ roll, there’s so much more agenda attached to it. We’ve never really been a very political band, and this record has a little bit more, maybe socio-political content attached to it, so I think the title works really well.
You’ve been producing your own records for a long time now and you’ve done work producing other bands too. Is that still something you’re still interested in? I’m not as active as I once was. I was going to try and make it a “thing” but I did a few projects and realized that I only really want to work on records that I have a passion for. It’s not something that I love to do just for the sake of it. It’s kind of a bummer to be saddled in the studio working on a record with people you don’t care for very much. I wouldn’t make it a job, but depending on the right project, it’s really fun to do.
Is that to say that your lack of enjoyment is less about the production aspects and more about having to mediate relationships between band members? You’ve got to be a real people person, and I don’t know how great I am at that 90% of the time.
How did you end up relocating from Southern California to Nashville? I just lived in California my whole life and I’ve traveled the world extensively. I’ve seen a lot of other places and I wanted the experience of living in a different part of the country. Nashville’s a place where there’s a lot of stuff going on. There are cool opportunities and a great arts community. It’s something completely different from Southern California where I grew up and a great change of pace. I’ve been there for three years now and I absolutely love it.
Is touring something you still enjoy in your 40s the way you presumably did in your 20s? I’ve seen places change so much over the amount of time that I’ve been touring that it actually keeps things really fresh. You get used to going to a city and having a great restaurant that you love or a particular store you love and when you roll through that next year and it’s not there anymore, you’re like, “Oh man!” There’s that aspect of it, but it turns from an excitement of new places to something that you get used to and almost feel like you need to have. When I stay home for long periods of time I’m like, “I want to go travel. I’ve got to go on a trip.” I think I’ve just grown accustomed to traveling.
What are a couple of your favorite places to travel to? Tokyo is certainly an amazing place to go and play music and an interesting city. I love going there. Some of my favorite cities in the U.S. are Philadelphia and New York. I love Austin, too. I like going to Europe a lot. We got to go Helsinki, Finland one time and that was a really interesting and cool city to visit. I guess anyplace that’s more exotic and outside of the culture that you’re used to.