Face to Face frontman Trever Keith has been on the front lines of punk long enough to trace its evolution.
"I think the American form of punk rock is transforming into something almost akin to Americana music or — I hate to say country music, but there is a certain outlaw sensibility," says Keith. "Punk was meant to be rebellious and in your face, but it's developed into something of substance that speaks to people on a level that's almost folk-based."
Keith's waxing nostalgic as his catchy, fist-raising California quartet celebrates its second full-length release since the 2008 reunion, Three Chords and a Half Truth. It's a more ambitious album that stretches the boundaries of their sound, without losing sight of punk's earnest, no-bullshit ethos.
"An old country guy, Harlan Howard, coined the phrase 'Three Chords and the Truth,'" Keith says. "My feeling then is rock 'n roll is three-chords and a half truth because so much agenda, bias and bullshit has seeped in over the years."
Face to Face started out in 1991 in Victorville, a town 80 miles northeast of Los Angeles, with a sound informed by bands like the Descendents and Bad Religion. They debuted in '92 on NOFX frontman Fat Mike's label Fat Wreck Chords with Don't Turn Away, before being swept up in the post-Nirvana major label feeding frenzy. Following a couple mid-'90s albums on A&M, the group bounced around the indies until taking an extended break after 2002's How to Ruin Everything.
"We were feeling a little burnt out and maybe just a little bored with the status quo," recalls Keith. "I'm a little ashamed saying that, because we've been able to build this incredibly loyal fanbase that we're grateful for. But we'd done the same thing for a long time and we just wanted to try some new stuff."
During the hiatus, Keith released a solo album and played guitar with Face to Face co-writer/bassist Scott Shiflett and A Perfect Circle drummer Josh Freese in the band Viva Death. But the call of the old band eventually became too loud to ignore, and Face to Face reunited in 2008. Successful tours naturally begot a new album, 2011's Laugh Now, Laugh Later, which explored a back-to-basics approach.
The goal, says Keith, was to "not layer a million tracks of guitars and overdubs — just make a simple in-your-face rock album."
Falling back into the old album-tour-record-some-more groove, the band released Three Chords and a Half Truth earlier this month. The musical scope is broader this time out, from the Jam-style mod anthem "Smokestacks and Skyscrapers" to the bouncy, ska-flavored "First Step, Misstep." There's also a pronounced mid-period Clash influence.
"Not that we wanted to copy London Calling," says Keith, "but this is our sort of version of a record like that, where we combined a lot of outside influences, like the best of that early British punk rock that we've not really used that much. We played with more mid-tempo rhythms, tried a few more staccato guitar stabs. Even some good old fashioned rock 'n roll."
But Keith's quick to provide assurance that the live show will encompass the band's full catalogue in the way that fans want it, which is to say, loud and large.
"There's no bullshit, no backing tracks, just a raw rock 'n roll band," says Keith. "It connects with people on a level that is almost instinctual."