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Click on Their Future

L.A.'s Face to Face, tired of record deals gone bad, put its songs on the Internet and let listeners vote for the tracks that wound up on its latest album.

August 24, 2000|MARC WEINGARTEN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

In the balkanized universe of punk rock, where fervent cults coalesce around particular bands and the fiercely independent D.I.Y. (for "do it yourself") ethic endures, the Internet has proven a welcome development.

Bands can build a fan base from the Web page up and then nurture that base by maintaining an open pipeline between artist and listener.

Few groups have taken greater advantage of the Internet's interactivity than L.A.'s Face to Face. The veteran pop-punk quartet, which has recorded for indie and major labels during its 10-year career, has become a well-oiled, self-sufficient machine. After suffering what members describe as the usual litany of record-biz indignities, Face to Face took its music to the people and reclaimed its own career in the process.

"Underground music is all about knowing about something before your friend does," says guitarist Trever Keith who, along with bassist Scott Shiflett, is munching veggie burgers and salad at a diner in West Hollywood. "Having that immediate access to information through the Web is very cool for that reason."

Rather than rely on record exec counsel to choose the tracks for its latest release, "Reactionary," the band (which includes guitarist Chad Yaro and drummer Pete Parada) posted MP3 files of 16 songs it had recorded for potential inclusion. Then it asked fans to vote on which 12 songs should be included on the album.

'We're Pro-Napster'

"We got over 1.8 million votes for songs," Keith says. "But you have to figure some people were voting quite a lot. At least they were passionate about the songs they voted for."

Face to Face's six-week tour, which kicks off tonight with three sold-out dates at the House of Blues in West Hollywood and will be at the Glass House in Pomona next month, is being sponsored by Napster, the controversial Internet music-swapping service. "We're pro-Napster," says Keith. "It's fans trading with fans. . . . I think it does encourage people to buy more records. If you're a musician, you can literally record a demo in your bedroom, make an MP3 of it, upload it to Napster, and people in Japan could be talking about your record."

Face to Face's state-of-the-art Web page (http://www.facetofacemusic.com) features audio and video clips, photos, news updates, a chat room and the obligatory merchandise for sale. Keith will also lug along a laptop and a digital camera on the road so he can provide a multimedia tour diary for the site.

"At first, we didn't give much credence to the whole Internet phenomenon," Keith says. "Now, it's become a great promotional tool for us."

Formed in 1991, Face to Face was strictly a part-time exercise during the first five years of its existence. "We couldn't tour 'cause we all had jobs, and we were just making ends meet," says Keith, who was raised in Encino. As it turned out, the band's first major record deal, with the now-defunct Victory label, turned out to be more blessing than curse.

"It allowed us to devote ourselves to the band full time," Keith says, "but we had some of our worst experiences as a band there."

Victory folded before the band released an album. The group's contract then ended up with another PolyGram-affiliated company, A&M.

Band Set Out on Its Own in 1996

The group's two A&M releases failed to generate healthy sales, and Face to Face asked to get out of its contract. The band struck out on its own in 1996. Its subsequent albums, last year's "Ignorance Is Bliss" and the new "Reactionary," have been released by the band's own label, Lady Luck, and distributed by Beyond Music.

"With Beyond, we can have a label-to-label relationship," Keith says. "We know exactly what's going on. We approve budgets and marketing plans together. That knowledge is very helpful, and it makes us feel a lot more comfortable." The new album has sold an estimated 50,000 copies since its release in June, bringing the band's total sales on Beyond to approximately 125,000.

As punk-rock entrepreneurs, the members of Face to Face would love to achieve Blink-182-like success, but for now are content to earn a healthy living as masters of their own domain. "We're happy playing the music we love," Shiflett says. "I don't want to look back at this as nothing but a big headache, that we spent 10 years of our life trying to capture a brass ring we didn't get. I feel like we've already won."

BE THERE

Face to Face, tonight through Saturday at the House of Blues, 8430 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood. 7:30 p.m. $15. Sold out. (323) 848-5100.

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