This piece was written by Eric Cabrera:
Illustrations by by Bella Cabrera @belb_illustrations
Photos by Eric Cabrera
Photo by Eric Cabrera (97').
“The first Farside show, with Inside Out and Against the Wall, was at a church in Irvine (1990). The future Gameface guys had all met before, but there we talked and shared numbers. A week later we said we were gonna do this pop band ”.
- Jeff, November, 1998, Semantics Fanzine#1
Orange County has a distinct slang. And yes, as accepting as hardcore can be the Southern California sound nearly requires a decoder ring to meet the pedigree. Turmoil usually needs to be on the resume. But what does it say when
your band might dig 7 Seconds Ourselves over The Crew?
What if your band’s inevitable sound is several songs colliding? Think R.E.M.’s ‘Begin the begin’, Descendents ‘Ace’ and Buffalo Tom’s ‘Sodajerk’. If you aren’t angry and harmony is priority, based on your The Plimsouls and The Alarm mixtapes, then ‘enter stage right’ with a strong sense of self led by a singer-songwriter.
They found a simpatico with DIY procedures of contemporaries like 411, Strife, Inside Out, Function and Outspoken. This is what Big Frank, Nemesis Records, must have seen in them as he continued diversifying the label after Vision, Reason To Believe, Visual Discrimation and The Offspring. Gameface was always part of the network of tour couches, half-toned zines and landlines, just like Split Lip, Lifetime, Ashes, Endpoint and Unbroken. They owned X-Acto knives for bedroom-made flyers and built an audience via ‘thank you’ lists. Todd, Paul, Bob and Jeff launched with the Maximum Rock-N-Roll tour model in a van full of gear, a map, prepaid cards for vacant phones and several days rotation of laundry to last America. They found a new dial spot on the decoder-ring of punk as they brought Orange County Power Pop into the conversation.
Take notice of the cover of Three to Get Ready (3TGR). A low angle, clean timeless image of Jeff with a mic stand, Todd with guitar and Paul’s hand on his bass. What does it say to you?
The band thrived, rather only, survive, after Bob’s suicide. After mourning and serious consideration they forged ahead. Difficulty births evolution. Bill of Dr. Strange Records encouraged the guys to keep going. They found Phil Hansen for drums. And they returned to the For the Record Studio to show they were stalwarts.
The band was not playing the finite game, where you figure out the win before the beginning. They only needed to say what was in them.
3TGR (1995, Dr. Strange) is an announcement. The opener Start Me Over sprints, but first it lets out a breath. As told by Jeff, to Evan Jacobs Orange County Hardcore Scenester: Aftermath #125 (May 15, 2021). Start is needed momentum after an absence. Greentree is about the keys to adulthood not yet handed over, “Passed by the place where I grew up. I guess it’s only a house now. It used to feel like home and the neighbors went out their way to know my name. I’m a big boy now and they don’t recognize me”. And Only Chance We Get is Bob’s song, about the intersecting distractions of playing and the realities of life, “I know I look like I got everything under control...It’s all fun and games until the music stops and we’re alone”.
Three is a survival song. The melancholy base lines echo open chords of the records beginning. Mid-tempo chugging by Todd, and Jeff’s harmonizing wail join for a pallbearer send off to Bob. Jeff talks to everyone: “Words are more important than pictures or music but sometimes words mean nothing if they don’t fit the song. Why don’t you scream? I know you need release”. A conversation with the gang, simultaneously and after the fact. What remains of three guys that shared trauma? Jeff gives to the now, “One on my left. One on my right”. A song of brotherhood. It says: ‘I got your back’. If this isn’t hardcore, then what is?
Three infused into the pinnacle of Texas is the Reason. In Anti-Matter Fanzine (Autumn ‘94), Norman Brannon’s review of Good recounts the opener of Election Year bringing him to tears with the Bob factor. A year later the genesis of Texas’ Back And To The Left carries the lyrics of Three, “I will stick up for you. I’ll always worry about you”. Garrett Klahn sings them in reverse order. As told on the Where It Went Podcast, with guitarist Norman, the lyrics bled into the Texas song by way of a mixtape labeled “I’ll always stick up for you”. Garrett, unaware of Jeff’s anonymous lyric, plugs this into the Back And To…song serendipitously while in the December ‘95 studio sessions. This serendipitous creativity was a precursor to a future tour of Texas and Gameface. Five years later, Gameface tip’s their hat back in Laughable with the line “It costs so much I know but I guess I need to know what it could have felt like to be right”, pulled from Back And To The Left.
This tossing the ball, back and forth, is the Infinite Game at work between bands and lives.
The Big Deal, examines ‘scene points’, “You try so hard to take it personal...it’s only music, what’s the big deal?” Gibberish has an honest breeze, “Times are changing. Who knows? Sincerity may go out of style.” Home gets a tempo update; “I’ve got these friends on my side and that’s all I’ll ever need“. The sound and message all has purpose.
The age of streaming deprives us of the full listening experience. If you own a physical copy of 3TGR, turn it over for the final statement. A half closed box serves as a collage, with cut-outs of photocopied/distorted live shots of the band, the insert of the Nemesis 7”, the Eiffel Tower art from the No Such Thing 7”. A pasted on directory descriptor for an Orange County Alcoholics Anonymous pamphlet. Last, a mini gift shop California license plate labeled “BOB” with a frame saying “Lator On”. The CD insert shows four puzzle-like connected photos; the red wagon, the blue tour van, a Home street sign and Bob’s tattoo. It’s the “Pack your life in cardboard boxes” line from Election Year (1993) manifested.
With an enormous pop sound Three to Get Ready tells a story. It’s some early twenty-somethings dealing with the devastation of losing a squad member and growing stronger. Grief is real. Closure doesn’t exist. But the optimistic mindset of hardcore convinces you to try.
Illustration by Bella Cabrera
You only battle yourself in an infinite game. Gameface’s only other rival is time.
Life’s clock is a pest. Go into their catalog to find protest songs about the irreversibility of chronology. Or maybe they’re surrendering songs. About making amends with lost moments, passing months. Capitulating with the curse of sensitivity to passing incidents.
Listen to the lyrics about hours and seasons. Anniversaries. Jeff writes about annuities of the soul, marked against the turning pages of days and weeks.
The portrait about time is Only Souvenir (Cupcakes 7”, 1997), “Please don’t take my picture. Because I’d be fading on your wall this time next year. Because I’d be lost behind your couch this time next year.” A bold sentiment about current relationships and if they will stand the test of time? Jump to 2019 with the I Owe You One single: “What are we doing here? Finally feeling our age. It wasn’t the easiest year… Everything will change. Never stay the same. Always feel the same.” From Four Chords Seven Years (2003), “So we passed another year. To find us both right here. And I still feel the same. Though everything has changed...I’ve lived so I can spend another day in June with you”. From How Far is Goodbye (2000) ”And a year was all I needed to feel like someone else''. Swing State (2014) “Cards and flowers. Visiting hours. Time devours''. Daylight Savings (1995): “It feels like midnight but it’s just six o’clock“. Go back and listen because there is so much more. It’s even among the artwork. ELT cover lists the 40:39 time code and Four To Go states 49:13 on the promo posters. Call it numerical archiving of emotions against space.
Gameface uses time to tell a story. Jeff leaves it up to us to fill in our ‘who’, ‘where’ and ‘why’.
June 2012. Revelation Records 25th Anniversary. Gameface reassembles. On the Washed Up Emo podcast (ep.16, 10/1/12) Jeff explained “We needed all that time, that limbo, to get used to having each other in our lives again. It couldn’t happen until all the nonsense was talked about and put in the past. I don’t know what the future really looks like but it’s a really good feeling now”.
Before the break up, Four To Go (FTG) was released in 2003. Even the one sheet from Doghouse records says, ‘ignore rumors of a break-up’ all while mismarketing them as Emo-Pop veterans. As Jeff shared in his interview with Carlos Ramirez (NoEcho.net, 8/16/17) this album and Always On (2000) came at a time when the band fell on a downward slide. Jeff told Carlos, “Always On was like I made a solo album and told the other guys what to play”. This does carry the beautifully painful Laughable, “I was halfway home before I realized the joke was on my all along…It can’t be all that hard if you can sum it up in a postcard”. My go-to pillow sob anthem.
He mentions FTG: “The album is probably 10 minutes to long. I think we were so influenced by the emo thing. That was never really us”. The album has scuff but also shines with aching honesty. From Don’t Get Me Started: “There is no certainty or clarity, ‘cause the doctors don’t agree. All she wants is a family!… They say the simple things are free, but they don’t always happen to me. But it does no good to complain ‘cause in a lifetime anything can change”. Jeff screams and Steve rapid fires to one of their most powerful places. It’s song is about yearning for parenthood. During the Why Did We Ever Meet podcast (4/21/21) Jeff intimately shared, he and wife, Kerby, were “spending years and a lot of money” trying to get pregnant. This is beyond difficult life stuff. The only thing you can do, at that time, is write about the brutal waiting amongst a plan that is greater than you.
Illustration by Bella Cabrera
In the infinite game you wait for the next move. Now Is What Matters Now (Equal Vision Records) was released in March 2014. Consisting of honest aphorisms and character-based power-rock, it is something only born out of walking a certain path for 22 years. Per the No Echo interview, Jeff says the nature of the record stemmed from the grief of his father passing, from lung cancer. More life lived adds to the Infinite Song.
Come On Down opens the record with an ethereal sound, like a marine layer burning off. An organ and cautious strumming in the first minute says: ‘Wait. Let me feel this again. OK. Let’s begin’. Parish-like clapping brings the beginning line, “Sing me one more song. One you knew when we were young. Forget where we come from. Remember who we are.” The transonic earnest intent of the album becomes visible.
Frank Daly, Big Drill Car, gives supporting vocals on Swing State. This is the Infinite Game because his band is what Gameface bonded over in the late ‘80’s, as fans. Feel Todd and everyone nerd out when he carries the last lap chorus of “Say Something! Make up your mind!”. Daly also fills in on Regular Size with the “And we disappear. A little more every year” during the breakdown. That priceless voice is the local hero coming over to play in your driveway.
The rest of the album punches with Always On. Lifetime Achievement Award and Picture Day are egoless and inclusive. Frames, an ode to relationships in your life, “I’m not afraid of where I’ve been. It’s already in me”. The intentional call backs, self-referential lyrics and the Easter Egg-like artwork to the record gives fans a serious case of the ‘geeks’.
A massive journal on recognizing your own identity. It’s connective tissue and love letters to the bands, friends and family you adore. What other band has released their best work two decades after the beginning? If relationships are right and stories are worth telling, it happens.
Now is an anthem to the present moment. Near the halfway point Jeff sings, “Haven’t we gone far enough to turn around”; a sentiment on reserving energy for the ‘what ifs’ of life. “It all looks better in the distance. Heart full of hope. Head full of ghosts”. It’s what Jeff’s been trying to say for the last several decades, with a muscle-pop tempo. The crescendo is the back-up of Jon Bunch’s harmonic bed of “oh’s” in the chorus. It’s a gorgeous unfolding when he harmonically screams, “Now is What Matters Now”. Within roughly two years the scene would experience Jon’s tragic passing. Aren't we glad that in 2013 Jeff called him up? You have to write this song and make this record because absence is a possible truth. The bond between Sense Field was real; please find Jeff on stage with the remainder of Sense Field at the Jon Bunch Memorial (3/20/16). The presence of Jon is there in Jeff’s eulogy words, “Those early shows were like going to church. He just wanted to write songs to bring people together and make them feel good”. When he sings Sage’s, “In a place where there are no limits. We don't draw the line for anyone” it is what hardcore is all about.
Later, Jeff’s generosity on the. Voice 7” (2017) is a testament to the Infinite Song spinning on all our turntables.