Interviews

Jeff Caudill (Gameface, Your Favorite Trainwreck)

Photo: Nicole C. Kibert

It's a typically hot summer afternoon in Hollywood, CA and I'm sitting at a table just outside a sandwich shop. Across from me is Jeff Caudill, the singer-songwriter who is best known for his work in melodic rock greats Gameface. We're here to chat about his life and musical career, including Reset the Sun, his latest solo release.

I've been a longtime admirer of Jeff's work, so it was an honor to get to know him on a more intimate level. I found him to be very open about both the high and low points of his time in music. A husband and father who is a graphic designer in the movie industry by day, Jeff still carves out time out of his schedule to tour sporadically, giving hope to all other fellow rock dads out there.

Hopefully the following interview is as fun to read for you as it was for me to put together.

Where were you born and raised?

I was born in Orange, CA, and grew up in Irvine. I come from a solid family. After high school, I bounced around a bit. Let’s see, Costa Mesa, Huntington Beach, Long Beach, Redondo Beach, and now I live in Culver City. So, yeah, I’ve lived in Southern California my entire life. 

Were you into the prototypical SoCal stuff as a kid?

I was heavy into skateboarding, but not where I followed pro skaters, or whatever. But I skated every single day. I wanted to be more of a surfer, but I just didn’t have the patience to do it well. Skating was just easier to practice.

SEE ALSO: Top 5 All-Time Fat Wreck Chords Albums

Were your parents playing cool music at home?

My family isn’t musical at all. My parents didn’t have a cool record collection. They listened to the radio when they were in the car, and that’s pretty much it. I had some friends were into music that had older brothers. Well, my dad did like outlaw country music stuff like Waylon Jennings back in the ‘80s. I guess that’s the one musical thing from my family that I got.

How did you get turned onto punk and hardcore?

There was a girl who staying with the family that lived across the street from me and she was a little bit older. I was probably 12 or 13, and she was around 16 or 17. Anyway, I was there all the time and she had a cool record collection. She was a rocker chick. She had stuff like AC/DC, Black Sabbath, Aerosmith… that kind of thing. That was my gateway to that kind of music.

I also had some friends who went from heavy metal to punk before I did. I didn't really discover punk till eighth grade. I was all about metal before that. You know, Iron Maiden and Judas Priest. I remember a friend of mine putting his headphones on me and playing the Descendents. That was it for me. I went down the path of punk after that.

What was the first band you played in that did anything?

The first thing was No Such Thing. We made a 7” and all that. No Such Thing wasn’t meant to be a hardcore band. It was a straight-up ‘80s R.E.M. meets U2 kind of thing. The two other guys in the band with us were two years older, so when they graduated, the band was over.

You obviously went in a different direction not too long after that.

Yeah, it was a transitional time for me because I went from being a metal kid in junior high to cutting my hair and getting into alt-rock and punk in high school. I was into The Smiths and punk, but I was also into a lot of the straight edge stuff because that’s what was available locally.

Like what?

Bands like Insted, Hard Stance, and Uniform Choice. We used to see those bands all of the time. My first punk show was 7 Seconds and Verbal Assault at Fender’s Ballroom in Long Beach in 1987. I also saw Social Distortion a lot back then. The record they were on was Prison Bound. They played a lot of college shows in the area.

When did you enter—so to speak—the Orange County hardcore scene?

I guess that was in junior or senior year of high school when I became friends with people from the rival school, which was University High. Popeye [Vogelsang] from Farside went there. Zack de la Rocha from Inside Out also went there. I went to Irvine High. The only people that went to my school from that world was me and Todd.

The two other guys from Gameface, one went to Savannah High in Anaheim, and the other went to Mater Dei High School in Santa Ana. When Todd and I met [future Gameface members] Paul [Martin] and Bob [Binckley], they were way more embedded in the hardcore scene. So we got a lot of information through them.

Irvine High

This was after No Such Thing, but before Gameface, so what band were you playing in?

It was this crappy thing Todd and I had called Ourselves. We released a cassette demo. I played bass. We were trying to be hardcore [laughs]. It was guys that grew up on ‘80s pop and rock that had heard hardcore and were trying to make that happen. We had all the records, but we just never sounded right. It was clear that we were destined to be a rock band.

What was the next musical step?

We graduated high school in 1989 and Gameface started then. I had always wanted to sing. I loved guys like Kevin Seconds and Milo [Auckerman]. A band that all of us in Gameface admired was obviously Big DRILL Car. They were like our sort of model to what we wanted to be. To this day, Big DRILL Car is one of my favorite bands.

SEE MORE: 2016 interview with Frank Daly (Big DRILL Car, All Systems Go!).

What was the reaction to Gameface once you guys started playing out?

Within the hardcore scene in Orange County, it was very polarizing. Either people thought it was great, or they thought it was really lame. 

Well, that was during an era of underground music when a lot of the second wave hardcore folks were starting bands that were musically different. I'm thinking stuff like Quicksand and Into Another.

Yeah, we were certainly in tune with was going on there. Bands like Quicksand were a big deal. We thought that maybe we could possibly fit in with Gameface because people started opening up to other styles of music within that scene. It wasn't just about Inside Out, or whatever. 

Who would you consider Gameface's contemporaries back during those early years?

Definitely Samiam. Jawbreaker we played with a bunch of times. Face to Face we played a fair amount with. I guess those would be the bigger examples.

There has always been a close connection between Farside and Gameface. Can you speak on that?

We definitely connected because we were two bands that came from the hardcore scene that weren't playing hardcore. I loved Farside from the first moment I saw them play. I became close friends with Popeye. Even having an acoustic guitar in the band, since they had so much more hardcore cred than us, they could get away with it much more. Their first guitar player, Rob [Haworth], his brother was in Inside Out. Plus, their first record was on Crisis, which was part of Revelation. You know, they just had a built-in credibility thing. 

Jeff with Popeye of Farside, Huntington Beach, CA, circa 1996. (Photo: Kerby Caudill)

The first Gameface release was the self-titled 7" that Nemesis Records dropped in 1991. How did you guys hook up with the label?

We lived nearby Zed Records in Long Beach and we left some demos there on consignment. We also sent some out to various zines to get the word out. But not long after dropping the demo off at Zed, Frank [Harrison] from Nemesis Records called us up and asked if we wanted to do a 7" on his label. Frank worked at Zed, so that's how he had heard us. At the time, we thought we had made it [laughs]. That really got us a foot in the door in that scene at the time.

Were you happy with the early Gameface recordings?

No, definitely not. At the time, we didn't know what we were doing. The way we picked who we recorded with was whoever we could get for really cheap. We really didn't figure that out till our second album. There were so many things about Gameface I would have done differently knowing what I know now. But then again, it wasn't like we started the band for it to be a business. It was almost just as fun stumbling around and figuring it all out.

SEE ALSO: Best Morrissey and Smiths Rockabilly Songs

Gameface eventually worked with Network Sound, another local label.

Dennis [Remsing] and Mike [Hartsfield] from Outspoken had the labels Conversion Records and New Age Records, and they wanted to do a label that was less of the hardcore thing. From there they started Network Sound and put out our full-length, Good. When I listen to that album now, it sounds like a band trying to figure things out. I've warmed up to Good, and the nostalgia of it, but as a record, it's kind of hard to listen to [laughs].

How much touring did you do during the Good era?

I think we just did one summer tour back then. Six to eight weeks, max. That's when we put out our feelers to local bands and find like-minded people in different cities. This was obviously before the Internet, on the phone. By the early '90s, it wasn't really the emo thing yet, but the pop-punk thing was already happening. I met people on that first tour that I'm still friends with to this day.

Gameface, 1991.

I'm sure you built up the audience each time you went back to those cities.

Yeah, exactly. We would return every summer for a few years, and then things stopped for a while after our drummer, Bob, committed suicide in 1994. That was obviously tough.

You guys were still young when that happened. Were you mature enough to talk about the suicide with each other, or was it too uncomfortable?

Like most major things in the Gameface world, we weren't good about talking about it. We dealt with it by writing songs and knowing that we wanted to honor our friend's memory by continuing the band. That was the only thing that made us feel normal. We had enough conversations about it, or so we thought at the time. But it was mostly me retreating and writing songs about it. 

Gameface on tour in 1993.

What's a song that came out of that period that reminds you of Bob?

Certainly the entire Three to Get Ready album, but "Only Chance We Get" is my direct song to Bob. The song "Three" I wrote for the other two guys in the band.

For Three to Get Ready, the band signed with Dr. Strange Records, a label that also worked with pop-punk bands like The Bollweevils and Sinkhole at the time.

I got a letter mailed to me from Bill, the owner of Dr. Strange. He sent his condolences and said that he wasn’t sure what we planned on doing, but if we wanted to make another record that he would love to be a part of it. I hope I still have that letter somewhere because it was a big deal at the time. I had no idea what we were going to do at that point, so getting that letter was huge. That propelled us to act like a band again and go find a drummer. Being on that label also put us in front of a slightly different audience which was more of the pop-punk scene. Ultimately, we saw ourselves going down what would turn out to be the post-hardcore thing that Revelation Records would go onto be in the later '90s, but we thought being on Dr. Strange was a great thing for that moment.

SEE ALSO: When Hardcore Bands Went Hard Rock

Gameface did some touring with Texas Is the Reason around that time.

[Texas Is the Reason guitarist] Norm [Brannon] and Todd somehow became friends during the same time that Texas was becoming a band. He would send us tapes of the band and said that they would love to tour with Gameface on the East Coast if we could get out there. It was a great tour for us. That was in 1996.

This is when Texas Is the Reason was getting courted by a bunch of major labels. Did you see any of that during the tour?

Because these labels were showing up at the shows for Texas, we also started getting talked to. Not a lot, but a few. There was an MCA offshoot label called Krasnow Entertainment after [record label executive] Bob Krasnow. We met an A&R guy that had originally gone to see Texas but liked us. We got friendly with him and he ended up coming out to Europe while we were on tour there. He got us hotels and great meals...whatever we wanted. It was that mid-'90s time period when the labels had a lot of money. We thought there was a chance that we would end up jumping to a major for our next record. Everyone was doing that, but most bands didn't have success. Green Day and The Offspring were lucky enough to do it right. But once we got home from the tour, we found out that the guy at the label got fired, and all of his projects were not going to be considered. That was our only brush with possibly signing to a major label. We ended up making an EP called Cupcakes for Dr. Strange.

So, how did the deal with Revelation Records come to be?

It actually took a lot of convincing. The label had moved to Orange County by that point, so that was definitely helpful. We thought that though we loved Dr. Strange, we were moving in a direction that wasn’t going to work for them. Bill was moving more in a punk direction while we were more into a rock kind of thing. We ended up making a demo with the material that would end up on the next album. We had a lawyer at that point and through her she got it out to some labels. Outside of Jordan [Cooper] at Revelation, the only other label that showed interest was SideOneDummy, who was still a smaller thing at that time, just starting out. Since she didn't understand where we were coming from, she thought that the SideOneDummy offer was the best deal for us, but we went with Rev because of what it meant to us. Jordan was kind of on the fence about the band. He liked us but didn't want it to appear that the only reason he signed us was because we were all friends from the scene and we lived in close proximity to the label's office. But he ended up coming to a band practice and we gave him the demo, and after that he was on board.

Gameface in Lancaster, PA, 1999.

1999 sees Gameface releasing Every Last Time, your first album for Revelation Records. I remember the song "My Star" getting a lot of attention.

Yeah, the song got some good aiplay, but not enough to push us into a different realm. It was our only real brush with that sort of excitement. Between that song and the fact we were being played in some Urban Outfitters stores, there were a few cities where all these hipply dressed people would show up at the shows [laughs]. I remember being in England and some kid saying to me that he couldn't walk through a pub in Nottingham without hearing "My Star." The guys who did that snarky website Buddyhead made the video for that song. Yeah, kind of crazy. It was filmed at Koo's Cafe, the day before our album release show.

So you're on the label you wanted to be on, with a great new album. Everything is firing on all cylinders. What happens next?

We went on tour with a band from New York City called Errortype:Eleven that we all loved. It was a great tour. It resulted in a split 10" with did them that came out before our next album. We're friends with those guys to this day.

Did Gameface have a manager helping guide the ship at that point?

No, we didn't have a manager. It was a weird time. We were seeing other bands fly by us. Younger bands who clearly were influenced by us and other bands of our ilk. Bands like Get Up Kids, Saves the Day, and New Found Glory were getting so big. We just thought it was maybe because we didn't have a manager, or we were too old. I think we might have happened a little too soon.

Fast-forward to a couple of years ago...I saw Chad [Gilbert] from New Found Glory when they played a show here at the Wiltern with Yellowcard. My daughter is a big fan of Yellowcard, so I took her with me. Anyway, I introduce Chad to my daughter and he says to her, "Hi, my name is Chad, and I just want you to know that reason my band is doing what we're doing tonight is because of your dad." It was cool for him to say that, and it was also cool for my daughter to hear that [laughs].

OK, to get back on the career track, the next Gameface album was Always On, which was also released by Revelation Records.

Yeah, that was the album that was kind of a pain in the ass to make. We all weren't on the same page. Paul [Martin] wasn't interested in what I was doing by that point. I was the principle songwriter in the band by then. Always On was almost like I made a solo album and told the other guys what to play. Like Every Last Time, we did the album with Jim Monroe at his studio in Santa Ana.

So Paul quit during the recording sessions?

No, he finished, but he quit before the album even came out. We made a video for "Laughable" without a bass player. Oddly enough, the person we got to make the video ended up being our bass player: Guy Julian. He used to be in a pop-punk band called Brown Lobster Tank that was on Dr. Strange.

Since Paul quit right before the album came out, and he was a founding member of the band, it must have been a big blow.

I thought the band might be over. It was a quiet year. We did a tour of England, and some limited touring here. That's when I started writing solo material. I started to think that might be my path. 

Gameface in Leeds, UK, 2001.

OK, but Gameface did end up making the Four to Go album a few years later for the folks at Doghouse Records.

Honestly, that's the one where I think we should have bowed out before agreeing to do it. Instead, we pushed on and squeaked out another album on another label. Again, just as the album was done, another member quit. We made that album with Eric Stenman and he did a great job, but I think that the songs aren't great. There are only a few songs that I like on that one. The songs were just too long on that album. The album is probably 10 minutes too long [laughs]. I think we were so influenced by the emo thing, you know, the sort of droney, let it build kind of thing. But that was never really us. Let's see, I like the song "When You've Had Enough." "This Old House" is a blazer, but again, a bit too long. "Four Chords, Seven Years" is a simple song that I really love, but it's two minutes too long.

What happened after Four to Go came out?

I didn't feel the way about Four to Go like I did for our other records, and I think we all knew it. That's when our drummer, Steve [Sanderson], had an opportunity to join a new band with Arty [Shepherd] and Adam [Marino] from Errortype:11 called Instruction who were signed to a major [Geffen Records]. They opened up for some big bands and did some cool stuff. But he was honest to us about it and said that he wanted to make a career out of this and Gameface wasn't going to do that. So Gameface ended right before Four to Go was released.

I'm sure Doghouse Records were thrilled!

Oh, that was so bad. I don't know if I've talked to the guys at Doghouse since that. Actually, I did talk to one of the guys and I know I apologized, more than once. I still feel terrible about it cause we knew we were teetering on breaking up even before we started making that record. I just thought maybe we could make a final record and it be good, but we just couldn't get it together.

SEE ALSO: 2015 interview with Jake Riley (Strung Out).

Let's talk about your solo work.

After Always On, I had recorded this EP in my house as an experiment called The Way Back. But after Gameface broke up, I felt like this was what I was meant to do. I had tons of songs written, plus I always have loved the singer-songwriter thing. I love stuff like Jackson Browne and Matthew Sweet, guys who could put it all together on their own. I teamed up with Robbie Rist, who was a child actor and is a talented musician. Within four years, I had a couple of solo albums. I had a solo band with Robbie that played out, maybe not touring so much, but we did shows. It was cool because it satisfied my craving to be creative and at the same time I was able to stay at home. It was all happening when I just had this infant daughter, and I wanted to make records and be a family guy at the same time.

That solo band you had with Robbie Rist evolved into a new band.

Yeah, that evolved into a new project with Popeye because he was playing guitar in the solo band. I have always been such a huge fan of his and he's so talented, but he needs someone pushing him. So I told him that we were going to start a new band where we both sang and wrote songs for it. That became the band Your Favorite Trainwreck, which also included Robbie Rist in it.

I think that Your Favorite Trainwreck album is stellar. It's a shame more people don't know about it.

I fucking love that record! But I feel that's lighting that struck already. Robbie was certainly not happy with the dynamic of the band, and always wanted it to be more. It was a combination of things with that band. It was more about me wanting to push Popeye to do new music than anything else. It wasn't a terrible situation, but it wasn't ideal. Also, around the time of the Trainwreck album's release, that's when Gameface started up again. 

Your Favorite Trainwreck

What was the impetus for the Gameface reunion?

Rev 25 was going to happen and they were reaching out to bands to get back together. It had been 10 years since Gameface had been a band and we had talked a few times in between that time. So we wanted to see what would happen if we got in a room together again. Somehow, because we were grown adults, it sounded better than ever. We were friends again and we could finally talk about the stuff we couldn't talk about 10 years before. The plan was just to do some shows, but we know what ended up happening.

How did it go from a few shows to making a new record, and everything else Gameface has done since?

You know, a lot of bands come back after breaking up and are bigger than ever. Texas Is the Reason came back and sold out Irving Plaza, twice. Jawbreaker is going to headline Riot Fest. But it wasn't like that for Gameface. We've never had that kind of mystique. I kept telling the guys that it was just going to be these few reunion shows, but then I went and wrote a song. It was just at the right time, and it sounded really good to me. A lot of shit was going on with me. My dad was dying from lung cancer. Anyway, the song was "Come On Down." We thought maybe we'll just put out that one song as a 7", but just about every week after that song was written, I had a new one ready to go. We also had someone helping us and poking around to see if there were any labels who would be interested in us. That's what lead us to Equal Vision.

Yeah, the next album was Now Is What Matters Now on Equal Vision.

To me, that's the best and most concise album Gameface has ever done. I feel like I said everything I wanted to say. It makes me feel so much better about the band. If this ends up being our final album, it's a much better bookend than what it was before. It erased all of the shitty memories of making the prior album. We'll continue to play, here and there, but this is our swan song. I don't think there needs to be new Gameface music.

You recently released a solo EP called Reset the Sun that I've been playing pretty consistently.

Yeah, Revelation Records helped out with the distribution of that one. It's on my own label, but they submitted it for Record Store Day and it was accepted. They had never had one of their releases picked up as an official Record Store Day release. So they were shocked that happened. We only pressed up 500, but they've all sold out. I put a lot of TLC into that record. I'm really proud of it. It's not a career thing, but it's definitely a labor love for me. I'm almost treating it like an art project.

That must be a relief of sorts. I know you have a creative career outside of your music, so it's gotta be great to still have the outlet of songwriting.

I need to remind myself more that I'm extremely fortunate to have a good balance of the things that I love in my life.

Last year, you took part in the memorial shows for the late singer of Sense Field, Jon Bunch. You also covered Sense Field's "Voice" on a recent solo 7" you released. Tell me about your relationship with him.

Back before I was even in Gameface, we used to go see [Jon's early band] Reason to Believe. Seeing them play made me think, "Fuck, I want to do this!" He was seven feet tall, or whatever [laughs]. I remember writing a letter to the band and he wrote back and was super-cool. Maybe a year or two later, Gameface is playing shows with Sense Field. Although I kind of put Jon up on this pedestal, he was always so disarming. When you had a conversation with him, he definitely made you feel like there was nothing else going on in the room. He also had a way of always saying your name. "You know, Jeff..." That's really hard to do, but it made you know that he was connecting with you. We had so many conversations about R.E.M. and their songs. It might have been after the Building album, but I remember he told me that he wanted to write songs that made people feel good. It was that simple. Sense Field was about bringing people together. It was almost like you were going to church. The choruses were huge.

I did some touring with Jon when he was singing for Further Seems Forever, so I know how much of an effect he left on people that he met.

[Jeff gets choked up and pauses for a few moments ] My wife, who was my girlfriend at the time, was also a big Sense Field fan, and she said that we were witnessing something really special. Like if we were seeing R.E.M. at the 40 Watt Club back in the early '80s. It was like we were getting a chance to see something special with Sense Field before anyone else did. We thought they were going to explode, and they totally should have.

Evan Jacobs (Ice), Popeye Vogelsang (Farside, Your Favorite Trainwreck) and Jon Bunch hanging w/ Gameface, 2003.

Tell me a bit about your career in art and graphic design. In the past, you did a lot of work in the music business.

I did a lot of stuff for Revelation and Dr. Strange. That's really how I learned how it all works. I did go to college in the hopes of getting a degree in graphic design, but I never finished my degree because I would always leave to go on tour. But I did manage to put together a decent portfolio of work. I ended up landing in the movie industry. You work twice as hard, but it's much better pay compared to the music industry [laughs]. I've been at the same company for 15 years now. One of the things I got to work on that I really had fun doing was last year. Warner Bros. came to us to repackage the entire Harry Potter series. My daughter was so into Harry Potter at the time, so that really helped. It was really rewarding.

Some of Jeff's work for the Harry Potter series.

What's one of the music-related graphic design projects that stick out in your mind?

The Revelation Records compilation was a lot of fun. That one was called Past Present and I got to build a mini stage and did this cool photo shoot with all of these G.I. Joe guys doing their thing [laughs]. Jordan from Revelation has always been about G.I. Joes, so that's why we did that. He actually made the stage lights to scale [laughs]. I built amps out of those little cereal boxes that you get when you buy a 12-pack. We did the shoot at my office, just across the street from here. Yeah, that was a cool project, and important for our scene, obviously.

The layout for the Past Present compilation.

Well, it's been a pleasure spending some time with you. Before I let you go, I have to end with a pressure-filled question. Of all the solo songs you've ever recorded, which one would you play for someone who has never heard you?

Wow, that is tough! There's a recent song called "Around We Go" that has a video that I'm very proud of. There's also a song called "Remember the Time" which I play a lot in my solo acoustic set and I preface it by saying that when I wrote it 10 years ago, I thought it was super-poignant. But every year it feels even more poignant now when I sing it. 

OK, same question, but about Gameface. Which song would you play for someone that you think best captures the essence of that band?

This could change daily, but if I had to pick a couple of songs, I would start with "Only Souvenir" from the Cupcakes EP. I also really love the song "Now" from the newest album. "Only Souvenir" isn't our best song, but it definitely has a nice nostalgia meets innocence kind of thing. I did an acoustic version of that on a lathe 7" that came out really cool.

***

On the solo front, Jeff has Bandcamp and Facebook pages. You can also find Bandcamp and Facebook pages for Gameface.

Tagged: gameface, jeff caudill, your favorite trainwreck

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