July 19, 2021 17 min read

This piece was written by Eric Cabrera:

  • Rev Staffer from 2000-2003
  • Current leader in education
  • Not on Twitter
  • Looking for a copy of Network Sound:03 on Clear

Illustrations by by Bella Cabrera @belb_illustrations
Photos by Eric Cabrera

Illustration by Bella Cabrera

Three (Decades) to Get Ready
“If you ever get lonely, just go to the record store
and visit your friends.”- Lester Bangs, rock critic
(Almost Famous film, 2000)

In hardcore, the flyers, vinyl and shirts measure the passing world. This culture is urgent, finding it in our youth. When the inside is catching up with the outside. The music is a reverberation of a ‘I won’t go quietly’ attitude.

Do songs only glue memories? How are they born? Can they die? Do tunes serve the past or future?

Put on your favorite record. Paint that echoic memory. What plays in your mind? Where are you? A live show? Did you get on the mic? Rub that record’s sleeve edge on your jeans to unseal the shrink wrap, for the first time? Do you see a future? Vinyl’s got that gift of gab. Advocating for you, at 33 to 45 revolutions per minute.

If you make music, the best starting question is: What do you have to write about? A song worth singing only comes from a life lived.

Capturing the Infinite Song

Since 1991, Gameface has written one big song. In the land of cul de sacs, swimming pools, cinder block fences, and diamond lanes four guys got together to string together the personal and universal. Just right bridges, choruses and verses.

Call it writing the infinite song. This is based on a concept called the Infinite Game from professor James P. Carse. A study of history and philosophy through the mid-twentieth century led to the Infinite Game going like this, “A finite game is played for the purpose of winning, an infinite game for the purpose of continuing the play.”

The Infinite Game has no champions, no losses or shot clock. Final product is a myth. We never hit submit. Rules constantly change. Players dive in and leave the field instantaneously. Effort and willingness are the only labels. You can only be ahead or behind.

The only goal: Stay in the contest as long as you want. Doesn't every excellent band play the Infinite Game?

For the last 30 years Gameface coexisted in the big machine of Orange County Hardcore. A powerful movement that launches tsunami shifts into the mainstream. It's a scene with a secret knock for a certain clubhouse. But what if you’re a new band with a different noise?

Gameface approached this with a melodic sound and style, placing faith in its audience. Singer Jeff Caudill voice, an instrument of its own, authorized the audience as a confidant to journal-like lyrics. The ‘show not tell’ terms trusts the listener.
“I Don’t Know Why We Have to Act So Tough.”


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.

1990-94: Outlast the competitors

The infinite game demands a just cause.

The O.C. Power Pop (1991) and Beach Chair 7”’s (1992) were cheery. And Good’s (1993) hooks, groove of a bouncing bass and bashing drums declared charge. A Different Strokes cover with Gwen Stefani guest vocals displays the joy of having fun in a band; see this era's set at Long Beach’s Toe Jam via Come Join Friends to witness the pop thrash magic. The picture of a red Radio Flyer wagon, in a field of grass, sends a message of earnestness. Simple and pure. The lyrics, nearly novelistic, “Sometimes I see the world like a fish through a zip-loc baggie in the hands of a six year-old parading in the sun (Only One).” What does that even mean? “Fill your shoes with summer. Untie laces of your soul.” Yes! What? For me, at age 16, this stuff hung in my mind and found its way to jotting on Mead PeeChee folders in algebra class. Pure sentiment and complication all at once. Decoding Gameface is part of the experience.

Yet, if we are talking about just causes they require adversity. In the summer of 1994 drummer Bob Binckley tragically passed. The kind of event that buries any band. Yet, the suffering led the band to a certain level of grit.

New Chords

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

Tide Report

The Infinite Game requires you don’t strategize or rely on muscle memory. You step into the unwritten because you can handle it.

In February 1999 Gameface joined Jimmy Eat World, and Sense Field, for the Clarity record release show at The Troubadour. From the upper deck, watching Jim Atkins and crew blow the doors off Santa Monica Blvd, Jeff said to me, “This is what’s coming next. Just watch. It’ll be everywhere”. The observation on the coming storm of clean emo-core was right on, even though Clarity never made the nationwide splash of the later Bleed American. Gameface never rode this wave even though their tone and creativity influenced many.

The playing field always shifts and expands in the infinite game. .

Gameface released Every Last Time (ELT) in March 1999. The CD insert presents three cardboard boxes stacked, sealed, ready for moving. New drummer Steve Sanderson keeps time and spins effective change-ups throughout, acting as the epoxy. Also, Jeff integrates singing duties with a Gibson SG along with singing duties. The opening line to Pirate Song says, “I’d like to say something!” And the pre-chorus, “I hope you’re getting this ‘cause I don’t know when I’ve been this good. And I hope it makes you sick that I’m not even warmed up yet!” Right away, there is a new amplitude.

In November 1998 Jeff told me, for Semantics Fanzine, “I don’t know what we were doing all those years without me playing second guitar”. We talked for a couple hours, between Taco Bell and the Nickel Nickel arcade, near the Revelation Records office. He peeled an orange and explained the concept of the record, “Basically , every time is the last time. Until the next time because there’s always gonna be a next time. Like ‘I remember the last time I kissed that girl’ or ‘I remember the last time I was here’. Everyday is a series of last times, whether you want it to be or not, and a lot of the songs are about the last time for something.” This notion of time awareness would play out as the band aged.

ELT is many things. The Easy Way measures individuality and creativity against ambition, “I don’t want to live to pay my bills or get paid to sit still”. My Star is the heartfelt pop gem that never once uses the word ‘love’ to express affinity towards the one you married. The most nagging question of ELT: Why was Mean not a KROQ radio hit? It barely clears two minutes, pulsing the catchy chorus “Does this mean you're not my friend”. Ultimately, the closer Mercury Dimes is strikingly somber, acting as a tonal rough draft for Jeff’s future solo career.

ELT is an unconscious disclosure of direction and the scene’s perception of Gameface.

“The farther we get away from home, the better. It’s like you can see Gameface here every week, who cares? As opposed to those who can only see us once a year. They make the most of it”. For reference, check out their 3/23/96 show in New Bedford, Massachusetts. A sea of kids, in unison, sing Friday Matinee. This night is the source of that iconic image of Jeff, hanging upside down from a basketball rim, just the above stage. During the pre-breakdown Jeff sings the line, “...And I just started crying” hanging over the crowd. Or watch kids grabbing for the mic and stage diving to Organization at the 3/24/96 CBGB’s set.

Jeff once said, “Maybe there’s just too much going on here in Southern California? It gets disheartening and you wonder ‘is it worth doing’ and then we tour. Then it's like ‘this is so worth it’.”

A Worthy Adversary

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’.

Photo by Eric Cabrera (97').

The Tide of What You Are

In Fall of 2003 Gameface called a timeout. A false forfeit. When do we tour? How often? What about real life at home? These questions drove the disbanding of Gameface.

At the time, I sent Jeff an email with my regards/regret about their break up. He replied with this: “I had so much emotional stock in the band that I just felt it was a part of me and it would always be there…. I’ve been digging through my huge box of memorabilia. There are tons of tapes- live stuff, demos, 4-track recordings and stuff that never made it. It made me feel proud of what I’d done...I was listening to the first Fugazi record the other day. It brought me back about a decade or so. The line, ‘You can’t be what you were. So you better start being just what you are (Bad Mouth)’ just about killed me”.

The beating heart of Gameface is Jeff’s mottoes on the happenstance of life heartfelt sentiments. In this remaining decade, and beyond, he would continue to make music. These are his 10,000 Hours (see Malcom Gladwell’s theory). Deliberate practice, dedicated time and the wittling of storytelling with an acoustic guitar. All against a time of American transition, the Bush to Obama administrations,and the explosion of social media that would change underground music.

Jeff’s next decade was quiet and prolific. “I was the kid that knew all the songs on the radio, just from sitting in the back of my mom’s car”, (Semantics Fanzine #1).
The nucleus of Gameface kept regulating with the solo records. Here is the output: The Way Back (2002), Here’s What You Should Do (2005), A split w/Drive Til Morning (2006), Try to Be Here (2008), Had to Be There (2009), an acoustic re-recording of Always On (2010). Somewhere he did reworking of the solo material with a full band in release called Sessions at the Boathouse, with the Goodtimes Band. In 2012, he released a self-titled full length for a new group Your Favorite Trainwreck with Popeye, Farside, and Robbie Rist (Bionic Woman fame). Also a collaborative electronic album, Floormodel (2008) with David Stoll, from Germany (Currently, he has the projects of Low Coast and Broken Trophy).

The later 2000’s allowed developed from a highly underrated early side-project, March (1995). This included Michael Bains, No Such Thing (Jeff’s first band), and Dennis Remsing, Outspoken and Network Sound Records, was akin to The Lemonheads or Paul Westerberg. Coincidentally this album was made during the 3TGR phase of early 1995. In 1998 Jeff told me “A lot of people are interested in March but I may have to wait until I’m old to do that stuff. I need to finish where Gameface is going”.

CalI the solo stuff cozy and confessional. Dependable. You could easily plug the tracks into a two minute final montage for a show like Friday Night Lights or Parenthood. Jeff He will be self-deprecating and call them “schmaltzy records”(Why Did We Ever Meet? Podcast, 4/21/21).

These all add to the Gameface playbook. In this meantime, he built a family. Why? Because songs worth singing only come from a lived life.

Return to Zero

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

"Let’s Stay Up Late And Write Some Brand New Songs”

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.

The Unpunk. The Uncool.

There’s a scene In Almost Famous. As he walks out of a Black Sabbath show, William Miller says, “I think I live in a different world”. Then, the character of Penny Lane declares “I’m gonna live in Morocco for one year. I need a new crowd” and proceeds to invite him. He lets out a wimpy, “yes…yeah, yeah”. Then whispers, “Ask me again”. She does. He replies grinning, outwardly squirmy, “Yes! Yes!”. The secret to this scene is the “Ask me again” line was unintentional; a flub. This outtake was intentionally left in the film. I share this anecdote because I think it’s the perfect articulation of Gameface. The band was always sonically out of step with their local scene. And the manner of letting an honest moment play out as you redo a line is a snapshot of Gameface. Also, this scene ends with Penny

saying, “It’s all happening”. Jeff would later reference these words in Crash Course for Polite Conversation In Polite Conversation (2003).

The truth of matter is you can’t ‘win’ punk.

Gameface created an infinite ethic. By adding another guitar, making their own album art, hand writing lyrics and showing true blue colors during the loss of a friend. They never asked for trophies. They drove 1,000 miles to a show and crossed their fingers that it was all still on. Protégés of DIY. They covered Tom Petty, Justin Timberlake, and Morrissey. Leveling out at zeros kept them playing. Not exactly the “Kids of the Black Hole”, but still flanked by the I-5, Culver Drive, Harbor Blvd. and the 55 Freeway. Not heavy or mashable. Have you ever confused their sound for someone else? They were the self proclaimed, tongue in cheek “Orange County’s Pop Wizards” working towards days of being ahead.

In 1998, Jeff told me “I think every record has been a little bit different. More than the one before…I can’t imagine if I never did Gameface, something would be wrong with me.” Each release has been a push and refrain, lyrically and melodically. A peeling of layers and restoration of footing. The further listens are investments. I’ve individuated with them; faced adolescence, injustices, trauma, fatherhood and joys. Some of these lyrics made it into my own wedding vows.

So, why do we need songs? Maybe to not only affirm our hearts but to also evolve them. I don’t know. We should continue to ask.