Keeping It Freaky With The Front Bottoms
We find out what makes the charming, folk-punk foursome from New Jersey tick.
When I jump on the phone with The Front Bottoms' vocalist Brian Sella, he's in the middle of moving house: "It fucking sucks man, my whole body aches." It's easy to forget that internationally touring musicians go through the same everyday shit that we all do, when from an outsider's perspective they appear to live a life much more exciting and glamorous than our own, but speaking to Sella it's clear that he's just a regular dude who happens to play in a great band; humble, down to earth and possessing an inherent distaste for packing and unpacking boxes. "I didn't think I had so much crap, you know? The first thing I got was garbage bags, so I've just been throwing all my stuff in bags and leaving it on the street." He seems happy to be speaking with me, perhaps it's because I've gifted him some well earned respite from lugging his belongings out of a van.
The Front Bottoms, hailing from Woodcliff Lake, New Jersey, have been doing their thing for almost a decade now and just last year the quartet released album number five in Back On Top; the band's first full-length since singing to major label Fuelled By Ramen. One could assume that a band diving into their fifth album (with five EPs also under their belt) may be scraping the barrel as far as exciting and original material goes, but these guys appear to have access to a seemingly bottomless well of bright riffs, punchy hooks and charming, relatable lyrics - Back On Top is certainly no exception. Long-time fans needn't have worried about the major label signing impacting on The Front Bottoms' unique and loveable sound; this record is beautifully polished and shows progression, but certainly doesn't detract from the charm and originality that has transformed The Front Bottoms into one of the biggest punk bands of the past five years.
Sella's colloquial and ever-relatable songwriting has been at the forefront of everything The Front Bottoms have achieved in their time together. You listen to this band and you experience that unmistakable sensation of "I've been here", that at some point in your life you've felt the exact same pain, elation or numbness that Sella conveys to perfection, and it feels therapeutic to yell along to these songs in your car when you're're feeling shitty or happy or indifferent. Speaking to Sella, it's obvious that this was all he ever really wanted from this band, to be able to write songs that people can yell back when they're hearing these songs live and feel a weight lifted from their shoulders - everything else they've achieved is just a bonus.
On the release of Back On Top and where it sits against The Front Bottoms' older releases:
In terms of experience, I'd say it sits pretty high. The whole idea of signing to Fuelled By Ramen and getting the opportunity to make this big-time album, then going out to California and recording for a couple of weeks with a big-time producer, it's a pretty unbelievable thing to think that me and Matt and Ciaran and Tom would ever get the opportunity to do that. We were just all about being a punk band and doing it DIY style and then doing the DIY label and stuff, so it was a pretty incredible experience. I learned a lot about what I like and what I don't like, and I don't think that I'd record another album the way we recorded Back On Top. I love the songs, you know, some of my favourite songs that I've ever written are on that album, but in terms of recording the songs I like to let them build naturally. It was a different experience, even just the producer that we worked with, who was like this big-time producer - that was an experience that I wanted to have, but I don't think I would do it that way again, at least not entirely that way. I'm sure there'll be something about the next experience that I don't love either but it's just about keepin' it fresh and moving forward.
On playing the new record live and how fans are receiving it:
That's really when I fall in love with a song, and it's weird, in the past for Talon Of The Hawk and the self-titled, all the Rose stuff, anything we've done, we would play all those songs live at shows before we recorded them, so people would be hearing the songs for the very first time and that would be how we'd figure out what to change about them. We'd say; "Oh, people didn't really like when we did that, so let's change that part". So when we finally did get to play Back On Top live, it was basically like re-releasing the songs. Songs like Historic Cemetery or Summer Shandy or Motorcycle, those are all songs that have kind of become something different from what they were originally, and what they were even as recordings because we tend to do some different stuff live, so I love it and the reaction to the songs has been really good. And I think, you know, we have the type of audience that just kind of wants to be there, you know? They want to be at the show, they want to experience the positivity, so as long as we keep that energy; that pulls us through.
On deciding which of the older songs make the set and which don't:
These songs, for me, are emotional, it's an emotional experience to go out and play them and to sing them to groups of people and have people sing them back to me, you know? I'm getting older and the experience of playing a song that I wrote when I was 17 years old is incredible, like, that is an insane thing to think about; that some song that I wrote when I was 17, I have people yelling out for me to play now that I'm 27 years old. But, that being said, I feel very lucky because we do have such a big catalogue and for us it was always the emotion that was the important thing, not the songs. So we have the luxury of saying: "Nah, I don't wanna play that one anymore," so we won't, and then six months later or even years later we'll dig it back up and we'll go through it and be like - "Damn, that song's awesome!" And it'll have a whole different meaning to me now as a grown-up than it did as a kid. So we rotate all the songs in and out, we try to do a different set every night. We try to just keep it freaky.
On the group's seemingly endless supply of new music and how their songs come together:
We're a band that really likes to jam. Also, I'm constantly writing lyrics, I almost consider myself more of a poet, not to sound like a loser or anything, but I feel like a poet more so than a musician, so the fact that I have these incredible musicians that I can get together with; it means I can just play three chords, and I then have this whole notebook of lyrics that's just constantly filling, so the songs are always coming. I think that's why people kinda react positively to it because it usually sounds like it developed naturally. So we try not to force it, you know? If we don't write a song for six months, we don't write a song for six months; it's no stress because we could write 10 songs in a week. And it's like I said, the songs really come alive when we play them to people.
On the band's entertaining visuals and the recent video for Ginger:
Every video that we have released up until this point has been directed by me or Matt and has been filmed by one of our friends. Being in a band, that was just another thing that we wanted to do, we just wanted to be creative and we wanted to get together on a Saturday with out friends and drink a 30 rack of beer and make a funny video, that was what it was all about. That being said, this video for Ginger is the first video ever that we didn't make ourselves. That was an idea that was emailed to us by a creative person who said they had a good idea and we were all about it, and he sent us back this video two weeks later.
And last week before we released that Ginger video we also made another video for Two Young Lovers, and the way that went down was I was playing a show at, I forget where it was, maybe in Baltimore or something, and these kids threw a CD, I thought it was a demo, on stage. Then I got drunk and I picked it up and written on it was: Talon Of The Hawk: The Movie, and it was like an hour and a half long movie that these kids had made, so I emailed them and I was like - "Listen, I wanna make a video for Two Young Lovers, could you make another movie and incorporate the song into it?" So they did and they sent it back, and then it took me a couple months to get my shit together and to get off tour, but we went to a bar and we had their movie playing in the background and then we played the song, so hopefully that'll be coming out pretty soon. But yeah, it's all just about keeping it weird and involving people and I got a kick outta the idea that I was just gonna email these kids and be like: "Hey, can you make another video?"
On returning to Australia early next year:
Oh dude, I'm so pumped man. The last time we came over to you guys was with The Smith Street Band and the energy of the shows was just awesome and it's so crazy to be playing on the other side of the world. Perth was wild, too, that was a wild stop for us. They booked our plane tickets for like 4 o'clock in the morning after the show, so as you can imagine that was pretty rough. But we don't have to do that this time, so we'll be able to stay and party.