Interview with vocalist/guitarist Brian Sella | By Eli Enis
When The Front Bottoms began in 2007, frontman Brian Sella and drummer Mathew Uychich would take an hour or two to write and record an entire song using GarageBand, then immediately throw it up on their Myspace page. It was that impulsive, almost careless approach to songwriting that gave the New Jersey duo’s early body of work a hyper-stream-of-conscious sensibility. Their lyrics were ultra-vulnerable, often vindictive and uncomfortably personal. Their arrangements were minimalist at best, usually working with just a few chords and a dangerously sticky hook. And their swagger was unadulterated punk rock, showing little desire for slick production and not a shred of regret for their awkwardly forthright ramblings.
Then, the band blew up. Their 2011 self-titled release pulled them out of the basements, 2013’s Talon of the Hawk yanked them out of the dive bars, and 2015’s Back On Top positioned them as either medium-capacity room headliners or direct support for the likes of blink-182 and Brand New. Obviously, as any band ages, their fans age too—and many age out of said band. However, within the broad category of punk music, when a band’s sound also becomes sleeker and more accessible in conjunction with a rapidly expanding fanbase, other implications arise.
“You say I’m changing / Sorry, I didn’t know I had to stay the same,” is a classic line from “Be Nice To Me”—a song Sella penned almost a decade ago for 2008’s I Hate My Friends and an unintentionally perfect retort to the eventual skepticism about the band’s authenticity.
What’s even funnier is that Sella says he still writes songs in his room using GarageBand. Fresh off the Oct. 13 release of The Front Bottom’s sixth record, Going Grey—their second with Fueled By Ramen, after Back On Top—the uniquely affable frontman says he’s continuing to make the music he wants to make. “As you get older, you always want to develop in whatever the art was that you’re making,” he says. “In terms of The Front Bottoms, I wanted it to get bigger and put some guitar solos in there and see how far we could push it and still feel good about it.”
“It’s hard to even feel like it’s a different sound,” he continues, “because I don’t really put much thought into the idea of ‘Oh, OK, I’m gonna change my sound.’ I’m just kind of there making songs in my bedroom and stuff. When a song comes together, it just comes together.”
Although many of the tracks on Back On Top and Going Grey feature glistening synths, poppier production, and less candid lyrics than much of their early material, Sella says he’s still writing with the same haphazard mentality he always has. “I kind of discovered on the writing of this album that I don’t have much of a formula,” he says. “It can kind of just come and go randomly and naturally, and I have to just kind of embrace that for it to work.”
“It’s scary to sort of admit that, because that means that it could go away,” he adds. “It is scary to be like, ‘I have no idea where this comes from or why this song sounds the way that it sounds.’”
Regardless of Going Grey’s sheen, it’s not like The Front Bottoms have completely uprooted themselves from where they began. Their songs have always been uber-melodic, and this record is arguably one of their catchiest. Sella’s lyrics have always been self-reflective. A line like “When you realize the crew you roll with / Is actually what makes you anxious” from the third track, “Bae,” could’ve fit anywhere on their self-titled—though, to be fair, nothing on this record is as dark as a track like “Father” or as specific as a cut like “Awkward Conversations” from 2014’s Rose. “I think maybe, when I did darker stuff, I was a very emotional person,” Sella says, “and I still am, but because I’ve gotten older and matured a lot, I’ve been able to kind of manage it. It’s just a different type of release.”
Perhaps the takeaway for OG fans is this: whether you like the product or not, The Front Bottoms are still just doing what they do. “I like to think about our work as a catalog,” Sella says. “I wanna be an artist that has a huge fucking catalog of music and merchandise and art and be able to always make new, creative, random-ass shit.”
Photo by Mark Jaworski