The Front Bottoms’ Brian Sella on Ireland, Going Grey and touring life
I discovered them through the Related Artists section on Spotify when listening to Modern Baseball. Usually these recommendations are more often miss than hit but Motorcycle by The Front Bottoms stood out. I’m into emo music, the MOBO reference was a giveaway. Motorcycle is a simple enough track – there’s no magic production tricks, no guitar solos. It just sat right with me.
Fast forward a year and a half, I became near obsessed with them digging deep into their back catalogue, reading past interviews and watching sweet session videos on YouTube from years ago. Frontman Brian Sella seemed down to earth on screen. His curly hair, often long from past years, would fly everywhere as he bounced on stage singing to the audience. The audiences themselves seemed to double in size, with every video you watched reflecting a year of the band’s history.
To the present day, The Front Bottoms released their latest studio album Going Grey and it too stuck with me. I was delighted when they announced a show in Belfast – yes, Belfast, not just Dublin! And with the show falling on Valentine’s Day, what better time to talk to the band I fell in love with?
Is this your first time in Belfast or Northern Ireland?
“Oh no, we played at this venue, or the smaller one, in 2014. Actually, I think we might have played it two times. It’s great to be back.”
And you played in Dublin last night and indeed last year – do you have any particular memories of Ireland from those experiences?
“Everyone is very friendly. We didn’t have a place to stay the first time we played in Dublin at a bar and some kids put us up for the night. It’s great.”
You usually get stories involving Guinness when I ask that…
“Oh, yeah, I drank a ton of Guinness [laughs]!”
Do you like it?
“I’m into it!”
You released your latest studio album Going Grey last year. How would you say this collection of songs compare to your past material?
“It’s different. It’s developed a little bit; it’s a bigger sound. We’ve got more people now, there’s 6 of us, the last time there was 4. It’s a bigger production with the music – projection screens and lighting.”
And when you’re writing new material, is it just yourself who writes or is it a collaboration of people?
“It’s usually me or Mat, or me and Tom. I’ll write, let’s say, 50 to 90% of the song and I’ll bring it to those guys and finish it up. That’s kinda how the process works for The Front Bottoms.”
Is it all friendly and mutual? Any clashes [laughs]?
“There’s not really any clashes. When we get together we feel very lucky even being able to get together as grown men to make art. I think that we always keep that in the back of our heads. When I start a project, I never have an end-product of it so if I’m going to get other people involved, I have to be open to their ideas. It can literally go to the freakiest spots!”
Going back to the beginning of The Front Bottoms – was there ever a grand plan of what you wanted to do or was it all done in stages?
“I think it was all done step-by-step for us, always. Setting small goals. Me and Mat and his brother, and we just want to play a particular party. Just small goals, then trying to accomplish that. ‘To play in a real venue’, you know, just gradual steps. It felt so positive every time that it would happen. It’s like ‘Holy shit, there’s 50 people here to see us out of state’ [laughs]. It always felt very positive. There always was a mutual feeling through all of us that this feels good enough to go somewhere maybe so let’s just keep doing it.”
I read that in the early days between tours, you would both continue to work jobs. Was it difficult to keep motivated during those times?
“Hell yeah [laughs] There was no difficulty, actually. It was always ‘Ahh, I’ll get to go on tour next month’ so I’d go home for a few months, work, save some money and then I’ll get back in the van and go again. Mat is a very hard worker. He’d do landscaping, pretty intense work and early on in my touring, I lost my job in a grocery store and I was like ‘I do not want to work again!’ I’d stay in the van when we were home and I couldn’t afford rent or I’d stay with my girlfriend – I couldn’t fucking do it after I’ve had a taste for the good life [laughs].
And now you’ve been in The Front Bottoms for over ten years now…
…if you could say something to your younger selves, what would it be?
“I have no complaints or regrets, really. Even when you’re a really small band, you think ‘it can’t get much better than this. So each time, ‘To play in Ireland’, ‘to play in Scotland’ and we’re playing a few shows in Germany now. It’s cool. I’d just tell them to keep doing it!”
Onto the modern day now. The age of Spotify and streaming – what’s your opinion of it all?
“I like it because I can listen to any song I want at any time – I use Spotify.”
As a band, there’s not much money in music these days. Do you think it’s more difficult?
“With the streaming, I honestly don’t know how you’d make money off that. I feel that there’s royalties to be collected from that but I don’t know how, as a band any smaller than us, can survive. It’s a very confusing thing to navigate but, like I said, I have Spotify and Apple Music, I love to listen to music. You kinda just do what they tell you to do because even if you wanted to get CDs, they don’t make a laptop that takes CDs anymore. My car doesn’t have a CD player anymore. I have to plug my fucking iPhone in. I don’t even have a choice. They just phase out the next media – it’s like, ‘What’s my options here?’ but I guess that’s just the way they’re doing it.
“I do think it gives artists the opportunity to make what they want to make and have people hear it quickly which I think is important, especially in this day and age, because it’s like you have to keep up that. It also allows you to do singles, whereas back in the day if you were in a band you’d release an album with 12 songs on it then you’d wait two years to make another 12 songs. That’s 24 songs.
“I think the way me and Mat used to do it was we’d write a song at my friend’s house and then we would put it online that night. We wouldn’t mix it, wouldn’t master it. When I look at that now, I think that’s how we got fans and that’s how everyone is doing it today.”
And you supported Blink 182 in the UK last year – how was it for you to be playing those arenas?
“It was nuts. A dream come true, to play with a band like Blink too, which was my whole childhood basically. The amount of people every night, the venues would hold 20,000 people say. We would play first, then Frank Turner and then them. The venues would be about half full for us – that’s 10,000 people! Shit, it’s insane! It was a pleasure being on the road with them.”
And how was the reaction to The Front Bottoms?
“It felt really positive to me. I saw a lot of smiles by the end of it! If someone going to a stadium to see Blink 182, they want to see Blink 182. We went up there, played the hits for half an hour, told some jokes and then went off-stage and watched Blink. I think it worked to our advantage because people were like ‘OK, I’ll put up with this’ – I think we had the easiest job!”
Do you still enjoy going off on the long tours away from home?
“I do. I like it a lot. I’ve been here three times in the past. Been to Dublin a few times. Went to Australia twice. You wake up each day and think ‘Wow, I’m 29 years old! What the fuck, the past ten years.’ You just gotta stay in the moment.”
What your favourite Front Bottoms song to play live?
“Fuck, probably Twin Size Mattress. We play it last, right before the encore. There’s that feeling of job almost complete and people just react so good to that song. And over here, everyone sings the piano parts… [laughs]”
You can just sit back and relax… [laughs]
“[laughs] Oh my god, they make it so easy. It’s great.”
And if you had to describe The Front Bottoms in five words or less, what would they be?
[Mat Uychich, drummer, walks into room]
“Mat, thank God you’re here for this! [asks question]”
Mat: “[pauses for thought] Feel good.”
The Front Bottoms played at the Mandela Hall, Belfast on Wednesday, February 14th 2018. Their latest album Going Grey is available to stream on Spotify and from all usual outlets. Photo by Mark Jaworski