The Front Bottoms

Interview: Brian Sella of The Front Bottoms

Brian Sella is a notoriously sweet guy. So sweet, in fact, that he doesn’t even correct me when I refer to his band’s new single as “Raindrops” rather than its correct title, “Raining.” When I ask him if he still gets nervous playing shows, he replies, “Oh, totally!” When I inform him that I’ve been doing interviews for three years now, but that I was still nervous to speak with him, he laughs.

“Oh, don’t worry about it! You’re a professional. That’s what you’ve gotta tell yourself.”

In the context of The Front Bottoms’ discography, Going Grey reflects Sella’s current “vibe,” a word he uses frequently in our conversation. As he’ll tell me, the band learned that an “anything goes” attitude in the studio can result in plenty of band and fan favorites. In this way, Going Grey is an expansion of the polished-yet-experimental sound of their 2015 powerhouse, Back on Top. It continues to analyze topics such as mortality, relationships and getting older – oftentimes within the same three-minute pop song.

It could be the label switch, but I think a lot of people viewed Back on Top as a new beginning for The Front Bottoms. What did you learn making that album that carried over to the new album, Going Grey?

[Long pause] Uhhhmmmm…actually, you know what I learned most? That the wackiest ideas and the craziest ideas are the best. Like, when something felt like it was the craziest thing that I could do, it would be something that the boys would like the best or connect with the most.

There’s always been a pop element to your songwriting, but it seems like Back on Top and Going Grey both experiment with more keyboards, more hooks and different sounds in general. Is that a result of you letting yourself try new things in the studio?

Yeah, absolutely. I try to look at our fans and The Front Bottoms as a living project, and I always sort of felt that we were a modern pop band. And just because we’re humans, we grow up and become different, and the art is kind of a reflection of that. The music is where that comes from. It shows the developing and maturing of the individual in the band, and the music just kind of becomes something else. It’s not so much a creative outlet, it’s more than that, you know?

Definitely. And one of the things I noticed about Back on Top were its themes of growing up, getting older. Were those themes that extended into Going Grey given its title?

Yeah, absolutely, I mean, that’s kind of the vibe of life to me, you know? It’s like getting older and getting to do the job that I do and getting to travel and tour, but it also has a lot to do with, you know…the world doesn’t stop. When I’m gone on the road for six months, life goes on at home, and the moment I get back home I gotta get on pace with that, sort of the same way that when you get back from a vacation, work doesn’t stop, and you have to get back into work and catch up with everything. So it’s like that moment of trying to catch up. That’s just kind of been the vibe, and it’s always been an issue I try to tackle with my art anyways, so it just kind of worked out that way I think.

Something I noticed reading past interviews is that someone seems to have asked you about the origin of every album title so far, so I have to ask: How did you decide on the title and artwork for Going Grey?

[Laughs] Well, you know, for the artwork, we were fortunate enough to work with Jenny, she’s been a longtime dear friend and an incredible artist and she’s always kind of been the art director. So we worked with her again, and usually the way that relationship works is that I’ll have have some kind of random idea that I’ll send to her and she’ll make it better, so this time was no different. I had this image of two naked people holding hands and walking, and I kind of had it sketched out on a napkin, so I sent it to her and she loved it, and she took it and made it so incredible and so detailed, these two completely naked people, and it was going to say “The Front Bottoms.” It was going to be awesome. We were all super excited.

We got pretty far along in the process and the label said, you know, “This is just crazy.” [Laughs] It was very, very real, full-on naked people. You got all the private parts and everything. [Laughs] They were like, “This is kind of insane and a little shocking,” and we were gonna try to do the punk rock thing, you know, we were gonna stand our ground, but in all honesty, they were right. [Laughs] It was a pretty intense image. It ended up so much more detailed because Jenny is such an incredible artist. What I had on my napkin was different from the final product. So we zoomed in on the two faces, and Jenny did a great job. But I love the art, and it gives us the opportunity to use the full image as our backdrop when we play live, use the full image on merchandise, and then also for our vinyl, that’s kind of a cool, special thing. The insert is a fold-out poster of the full image without any blurs or anything.

And the album title came about just because of the vibe of getting older and going grey, and I am personally going grey. I think I just said the album name and my girlfriend was like, “Oh, that would be a cool album name!” And that was sort of it. We were going to call the album Don’t Fill Up on Chips. That was going to be the name of our album for the past five albums, because we all just thought it was so funny. Either Don’t Fill Up On Chips or like, These Chips Are Making Me Salty. [Laughs] So we had decided on that name and we were all so pumped on it. And I woke up one day when we were trying to switch the art around and I had my list of names out and I sat down with Matt and said, “Let me just read through some of these and see if any connect.” And I said, “Going Grey,” and I had always really, really liked that name, it just seemed to suit the vibe of the music so well, and he sort of stopped and was like, “Oh, I like that one!” And then he texted me later in the day and said, “I keep thinking about Going Grey. I think it’s an awesome name.” And that’s kind of how it develops, all of our ideas, they start kind of slowly and that’s the vibe, you know? It feels good. There’s no other way to explain it.

Yeah, definitely. It seems like between those themes and the themes of mortality on the new album opener, “You Used to Say (Holy Fuck),” you never seem to shy away from deeper concepts, and yet you’re still able to write a song like “Bae,” which is also a Front Bottoms song through and through. Where did “You Used to Say (Holy Fuck)” come from and why did you choose it to set the stage for Going Grey?

I mean, right off the bat, you know, we try to make everything feel consistent and feel good. You know, one of our albums, Talon of the Hawk, starts with “Au Revoir,” so it starts with a song called “Goodbye.” So we are kind of into that vibe of little clever things that people can latch onto. It just felt pretty badass to start the album with [a lyric] like, “Holy fuck, I’m about to die,” you know? I feel like the energy of the world over these past couple years, at least for me personally as I’m growing older and losing my innocence, that vibe just kind of seems like the way you have to live your life. Like, “Holy fuck, I’m about to die.”

I actually wrote that song in Austin, Texas. We were playing a festival out there, Austin City Limits I think, and we had gotten an Airbnb, and it was sick, because it’s two weekends so we were going to stay there for the week and veg out. I brought my guitar back to the Airbnb. And there was this river behind it, the Colorado river. I was kayaking in it and I was with my girlfriend, and it was a hard kayak, and after a couple of hours I had kind of dropped back a little bit and got caught under this tree branch. I started to tip and my kayak started filling with water, and she’s screamin’, and I got nervous and dropped my paddle, so my paddle instantly floats away. I was fighting for my life! [Laughs] There was this moment of like, “Holy shit!” And then when I got home, it was no problem, it was only like three feet of water, so it was nothing to be afraid of. But I wrote that song when I got home, demoed it out acoustic, and just kind of instantly got excited about it.

Do you have a favorite song on the album?

Hmmm…interesting. You know, we’re about to put out “Vacation Town,” and I just kind of think it feels like a very punk rock song. It keeps the lyrics of The Front Bottoms, it holds true to that vibe of vacation, and it just kind of develops. It’s also the first song we wrote for the album, so I feel like that has something to do with it, just kind of the energy of being the first one, but I also feel like it’s kind of a departure for us. We tried to mix in some punk rock stylings with – you know, there are trap drums on that track, which is fucking insane. [Laughs] And when I let Matt listen to it, he was very excited about it. He thought it was cool, he was excited that he was going to get to play that pre-chorus with those fuckin’ pounding snare drums. So we made that style sort of our own. For right now, it’s my fave.

I recently spoke with Max Bemis, who —

He’s a great buddy of ours!

I thought so! You collaborated with him on “Hebrews,” and I definitely hear a connection between the way you two write songs and the lyrical choices you make. I was wondering if Say Anything was a big influence on your songwriting early on.

Absolutely. Say Anything was an enormous influence on me and my songwriting. …Is a Real Boy is definitely one of my top three albums. I listened to it all through high school and all through college. I thought what he had to say was cool, thought it was badass. Then I had the pleasure of going on tour with him and he was just an absolute gentleman, always took care of us. He’s the reason we have a lot of fans, because our music is kind of similar, I’ve got a lot of inspiration from him, and when we went on tour with him, he put us in front of 1,000 people that liked our band every night, and we had never had the opportunity to do that. It’s always great working with him.

Your guest part is one of my favorites on that album. I didn’t get to make it out to that tour, but even seeing videos of him bringing you out to perform that song is so much fun to watch.

Oh, that was a real thrill for me, too. The guy from mewithoutYou makes a guest appearance on that album and that’s just so fantastic. I love his part. It was a thrill to be able to have that opportunity, and then to sing that song with him on tour every night was great. I’m grateful for the opportunity.

And as far as opportunities go, you’ve earned yourself plenty with The Front Bottoms, touring with bands like Say Anything and Blink-182. What feels like the most surreal moment of your career so far?

You know, that’s really hard to say because it always feels like every next step is like, “Holy shit! I can’t believe that fuckin’ happened.” Recently, we got to go on tour with Blink-182 over the summer, and it was unbelievable. The tour was amazing and we got to play stadiums in the UK. We played at the O2 Arena in London two nights in a row. And I got to take my little brother on this tour to hang out with me. It was a total trip, an unbelievable experience, and that was the last thing I did. So who knows what’s to come in the future.

Frank Turner was also on that tour, wasn’t he? That’s an unbelievable line-up.

You know, it really was. We got to know him really well and he was really great to us, and he was a really hard worker. You could tell he was putting in the time and making it happen for himself. Blink-182 unfortunately had to cancel one of the shows on the tour, and it wasn’t a huge deal for me because [Frank Turner] was very quickly able to organize another show and me and him got to do an acoustic thing. And it was just such a cool thrill, such a fucking trip. Like, the Blink-182 show got cancelled, but I’m going to play a solo show with Frank Turner. That’s so awesome just to be able to say. [Laughs]

Is there anything left on your bucket list? Dream artists you’d like to collaborate or tour with?

I mean, not in particular. I’m feeling like, the way I’ve been rollin’, I’m just trying to take it as it comes, stay positive and be happy about everything.

I think that attitude is 100% reflected in Going Grey: taking things as they come, figuring them out and freely going wherever life takes you.

That’s all you can do, right brotha?

That’s about all I’ve got. Is there anything else you’d like to add?

[Long pause] Ummmm…nope, nothing off the top of my head, just that I’m excited for the new album and thanks so much! Until next time.

Thanks for chatting! Until next time.

Going Grey will be released on October 13th via Fueled By Ramen.

Aaron Mook Aaron Mook is a contributor at chorus.fm. He can also be found at @vancemook on Twitter.
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