The dynamic duo that makes up Bergen County’s The Front Bottoms is made up of two of the many people who believe in the DIY approach to music. The two-piece recently released their debut full-length on Bar/None Records. I had the opportunity to talk to vocalist/guitarist Brian Sella about their upcoming shows, their run-in with the cops and their video for “Maps,” among some of his favorite venues to play.
You have some pretty big shows coming up. First with Kevin Devine and An Horse and then with Hot Rod Circuit. What are your expectations going into these shows?
They’re the only things marked on my calendar at the moment. I expect them to be a lot of fun, bottom line. Me and Matt, we definitely want to go and have a good time and we want to make sure the audience is having a good time as well. We can get onstage; just try to put on a really good performance, that’s our absolute plan. Then it will be successful and we will have a lot of fun!
That’s always a good thing to expect!
Definitely! And I think the people in the audience will read that and say that “oh, these goofy kids are having a good time, I’m going to have a good time too,” it makes the night successful. I’m hoping that everyone has a good time.
On the subject of crowds, as a two piece do you find it difficult to get a crowd moving?
No, not at all, to be honest. We’ve been playing for a really long time to very small crowds, so we worked it out that we can get the audience moving. Even if there is only five people in a crowd, we’ll get them moving. And that’s something we pride ourselves on. We actually play with a third member at live shows, his name is Drew. He’s a touring and studio musician for us and he’s a good friend of ours. Since we are playing a little bit bigger shows now, we wanted to make sure the sound was as good as it can possible be. So bringing Drew along for the ride was definitely something we had to do to make the sound a lot of fuller. Now that there are three of us onstage, it’s a lot easier to get people moving. Even though I do get nervous about it sometimes. As long as everybody is having fun, that’s all that matters.
Speaking of shows, what are some of your favorite venues to play?
Maxwell’s in Hoboken is by far one of my favorite places to play. Also, the Asbury Lanes in Asbury Park is definitely one of my favorite places. A lot of the time, my favorite venues aren’t the ones with the best sound or anything. It’s all about the venues with the best vibes. Me and Matt feed off of the vibes. Like you said, there are only two people in the band so when you get on stage you have to really put a lot of work and a lot of effort into making sure people are having a good time. But if the vibes are better from the venue, the bartender and everyone, if that’s all good and all the energy is up, that’s what makes a venue the best. So definitely Maxwell’s and Asbury Lanes. Those are my two favorite places to play.
I checked out that YouTube video of when the cops raided one of your shows, how was that for a show experience?
(Laughs) Oh yeah. That was intense! We were playing in Philly, and we play lot of house shows. On our last tour we played a show in Philly—it was a buddy of ours’ house and a lot of people showed up and it was a good time and everyone was having a good time. But the cops kept coming by and they were like “just get off the sidewalk. Everything’s fine, just make sure you’re not on the sidewalk.” Then there were so many people in the house that people naturally spilled out onto the sidewalk. Out of nowhere, when we were just warming up in my friend’s room the cops busted in. Everyone was running around and acting all crazy and stuff. People were being thrown in handcuffs, but The Front Bottoms were very kosher about it. We just walked out.
The cops were just doing their job. It was too funny. We left that house, and just to show how good the community is, after we left the house with 100 kids piling out of it, some other kid just turned and said, “Everyone can just come to my house. We’ll continue the show at my house.” And that’s where we all went. It was an acoustic show so it worked out nice. That was a trip and when you’re on the road, you always get crazy things like that happening, which makes it exciting and a lot of fun.
Where did the inspiration for the video for “Maps” come from?
That was filmed by our now friend, but at the time [a] stranger. We got a message from someone on MySpace. It was, “Hey, I’m from Spain. I’m living in New York right now. I have to update my reel. Would you want me to make a music video for you guys?”
We were like, “Um, okay?” The message was written in broken English, so we were kinda hesitant, we really didn’t know what the situation was. But it’s our style to just go and have a good time and to see where things take us. So we were like, “Yeah, okay, send us some information of where you want us to meet you and stuff.” His name is Pablo, and he wanted us to meet him at a really nice place out in Brooklyn that looked at the Brooklyn Bridge. He was there with a translator because he didn’t speak English too well. We went and it was totally successful.
He’s a good friend of ours now. He actually moved back to Spain. He directed the whole video and he had a very clear idea of what he had in mind. It came out surprisingly like us. For some guy who has just met us, who didn’t really know us—he was from Spain and didn’t really know English, he had his girlfriend there translating for us, everybody was just super nice, he bought us lunch and everything. When we got the video back after a couple of weeks—it took two days to film—the part in the woods is filmed in New Jersey—he jumped on a train with his girlfriend and three weeks later he sent us an email with the final video. We were like holy shit! It was so legitimate, which is not usually our style, but he just nailed it. But that’s how that video came about: Totally, totally weird.
He actually sent us another email maybe like three weeks ago and he was like, “Brian! Matt! I love the new album, I’m listening to it every day in Spain. I have another video idea for the song ‘Rhode Island’ can you send me pictures of yourself?” Me and Matt didn’t understand so we emailed him back and we were like, “Sure! That sounds great! But what type of pictures, and what the hell are you talking about?! Let us know what you were talking about!” He’s not too good with email, his phone is constantly shut off. We’ll see what happens… or there might be naked pictures of us floating around the Internet sometime soon.
How was your tour with Emperor X?
Touring with Emperor X was trip. It was so much fun. Not only do I look up to him as a musician, I think he’s one of the best performers I’ve ever seen; but also as a person and the way he lives his life. I can’t say how much I like him and touring with him was incredible. It was a DIY booked show so there were some interesting shows. He comes from the same background as we do: The DIY, let’s find where people are and go perform for them.
He has a lot of history of being on the road so we’d show up in random places and there would be a decent amount of people there to see him. It was nice because sometimes he would bring people, sometimes we would bring people. It was neutral. It was cool because we had a van and we all rode in the van. It was a tight squeeze, but no one complained and everyone had a good time. It was one of the most successful tours I’ve been on.
How did you guys keep busy while on the road?
I played a lot of guitar. You also meet people who take you around and show you that cool restaurant or that lake or something. We were suppose to play this record store in North Carolina and we got there like five hours early and Chad [Emperor X] hadn’t met up with us at that point, so we asked people what we should do. We ended up checking out an agricultural school. You find things to do, plus I’ve never been to Tennessee or Georgia so when you’re in new areas you really want to take advantage of it.
Where was your favorite place to stop?
I’m going to say Tennessee. Only because the people we stayed with were so awesome. We played Tennessee one night and there were a couple of kids who drove two hours to see us. It was really nice to see them and everyone had a good time. We didn’t have a show the next day but when we did meet these kids at the show they said they had a place and let us come crash until the next day. So that’s what we did. They took us to a river that had a cliff jumping thing, and they took us to an open mic at this local bar/café thing. It was the halfway point so it was a nice way to start the journey back home.
What is your favorite track off of the album?
To play live: “Rhode Island.” That’s one of my favorite songs to play live. It kinda came together on this tour. We recorded the album, but then we didn’t really play it much and then on this tour we started to play it more. To listen to: Matt likes them all. I like “Looking Like You Just Woke Up.” It’s short, punchy and gets to the point.
What does The Front Bottoms mean to you?
Not to sound totally lame or anything, but The Front Bottoms means everything to me. It’s all I got at this point. Matt and me live together and we work together… we’re working together right now, but he’s doing a lot more of the work than I am, obviously. The Front Bottoms have really been my focus for the past couple of years. It’s something very positive in my life, I would sacrifice everything for The Front Bottoms just so more people can hear us and to play more shows.
The Front Bottoms will play a CMJ Showcase at Highline Ballroom on Oct. 22. For more information, go to facebook.com/thefrontbottoms.