Growing up with friends who were musicians, I have a passion for listening to and helping out local artists. One band that I was told to listen to a couple of years ago was Northern New Jersey’s The Front Bottoms. They have achieved a lot of success in the past couple of years and recently released their sophomore effort, Talon Of The Hawk, on May 21 via Bar/None. I had the opportunity to chat with the group’s lead singer and guitarist, Brian Sella.
He and I discussed the recent success of The Front Bottoms, and touring both nationally and internationally. With a couple of upcoming sold-out shows at Maxwell’s in Hoboken, this native NJ act couldn’t be more honored by the support they have been given. Sella provided tips for local bands, talked about Twin Peaks, and his first time in a studio. See what he had to say below:
Seeing as how you’re a Jersey band and have been touring not only the U.S. but overseas as well, what would you say has been most effective in the success of the group growing organically?
I think that it’s the total genuine approach that me, Matt [Uychich, drums], and the rest of the guys in the band take to playing live music. Years ago we were still playing live music, but we would take the hour trip to play to 15 people in a basement. We made friends with people from Richmond, Virginia, who have always been a good community of kids that would always have our back. We would play shows there even if we didn’t have anything booked. They would say we could play in a warehouse and they’ll put us on and everything like that.
When we came back there playing in a venue, all those kids that saw us in the basement shows would see us in the venues and it kind of just grew from there. So it’s really just the idea of an honest approach where we just want to play music and it is a good time, and fun is definitely the vibe that people seem to be attracted to.
Do you have any tips for other local acts? Do you think as long as they have an honest approach they’ll be fine?
I think that’s definitely something you gotta make up your mind about. Because me and Matt have done a lot of dumb things that were just really stupid. Things like where we would try to get in touch with bigger bands and be like, “Hey, just take us on tour,” and people would say that it’s just not the way it works. It took us years to find that out.
You just gotta do it yourself. If you want it, you’re gonna have to do it and you can’t just wait around for a bigger band to take you on tour. It’s gotta be something you are doing because you want to. That’s the only way it’s going to work.
How has the transition been from touring the country to coming back to a place like Maxwell’s?
Oh man, it’s amazing. Maxwell’s was always a place me and Matt always said, “Wow, imagine if one day we sold-out Maxwell’s?” And that was totally serious and it was one of the small goals we set for ourselves. We just did everything we could to try to, everything we could, to achieve these goals.
Maxwell’s is the most hometown-like show for us. Our label is based in Hoboken and every time we go there, it’s always good. And to play two shows back-to-back and have them both sell out is an honor. And that’s what it comes down to, it’s just a total honor and we couldn’t be happier about it.
They should be great shows and you’re developing quite a following…
Yeah, like I said, I couldn’t be happier about it. This was always something we did because we wanted to and even playing for 15 people in a basement, that was more than enough for us. To be able to really accomplish some of our goals is great.
What has been the most surreal moment so far?
Probably going to Europe. I mean, that’s another world for us. Being a band from NJ, we were never like, “Oh yeah, one day we will go to London and play a sold-out show to 230 people.” This is something I never aimed for. Like the last tour we went on over there, we were playing in Scotland and over 100 people showed up, which was totally surreal. Sometimes you gotta take a step back and be like, “Holy crap. This is something else.”
Let’s talk a bit about the album. From what I understand, some songs were written on the road?
I wouldn’t say written on the road, but I would say inspired from the road. I would have notebooks where I was just able to write down all of my thoughts. If somebody said something, I would quickly write it down. Once I got home, I was able to pick up a guitar, sit quietly, and really construct a song. Definitely the inspiration came from the road and more so, it came from having new experiences with new people. When I got home I was able to let it sit in for a while, and then I was able to construct it from there.
And the album name, what is that in reference to?
I have this thing with pocket knives; I think they’re kind of cool. I was sitting in the van and drew this pocket knife. My girlfriend and I were watching Twin Peaks, and there’s this police officer on the show that’s called Hawk. I thought it was a badass nickname. So on the picture with the pocket knife, I wrote underneath it “Talon Of The Hawk,” just because it popped into my head and thought it was kind of cool.
As it was getting close to the time we needed to make a decision on the album name, I found the picture with the pocket knife that I had drawn in the van coming back from recording. I just said the name and everyone kind of just agreed, and that’s how it came up.
Speaking of recording, was this your first experience working with a producer for Talon Of The Hawk?
This was our first time working with a producer and in an actual, legitimate studio.
How did that go? Was there more experimentation?
Yeah, there was more experimentation just because we had the equipment. And we chose a producer who, upon the first meeting, we were like, “This guy’s crazy, he’s got a vision, and he is respecting our sound.” So when we got into the studio, he had a lot of cool drum machines and different types of equipment that he was very open to us messing around with for a few hours. If nothing came out of it, which about 80 percent of the time we didn’t like what was going on with it, we would take it all out. Just being with someone that knew the technology, had the technology, and was willing to let us basically play with it, was an opportunity that we never had in the past. It was always like, “How could we make this work for us?” All we had was a drum set and three microphones. On this one, it wasn’t about worrying about very simple things, so we could mess around with bigger things.
What was your favorite thing to mess around with?
I would say the synthesizer sound. He had a bunch of crazy synthesizers that he was very excited about. They were cool and there was a lot of clapping, shaking tambourines, bells, and stuff like that. The other thing I liked messing around with was I never had the opportunity to sit down in a studio and write lyrics. That’s always something we never really had the luxury for. I’d say 90 percent of the lyrics for this album were written before we got there, but there was that 10 percent that I would get to sit with headphones on and see how the rough mixes were making me feel. There was maybe two verses in studio that I loved because it was an experience I never got.
Do you think you would prefer to write lyrics in the studio for the next album, or would you prefer to write most before you record?
Honestly, the music really does come from the lyrics that I write. I’m hoping there is still that 10 percent where I could sit down and mess around with when we are in the studio because I did enjoy it. It was something I did like, but I’ll probably stick with my old-school roots.
For those unfamiliar with your music, what would you like to tell them about The Front Bottoms?
I just want people to listen to the music and feel good or be able to connect with it. That’s what it’s doing for me, so I want people to just be able to enjoy themselves when they listen to The Front Bottoms. That’s honestly it.
The Front Bottoms will play two sold-out dates at Maxwell’s in Hoboken on May 31 and June 1. They will also play at World Café Live in Philly on July 11 and Webster Hall in NYC on July 12. Talon Of The Hawk is now available. For more information, go to thefrontbottoms.com.