Back On Top: An Interview with The Front Bottoms

Immediately after The Front Bottoms announced their signing with Fueled By Ramen—along with the upcoming release of their fifth studio album, Back On Top—I showed a friend of mine two songs they debuted at the time called “Cough It Out” and “West Virginia” on a hazy-summer afternoon drive in Long Beach Island. One of the first defining qualities about these singles that completely blew him away was the progression of the band’s musicianship as well as the full-sounding quality of these singles. In retrospect, it was pretty surreal to reflect back on, considering the fact that I’ve been listening to and supporting The Front Bottoms long before they blew up outside of playing in small clubs, DIY spots and basements.

Over the years, I’ve seen The Front Bottoms play on multiple occasions at many iconic venues in New Jersey, including Maxwell’s, the Asbury Lanes, Starland Ballroom and The Stone Pony. With each show, I truly felt like I had a first-hand experience of witnessing their blooming success before my very eyes as their fanbase started to grow in large numbers. While I was surrounded by many close friends and familiar faces when they played at this year’s Skate And Surf Festival, I was amazed and completely taken aback by the sea of fans, both new and old, who flocked to catch them play at the main stage before Manchester Orchestra and The Gaslight Anthem. It was definitely a blissful experience to say the least.

From late nights in high school driving around with friends, to college parties spent screaming the words to songs like “Twelve Feet Deep,” “Rhode Island,” “Maps” and “Flashlight,” their music holds an overwhelming amount of nostalgic weight in my heart. To this very day, whenever I have conversations with anyone who is starting to get into The Front Bottoms now, I always like to brag about the fact that I got to see them play at a Knights Of Columbus Hall in my hometown of Forked River in front of 20 of my friends back in 2009.

About a month before the release of Back On Top, I had the chance to catch up with Front Bottoms frontman and guitarist Brian Sella to discuss the writing and recording process of Back On Top, signing to Fueled By Ramen, their upcoming fall headlining tour and also reflecting back on how far the band has come since their humble beginnings.

The new album is called Back On Top. What was the inspiration behind the name, and what was the writing and recording process like for this record?

Oh, big question! Let’s see… the inspiration for the name Back On Top sort of just came from… it was an idea that we had like, a while ago, when we all kind of got a kick out it. We thought it was pretty funny, it was a little bit cocky, but also kind of confusing because it didn’t make any sense, which we thought was kind of our style. You can kind of grasp on different parts of it.

And the writing and recording process sort of… we wrote the album, and then we went out to record it in California. The recording process was intense, and it was the most “professional,” I guess you could say, style of recording that we’ve ever done. We got to work with an awesome producer and we got to throw our ideas at him, and I think we got to kind of learn how to make an album professionally, you know? We were like, “All right, we’re making an album, we got a job, we’re here to do it,” and we were very proud of how it came out, for sure.

Musically and personally speaking, what stands out to you the most with Back On Top in comparison to Talon Of The Hawk or even in any of your previous work?

If you listen to the early Front Bottoms stuff that was legitimately recorded in wherever we could record with our friends, there was a lot of raw emotion, and we were just like, “Let’s record this now. Let’s do this and put it out tonight! Let’s not mix it or anything.”

We were working on serious equipment, and we were taking our time with it. Like I said before, we used to record the song, then put it out that night, even if there was no bass guitars or anything like that. I mean, for sure, the difference is the quality of the sound, and sonically, it’s a whole different thing, but the emotion of the songs, it’s still us in a room playing the songs straight through live. It doesn’t have a bunch of stuff added or anything like that; we keep it pretty genuine, pretty rock ‘n’ roll. I think the whole creating music process, from writing the songs, to the point of recording the songs, is just always being creative for The Front Bottoms.

So, tell me about your signing with Fueled By Ramen. How is your relationship with the label so far?

You know, we’re fans of Fueled By Ramen, and so far long in the process, they’ve been totally incredible. Specifically with the “Cough It Out” music video, [drummer] Matt Uychich and I stayed very true to the idea of, “OK, we got this GoPro, let’s go film you riding a bike around Liberty State Park, and then we’ll edit it tonight and send it over.” And I thought for sure that they’d be like, “You know guys, this is kind of a little bit wacky.” But there was no questions asked, it was like, “Oh, OK, this is what you want to do, and this is what we’ll make work,” basically.

I think the reason why signing to them was so exciting was because it seemed like they respected our style. It’s kind of like where people either get it, or they don’t get it. For, like a label that is going to put money into something and wants you to be as successful as possible, there obviously might be a little bit of pushbacks. But there’s none of that, you know? It was kind of like, “You guys know best on how to make The Front Bottoms The Front Bottoms, and we’ll do what we do best.” It was a very nice relationship, do you know what I am saying?

Very rad, it definitely sounds like a huge opportunity.

It’s exciting, like absolutely. And for us, we were signed to Bar/None Records and we basically did everything ourselves up until this point, and we still artistically have that creative control—like, me and Matt and [bassist] Tom Warren and [guitarist] Ciaran O’Donnell to kind of decide things. So, like a disturbance in that would be devastating for us. And Fueled By was like, “Yeah, you guys are cool. You guys should keep being cool, and we’ll see if we can get more people to learn about you.” It’s pretty exciting.

Hell yeah! If you were to go back in time to when you first started this band and you told yourself and Matt eight years ago that your band was going to be signed on the same label as Fall Out Boy, Lifetime, Gym Class Heroes and Panic! At The Disco, do you think he would believe you?

(Laughs) I don’t know, man. I mean, honestly, this entire journey for us has been like, “What?! What do you mean that we get to play?” You know, every single set has been just as amazing for us… and no, I don’t think we’ve believe it. We’ve been kind of like, “All right, let’s just see what happens.” We really like doing this, and we really don’t have much of a choice and we have to do this, and still play shows and still play music—and if catches on, it will be amazing. Slowly, but surely, we’ve been setting goals for ourselves, and I definitely wouldn’t believe it.

(Laughs) Yeah, I probably wouldn’t believe it either if I was in your shoes.

I remember there was this kid on the boardwalk one time in Asbury Park—we were playing with Brand New at this after show—I think it was a while ago… it was like, Bamboozle maybe, and he was like, “You know, I remember seeing you guys at Rutgers where you played this party, and I remember seeing you guys carrying all of your stuff, and then played the one across the street. You guys were fucking awesome, I can’t believe you’re playing with Brand New now.” And I was like, “Fuck dude, hell yeah!” You know, it was very exciting.

Up until that point, that was our best show we ever played, and I think that was our attitude every time, every fucking show, no matter what the opportunity, there is people who want to have fun. It is pretty crazy that attitude has carried us to like, go to Europe a couple of times, it’s crazy.

Yeah, I remember when I saw you at Skate And Surf after watching Poison The Well, I was so taken aback by the huge crowd that was there for you guys at the main stage and I was like, “This is so surreal.”

(Laughs) Yeah… awww dude, absolutely. As crazy as that view might have probably been for you to see, it was just as crazy for us. Like, “Holy fuck, dude!” You know, it’s so weird walking around and having people come up to you and go, “Oh dude, I can’t wait for your set today.” It’s like, “Oh shit, now there’s a lot of people who are here to see us,” and it’s cool because it’s so positive and it feels exciting.

The day after Back On Top’s official release, you will be playing Shadow Of The City in Asbury Park, and then you’ll be starting up your headlining tour in October with The Smith Street Band and Elvis Depressedly. What are you looking forward to about these shows the most?

Probably just falling into the groove with the new songs, you know? The songs on Talon Of The Hawk and Self-Titled and all the other old stuff… we’re a road band, we probably play these songs like 10,000 times at this point. And when you connect on stage, and you’re rocking out on stage, and everybody in the audience is having a good time, that’s a really special thing, and I want to feel that way with these new songs.

And part of that process is going to be us playing them live, and that’s the most exciting thing—being able to take this art that we’ve created and stressed over and maimed and all that other shit, and being like, “OK, now let’s see how people like it when we perform it.” That’s my favorite part.

Very nice. Considering how huge of a reception you received when Talon Of The Hawk first came out, do you think there is a lot anticipation for Back On Top to be just as big, now that you are on Fueled By Ramen?

Shit, I hope so, we’re keeping our fingers crossed. It all comes down to basically, we want to make sure that this art that we’re proud of… and we don’t care if everybody likes the album, that’s not as important. It’s about creating a community of people that really love the bands, and being able to make a brand of art and music and stuff. Fueled By Ramen is right there with us and they sort of get that, and they understand how we’re all on the same page with everything.

So, I hope that people like the album—I am sure they will—and I hope people will like the live show; I am excited for people to hear it. We’re always making new music, so this next album and the one after this will be a different type of expression, and the one after that be something else too. Right now, this album feels good, and everyone feels positive about it.


The Front Bottoms will be playing at Vintage Vinyl in Fords on Sept. 18, Shadow Of The City at The Stone Pony in Asbury Park on Sept. 19, and Rough Trade in Brooklyn on Sept. 23. The Front Bottoms are also embarking on a headlining tour this fall with The Smith Street Band and Elvis Depressedly, which will take place at Irving Plaza in Manhattan on Oct. 14 and 15. Their fifth full-length, Back On Top, is available on Sept. 18 on Fueled By Ramen. For more information, go to