This December, Bergen County natives The Front Bottoms will be throwing their annual ‘Champagne Jam’ in Asbury Park’s historic Convention Hall for the fifth year in a row after a successful co-headlining tour with beloved indie band Manchester Orchestra. The Front Bottoms are a band that just won’t stop from their humble D.I.Y. beginning on Bar/None Records to their cult-icon status on Fueled By Ramen. Their last major release was the Ann EP, the second in their grandmother series, which sparked a tour where they would play both the EP and Going Grey front-to-back.
This tour, they’re taking things even looser with an entire bar setup on stage and more crowd interaction than thought possible for a band that signed to a major label. I got the chance to catch up with lead singer Brian Sella and talk about new beginnings, the artistic process and what home means to him.
How are you liking tour so far?
So far, so good, you know? All the shows so far have been pretty fantastic, so it’s been a nice feeling…To be able to come out here and, you know, play the music, and it’s like, “Oh, wow, people are rockin’, rollin’ and having a good time.” So, it’s really incredible.
You guys are originally from New Jersey. I am too, so I know it must be nice to get away from it for a bit, right?
[Laughs] Yeah you know it. Jersey is a nice place to come home to. A nice place to leave, a nice place to come home to.
Lots of great bands and musicians are from New Jersey, like Bruce Springsteen, Frank Sinatra, Whitney Houston, My Chemical Romance and The Misfits. What do you think it is about New Jersey that inspires great art?
Well, really, I’m not sure. I think it’s probably the tone or the atmosphere of it all. It’s just kind of, like, you could live close to Manhattan, but you don’t live in the city. You live close to Philadelphia, but you’re not from Pennsylvania. You could go to the beach, it’s on the coastline. You could also shoot up to Boston. I think the fact that there’s access to so many different styles makes its own style. I think that’s kind of why so many people from Jersey end up being total freakin’ nutjobs. [Laughs] Just kidding.
Your music seems to be heading towards a more polished, pop sound with each release. Was this the goal of your art from the beginning, but you now have the skills and label power to complete it?
I think the goal from the beginning was to just play shows. My life for the past eight to 10 years has been going on tour and playing shows every single day for months at a time, going to a different city and playing in front of different people. And the recording process for me? That lasts, like, two weeks. That’s such a quick blip in terms of the artistic experience. So I would never say that that was a goal to make the recording sounds the way that they sound. It was just part of the discovery of the art. I was just trying my best, and when all of a sudden you’re in a room with amazing equipment, and your friends are there and all the time it’s like, “Let’s try to make this sound a little bit better.”
But really the process for me is just one of discovery. It’s not like a projected path, I’m not thinking, “Oh, when I was playing a basement in New Jersey,” or “Oh, I wish this sounded like a Katy Perry song.” Each day happens and it unfolds and you roll with the punches. I think the most important thing is hindsight and looking back and saying, “Okay, that happened. So what did I like? What don’t I like? What do I want to change?” And really every single step and every single part of the process is you just figuring it out.
So, I don’t know the next album in terms of the discovery of myself through the art. It might be a country album or a D.I.Y.-sorta basement style recording. I can just kind of discover [myself] through the music and everybody can listen to it.
To answer your question, it definitely wasn’t a plan to have things turn out this way. I feel like that’s why things happened so positively; because it was never a plan. Everything was awesome and any little experience or accomplishment was the biggest thing that had ever happened to us, even if it was just a tiny, little thing. We just kinda roll with the punches all the way through. I think it would be unfair to give myself the credit of saying this was all a plan.
You kind of built your way up from the bottom — you played D.I.Y. shows and you and the audience were on a peer level where you could have a beer with all eight members of your early shows. Now, you’re selling out large venues and people are tattooing your face on their body. How does it feel like to have gained a cult following?
[Laughs] It’s strange, it’s a strange world. I think that’s part of the whole thing that we were saying — there was no plan, you kinda let the audience decide the plan. That’s why I always take requests on stage, because I’m not up here for myself, I’m not up here for my plan. This is whatever people want.
Like, back in the day, when there would be 10 people at the show, I could drink a beer with every single one of these people and a lot of these people got my face tattooed on them. It’s crazy, it’s a weird experience. I’m still so fucking lucky and I just try and stay naive about the whole thing and just excited about every little step.
I think that’s the best way to do it.
I think so. You can’t plan anything, really, and it’s a bummer, but sometimes it works out. In this particular situation it worked out. It was years of time that I think people would consider it not working out. The six or seven years of time where there was only 10 people coming to the shows. And my family was like, “Okay, what are you doing? You’re still living in the van with Mat…” But for me, I was so happy and so pumped, this was amazing.
So, I think that naiveté of it all was very important. If I had listened to anybody else talk, I wouldn’t be where I am now. You gotta stay positive and do what you want to do. I know it’s hard to be like, “Oh, just stay positive and everything will work out,” but really that’s kinda what happened. Me and Mat just stayed positive and remembered that we were having fun, and how lucky we were to not have to go work at a landscaping job or at a grocery store or something like that. That was the best feeling in the fucking world. You know, like with your writing it’s the same thing, you write articles and people read them. That’s a form of art. That’s incredible.
Thanks. Yeah, it’s nice for people to see what you produce.
Exactly! One time this girl was like, “I want to go around the country and read my poetry to people.” And in a very negative way I was like, “That doesn’t exist, that’s not a real thing.” And she said, “That’s what you do.” And it really hit me like, “Oh my gosh, that is what I do.” And it was like this crazy awakening of, yeah, I shouldn’t be telling people, “That doesn’t exist, that doesn’t happen,” because that’s what everybody was saying to me when I was trying to “read my poetry” around the country.
Now that you’ve been signed to Fueled By Ramen, you guys have been able to add more touring members and build a more elaborate stage setup. You, Mat and Tom are familiar faces on tour, but Jennifer, Roshan and Eric are now a part of the ensemble. What made you choose them?
Basically, Mat. First of all, the people in the band: Roshan, Eric and Jen, are unbelievable musicians. They’re fantastic. They are actual musicians. They are the reason it sounds incredible on stage.
Oh, I agree, it sounds great.
Thank you very much, that means a lot. It’s an experiment, like I was sayin’, we’re trying to figure it out. It’s all over the place, everyone has their style and we’re just trying to put on a good performance.
But basically, Rosh[an] is in a bunch of bands, he played keyboard in a band Mat was good friends with. Mat’s girlfriend was somehow involved. I met Ro[shan] at a bar one night, he was playing bass, and he had come highly recommended from Mat. And then Jen was in a band called River City Extension that we have quite a history with. We’ve known those guys a really long time, and I really wanted a violin player, I thought that would add a lot. And then Eric, we met at the studio. He was a studio rat, just always there, and I was making demos and stuff with him and it turns out he’s really incredible at bass. So we had him play bass and moved Tom over to electric guitar. And he loves to play electric guitar, so he was all about that.
And that’s always how it all comes together. Same with how I met Tom. I met Tom through [former guitarist] Ciaran, eight years ago. He just showed up at my house and Ciaran was like, “This guy plays bass, he’s amazing,” and we heard him play bass and we told him, “Dude, you should be in the band!”. That’s always the way that it’s been. We always try to keep it loosey goosey like that.
Sounds like a good deal. By the way, ‘Champagne Jam’ is taking place where you live: Asbury Park, one of many coastal New Jersey beach towns [like where I’m from]. In your latest single “End of Summer,” and also “Vacation Town” off of Going Grey, you capture the melancholy that comes with the passing of another season. Was that inspired by Asbury [Park]?
Absolutely inspired by Asbury Park. My girlfriend and I, we’re living there right now, so it’s definitely full circle. I wrote a lot of those songs when I was living there. That vibe of the summer time going into the winter time, it is definitely an energy that inspired those songs, absolutely.
Do you feel like that sort of parallels your life? Like you’re entering a new season, or new chapter?
Everything is very personal with my art, even if it’s about somebody else. I’m always drawing from my little perspective in there, especially as a songwriter, I gotta do that. I do feel like maybe it is a new chapter. Like I was saying, I’ve been on tour for fuckin’ nine years. Not consistently, but I’ve been hustling for nine years and it’s been a fucking grind for sure. And we have this tour, we do the ‘Champagne Jam’ and then in the new year we’re planning to just write a lot. I’m going to try to write as much as I can.
So I do think that it’s kind of like a chapter sort of ending and also sort of starting again. You need that refresher for art. You need to go get new inspiration. That’s where I’m at. I’m taking it year-to-year in Asbury, and you know, I like it. You’re always looking for the next thing and this is the first time in my life that I’m like, “Okay, I guess I can just chill”.
The Front Bottoms will be playing Friday, Dec. 14 and Saturday, Dec. 15 at Brooklyn Steel. Afterwards, you can catch them at their annual ‘Champagne Jam’ Sunday, Dec. 16 at the Convention Hall in Asbury Park.