Brian Sella of the Front Bottoms: “The Music Belongs to the People”

by Miranda Feinberg and Lola Nedic

The Front Bottoms have been riding the indie rock wave for almost fifteen years now, wooing fans with wirey, soulful guitars and sharp, clever lyrics, providing a distorted yet charming perspective on the real world. Now, after an almost two year live music hiatus, the Front Bottoms are finally back on tour in support of their 2020 album In Sickness and in Flames. We got the chance to talk with lead singer Brian Sella about the band’s newest singles, life back on tour, and New Jersey pizza. 

Photo by Mark Jaworski

You guys just released a new single this month, it’s called “Lover Boy,” and it’s a bit different from music you’ve made in the past. What inspired you to take this sort of change in direction and can we expect your future music to be similar to this?

No, not in particular. You know, it’s just about being creative and keeping the good vibes going. My buddy Tom, who I write a lot of music with, he had sent me that track and I basically, you know we went back and forth a few times, and basically I just put some vocals down on it and we were like “Oh this is sick.” You know, so that’s just kind of how it happened, the music making process is sort of like that for me, like when I start making a song or get involved with something creatively it’s just my style but I have no idea what it’s gonna be like in the end, it could go any different way. So it just kind of worked out where it’s like, I’m more of a vibe person and I’m like, if it felt good when I was making it, it feels right, then the people need to hear it. And I like just making music too, you know, all different types of music. 

We kind of have to ask, was it hard to go into quarantine just as you were in the process of writing your most recent album, and what changed with the process?

Yeah it sucked. I mean, the whole pandemic was super rough, I definitely, you know, got depressed and shit cause it was, it kind of taught me that my purpose here on earth is to entertain people. You know like, play shows, and  go be with the people in the room. You know, that’s always like who I’m doing it for, is the people that are in the room with me. So when that went away, yeah it was definitely tough, like I always say I feel very lucky, like I got that tattooed on me, because I feel like I am extremely lucky for the fact that I didn’t– it was okay. Like I didn’t get sick, a lot of the people that I knew stayed healthy, so it was a lot of back and forth of feeling super lucky that I was okay and stuff, but then also the feeling of “Oh my god, what the hell is going on right now.” It obviously changed my approach and stuff in terms of writing. You know, again, it was hard to find inspiration cause I realized I got most of my inspiration on the road interacting with people, so it was definitely tough, for sure, and it was a different process. But like I said, with “Lover Boy,” it was just a different process that I felt honored to sort of take part in. Matt pushes me along a lot too, he’s really good at reading the vibe and pushing me in the right direction. I like to sit on the couch, so Matt can come over, he’ll help me get up and he’ll put the guitar on my head and stuff like that and so it’s definitely an important relationship that I have with him too, in terms of the process. 

What are you most excited about sharing with your fans now that you’re back on tour and actively seeing people again?

I think that the biggest thing for me is getting into the room and playing in front of people. It’s just the fact that like, it’s how it was, you know. I think people… this tour for me has been the best reaction I think, and the most sell-out stuff, and people are definitely definitely ready to party. And I think that what I can provide, my purpose, is to come and entertain these people, and I think the biggest thing is just letting people know that we’re still gonna do that, it’s still gonna be a lot of fun. We always keep it fresh, with different stuff, and we try to entertain the people.

You guys have a show tonight, do you have any pre-show rituals that you just can’t live without? 

I am definitely somebody that benefits from a routine, so I definitely gotta do my vocal warmups before the shows to get loose, cause it’s a lot of shows so I don’t wanna lose my voice and stuff. And then I basically just sit in silence and stare at the wall. I just mentally prepare, cause my whole thing is that the show is the best part, it’s everything. I don’t really think too much about the show until a half an hour before I have to do it, just cause I’d be extremely flustered and get nervous, so I just try to keep a very low key vibe for sure, and then give it all to the stage. 

You guys are childhood friends, how has your dynamic shifted from being friends to being bandmates? 

It’s insane. It’s definitely changed. There’s the balance of business partner, artistic partner, and just friend. And those are all very intense relationships. But you know, fortunately Matt is such a mellow guy and balances me out so good, and I just feel lucky. I think, I let him do what he does, and he lets me do what I do, and it just kind of comes together in the middle, and I’ve been very fortunate. We’ve been friends for a long time. I think mine and Matt’s relationship is just about giving the other person space to sort of like, do what they’re good at, and then working with that. I love Matt so much, I feel lucky as hell that I get to, still after all these years, play music and shit with him.

What does your creative process look like for making music videos? How do you pair the lyrics and energy of your songs to a music video? 

Honestly, just when I come up with songs, it really is very loosely connected. Usually me or Matt will have a music video idea and it’ll be about putting it with the right song. So, it’s kind of a separate thing, like I’ll be like “Oh man, wouldn’t it be cool if we had a video, and it was a drone shot,” or something like that and then it’s like “Oh okay, what song do we have coming up that we could put with this.” So that’s what happens, it’s really just kind of a natural creative process of “Oh this would be cool, and it works with this,” so that’s kind of how it happens. And that was just as much like the music for me back in the day, was just about making a music video with my friend and making music and stuff, so I try to keep that energy. But now it’s more about just if I have a good idea, it’s about letting other people that are creative, like our buddy Mark who’s been taking our pictures and videos for years and years, I’ve known him since high school. So I kinda pass it off to him and go “What do you think of this idea,” you know, we’ll bounce ideas. But it really comes from me and Matt keeping that genuine creativity and allowing people to do what they do and have fun with it. A lot of the animation stuff we did over the pandemic was out of necessity, we were like “Oh okay, we can’t really get together and make a video with people, so let’s find some cool creative animators.” I guess that’s kind of what everybody thought, but it kind of worked out for us, and I feel very lucky about it.

A lot of your song lyrics are very kind of specific and personal, and they tell very intricate stories. Do you ever get nervous that your songs are too specific, and do people in your life ever ask you about the stories you sing?

Fortunately no one really ever asks me, because nobody really knows what the hell I’m talking about. I think that what I am sort of good at, in terms of lyric writing, is allowing people to create a story in their own head. So it’s very specific details that are just like very general feelings. So you could sort of– if I’m talking about being at a party, and something happens, that’s a very specific thing, but everybody’s been at a party where something’s happened, so everybody kinda knows that feeling. And honestly, a big part of it is just, I never thought anybody would fucking listen to these songs, so it’s a little tough to explain, but I don’t really think about it too much, I kind of allow myself to just kind of go with the flow, and nothing is– I don’t think anything has been too offensive or anything like that. Like, my dad loves that song “Father”, shit like that, you know. I used to dedicate it to him when we would play, and everybody would laugh. So it’s more about that and allowing people to create the story in their own head. You know, specifically with that song, I have a very vivid memory of being at a house show in Richmond, and we had just played, and this kid comes up to me, and he’s like, “Holy shit, that song ‘Father’ is funny as fuck” and I’m like, “Oh wow, it is funny, that’s cool.” But then this other kid came up to me, with tears in their eyes, just saying “I can’t believe that song ‘Father’, it’s so emotional.” And I’m like, that’s sort of amazing, and that’s sort of the point, to let people have the music. And let them think of it as they will. I’m just sort of there to be like the radio and just play it.

So do you have a favorite song or album that you’ve written?

You know, I love it all. There’s definitely ones that I feel, like when we start a song and everybody is singing along, those moments are very special to me. And fortunately that happens quite a bit when we play. So I feel very lucky. It’s not really one specific song, it’s just the whole, the fact that I get to play any songs and that people enjoy them. 

This next question is a bit weird, but what do you think your music would taste like if it had a flavor?

Hmm, that’s a good question. Let me think for a second. I don’t know, maybe like, a piece of pizza.

Why?

Like a delicious piece of New Jersey pizza. You know, like a slice. [Attempt at Italian accent] From the pizza parlor!

So you kind of said before that you guys have been around for so long and it’s changed your dynamic, but what is your favorite aspect of the band as a whole that’s evolved over this whole big career?

Oh, I think the fact that, like, it is—it belongs to the people that like the music. That’s the biggest development. I thought, oh, I used to be so, not really protective, but kind of confused and shit, I kind of realized now that it doesn’t really have fucking anything to do with me. The people who like these songs, they fucking love these songs, and it’s cool that I can sort of just disappear into that feeling and allow people to—this is their music, like this is for them, and that’s a development that I think is pretty cool. That’s kind of my own personal development, you know, allowing people to just have it, take it… it’s amazing, it really is incredible. 

Last question, thanks for bearing with us. Is there any music you would recommend that you’ve been listening to lately? What have you been spinning?

We’ve been on, we’ve had the fucking pleasure and honor of playing with Sydney Sprague on this tour. She’s opening up, and the album that she just released is absolutely incredible, like it’s all hits. Her band is amazing. So I would say her, and then also the other band that we’re on the road with right now is Oso Oso, and they’re… absolutely incredible too. So that’s basically what I’m listening to every night. And I love both of those projects, I feel really lucky to be on tour with them for sure. 

The Front Bottoms are performing at the Palladium in Worcester on October 23rd. Tickets can be found here.  

Listen to the Front Bottoms’ new album, In Sickness and in Flames, here.

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