The Front Bottoms’ Brian Sella reveals new sound with same emotional authenticity
The frontman shares insight into how his life was reflected in this album
The Front Bottoms, New Jersey’s most popular folk-punk band, released its fourth, full-length album on Friday, Oct. 13. “Going Grey” mixes TFB’s musical experimentation with frontman Brian Sella’s “wacky” lyrics and emotional authenticity.
“(Going Grey) is about me kind of growing and becoming like an adult and everything: from the name of the album, 'Going Grey,' to the everything basically, 'Vacation Town' exactly, 'Everyone But You' is also a good example lyrically,” Sella said. “But that’s just that the art has always kind of reflected my life. It’s not like I really plan it that way, but you know I'm getting older. I have a lot of grey hair (and) that’s what it comes down to.”
Die-hard Front Bottoms fans may be shocked to see the musical direction of the new album. As a whole, it is nothing like anything else released by the Jersey-based band, and it’s the farthest departure from their demo albums. Fans nostalgic for the rough, unpolished feel of “I Hate My Friends” or “Brothers Can’t Be Friends” will have to realign their expectations.
Instead Sella, drummer Matt Uychich, bassist Tom Warren and renaissance man Ciarian O’Donnell on keys, trumpet and guitar built upon the more refined recording tactics that came with their major label debut “Back on Top” from 2015.
“I think I would be doing our fans a disservice if I was to not at least get a little bit freaky,” Sella said. “If they don’t like it, (then) I think our fans at least know, ‘okay well, this is just an experiment. There’s gonna be more songs. There’s gonna be songs that I love … It’s an experiment.’ You have to challenge people, you have to push people. And I’m fortunate enough that the people that seem to listen to The Front Bottoms seem to appreciate that.”
The Front Bottoms team aimed to ease fans into the transition with its choice of singles, “Raining” and “Vacation Town,” which are indicative to the themes of the album and, when they stand alone, are closest to the more recognizable TFB sound.
The music video for “Vacation Town” creates a visual definition for the “Going Grey” struggle Sella expresses in the album. There’s literally a battle between two people playing out a Jekyll and Hyde situation for growing up and transitioning from the pseudo-adulthood of your early twenties to full responsibility.
“I think that in terms of the title (of the album), it’s kind of just coming to terms with the fact there’s no choice (about growing up). It’s neither good nor bad, happy or sad. It’s just what happens,” Sella said in acceptance. “I do have a lot of grey hair, and that just kind of summed it all up for me … It can neither be happy or bad, good or sad, kind of like in the one line of ‘Everyone But You’: ‘it doesn't get worse, it doesn't get better, you just get old, and it lasts for ever.’ That’s kind of the vibe: the world doesn’t stop turning … it’s just life and that’s just kind of how it shook out.”
This acceptance is juxtaposed throughout the whole album with the overall "pop-ier" and synthetically happy feel of the accompanying music. From the opening track, “You Used To Say (Holy Fuck),” which relies heavily on drum and bass to pull listeners into the album and then sprinkles in an angelic synth riff — this is not a typical pop-punk album by any standard.
Even songs like “Everyone But You” that lyrically represent the struggle of making the mental transition to adulthood, as Brian said, has a head-bopping beat and sing-songy, anthem-styled chorus that distracts from the struggle Sella sings about, or at best masks it.
Fans and press have been critical of The Front Bottoms abandoning its noise from the basement aesthetic in their last full length, which usually matches Sella’s self-revealing lyrics with an edgier sound more similar in hit tracks from their self-titled album, like “The Beers” and “Twin Size Mattress,” the latter of which is usually the band’s encore song during live shows.
However, Sella isn't worried.
“I think the fans are gonna love ‘em. I think there’s no doubt. I think The Front Bottoms fans are very accepting of music, and they really do understand,” he said. “When I was younger and a band that I loved put out a song that was a little freaky, I would get pissed off and I would be a little bit like 'what the hell is this about.' I didn’t sign up for this. But then I would go back after a couple of years and re-listen to the album and re-listen to a song and I would fall in love with it. So it really is just like a personal interpretation of the music.”
The band will find out how their fans feel on Oct. 13 and when their tour begins on Oct. 19, starting with a sold-out show in Boston, Massachusetts at House of Blues.
Sella said the band is going to focus more on the performative aspect of playing on this tour. The band is thinking of using projections to show The Front Bottoms backstage and heading out to the main stage so audiences can feel the excitement build as the members get closer to the stage. Sella even hinted at some costume changes.
“I find out what my favorite (song) is when we go on tour and get to play them live because that’s for me really when the songs become what they are. When we can get up in front of a couple of hundred kids and see the reaction and that kind of affects the way we play them,” Sella said.
The frontman also said that the more experimental songs will make more sense when played live. You’ll see a better visual of where the more refined sounds in more experimental songs come from, and Sella said more musicians have been invited to be part of their set, which should give further insight into the new musical components on “Going Grey.”
“When we played basements at Rutgers, we would go into it with the same mentality. There would be five drunk kids there, and by the end of the show we just wanted to make sure those individuals had fun. And that’s what we try to do even though some of these shows are pretty big, a couple thousands people coming. We still try to make sure every individual has a good time (and) they can kind of come on vacation when they come see us play. And we can take them to another place. Just like Jimmy Buffet,” Sella said with a laugh.
Sella’s excitement for the album and tour was tangible, but “Going Grey” isn’t the only artistic work that Sella and his original bandmate Uychich have been planning for this year.
Sometime during the break between the U.S. and International tour, The Front Bottoms will be hosting its holiday show Champagne Jam, and it will be happening closer to the University this year.
“Hell Yeah! Champagne Jam is such a passion project for me and Matt. We love it so much. It’s just another opportunity to put on another show … We're gonna try and do it in Asbury Park this year,” Sella said. “We’re working out all the details of it. Obviously, it’s like a total shit show until like the day of the show when everything kind of comes together.”
Webster Hall hosted the indoor festival twice before, but the famous venue closed this August for renovation after being bought by AEG and the owners of the Barclays Center. This year’s show will likely happen at Convention Hall.
“(The Webster Hall set up is) essential to the vibe and the aesthetic of Champagne Jam. You want to have a comedy stage, and acoustic stage, a smaller stage and then a big main stage so that people can move around an get excited. That’s always my favorite type of show, where I feel like if I’m an audience member I have a little bit of control of what I want to see and where I want to walk. We’ll get some hot dog carts in there,” Sella said.
He first mused with the idea of hosting the show at Convention Hall after visiting an underground wrestling match there with his girlfriend. Sella said he fell in love with the space and size of the venue.
“I’m gonna try and work that out, but we’re absolutely doing Champagne Jam and it’s going to be just as fun as always,” he said.
Sella also said he’s working on a new art enterprise, called Screwball Enterprises — a project open to a direction, plan and even an idea of what it should be.
“Your guess is as good as mine. I don’t know. Maybe — I have literally no idea, but I have the name and I’m going to start repping that, and slowly but surely it’ll come together, like all of my art… And it will be what it was always meant to be,” Sella said.
In the meantime, “Going Grey” will be released and ready for interpretation and to put it all together, The Front Bottoms’ tour will be stopping near campus twice, at Starland Ballroom and Terminal 5 in Manhattan.
“No matter what the departure is, it’s still The Front Bottoms," Sella said.