In the middle of touring their latest album, Going Grey, The Front Bottoms decided to pop by Portsmouth as one of their dates. I talked pre-show with Brian Sella about the album’s unique quirks, his new dog, and his slight disdain for social media.
Going Grey came out in November – how do you feel like your writing, recording, and musical processes have changed since you started with your first EPs?
I think it’s just developed naturally, just from working on the craft of songwriting and taking it a little more seriously… I think it’s just naturally developed in whatever direction it is now.
Is the title your way of saying it’s time to grow up, that you have to?
Yeah it feels like that, party’s over.
It’s time to go! DJ’s thrown up on the dance floor!
Exactly, you can see themes I’ve been messing around with for a while now, so it just developed a little bit more.
Was it a natural progression?
Yes, absolutely natural.
You have a lot of themes of longing for the past in your lyrics, particularly in ‘Vacation Town’. Are your albums intentionally themed, or is it just based on how you are feeling at the time?
The way that I write the songs is (lyrically anyway), I keep notebooks throughout the year and when I’m trying to write an album I just take it from one particular notebook. It could be from six months of time in one notebook but all the themes are similar because it’s from that one particular point of my life. That’s how those themes seem to have developed naturally because it’s like “Okay I guess this is genuinely how I felt at the time”.
It’s hard to put you in a genre, but you’ve said you tried to write songs in the genre of, and have called this album, ‘modern pop’.
Yeah, I like that term. I think it’s an interesting term because I could name modern pop bands that sound completely different, it’s just staying with the time of what is popular and trying to put our own spin on it, so that’s what I was trying to do. I still think we’re a punk band in our mindset – actually, I don’t even know if that’s true anymore. I used to always say we were a punk band with the mindset of a punk band, not necessarily sound wise but we did everything ourselves and put out our own albums and went on tour, touring was a big thing. That was the mindset of the punk rock thing, but now I don’t know if it’s really fair to say we’re a punk rock band because it has developed into this insane stage show: we have two projections on stage, we’ve got all this ridiculous crap up there. So I don’t know if it’s so much of a punk band mentality even more because I feel a punk band mentality would be if you were going to play a room this size you’d just get up there and rip it, you wouldn’t have all the extras. But that’s part of the whole development thing, you can keep doing the same thing – I’ve been doing this for 10 years at this point, so at what point am I going to say “Alright, let’s try to take this to the next level”. And that’s always what it’s been every time with each show, with each tour.
Is it your way of trying to show that you’re not teenagers making it in a garage anymore?
Exactly, yeah that’s it! You have to give people what they deserve, you can’t charge money for a ticket and then just fuck off at the concert, you’ve got to keep it together, put on a show, make sure people are smiling at the end of it, so it’s all part of the game. As you get more people involved, you have more of a responsibility – it’s not just your punk band anymore, it’s not playing in basements, it’s a thing that’s going around the world and entertaining people every night.
When you’re touring, what do you miss about the US?
Some food, I just got a dog so I miss my dog – a pitbull, Penny, like “lucky penny”. This dog is pretty rough, it’s a little bit scary to be honest, but she’s little so its no problem for me. My friends, I miss just hanging out – this is work! It feels a little bit more like work now, I don’t get on stage wasted anymore, I don’t go crazy like I used to, so I feel a bit more responsibility, and I’m getting older. I’m not old or anything, but I’m not 21 anymore so when I wake up in the morning everything hurts a bit more than it used to!
You wake up in the morning?
Well, like 4pm.
That’s more relatable! You have some quite open and introspective lyrics – do you find it difficult sharing such honest songs with so many people?
No, I don’t find it that difficult to be honest, because once I write the songs they’re not really mine anymore, it feels like it means more to the people who listen to them at that point.
So you can distance yourself from them?
Right, exactly, so it’s just more about getting the feeling out. I’ve always used songwriting as a vent, as an emotional release, so once I have that vent it’s not really mine anymore so I don’t really stress it.
As a band all of your social media is very much official The Front Bottoms profiles, not very personal.
I’m just too old for that crap, I don’t have time to sit around on my phone, and also it’s just all bullshit! When I look at these other bands and they’re tweeting and putting pictures on Instagram, it’s like what are these people doing all day?
I mean, you did post a photo on Instagram of you in a fish and chip shop in Portsmouth.
One picture! I gotta give the people what they want a little bit. I’d rather just come and play shows for people, talk to them at the shows, connect with them and then go home. There’s no reason for people to know that I have a dog or any of that crap. A situation like this feels better. It’s just easier to be completely away from it. The other day our Twitter got hacked.
I saw that! And I saw the follow-up tweet saying “We just thought it was Brian talking about hot dogs at first.”
Right! I never have looked at the Twitter, so everyone in the dressing room is getting text messages about it and it just means nothing to me, I couldn’t care less. My whole thing was like this kid hacked the Twitter which means he’s better at Twitter than us, we should just let him run the Twitter from now on! He’s posting funny shit… Also there’s a lot of criticism on the internet about everything so I try to ignore all of it, the negative and positive. It’s not real! It’s totally not real. If we have a good picture I like to post it but it doesn’t need to be anything personal. It all goes through us – how much more personal can it be?
What kind of stuff do you like to do in your spare time? I see you’re wearing a Screwball Productions jumper…
Yeah! You know Screwball?! That’s just something a friend of a friend who started it and I thought some of the designs were pretty cool, and this jumper is a collaboration with The Front Bottoms, so The Front Bottoms have the same sweater but it says ‘The Front Bottoms’ with the upside down ice cream. That was just our way of helping our buddy out.
Is there anything you can tell me about the rest of the Grandma EPs?
Yeah totally, we’ve recorded the next one.
Is the next one Anne?
Yes, very good! I will say we’ve been playing ‘Today is not Real’ on this tour so that is on the album.
I did see some older songs on the setlist and wondered why!
‘Lonely Eyes’ is another one that we went back and redid. All those songs were very quickly done back in the day so it’s nice to go back and put a little time into it.
What’s your favourite song to play live?
The last song! No, the last song we’re playing is ‘Ocean’ and I love playing that song, there’s three tempo changes in it so it’s fun to play, and I love playing the first song too.
‘You Used to Say (Holy Fuck)’?
Your album opener and closer start and end with waves so it loops – what were you trying to do with that?
We were trying to keep it punk rock. That to us felt like a very punk rock moment of if you play the last song on a complete loop with the first song it goes perfectly into it so that felt pretty cool to us. Just keeping it creative, having fun with it. We tried to make a collection so that was full circle, front and back, bookend it, so that was the intention of it, for sure.
What music have you enjoyed recently?
Brick & Mortar and the Smith Street Band, that’s two bands I’ve loved for a very long time so to be able to go on tour with those guys feels great. Elizabeth and the Catapult, I found a couple of songs by her that I really like, Broken Social Scene, their new album is fantastic. Selena Gomez, I like all of them – I like dance music, it’s happy and it’s cool. Sunflower Bean, Power Trip, so just like the hitmakers.
Speaking of hitmakers… The official video for ‘Everyone But You’ is out now!