Brian Sella on Trump, creativity and the evolution of The Front Bottoms

2017 marks the ten year anniversary of The Front Bottoms, who have returned to Australia for their first headlining tour this month. We caught up with singer/guitarist Brian Sella ahead of their Adelaide show at the Enigma Bar to talk about the artistic process, the future of The Front Bottoms, and the current state of American politics.

So, how’s Australia been so far?

So far so good. This is show two so we’re still early on, but yeah, so far amazing.

When did you guys get into the country? You must be pretty jet-lagged, right?

I’m dead right now. I’m running on fumes. We got in the day before yesterday.

Oh no! And you’ve been working non-stop since, wow.

Yeah, yeah. You know just the amount of travel that goes into it is insane.

Are you flying across the country or driving?

So we flew today here, but tomorrow we’re driving. So nine hours. It’s gonna be a journey, but it’ll be good. I like to think of it as a meditation, you know, a challenge.

When I saw The Wonder Years last time they were here they said that Australia looks like a lot of America.

Yeah, that’s true, that’s very true. Did they play here, The Wonder Years?

No, they played at Fowlers which is a bit bigger.

That makes sense. That would have blew my mind if they played here.

Yeah, right? But you guys sold this out, which is pretty cool.

Yeah, very exciting. You know, we have The Hard Aches on opening up, and this is a home town show for those guys, so I’m sure that had a lot to do with it but hey, I’ll take it.

Yeah, absolutely. So, you released that video a while ago of when you went to Alaska.Do you mind talking about that a bit?

Absolutely. The experience of going to Alaska? We had got a show up there and it was sort of like, let’s go to Alaska. We only had one show, and it was at a college so they were like, we’ll take care of you and whatever you guys want to do, you know activity wise.

Do bands often go to Alaska?

I’m not sure. Our booking agent works with a promoter in Alaska specifically so a lot of opportunities come to bands on his roster so I think that has a lot to do with it. But I don’t think they would go. I know a lot of bands from Seattle would go right up to Alaska and play shows because I guess you could do that forever. But so, the experience was amazing. We were actually just talking about it – if Australia wasn’t as far to get to, Australia would be our favourite place. But because it’s so far away to get to, we have to choose Alaska.

You know, it’s like a different world. It’s so beautiful and when we went to Alaska, strangely enough, it was warmer in Alaska than in New Jersey, so it was sorta weird. We got to go dog sledding, we got to go ice climbing, saw the Northern Lights, so it was just like – the whole experience was surreal, it was so much fun.

Is there anywhere else out of the way like that that you’d like to play that you haven’t?

You know, I don’t even know off the top of my head. I didn’t know that I wanted to go to Alaska, or that I would love it that much, but so once we went there it was like oh wow, this is a new experience. Sort of like this, like you’ll go and play some place you thought you’d never even go to in your entire life, and then you get to go and play music.

Do you get to see a lot of the country when you come to Australia?

Sorta? Out the window, usually.

Have you done the koala holding yet?

Not yet! No koala holding. We came here two years ago with The Smithies [The Smith Street Band]? That was pretty punk rock, we just hit every spot we needed to and then went home in ten days. It’s sorta like the same way as this tour, one right after the other. But we do have a tour manager this time from Australia, so he’s setting us up with the tour stuff.

Yeah, you’re hitting a lot more places than people usually do. People usually just do Perth, Brisbane, Melbourne, Sydney sort of thing, so you’re seeing a lot of the country.

Wow, yeah. We definitely like to spread ourselves thin.

The last interview you did with the AU Review you talked about doing an audio book?

Oh yeah, yeah that’s still going. Actually, we recorded it on the last tour we were on. Tom [Warren, bass] reads it, so I would write it before each show, and then he would go out and before the encore, he would read the section, and people would be like, “Shut the fuck up! Play another song! Shut up!”

They just don’t get art!

Oh, I know. And like, whenever someone would do some shit like that I’d be like, read another chapter. But so, I don’t know what’s going to turn out with that. It might turn into an album sorta deal, but yeah.

That’s cool. So your idea going into it, it’s not going to be released in book form, it’s going to be like a Hitchhiker’s Guide sort of thing?

Probably, yeah. The whole thing with art is it’s just like, we’ll see what happens. That’s kind of the fun of it, so I try to keep those ideas going, of like, just the random stuff. It seems to be the stuff that gets people most excited.

After this, will you be moving into writing your next album?

Yes. That’s the plan. You know, because since we put the last album out, we’ve been on tour basically non-stop, for like a year and a half, so yeah, I’m gonna go home and relax for a second and then we’re gonna start writing the new album.

So you kind of grew up with Brand New, and now you’re playing with them. What’s that like?

Oh, it’s insane. That past tour was unbelievable. It was crazy. And they’ve been so kind to us, not only on a career level, giving us an opportunity to play in front of thousands of people a night, which is something that wouldn’t happen for us. They’ve been personally just very kind, so to go from listening to Your Favourite Weapon and then going on tour with them, it’s a totally surreal experience. Very awesome.

Yeah, it’s like dreams come true kind of thing.

Absolutely.

So, do you mind talking a little bit about New Jersey? I’m interested in the fact that new Jersey just produces so much music, especially in this sort of scene. What’s it like growing up in New Jersey with that around?

You know, I agree. I think it’s unbelievable like the amount of creative stuff that comes out of New Jersey. My childhood growing up wasn’t actually very musical. I didn’t really start getting into music until like, late in high school; after I graduated high school was when I’d started the band. I’d been writing poetry and stuff so I had a lot of stuff that I had written when I was in high school that become sings a year or two after. But like, I didn’t really go to shows. I never went to shows; I know Mat [Uychich, drums] never really went to shows.

I know there was a scene, sort of, like a VFW hall scene that was good maybe a few years before us. So when we were there, coffee shops and open mics, that was the scene, sort of like a folk rock, which is kind of how we started out so that influenced us a lot, it was more of like coffee shops, open mics stuff like that where you didn’t use an amp, you didn’t use a drum set. That definitely defined our sounds for sure.

In terms of like punk rock shows and stuff, that wasn’t really something that we got exposed to until we went down to Richmond, Virginia or up to Boston, and then we were like, “Oh this is like punk rock, okay I get it, this is awesome.” Then Rutgers, which is a college in New Jersey, they have an amazing basement scene. I don’t know of they still do, but at the time it was like, we would play one party, then we would carry our stuff across the street and play another party, so that was a scene for us.

Yeah, you got to really develop.

Exactly, get our chops and sort of realise who were as people and how we worked together as a band so that was very valuable for us. But yeah, New Jersey, I know, it’s so crazy like, you find out the people that came from New Jersey, it’s amazing. So I’m glad to be a part of that because it all seems very unique as well. I think it has a lot to do with the fact that there’s the ocean, then there’s also West New Jersey that’s kind of the country, and then you’ve got the city of New York City and then south you’ve got Philly, so it’s like a whole different type of things going on. You know, you could be a hillbilly in New Jersey.

That’s a weird thing to think about. How’s it been going from your original two piece to adding Tom [Warren] and Ciaran [O’Donnell, guitar, trumpet, keys]? How has that changed your musical direction? Or has it changed it?

Well, those guys are extremely talented musically, so that influenced the fact that now they could play a lot more difficult things and it kind of advanced the music. The Front Bottoms have always been a very living thing. At first it was just Mat and I, and then it was me, Mat, and his brother, and then me and Mat; then me, Mat and Drew [Vilafuerte], and then me and Mat, and then, me, Mat, and Ciaran and Tom. So it’s always been a thing that’s constantly changed and constantly. And each one of those moments, we defined ourselves by the people that were in the band so it was interesting. But that’s the whole point, you know? I don’t think that I’d be able to play with the same people for ten or nine years, however long we’ve been doing it.

It’s ten years this year, actually. Wikipedia says 2007.

Is it really? Jesus Christ. That’s amazing. It has changed us but in a positive way. And they’re all people I’ve been fortunate enough to stay in contact with and be friends with to this day so it’s a good thing.

Are you looking to revisit more of your old stuff like you did with the Rose EP?

Absolutely. We’re definitely going to release another Grandma EP. Once we get home and have a little more time to relax we will put together another one, for sure. We’ve gota couple songs lined up.

Oh cool. And the Fueled By Ramen thing, how’s that been? Going from an indie label to a major label.

It’s fantastic. The label we were on before, Bar/None, was great too, but it was a small label, so everything was small. Which was good, but then we’d come to Australia and not have the materials we’d need. There was a lot of logistical issues. Fueled by Ramen has been absolutely awesome and there hasn’t been anything they’ve said no to, which is surprising, honestly. Like, that was the first thing I thought they would say, “Oh no, don’t do that,” but everything has been, “Oh yeah sure, go ahead, do that.” It’s great. It’s a relief, for sure. Because obviously, you’re nervous. I know Ciaran and Tom were a little nervous about, oh what’re they gonna try to do, what’s the band, is it gonna change, but there hasn’t been any pressure in any way.

Everyone on Reddit was going, “Oh, they’re just going to turn them into Fall Out Boy” and I was like, probably not.

That would be impressive if they did that actually, holy shit. Nah, it’s been absolutely awesome. The team over there is great, and very supportive, and like, genuinely like the music so it’s cool.

Do you mind talking a little bit about your videos? Because you work with the same director, don’t you?

Yeah, for the most part. That was the same thing where the people in the band sort of defined the band at the time. The very first videos were made by these two kids I went to college with and then we stopped making videos with them and then our friend Mark Jaworski took over. I know him from high school, and he did photos for us in high school. He was very talented and that’s what he does full time, he takes pictures and he’s a video editor so it just worked out for us because he’d do it for free and we’d just go over to his house and do it very quickly. That just kind of became the pattern of, “Okay, we have this song, let’s go to Mark and make a video and we’ll edit it tonight and put it up tomorrow.” So it’s kind of continued that way, honestly.

The most recent video we did, the “Ginger” video, that was a video that someone contacted us and was like, “I could make a music video for you guys,” and we were like “Yeah totally, that’d be fine.” So that was an interesting thing. I’ll probably make more music videos but it’s different. Like I said, it’s changing, and I’m not as young as I was so having a camera and filming myself being silly is not as appealing to me as it was. I would maybe like to get a little more serious with it. You know, just try to grow with it. Keep it interesting and keep people excited about it. That’s my plan with the music videos. But that was just another artistic outlet that I loved.

Alright, just one last question. Do you have any new year’s resolutions?

I guess stay positive. I’m gonna give a lot more money to charity. It’s a nightmare back where we come from.

I’ve been reading the inauguration news all day.

I mean, fuck that. It’s so horrible.

I wasn’t going to bring it up because I was like, what if it turns out he’s a Trump supporter and I have to give all my shirts back?

Oh my god, what a nightmare! Yeah, oh god. And like, you’ve gotta be careful now, because you don’t know who you’re talking to and I’m like, “Is this person the reason why I hate my life right now? Like, what the fuck? Who is the enemy?” It’s hard, it’s hard.

Yeah, exactly, it almost feels like a 50/50 split.

No, but he lost by three million votes.

He did, he absolutely did.

Which is something I always have to remind myself, because it’s very easy to get depressed about that.

The electoral college is just out-dated.

Oh god, it’s insane, it’s just insane. It’s so sad. But my girlfriend, she works at a non-profit for reproductive health, it’s called Physicians for Reproductive Health and they advocated for the very common sense of a women’s right to do whatever she wants with her body, so it’s very scary time in history for sure. Everyone’s on edge. That’s why I’m glad to be here! I really thought I’d want to not be in the country for the inauguration, you know. I mean everybody’s got their problems.

Was Election Day pretty depressing?

It was the worst. We were on tour with Brand New, and we had played the show, and then we just sat there and drank, and slowly like, cried, really. It was a moment of total heartbreak, for sure. You know, I have sisters, and my mum, and – let’s not talk about that.

Yeah, sorry, sorry! But thank you, I’m relieved!

For sure. I know, because it is scary! Like, I know my racist uncle is gonna vote for Trump, you know, but now I don’t really know like, who else? Like what the fuck.

Yeah, are ‘nice’ people doing it as well?

Right? I don’t think so, though.

I think there’s more good people than bad people.

I absolutely agree, and it doesn’t matter because that’s the way you have to live. Or that’s the way, that’s my resolution. I’m gonna live positively and treat people good and protect people, so that’s gonna be my new year’s resolution.

Needy When I’m Needy and Back On Top are out now through Fueled By Ramen.