The Anti Rock Stars: New Jersey’s The Front Bottoms get ready to headline a sold-out World Cafe Live
They play sold-out headlining shows where fans wait in line hours before the doors open, and stay late to greet them after the set.
Their sophomore full-length album is anything but a slump, having garnered acclaim from NPR, American Songwriter and Alternative Press.
Their signature fast-paced acoustic indie punk still harkens back to their start as a two-piece from North Jersey. But they’ve brought their music across the country and other parts of the globe, and broken out a bigger, more boisterous sound with a new full-band lineup.
The Front Bottoms have certainly come a long way from playing basements and VFWs. They’ve been commended for their accessible yet hard-to-compare instrumentation and song structure, along with unconventional but relatable lyrics. They’ve toured with the likes of Say Anything, The Menzingers and Motion City Soundtrack.
From every angle, The Front Bottoms look like rock stars. Not in the Beatles, Rolling Stones or Black Keys sense, but within the tight-knit punk community that prides itself on making it while keeping your integrity and do-it-yourself ethos.
The band has a no-bullshit attitude, but probably not in the way that’s expected. That’s because despite clout and sold-out crowds, they don’t want to be seen as any more than a couple of kids who make music that people have come to enjoy and connect with.
“I think that there’s definitely a mindset amongst younger people in this country … a very unsure feeling of what’s going to happen next in their lives and what they’re going to do,” said Front Bottoms frontman Brian Sella from Syracuse, N.Y. during a pre-gig phone conversation last week. “[It’s] very universal and it’s nothing new. I feel like the songs that we make just sort of express that we feel the same way, too. I think that people were able to say ‘Oh, OK. These kids feel the same way that I feel.’ That is a connection a lot of people seem to be getting out of the songs.”
Fans first felt that connection from the band’s self-titled debut release in 2011. Two years of steady touring later, The Front Bottoms released their sophomore album, Talon Of The Hawk, in May. Sella said the band is very proud of the album, and response has been positive.
“People seem to like it, and there have been a lot of people coming to the shows and they seem pretty comfortable with us playing the new songs,” Sella said. “So, it’s been great, it’s been fantastic. And it’s nice, we were playing those old songs for a good amount of time. It was nice to finally be able to play some new tunes.”
The Front Bottoms began with Sella and drummer Mathew Uychich, who have known each other since childhood and quickly discovered their creative synchronicity. Where their basement-recorded debut album provided youthful images of beer in coffee mugs and maps of places they’ve never been, Talon Of The Hawk showcases the two years Sella and Uychich have logged on the road, and the maturity they’ve found along the way.
“I’ve obviously gotten older since the other album,” 25-year-old Sella said. “I’ve grown up a little, I think, and I’ve matured into a fine young gentleman.” He laughs, then continues “I think maybe just with getting older and having these experiences of being on the road for two years is something that I’ve only dreamed about and it’s kind of happening. I think maybe that more mature tone just comes naturally when you’re getting older and thinking about different things.”
Sella said he wrote most of the lyrics for Talon Of The Hawk over a six-month span of touring. He arrived home with a notebook full of lines that were then pieced together to create 12 new Front Bottoms songs.
Though Sella continues to deliver those enjoyably erratic and quirky lyrics The Front Bottoms became known for, Talon Of The Hawk also features songs with more clearly defined themes. Openers “Au Revoir” and “Skeleton” are more witty and comical. “Peach” is the album’s obvious love song. Tunes like “Twin Size Mattress,” “Lone Star” and “Everything I Own” strike a more serious chord, bringing up everything from teen pregnancy to a fear of growing old.
The songs highlight the highs and woes of all 20-somethings dealing with love, friendships and coming into adulthood in a way Sella hopes will resonate with his peers.
“It’s still me and I’m still writing the lyrics,” Sella said. “I haven’t had a life-changing disease or anything like that. I’m just kind of going off of the same instinct and the same vibe as all the other songs I’ve written. … I think maybe I tried to be more concentrated and more focused when I was writing the songs this time.”
The last time, he says, there was the sneaking suspicion that nobody would hear the songs anyway. So he was frank, candid and spontaneous, with all of his emotions blended together.
“I was happy and sad at the same time and, you know, it was like present tense part of my life,” Sella said. “I think that, with these new songs, it was more like ‘OK, let’s try to have an underlying theme in each one of these songs.’ … I think with that came the ability to focus on something long enough to make it consistent throughout.”
In an effort to continue to expanding and evolving their sound after their touring keyboardist quit the band, the founding Front Bottoms were happy to add Ciaran O’Donnel (keys/trumpet/guitar) and Tom Warren (bass) earlier this year to give the band a new live edge. Sella called the two new members “phenomenal musicians,” and said their input added to the outcome of the record while still allowing Sella and Uychich “enough room to keep it Front Bottoms.”
“The way me and Matt would always go about doing it is we would write the songs and then even with the old stuff we would get a friend to play guitar or trumpet, we would get them to add little things that they felt comfortable adding,” Sella said. “Always, with The Front Bottoms, there has been a lot of cooperation between a lot of musicians with the skeleton being made of me and Matt. … I think [Cirian and Tom] add to the live sound because we’re not playing to a click anymore. We don’t have a laptop. We’re on stage, and we’re four guys playing instruments together, ya know?”
The newly formed four-piece tracked Talon Of The Hawk relatively live, hoping to capture that same energy they exude on stage. Sella said he hopes old fans of the band enjoy the elevated sound quality and fullness on the new record – two factors he also hopes will make their music more accessible to new fans.
“This was the first time we were in the studio — the first time we were using equipment that was worth something,” Sella said. “So, I think that when old fans listen to it, the quality of the sound was something that was probably surprising to a lot of people, how polished it kind of sounded, but still with the same Front Bottoms attitude.”
The band hopes to bring that same attitude this Thursday night when they play a sold-out headlining show at World Café Live alongside Atlanta, Ga. based The Wild and Philly favorites Cold Fronts. Sella said it was the first shows he and Matt played together in Philly that made them feel like the band was going somewhere.
“Those were the first shows that I was like, ‘God dammit, this is awesome. These people love this music,’” Sella said. “Even before we played to anybody who cared, the people in Philly in these basements and at The Fire and The North Star Bar [did]. It was always, for us, like we could go and play to five people somewhere else in the country, but if we played Philly 150 people would show up. Not to sound corny, but it did always feel like home. It felt very genuine to us, just a place that was always welcoming. I love playing to Philly crowds and I know Matt does too.”
No matter how many records they put out or band members they add – even when people line up at 3 p.m. for an 8 o’clock show, or when they have to use the back exit to the venue because 80 kids are waiting to see them after – don’t ever think The Front Bottoms will stop being two Jersey kids who make music and tour the country with no other agenda than to have fun and help others do the same.
“That’s a very strange, weird feeling. I don’t know if I’ll ever get used to it or really understand why. But sometimes things like that happen and its just like this is fucking awesome. In the long run you can’t really think about that shit. … That’s not our style to try to act like rock stars or anything like that. We are having a champagne jam tonight, though, which is kind of a rock star thing.”
Sella went on to explain this entailed acquiring 5 bottles of Andre, and everyone must finish one before the end of the set.
“It should be disastrous,” he added.
Front Bottoms up.
The Front Bottoms headline World Cafe Live on Thursday, July 11th, with Cold Fronts and The Wild. The all-ages show is sold out, more information here.