Lead vocalist of New Jersey pop-punk band The Front Bottoms, Brian Sella, recently sat down and had a chat with Kurt-Lee David. The Front Bottoms toured Australia earlier this year. This interview was conducted just beforehand. We discussed the tour and also a bit about Brian’s personal life.
I grew up in a tiny town in Australia. On your upcoming tour I’ve noticed you’re playing at some smaller cities such as Hobart, Canberra and even Newcastle. Most international acts only hit up Sydney and Melbourne. What made you decide to tour Australia so extensively?
We’re a band that has toured from the very beginning of our careers and we now know that the best shows of the tour will definitely be the smaller towns and the smaller venues. The kids there are more excited about it because [no other bands] really ever show up. I guess we try to make a point to go to the smaller towns, just to make sure everybody gets a little of the love.
I recently went to a global event in Australia. There were a lot of foreigners there. A lot of them seemed to criticise the Australian crowd for their behaviour. They said we were quiet or even drunk and racist, which is a common stereotype of our country. Do you feel Australian fans differ from your American audiences?
Not really… I mean it’s a different part of the world, so there’s that aspect of it. Like, wow, I’m on the other side of the world, you know? For me personally there’s no point in talking shit. I know that people love to say things like “oh, that crowd is too rough” or “that crowd is too quiet” or whatever. But when I’m up on stage playing the show, it’s really only the crowd and me. We’re in it together. I feel like if they’re not acting in a way that I don’t think they should act, that’s my fault. I’m there to entertain them, you know? I’m there to make sure they have a good time. The first time we came to Australia… This will be the second time we come to Australia… but the first time we came we had the pleasure of coming with The Smith Street Band. They took us on tour and the kids really love them over there, so we had the opportunity to play in front of some really enthusiastic crowds. I’m really excited to come back and re-capture that [on this upcoming tour]. I definitely don’t have anything negative to say about the Australian crowds. I thought they were great. That’s where I learned about doing ‘shoeys’.
Have you ever heard of ‘Goon of Fortune’? You take the sack out of a cask wine and pin it up on the clothesline. Everyone stands around it while you spin it. Wherever the goon sack lands, that person has to take a drink.
Dude, yes! I have only heard about it. I have never had the pleasure of experiencing that -maybe next time…
You were talking about The Smith Street Band. I’ve noticed in your genre, more so than others, bands in your circles tend to support each other with touring. You said you toured with The Smith Street Band in Australia and they then toured with you when they went to America. On this tour you have The Hard Aches supporting you nationally. What made you choose the Adelaide boys to support you this time around?
Basically we just asked around. We got tons of suggestions because we have a label working with us [in Australia], so that’s pretty nice. We’d ask, “what are some good bands” and they’d send us a list. We then did some research and that’s basically how it happened. The Hard Aches is a band I haven’t had the pleasure of meeting yet. It’ll be nice to go to a new place in the world and get to make some new friends. Maybe next time they’ll be coming back over to the States to tour with us.
That’s kind of how it happened when we wanted to come over to Australia. We were playing in Germany somewhere and we were playing with Brand New. We were running around back stage and the venue were trying to throw us out, when Will from The Smith Street Band, who I had no idea who he was, just came up and saved us. We were hanging out and he was very friendly. We were going back to the tour bus and he said, “Oh, you’re in a band? I’m in a band! What’s going on?” then he was like, “Oh, The Front Bottoms! Yeah, I’ve heard of you guys. Do you want to come to Australia?” and we were like, “Yeah! Totally! I absolutely do.” Then he was like, “Alright. Well, we’ll take you to Australia and then the next time you can take us to the States.” We both were like, “Perfect! That’s the perfect plan.” Within two weeks the tour to go to Australia was booked. Then the next headlining tour we had in the States we called The Smith Street Band up and said, “Dude, why don’t you come over?” You know, it happens like that. It was similar with The Narwhales from the UK. Apologies I Have None were the band that toured with us and The Smith Street Band in Australia. Just on this last UK tour that we did, The Narwhales and Apologies were the bands that opened up for us. It all comes full circle and it all works out to everyone’s advantage. I think that’s why it ends up happening like that.
I find that cohesion is really deep in your genre of music. When I go to concerts in other genres everyone just sits there before the show, looking around, texting their Mum, just waiting for it to begin so that don’t have to talk to anybody. When I went to a concert in your genre however, everyone just starts talking to everybody before the show. Do you think that’s an integral part of your music? That camaraderie?
Absolutely. I think that when these kids comes to these shows – and this is something I’ve noticed with Front Bottoms shows in particular – these kids are happy! You know, they’re happy as fuck and they feel safe. That’s what it seems like, because we’ll put on a brand new song before our show just as house music and everyone in the audience will be singing it. They feel comfortable and they want to sing and they’re happy. You know, with the opening bands, it’s always full… even before the opening band goes on. When I go to shows I show up when the headliner goes on. That’s what I do. But I feel like with The Front Bottoms’ fans and this scene people want to be involved and they want to know like… “Who’s opening? Narwhales and Apologies I Have None? Cool. I’m going to go and watch those bands”. It’s always packed and I think that these kids just kind of feel safe in the space. They want to get there and they wait online for it. It’s exciting and as a band we just have to make sure they have a good time… Which is really the point of it. I hate going to see bands when it feels like I’m supposed to be doing something for them. I have the opinion, and everybody in The Front Bottoms has the opinion that, “We’re here to make sure these people have a good time and we’re here to entertain these people. That’s our job for the night”. With this scene, they definitely meet us halfway and make it easy.
There are a few notorious stories of international acts coming to Australia. Fleetwood Mac came to Australia in the 80s and they sounded perfect, but it’s notorious because they were hiding Heineken bottle cap lids around the stage filled with cocaine, getting high the whole show. On the whole tour they never had any connection with the fans. They sounded really good, but there was a barrier between them and the audience.
Absolutely dude and that’s the perfect example. I’ve got a lot of friends who’ll say, “Oh, why don’t you play this song”, and it may be a song that we haven’t played in a while and I’m not really sure about, but the general consensus is that it doesn’t really matter if it sounds amazing. You just have to be in the moment and you have to be there for the people, that’s all they want. That would mean more of a connection then if the band sounds amazing, but nobody wants to hear it. I think it’s about finding that in-between. You have to sound good, but also be in the room with the people and reacting to the audience. If somebody keeps yelling out a song they want to hear, you should play the song, because you’re in that room with that person. That’s just my opinion and that’s a really good example. You know, Fleetwood Mac. They would sound absolutely perfect, but if they weren’t in the room with that thousand people, what’s the point?
You talked before about your audience feeling safe at your concerts. Do you think that stems from the subject matter of your songs? Your songs seem to be very personal and seem to be coming straight from the heart. Do you think that openness in the songs leads to the openness from the crowd? Why do you think people feel so safe with your band?
It definitely has something to do with the lyrics. They can sense that it is a personal thing. They know that The Front Bottoms are going to come here and open up, so they feel comfortable being in a room and opening up too.
Is that hard for you to do sometimes?
It is a little bit hard, especially during the prep leading up to it. But really, once you step on stage, everything kind of goes away. I know that sounds a little bit corny, but it’s absolutely true. I could be having the shittiest day and I could be tired or hung over and feel like shit, but when I get on stage, it really all goes away. I’m just up there to play these songs. It is difficult sometimes, because there may be twelve hours of time that I have to fill before I can go on stage and play, but once I get on stage it all comes back very naturally. It’s a combination of the anxiety, the nerves, the excitement, the pride that comes around with – on this upcoming Australian tour – being on the other side of the world with maybe a couple hundred of kids hanging out to hear us play, that all makes it easy. It’s just those twelve hour drives to the venue are just sometimes like, “Ugh, God…” But once you step on stage, it’s all-good.
Australia must seem like a bit of a beast to international bands. I heard a quip, similar to what you were saying, that if you go for a twelve-hour drive in Europe, you could go to five different countries, but if you go for a twelve hour drive out from Sydney, you’re just twelve hours outside of Sydney.
(Laughs) Absolutely. In the States it’s a bit of an in-between. You may have eight-hour drives to the next venue. There are some bigger drives, but Australia, nothing compares to that. I mean, with The Smithys (The Smith Street Band) we flew for a lot of the shows, because it was just impossible to drive there. If we didn’t, we would have been there for six months. It is a beast, man, for sure. But that makes it exciting! I’m definitely more excited for this tour coming up, because it does feel new, but we also feel pretty confident to be going somewhere we’re a little bit familiar with, but also have some brand new experiences. Australia, damn, I’m pumped for that!
When I went to see an international band play, they were well known for their crazy pyro and extreme stage show. However, I know that when they toured in New Zealand, they had to have a lesser show because of travel costs. You’re known for having big inflatable letters and even having couches up on stage. Were you able to bring everything you wanted for this upcoming tour down under?
Yeah! We’re still working it out. We’re a band where we’ve always kind of had to – when we would go to Europe we wouldn’t be able to bring anything. We used to have wacky inflatable arm guys, blow up letters, bubble machines, and smoke machines because we really wanted to entertain these people. But when we’d go abroad we couldn’t bring any of it. So, that’s when we started pulling up the couch from the dressing room and we used to pull people up from the audience to sit in it. We’d also go to party stores the day before and get a heap of balloons and blow them up ourselves. So, I don’t know if it’s about scaling it back, but we’ll definitely have to change it up a bit and work with what we could get over there and just make it fun. A lot of that stuff happens half an hour before a set.
Hearing from the fan base down here in Australia, I’d say it’s probably one of the most passionate fan bases I’ve ever seen. Everyone’s really excited to have you down.
That makes me so happy. We’re pumped.
If you could have one person over to dinner, living or dead, past or present, whom would you have and what would you cook for them? I asked someone this question and they said they’d have Jesus over for fried chicken.
(Laughs) Yeah, that’s pretty good. I’d probably have Barack Obama over and I’d cook him steaks.
… Or just heavy alcohol. I think he needs it right about now.
I know, God… Any time I see him on TV, my heart just breaks. I’m just like, “Oh god, this sucks”.
What did you think of the election?
It was insane! It was insane… It was heartbreaking. My girlfriend works in reproductive health, so that is all in danger now, even though it’s a very normal thing. She just wants to help people, but now that’s all under threat. I know you guys are dealing with something similar at the moment… My personal opinion is that if Hillary Clinton had won our style would have moved in the direction of being open and being open minded towards other people and different groups of people and helping people. I think that, with Trump, it’s more of thinking of ways to keep other people out and how we’re going to be… It just fucking sucks… I know everybody in our band was upset over the results of the election. We travel around the States a lot. It just surprised me. I started watching all different news outlets and focused more on local news, because I was totally dumbfounded that Hillary Clinton lost. You know, I voted… It was just shock. You just have to try and localise it and that’s what I’m trying to do, just help my neighbours. It’s scary. The future is a scary place. That’s why I try to go around and put these concerts on so people can feel safe and comfortable somewhere.
When you’re old and grey, when you look back on these tours, what do you think you’ll remember most fondly?
Oh wow… Probably – I like to think of myself as an entertainer. I think the fact that I’ll be able to look back and think, “Wow”… Like, when I was a little kid, all I wanted to do was entertain people and I wanted to make them laugh or make sure they were having a good time, or be on stage. So, I think, to be able to look back and say, “Wow, I went across the world. I went to Australia two times! I went to Europe a bunch of times and I went all over America.” The mission was to perform and play these songs that I made, these little art projects. So, probably just the fact that I was able to, you know, not only go to some of the weirdest places in the world, but also go there and perform music. Also, the time spent with my brothers, the dudes in the band. We’ve kind of put together a crew at this point so that every tour it’s the same stage tech, tour managers and front of house guys. Spending twenty-four hours a day for three months at a time with the same seven people. Sometimes it’s intense and sometimes you get a little frustrated, but overall, looking back, that’ll be the big stuff.
Will Ciaran ever play harp on a Front Bottoms song?
Yeah! Absolutely. When you have a guy like Ciaran in the band – he is a genius and a total whizz. Musically he is definitely on another level. So he plays the harp, the accordion, everything! Moving forward, when we make a new album, all of that stuff will be an option for us – so, definitely. I hope so!
I know they all wanted more trumpet.
(Laughs) Ok, cool. That’s good to know. I’ll definitely tell Ciaran that. He’ll be excited.
I’m studying to be a teacher. Everyone’s had bad teachers that are just in it for the paycheck. But everyone has also had that one teacher in the life that’s a bit of a Dead Poet’s Society or a Karate Kid kind of mentor. Who was that person in your life?
If it’s a not a teacher in an educational sense, I’d probably say my Mum, definitely. She is someone who taught me how to deal with my emotions as a little kid and made me the person that I am today, without a doubt. In terms of an educational teacher, I had a teacher named Ms. Maskien in third grade, who was probably the first teacher that was like, “Listen Brian, you’re probably not going to be able to learn all this stuff in the same way these other kids learn it, but you are a smart kid, and don’t ever forget that.” Up until that point I was just sort of like, “Oh, I’ll be in the slow classes and I’m not a good reader and I don’t know how to spell and I can’t really pay attention…” Everybody was saying that. Everybody was saying that to my Mum too. So, this one teacher I actually do remember. I haven’t been in contact with her since third grade, but I just remember her approach of being like, just because I’m not the smartest and can barely understand it in the way that they understand it doesn’t mean that I don’t understand it. So I always kept that in mind and it always stayed with me. I also had a teacher named Ms. Maulburg that really taught me how to read. When I was in eighth grade I still really wasn’t able to read. I just couldn’t do it. It was difficult for me. She was the woman that just took the time and sat down with me and taught me how to read.
I was struggling in high school too, but I had a teacher that changed it up for me and made it accessible. So I can come from a similar standpoint.
That’s awesome. I think the more you talk with people you realise that that’s how everybody was feeling. You probably didn’t realise it at the time, but I eventually saw that, “Oh, everybody was feeling a bit uncomfortable”. To have a teacher that helps you out in that way is awesome. I’m with you man, I agree.
When you were talking I was thinking that that’s almost what your music is. When I hear it, the messages seem to be a lot of “it’s ok”. Did you try to sub-consciously get those messages out in your songs?
Yeah, definitely. The environment I’m trying to create at our live shows came from the concepts of the music, that were mainly about making people feel comfortable.
You mentioned your Mum. Was your family really important for you when you were younger?
…Yeah, absolutely. That’s whom I grew up with – my sisters, my brother and my Mum and Dad. Everybody had their own stuff going on, but they let me be myself and let me do my thing. They gave me my space when I needed it. They’re still very important to me. I keep in touch with all of them. Everybody’s busy and grown up at this point, but it definitely means a lot to me.
Do you get to meet up for Christmas?
Yeah! I’m actually going to host Christmas this year – Matt and me.
A bit like the Chevy Chase movie Christmas Vacation?
Yes, exactly. We’ve got the lights and everything.
Is it the band all together?
Tom is married now, so he’s doing his own thing with his family. We just did Champagne Jam and we were all able to get together. We’ll get together again before the holidays and exchange gifts, probably get drunk. So, it’ll be a good time. So for Christmas I’ll be with my family and Matt and his family.
Have you ever thought of a Front Bottoms Christmas album?
That would be interesting! I always think about that stuff about a week before Christmas, but then it’s sort of hard to do anything. We did Christmas rapping though! I would like to do a Christmas song! That seems to be where the money is.
You need to get in there. Michael Buble is taking the whole market. He’s taking it all.
Son of a bitch! (Laughs)
So we’re talking about your live show down in Australia. A bit of an abstract question… If your live show were an ice cream flavour, what flavour would it be?
Chocolate, vanilla swirl… soft serve: Familiar, but also interesting.
If The Front Bottoms were a commercial aeroplane, what part of the plane would each member be?
I would say Matt would be the pilot, without a doubt. I would be the guy that puts the luggage on the plane, if that counts. Ciaran would be the engine on the wings. Tom, I don’t know (laughs).
You said you were the man that puts the luggage on the plane. Are you more fragile and gentle with your ideas than the ones usually at the airport?
I’m definitely more gentle, but way more forgetful. That’s why my ideas usually don’t end up where they were supposed to be.