New Jersey indie outfit the Front Bottoms have officially graduated from their punk, DIY days playing basements and seeing revolving door members come and go. The current iteration of the oft-evolving quartet, consistently fronted by vocalist/guitarist Brian Sella, just signed to their first major label, Fueled by Ramen, and booked slots on a number of big summer fests, including this Memorial Day weekend’s Boston Calling (they play a late afternoon Sunday set). We checked in with Sella to talk about Back on Top, their first, polished release with Fueled by Ramen, and the band’s evolution in preview of Boston Calling, which hits town May 27-29.
So this is your first time making the rounds on the festival circuit? This will really be our first time on the festival circuit. We’ve been touring probably about six years at this point, and we’ve been to Boston a couple of times, but this will definitely be the first time that we’ve been invited to play these festivals, so that is very exciting. And Boston Calling—we’re very pumped about that.
Oh yes, very excited. Very excited. We weren’t sure [if we could play it], our bass player Tom is getting married, like, that weekend, so we were like “Ah, just cancel it.” But our booking agent was like, “You should really play this.” So we got Tom to move his wedding. [Laughs] Just kidding. But we are excited, definitely.
As you mentioned, you guys have been working pretty steadily and quietly for awhile—and you just signed with Fueled by Ramen. Is it gratifying to finally be getting some more widespread recognition? Totally, totally. Especially for [a label] like Fueled by Ramen to get involved. Any show we play, or any step up that we take, always feels amazing. That’s why we’ve been able to do it, and keep doing it, because its always a good experience, but to have Fueled by Ramen, which is pretty big-time, be like “Oh yeah, you guys have been doing a good job, we’ll help you out,” it feels good.
There was some fan backlash on the Internet after you signed, to the effect that you guys were going to start to sound more generic. Do you think that’s just kind of inevitable, though, that “this band sold out” fallout? Uh yeah, definitely. That sort of stuff just seems so silly, honestly. Back in the day, Matt’s [Uychich] brother used to play keyboards, and we used to play in basements to like 15 people. We did that for a year or two, and then Brian left the band and I remember all these people coming up and being like “Oh my God, Brian left the band, so now there’s not going to be a band anymore. Are you guys still going play shows?” And me and Matt were like, “Yeah totally, this is just what we do.” And then we played just the two of us, and then we had another guy Drew, and then it was just the two of us [again], and then it was with Tom [Warren] and Ciaran [O’Donnell]—so the band will just continue and whoever is involved is just going to make it better. And that’s kind of the way that I feel about Fueled by Ramen. And we are trying to appeal to like a broader audience, so like, my parents and stuff. I want to get an audience that, like, doesn’t know how to use the Internet. [Laughs]
People do bands, and the music industry at large, a disservice by equating success with selling out. Isn’t the point to get your music heard? Totally, and I feel that now people want to know the history of something more than they want to know anything else—they just want to know the story. And I think in order to have a story, you have to make strange choices … Like, I want to have a career, so if I do stop doing this one day, I can be like “Damn that was some pretty crazy stuff that we did.” That’s kind of the mindset.
Yeah, totally. It was an insane experience. It was like nothing I could even describe. Up until this point, we had went down to Austin one time and made a record in like three weeks. We basically did the whole thing live and we had the entire album like written out, so we went down and just played it, and did a little bit of post-production. That was like the most professional thing we had ever done. So when Fueled by Ramen got involved we were like “Can we go record this album?” We got a producer involved and went out to Los Angeles. It was fucking insane. We recorded in Sunset Sound studios, which is where Prince recorded Purple Rain. So it was a big time, crazy, major label thing and it was very flustering. Honestly, it was extremely flustering. But I learned a lot. Halfway through the process I was like, I just have to roll with this and learn as much as I can and take in as much as I can. And that’s basically what I tried to do. I learned a lot about what I won’t do next time. And I learned a lot about myself and the band—it was really an amazing experience. We had the album completely written when we went in [to sign with the label]. … It was like a crash course in making an album.
That’s interesting that you said that the album was written before you even signed. Because there’s a lyric on “Help” that goes “Some people no matter how much money they make can’t get out of their own way.” I was going to ask if that had anything to do with signing to a big label… It’s definitely weird how that works out. I mean that was just a personal lyric about myself. But it is weird, the events that took place in my life like six months later. Maybe I was projecting it to happen somehow!