In The Front Bottoms’ recent music videos, the lyrics are taken quite literally. Scenes often match, beat by beat, with the words being sung. There’s hardly any abstraction in the visuals. In the video for “Raining,” the narrator’s story about walking out of a hospital is acted out word-for-word, with drummer Mat Uychichin in a gown and medical bracelet.
That kind of straightforward sensibility has helped shape the singalong storytelling that’s defined the New Jersey duo since they formed in 2007. Rooted in both punk and folk, singer and guitarist Brian Sella mixes talking and melody in the vein of Piebald or The Mountain Goats. It’s both captivating and jarring, in a way that’s delightfully unpolished and decidedly unapologetic.
“I have to be very confident,” Sella says. “This is how my voice sounds; these are the lyrics. That’s really the main thing — just staying true to that sort of freaky style that is my style.”
That was a priority for Sella in writing and recording the new Front Bottoms’ album, Going Grey, which dropped last month through Fueled By Ramen. The writing and demo process started about eight months ago, with the band finding inspiration while on the road and at home.
“When we were on tour, I did a lot of demoing, which I hadn’t done in the past,” Sella says. “It worked out kind of nicely and it gave me something to do, because the days are long.”
Sella met producer Nick “RAS” Furlong while on a writing trip to California. At 31, Furlong’s résumé is as vast as it is varied, ranging from Avicii and Diplo to Waka Flocka Flame and Machine Gun Kelly. While those acts are very different from The Front Bottoms, Furlong recently had worked with closer contemporaries to the band, including Sleeping with Sirens, Good Charlotte, and All Time Low.
Aside from his repertoire, it was Furlong’s ability on the computer and knack for making sounds quickly that really inspired Sella, who often made things more cumbersome for himself.
“I consider myself a poet,” Sella says. “I don’t really care too much about the tone of the guitar; even though it’s important, it’s just not my expertise.”
“In the past, working on albums, it was like: Plug the guitar in, move the amp into the bathroom, open up all the windows, turn the amp a quarter to the left,” he jokes.
Sella and Uychichin were accustomed to this process of finding sounds, but Furlong was armed with a library of hundreds of thousands of sounds that he could use to manipulate the instruments. Do you want it to sound like the guitar from Jimi Hendrix’s studio in 1966 when he played that Telecaster? There’s a preset for that.
It sped up the songwriting process for the band, who had spent five straight weeks recording their 2015 album, Back on Top. This time, they knocked it out in quick, three- or four-day sessions, broken out over three weeks.
“It was kind of like the options of what it could end up being were endless,” Sella recalls.
That idea is evident in the album’s lyrics, too. While a title like Going Grey may sound like a band settling down, The Front Bottoms are far from it. The album’s first song, “You Used to Say (Holy Fuck)” sounds like an existential crisis of mortality, but “Vacation Town” celebrates their chosen career as nomads, living in a permanent vacation.
The pair had to finish some of the recording on the road, and that included a song they wrote while on tour in the United Kingdom for a few weeks. They took the opportunity to find a studio and record the track, which ended up making the album.
When those worlds of touring and recording collided, it helped the pair visualize the next steps for the band’s live show. In this case, expanding their sound meant expanding their headcount. They kicked off a tour in Boston on October 19, when they officially welcomed new touring members Jenn Fantaccione on violin and trumpet, along with Roshane Karunaratne on synth.
“We had to step it up because there were a lot more sounds and a lot more things going on,” he says. “With every tour, you want to keep it interesting and you want to make it sound better.”
Even with all these changes, the Front Bottoms feel confident that devoted fans will be on board with them no matter what. They’ve been around for a decade, after all.
“I feel like they appreciate the fact, at this point in our career, that we are experimenting and trying to stay different and make a new sound,” Sella says.
“It does feel like a lot of these people are invested in a deeper way. You want to make them proud, but you also do what you’ve gotta do so that you can be satisfied as an artist.”
Doing what you have to do also includes staying focused personally. On previous tours, Sella wanted to explore the sites, eat the local cuisine, and maybe catch a baseball game. Now, he’s inclined to keep calm and stay focused.
“It’s a flustering experience to wake up in a different city every day — and then have to do this extreme performance to a bunch of people,” he says.
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The Front Bottoms will be waking up in new cities all this month, winding down their tour just after Thanksgiving at Terminal 5 in New York City. The band will kick off 2018 by spending February in Europe.
“I remind myself that playing the show is the most important thing, and that’s why I’m here. I try and concentrate on that and don’t fluster myself,” Sella says.
“I’ll just be writing music the whole time and trying to stay positive. Hopefully I survive this tour — one day at a time.”
The Front Bottoms are scheduled to perform The Van Buren with Basement and Bad Bat Hats on Sunday, November 12. Tickets are $26 to $41 on Ticketweb.