The Front Bottoms: ‘It’s All About Keeping That Creative Energy Fresh And Positive’

22 March 2024 | 9:09 pm | Ellie Robinson

We caught up with Brian Sella to learn how The Front Bottoms' cogs turn ahead of their first Australian tour in seven years.

The Front Bottoms

The Front Bottoms (Credit: Jimmy Fontaine)

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The last time The Front Bottoms toured Australia, in January of 2017, they were still sloggin’ it out in support of their third studio album, 2015’s Back On Top. That record was somewhat divisive among longtime fans, partly because it marked the band’s leap from DIY underdogs to major label megastars (having linked up with Fueled By Ramen, the Atlantic imprint that birthed the likes of Paramore, Fall Out Boy and Panic! At The Disco), and partly because it saw them shift from their folk-punk roots, embracing more of a Weezer-esque power-pop slant. But their live show remained irreproachable, retaining the loveably loose energy and carefree spirit the band had always shone with.

That 2017 tour felt frozen in time – the shows took place in bars and clubs, the band took requests from fans and bantered freely with them, and they even hung around afterwards to sink beers with their diehards. Little did we know that just a few months later, The Front Bottoms would make a truly polarising leap in a new direction. Their next album, Going Grey, arrived that October and threw fans for six with its glittering, ultra-crisp production, leaning on arena-ready hooks and only the stickiest riffs. Their live show also got a makeover, with the band gaining two new members for a total of six, and the stages growing to accomodate kaleidoscopic light shows and screen productions.

Since then, The Front Bottoms have only continued to evolve. They’ve released fifth and sixth albums – 2020 gave us the grungy and experimental In Sickness & In Flames, followed by the more reined-in You Are Who You Hang Out With last August – and they’ve rounded their touring party out to a comfy five members: the core duo of singer-strummer Brian Sella and drummer Mat Uychich, flanked by multi-instrumentalists Erik Romero, Natalie Newbold and Roshane Karunaratne. It’s without a doubt the Front Bottoms of 2024 is a far, far cry from the Front Bottoms we saw back in 2017.

Sella himself agrees, musing to that he and his crew have gone through “maybe even two bands” worth of evolution since their last trek Down Under. “I think the only reason we’re still recognisable [to early fans of The Front Bottoms] is because all of our development has happened naturally – nothing’s ever been forced,” he stresses. “Mat and I, you know, we’ve always been fans of keeping things fresh and exciting. But I think the energy of The Front Bottoms has always been the same. We always have the audience in mind – we just want it to be a fun time for the people who come out to the shows, because we understand and we appreciate that we’re here to entertain people.”

The Front Bottoms’ long-awaited return to Australia will come in just a few weeks, with a seven-date run kicking off in Sydney (Eora) on Friday April 12. This time around, they’ll play to sprawling crowds of thousands in some of the country’s most prestigious venues: the Roundhouse in Sydney, the Princess Theatre in Brisbane (Meanjin), the Northcote Theatre in Melbourne (Naarm), The Gov in Adelaide (Kaurna) and The Rechabite in Perth (Boorloo). It’ll be our first time seeing this incarnation of The Front Bottoms in all its grandiosity; Sella boasts that punters can expect “a well-oiled machine with Eric, Natalie and Ro”, who are primed to help the band deliver “such an awesome show”.

The frontman really has nothing but praise to sing for his touring bandmates. “Those guys are so fucking good,” he gushes like a proud father (not the kind he sang about in 2011). “I can just kind of do my thing and feel confident that everything’s gonna sound good... I feel lucky, you know? They’re all absolute rockstars in their own right – they all have other bands and solo projects, they DJ, they go on all these creative adventures... I feel like that kind of energy – that drive to be creative – really influences [us as] The Front Bottoms. It influences me to be more creative. Because you know, it’s all about keeping that creative energy fresh and positive.”

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One thing that certainly hasn’t changed about The Front Bottoms’ live show is the core ethos of spontaneity that drives it. Their setlists are weighty – averaging 21 songs, give or take a couple – but no two are ever the same, nor is there a set pool of tracks they draw from. Deep cuts are guaranteed, and sometimes pulled from corners of the catalogue that even their biggest fans tend to forget about. And although he can’t always hear them being yelled out from the backs of packed theatres, Sella and his bandmates welcome fan requests. “I hate to come off as selfish,” he flags, “but part of it has to do with being able to keep things feeling fresh for myself onstage. That’s just the way I’ve gotta do it, you know? Every night has to be a new adventure.”

Between their six studio albums, three EPs and veritable mountain of standalone singles, B-sides and demos, The Front Bottoms have a pool of more than 100 songs to draw from. To say it’s impressive that the band can even remember that many songs would be an understatement – and not even Sella himself knows how they manage it: “I have no idea,” he chuckles. “Sometimes I don’t remember!”

This is another case where the extended Front Bottoms family comes in clutch. “A lot of it has to do with the band,” Sella explains, “and those guys being so professional that we can throw curveballs at them whenever we need to. We love to do the requests – I feel like that’s a really exciting part of the show, when I’m like, ‘What song do you guys want to hear?’ And everyone gets to throw their cell phones up with a song title. I can kind of turn around to the band and be like, ‘Okay, are you guys cool to play this one?’ And they’re always like, ‘Yeah, we’ll figure it out!’

“That energy is definitely very special to us. It’s a huge part of why we’re still doing this stuff; it’s that excitement and that spontaneity, you know? That feeling of being like, ‘What’s gonna happen next!?’ Sometimes I don’t even know what’s gonna happen next!”

Right now, The Front Bottoms are having a lot of fun playing around with the songs on You Are Who You Hang Out With, exploring how the tracks can ride the ebbs and flows unique to their setlists, and how three additional minds can flesh them out in ways Sella and Uychich couldn’t have imagined in the studio – “they really beef it up and make it sound real rock ’n’ roll,” Sella quips. Some of his favourite new songs to play are lead single Outlook (which he highlights for its “ripping energy”), Punching Bag (which is a “real nice moment” to share with the fans) and Paris (which “totally switches up the whole vibe of the set”).

As a whole, Sella’s finding the new album coming to life “really, really fantastically”. It’s been a relief: weaving a whole new album into an established repertoire can be a daunting task, to say the least. It’s “always a process”, he vouches, before pausing and interjecting, “I was gonna say it’s a challenge, but it’s definitely been more of a process this time around. You’ve gotta kind of figure out how the songs are gonna work live and what everyone’s gonna play. And you know, I love to perform. I get really ‘in my head’ about the performance. But we’re a band that likes to jam a lot, so we tend to work a lot of it out in the jam room.”

This spirit of spontaneity, being a core part of The Front Bottoms’ identity, has shaped the tonal peaks and valleys of their storied catalogue: from the folky midwest emo vibes of their self-titled debut album (2011) and Talon Of The Hawk (2013) to the power-pop slant of Back On Top, the bubblegum polish of Going Grey, the artsy flair of In Sickness & In Flames, and indeed the more lowkey, “go with the flow” energy of You Are Who You Hang Out With.

A lot of fans have noted that some of the new album’s characteristics are more in line with The Front Bottoms’ “old-school” style: looser compositions with strummier guitars, lyrics plucked straight from Sella’s stream of consciousness, wacky motifs that feel like inside jokes... It doesn’t necessarily sound like a classic Front Bottoms record, but in a lot of ways it certainly feels like one. And when asked if that was intentional on his part, Sella says bluntly: “Totally.”

It stemmed mostly from Sella’s effort to “return to form” as a lyricist – “really trying to develop a story with my lyrics” – which gelled nicely with “the way the band was developing and how our music was developing”, as well as “all the personal development” they were going through. But that in itself is rarely intentional; Sella says that as a songwriter, he’s always “growing and developing”. He notes of the process (or lack thereof), “When I start writing a song – or even when I get into the studio with it – I really have no idea what the finished product is gonna sound like. It really is an experimental process – and you know, sometimes you just get lucky with inspiration and things sort of fit where they fit.”

You Are Who You Hang Out With sounds the way it does because of the man Sella was when he wrote it. A lot has changed since he, Uychich and producer Mike Sapone minted In Sickness & In Flames – both for the trio as artists and people (Sapone returned to produce the new record) and for the world around them. Sella explains: “It was right before the pandemic, and I was going through a lot of stuff in my personal life, so the songs [on In Sickness & In Flames] came out a little louder and a little heavier. And then things kind of settled down... Not that life ever really settles down, you know – but things were a little calmer for us all during the recording process [for You Are Who You Hang Out With].

“I think a lot of it, too, has to do with us really finding a good rhythm with [Sapone]. With this being the second record we did with him, I feel like we all kind of knew each other's strengths a lot better. You know, there was a lot more trust involved; and that’s always something that just kind of happens in the creative process, whenever you get in a room with new people to make art – it’s gonna happen the way it’s gonna happen. One thing I’ve learned is that [a song] never comes out sounding the way it does in your head, so I try not to [start the process] anticipating anything.”

So what does the future hold for The Front Bottoms? Well for starters, they plan to keep working with Sapone – Sella gushes that “his energy is so good” and the producer’s creative process – to “exercise every idea” no matter how outlandish they might seem on the surface – gels perfectly with the band’s own. “He has a lot of trust in us as a band,” Sella continues, “and we have a lot of trust in him as a producer. I think if you find a dynamic like that, you’ve really gotta take advantage of it.”

But as for the direction the band will take on their inevitable seventh album... Well, that’s a lot less clear. “I don't really have an answer at this point in my life,” Sella confesses – noting, however, that he has indeed started to play with new concepts, and that direction is “something I’m trying to figure out”. But for right now, “it’d be hard to say I have a vision for where things could go, or where things should go. Because I don't, you know? I'm just going to kind of let things develop organically. I think the main thing is just staying creative – as long as you stay creative, you’ll stay creating.”



Friday April 12 – Eora/Sydney, UNSW Roundhouse
Sunday April 14 – Meanjin/Brisbane, Princess Theatre (SOLD OUT)
Monday April 15 – Meanjin/Brisbane, Princess Theatre
Tuesday April 16 – Naarm/Melbourne, Northcote Theatre (SOLD OUT)
Wednesday April 17 – Naarm/Melbourne, Northcote Theatre
Friday April 19 – Kaurna/Adelaide, The Gov (SOLD OUT)
Saturday April 20 – Boorloo/Perth, The Rechabite (SOLD OUT)