Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Jim Testa's Interview with The Front Bottoms

There's no handbook for Punk Rock
By Jim Testa

Bar-None Records released the Front Bottoms’ self-titled  full-length just about a year ago, and in that time, singer/guitarist Brian Sella and drummer Matt Uychich (along with touring bassist/keyboardist Drew Villafuerte) have literally seen the world, touring almost constantly from coast to coast and overseas, playing everything from small clubs to major festival stages.  And it was barely a year before that when the Front Bottoms were still hustling for weeknight gigs at DIY spaces like Montclair’s all-ages Meat Locker, slowly building a devoted following of giddy fans singing along to Sella’s fanciful,  passionate, generation-defining, and often cinematic lyrics.
Will success spoil the Front Bottoms?  We don’t think so, but just to be sure, we checked in with Brian shortly before the band finished enjoying a brief mid-summer respite and hit the road again for a two-month tour that will take them first to England with the Menzingers,  then through the U.S. and Canada with the Cheap Girls, including stops at
The Fest in Gainesville and Fun Fun Fun Fest in Austin.
The FB’s will be at Santos Party House in New York City on October 19;  for more tour dates, visit The Front Bottoms

Front Bottoms Photos courtesy of Dan Bracaglia

Jim: This last year has been pretty amazing for you guys. What’s it been like from your perspective? Does it all seem like a dream sometimes?

Brian:  Yeah, it’s been crazy.
You probably know better than anyone, you got into us right as we were about to sign with
Bar None and just as we started going on those crazy tours.
I was talking to my mom today and she was telling me that she was in Shop Rite where I used to work, and she saw this woman that I used to work with there, and this woman was asking about me and wanted to know about the band.  And my mom just stopped for a second and said, ‘Brian, I am just so happy for you that you’re not working at Shop Rite anymore.’  And it just sort of hit me.
It’s really crazy that it’s only been a year… Not that we’re taking over the world or anything, but it just feels very, very positive and very good.  It feels like we’re headed in a good direction and I’m very proud of all the tours we’ve gotten to go on.  And everything else.
It’s exciting and I’m excited to start the whole process over again.

Jim: Was there ever one particular moment when you just suddenly realized, ‘I’m not the guy who works at Shop-Rite and plays in this band on weekends anymore, I’m a musician’?

Brian:  Oh God… It’s kinda hard to say. It’s still a lot of hustle, and I’m still poor. I’m still running around trying to make things work. It’s definitely a process. But you’re right.
I do have to stop every once in a while and just think, you should be happy about what’s going on, because it’s something to be proud of.  Matt and I do talk about how excited we are about how things are going. And when you stop and really think about it, this is my dream. So in a way my dream has come true, as weird as that sounds. So it’s exciting, and I’m very happy, and I’m just very proud of what me, Matt, and Drew have been able to accomplish. So yeah, it’s great, it feels very positive.

Jim: Did you ever read the piece that Geoff Rickley wrote about being in Thursday, about how the best year they ever had as a band on a major label, he made less money than he made working at the Gap folding pants?

Brian: (laughs)  Yeah, I did read that. It was very inspirational.

Jim: But I have to assume he was much happier on tour with Thursday than he ever was at the Gap.

Brian: Of course. But you know,  there’s a lot to be learned from that. It really does take a lot out of you.  I’m not speaking from experience, and hopefully I never will be, but I can imagine how disheartening that situation would be. We’re not anywhere near that point yet.

Jim: Kids think about how awesome it would be to live on tour all the time, but they don’t think about living out of a suitcase or being away from your family and girlfriend for months at a time, or all the other sacrifices that go with the lifestyle.

Brian: It definitely is a trade off. Honestly, you’re probably right when you say that when he was on the road with Thursday, it probably was the best years of his life. At least I hope that I’m able to say that.  I’m sure if things end up where I’m in an office job someday,
I’ll definitely look back and say my best years were spent with Matt and Drew, driving around the country and playing shows every night.  Making little or no money, but still getting to do it.  That’s what you think about, not how much money you’re making or not making, but that you’re out there doing it every night.

Jim: Typically with my musician friends, they’ll complain on the road that they can’t wait to get home, and then once they’re home for a week, they’ll say that they can’t wait to go on tour again.

Brian: Oh yeah, I know that feeling. This right now is probably the longest I’ve been home since we started touring so much a year ago. It’s been three weeks that I’ve been home, and I’m going crazy. Oh my god, give me something to do. But it’s good because I’ve gotten a chance to write a lot of new stuff, which is definitely needed.  Time off is needed.

Jim: There’s that famous saying that you get 21 years to write your first record, and six months to write your second.  You’re in that position now. Do you find you can write on the road? Or do you have to be home and have a regular schedule?

Brian: Some people can write on the road and some people can’t. The road for me is more or less just gathering information.  I’m just writing things down in my notebook and recording things on my cellphone.  But the real work… if I’m going to put together a song, I have to sit down for an extended period of time and really hack at it.  So it’s hard to write on the road for me, and honestly, I’ve never written a song on the road.   So being on tour for as much as we were, and then coming home, it was nice to be able to sit down and tell myself, okay, now is the time I’m going to write the next album.   Most of it’s written now. There’s still work to be done but this past three weeks is when the album really came together.  So it’s been exciting.  I think this new stuff is really coming together, I think it’s matured and I think people are going to like it.  I hope, anyway.

Jim: Your first batch of songs was so awesome, and audiences really fell in love with those songs, so I’m wondering… do you ever have moments of self doubt when you start thinking, oh my god, I’ll never write another song as good as “Maps” or whatever…  Do you worry about topping what you’ve already done?

Brian: It’s a pretty terrifying thought, to be honest. And in all honesty, it has snuck up on me. There are slower days when I haven’t been able to write, and I had a lot more time to think than I wish I had, and you start thinking, well, maybe that was it, maybe that was the best of the best. So it’s important to have a good support system, and specifically, Matt. Matt is always full-steam ahead, and he loves those old songs and he thinks they’re awesome, but he’s ready to make better songs.  He’s ready to move on, and when you have a partner like that, that’s constantly in that mindset, that ‘yeah, we’ll make something better than this… If it’s not coming together, don’t worry, we’ll throw it out and start over because we have better ideas to work with.’ Even Drew has been very encouraging, specifically when we were on the road with Say Anything and Kevin Devine. Our van got broken into and we got robbed, and my backpack was stolen.  It had basically everything I owned in it – my laptop, my iPod, all my music, everything – and it had all my notebooks in it. Like three years of notes that I’d been writing on tour. And it was really a heartbreaking experience.
I never really had to deal with anything like that before. And Drew just told me, it’s okay. We’ll get through it. You have to be okay with it because you have no choice. So when you have people like Matt saying, ‘Oh yeah, that sucks, but don’t worry about it because you’ll write better things anyway.’ And Drew says, ‘You have better things to write than what was in those notebooks.’ And so I realized that yeah, you just have to move on. It was a scary thought, but I’m confident about the new stuff  we’ve written.

Jim: The number of people whose second record was better than their first is pretty small – Elvis Costello, the Ramones, maybe Nick Lowe – but I’m looking forward to putting you on that list.

Brian: Well, thank you. I’m excited. I’m hoping that I’ll be honored with the privilege of being included in that company. And when you think about it, it is a little scary. But you just have to have fun with it.  Me and Matt love making songs.  Even now, we’ll just go to the practice space, we’ll buy a 12-pack of beer, and we’ll just hang out.  That is the whole point, and that is what we love to do. And when a song does start coming together… there’s always that moment when I’ll look at him, he’ll look at me, if Drew’s there we’ll look at him, and we’ll all just know that something is happening. You’re never sure if a song is going to come together and when it does, it’s just like ‘YES!’  It feels so good. This is awesome.  Nothing else matters, this song is cool.  Songs are really the only things that last when you’re making music.

Jim: They don’t teach how to be in a touring rock band in high school or college…

Brian: I wish they did!

Jim: when you get to tour with a Kevin Devine or a
Say Anything, people who have done this for years and years, do you find yourself learning from them?
Not like you sit down and take lessons, but just from observing how they pack a suitcase for tour, for instance, or what they bring on the road with them?

Brian: Oh God, yes. Absolutely.  Especially someone like Kevin, who’s been doing it for so long and basically has it down to a science. The tour that me and Matt did with Kevin was the longest tour that we had been on to date, and he had been on tour for two months before that.  You just have to open your eyes and have respect and you’ll learn a lot.  Kevin taught us so much. Even the guys from Say Anything or the guys from Fake Problems, basically every band we’ve played with has taught us something.
I think the fact that Matt and me have wanted to do this for so long does make it a little easier. If someone called me tonight and asked if we wanted to leave for tour tomorrow morning, and it was a good offer, we’d be ready.  We’d throw some shit in a backpack and we’d just go. Because we are still so excited about all of this. And you learn, you learn. Like even with the van, when it got broken into.  That was a huge thing.  But we will never get robbed again.   That’s the mindset we have now. We’ve got the van locked down, we’ve got new locks, we’re more security conscious.  So you learn.  You go and talk to these other bands, and you tell them ‘you know, we got robbed,’ and mostly what every band says is, ‘Well, that’s the first initiation.  Congratulations, welcome to the club.’  It’s a learning process and for as long as I’m on tour, I’ll continue learning about how to be on tour. So it’s nice and it is something that me and Matt enjoy, but touring with someone like Kevin just teaches you so much and basically humbles you.  It’s nice to have somebody like Kevin who’ll show you the ropes, and tell you ‘here’s how you do that’ or ‘no, you’re not going to need that.’   It’s just nice.  Like you said, there’s no handbook.   There’s no learner’s manual for punk rock.

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