New Jersey pop-punks The Front Bottoms have gradually amassed a dedicated fanbase since the late 2000s by blending raw lyrics, catchy melodies and well-timed comic relief. But it wasn’t until 2015 major-label debut Back on Top that the band received widespread exposure, to the point of landing an opening slot on Blink-182’s U.K. tour this past summer. We caught up with Front Bottoms frontman Brian Sella to talk Las Vegas, October’s Fueled by Ramen LP Going Grey and why he’s never throwing in the towel.
The new album is titled Going Grey. Is that the main theme—getting older and dealing with everything that comes with it? Totally. It’s definitely about a loss of innocence—a true loss of innocence. Not like when you’re a kid and you see a porno for the first time. Now, you’re older. You get to this age, and it’s like, damn, I thought I was going to actually understand some sh*t. But no luck.
In September you released the video for “Vacation Town,” which follows two conjoined twins—one a stoner and the other’s a businessman, and they’re constantly fed up with one another. How’d you come up with that idea? I’m at this age where my friends are having to get jobs and move on with their lives and get married. There’s this point for all of us where we just want to hang out and rip the bong, you know? You’re getting older and going gray, and half of you wants to go to work and make money and be an adult, but there’s always part of you that’s like, nah, let’s just hang out with friends.
Your music is really emotional, but there’s a lot of humor woven in. How do you achieve that balance? I just put it out the way it feels inside. I try to touch on the truth. I feel like the way I’m feeling is never totally depressed or super-happy. It’s always a back and forth.
We have a song called “Father” on an earlier album, and kids would come up to me after the show and be like, “Oh my God, that song is so funny, it makes me laugh so hard.” And then someone would come up and basically be in tears, like, “My relationship with my father has been so hard, and that song gets me through and every time I hear it I cry.” As long as I’m putting out something that feels true to me, that’s kind of it.
What kind of bands did that for you when you were growing up? A band like Defiance, Ohio—a folk-rock band I discovered in high school that was everything for me. The lyrics just had the vibe of, we understand, but we don’t really understand, and we’re expressing our emotions through this art, and we’re all in this together. In middle school it was Blink-182.
And you ended up touring with them. Yeah, this past summer we got to go over to the U.K. and tour for 20-something dates in stadiums with Blink-182 and Matt Skiba, who was playing the Tom DeLonge part. I’m a huge Alkaline Trio fan, so that was a trip to meet all those guys, and they were so nice to us. And we were playing in front of almost 10,000 people a night. It was really a full-circle sort of vibe.
The Front Bottoms lineup is ever-changing. What’s the band’s current roster? The Front Bottoms from the very beginning has been a living thing, and it was always whoever is around. The band is me and [drummer] Mat [Uychich]; we handle all the business aspects of it. But we write music with a lot of people who come in and out. This next tour, it’s going to be a different lineup, so it’s going to be a fuller sound.
It seemed like people were confused—like, “Where’d Drew [Vilafuerte] go?” Drew got a real job. But I hate saying he’s not in the band anymore, because I still go to his house and hang out and party, and I always play him songs. And it’s the same for everybody in the band. But if you hate the band, you should hate me and Mat.
What made you decide to keep going rather than getting a “real job” and settling down? Nothing ever felt as good as getting onstage and playing. When there were five people coming to see us and we would drive for 15 hours and sleep in the van, nothing really felt as good as that.
It never really had anything to do with money, because we never really had any. Mat would come home from tour and work as a landscaper, and I worked at a grocery store. I went to college, and I was an intern and I did all that stuff, but people supported [The Front Bottoms], and I felt like I had a responsibility to the friends we made.
How was the approach different for Going Grey than for Back on Top? The way we recorded the album was different. We would do really short groups of sessions—go out to LA for three days and try to record as much as we could, and then go to some studio in upstate New York for four days. We did a few of those, and that’s how the album came together.
With Back on Top, we went to a studio for a month and a half, and every day we’d listen to the songs and develop them. So I think just the way we recorded it changed the sound, which I’m pumped about. I think it sounds very clean and very loud.
Before you guys went onstage at Brooklyn Bowl last year, you played Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On” over the PA, and you closed the show with an inflatable alien and a grim reaper running around. Is that how most of your shows go? It’s always special when we’re in Vegas, but that’s how every show goes. Oh, Ricky’s around? Let him dress up like a goblin and let him ride an alien. Our sound guy, probably 15 minutes before we went onstage was like, “You know what would be funny? If you played that song from Titanic.”
We used to play … you know that opera song? It starts like [singing] da na na na na na na na na na—that song [“Time to Say Goodbye” by Andrea Bocelli] is like seven minutes long, and when we were on tour in the U.K., we would play the entire thing. We would shotgun beers backstage and be like, “Okay, start the song. We know we can hang out for another seven minutes.” And people appreciate that it’s a little wacky and a little fun.
The Front Bottoms with Basement, Bad Bad Hats. November 11, 7 p.m., $23-$28. Brooklyn Bowl, 702-862-2695.