Talking to Brian Sella, one half of New Jersey duo The Front Bottoms, is like listening to the band themselves.
The honesty of Sella’s lyrics makes it difficult to imagine that there’s anything that you can ask that he hasn’t already been forthcoming about, especially on new album, In Sickness & In Flames. Described by the man himself as a “labour of love”, we did our best to dive deeper into the record with consideration that Sella has bared his soul, almost completely, in his work.
In terms of where you’re at in your life, your music has historically been sad. Are you doing better?
Yeah, absolutely. I feel very lucky. I do feel extremely lucky, but I do also feel like I’m growing up and becoming an adult and with that, there’s a lot of reality involved. So, and me being an artist, I’m better at not being connected to reality. I do feel I am growing up and sort of, not losing my innocence, but just growing up, just taking care of business. That is definitely the underlying feeling, a feeling of luck.
Lucky that you get to play music, or that you’ve met the people you’ve met?
Totally. If you said, “Oh, do you feel happy?” I think that, I feel lucky, and I understand there’s a lot involved in… Just because crazy stuff happens in life, so I think that I feel lucky; and with all the emotions that come with that. So sometimes I feel burned out or stressed, but I think with this album came the realisation that it was very lucky. Everything.
Your music is so deeply personal, and you give so much of yourself away in the first place. So how do you feel when people ask you to dig even further into it in interviews?
I feel there’s so much power in the mystery. I feel it’s better to let people interpret the songs the way that they want to interpret it. It’s theirs, they’re listening to it, I made it, but at that point it’s so far removed from me. So that’s what it’s all about… And to be totally honest, I don’t really listen to the music. I play it. When we used to tour, I played it basically every night for 10 years. So I obviously listened to all the songs, but I would never put the albums on. So I think that’s sort of the vibe… It’s not that I don’t like talking about it. It’s just that I don’t really know the answers. You know what I’m saying? Does that make sense? I feel so far removed from it. It’s like a poem I wrote or something… And so that’s why I feel lucky. Because I can’t even really explain this sort of thing, this art project.
“I realise there’s obviously bigger things going on, but I want to rock and roll.”
With you having said that, I am going to ask you about one song, because I’ve seen a lot of fans trying to piece the story of ‘montgomery forever’ together and I think they need answers.
Dang. No, sure. That’s good… It’s good to let people think about what it means and think about how they can relate to it and whatever the hell was going on in the 1970s. But what that was about was, I used to live in Jersey City and they were going to demolish this public housing building… Or just a building. I don’t know if it was public housing. So we got up early and we went over there and they blew it up. At like 8:00 AM on the dot, it blew up. And it was crazy. It was really an emotional experience. I think I teared up because it was just dust. And then as I was walking away with the crowd of people, there was this woman and she had a shirt on, it said “Montgomery Forever.” Because the name of the street that it was on was Montgomery. And I realized, oh wow, people live there and this was their families, and their history and their memories. And so it just added a lot of emotion for the experience on top of the very physical explosion of it all.
The chorus of that song sounds like it would translate perfectly live. How are you doing with not being able to play?
That’s why I keep saying, I feel lucky because fortunately I have been safe and healthy. I’ve had a place to stay, and so it’s all good. But I have realised that it is basically how I totally defined myself and my whole lifestyle, going on tour for the past 10 years. Maybe something like that. It is hard. But, I realise there’s obviously bigger things going on, but I want to rock and roll. We got some drive in movie style shows planned, so that’s really exciting. And I feel very lucky to do that. But it’s crazy, the world right now seems so tense… So intense. And really the release of that for me would be to go on tour, that would solve all my problems if I go on tour, play the music, spread the art, and see the happy people. So I fortunately am safe and I’ve been healthy and my loved ones have been healthy. But it is just a total change of lifestyle to be like, “Oh, okay. 2022, maybe that’s the next time we’ll get to come down to Australia.” And then, that’s like “Oh man, that sucks!”
Have you been writing throughout this time?
I’ve been trying to use the inspiration to write. I’ve been playing a lot of guitar. Definitely. I’ve been drawing on these canvases and just trying to spend a lot of time outside, I’ve got a little outdoor space. So trying to grow on all levels. We basically finished the album and then the pandemic hit a month later. So I was kind of burnt out on the creative process. And there’s always a period, I feel, of reaction to the art that you just made. Whenever you finish a big project, you’re not going to start making art again. It’s always a reaction to the thing you just finished. Sometimes I feel like that. So with this whole pandemic thing, it has been interesting. I have been trying to write. Sometimes the inspiration is too scary. So you want to just kind of escape and… I don’t know. It’s crazy though.
I think we’ll look back at it and maybe be able to articulate it better after we’ve lived through it.
I hope so. Hindsight 20/20… it’s all about the growth.