What can we say about The Front Bottoms? We know we love them: a punk band that uses acoustic guitar, indie-rock dance grooves, Springsteen-y keyboard lines (this they might deny). It’s hook-filled… it’s anthemic… it’s confessional. Maybe Joni Mitchell by way of Green Day? They must have heard some Replacements along the way, and it seems like what Jonathan Richman and the Modern Lovers did for the Boston suburbs these guys are doing for Bergen County, NJ. But they still leave us scratching our heads. Just what the hell have the Front Bottoms alchemized?
“We like to keep it familiar so that it’s not too intimidating,” says singer-guitarist Brian Sella, “but we always make sure it’s not immediately recognizable.” It’s true, you just can’t quite put your finger on ‘em but Bar/None Records invites you to try to peg these guys with the release of their self-titled debut The Front Bottoms.
Brian Sella and drummer-bullhornist Mathew Uychich have known each other since they were 10 and 8 years old respectively and have been making music for a lot of that time. It shows in the rich hooks and clever rhythms and the effortless way they string riffs together into surprising song structures. Take a song like “Maps” - it opens with half a Sex Pistols riff before going into an orchestral flourish on keyboards. Then there’s a verse complete with a hillbilly hiccup in the vocal followed by an arpeggio guitar part and full-on raging synthetic strings that lurch into handclaps and an enigmatic chorus “one day you’ll be washing yourself with hand soap in a public bathroom,” And that’s in the first minute and a half of the song.
Lyrically Brian Sella fires off scattershot images that the listener can gather up and make sense of like working puzzle pieces on the floor. Romance, freedom, paranoia, partying and somehow getting clean all tumble together from song to song.
“I’m swinging like a fist fight concrete colored basement all right, let’s keep this as clean as clean as you like” (“Looking Like You Just Woke Up”)
“I’m a creature of a culture I created/ I’m the last one on the dance floor as the chandelier gives way and I am permanently preoccupied with your past.” (“Swimming Pool”)
“A lot of the kids we graduated with are homeless which puts them in shady situations with shady people….” (Flashlight”)
In “The Beers,” the narrator surveys said beverage “in coffee mugs, water bottles and soda cups” in the cinematic residue of a basement party. He recalls beefing up for a Jersey Shore summer of steroids “because you like a man with muscles and I like you.” In “Father,” the narrator dreams about beating his father with a baseball bat then tries to find solace in his girlfriend’s bed before musing about his ancestral bloodline, “You look good tonight, girlfriend. Can I sleep in your bed? / And when I crawl out in the morning can I stay inside your head? Cause you were high school and I was just more like real life…”Matt and Brian started out playing a couple times a year for high school talent shows, learning a cover song and writing a crappy original each time. “I think we did Modest Mouse ‘Out of Gas’ one year and Green Day ‘Hitchin a Ride’ another year,” recalls Brian. This led to Brian’s mom presenting him with three hours of professional recording studio time for Christmas one year. “We went in and the guy showed us how to set up. He pressed ‘record’ and left the room. We recorded 12 songs without stopping.” And thus with enough original songs to play a full set, the Front Bottoms were officially born. Their first club date was an all-ages show at the Main Stage in Pompton Lakes, NJ. Most of the bands were teen punk bands. Casey Lee Morgan who was doing sound at the club befriended them, giving them some faint praise, telling them like they might not be very good but they were better than all the other bands that night. Eventually, Casey would record them in his basement studio. Much of the music on the Front Bottoms debut was recorded by Casey.
The Front Bottoms bounced around Bergen County, eventually branching out making connections in the DIY concert community that has included everything from punk flop houses, VFW halls and fire stations. That circuit got them from New England to Florida, starting in a Ford Escort eventually moving up to an 1989 Econoline van. Mathew’s brother (also named Brian) played keyboards for a while but left amicably after an onstage fistfight and the realization he preferred staying home making pot roasts to playing far flung punk squats. The image of “washing yourself with hand soap in a public bathroom” is the blessing and curse of the freedom and funkiness of life on the lo-fi road. More recently, Drew Villafuerte has been sitting in on bass and keyboards for select shows.
With the wonders of the internet and their obsessive gigging, they are now known from New Jersey to…Spain (?) where director Pablo Nieto found them online and asked to create a video for “Maps.” The video features Williamsburg, a farm (where Mathew sometimes works), and that aforementioned Econoline as well as some “loveable” hand puppets. Word of mouth and great reviews has them fielding calls from promoters all over the tri-state area.
New Jersey’s The Star-Ledger called them “one of the leading lights of the New Jersey pop underground. The group’s amalgam of punk, guitar-folk, lo-fi experimentalism, imagist-inspired poetry (drawing heavily on Sella’s upbringing in the Jersey suburbs) and playful humor (that betrays the singer’s youth) has caught discriminating ears on both sides of the Hudson.”
They’ve played Bamboozle, opened for artists as varied as pop chanteuse Vanessa Carlton and Jersey cohorts Titus Andronicus.
“We kinda thought we were a punk band but then we’d play on bills with real punk bands and we’d be like ‘Whoa, were not punks,” says Mathew. “What the hell are we?”
We can’t wait to find out the convoluted answer to that question.