In an alternate universe, The Front Bottoms are melting faces onstage in Canada with emo heroes Jimmy Eat World at the time of writing. As it is, they're home in Jersey keeping themselves and their fans entertained with weekly Twitch streams as the consequences of the pandemic continue to stretch out ahead of us. With a new album, the aptly titled 'In Sickness & In Flames', set to drop imminently, Brian Sella and Mat Uychich pick up the phone talk us through the record, life during lockdown, and being one of the first bands back out onstage.
With lyrics referencing masks, viruses and illness, it's spooky to think the lid had been shut on 'In Sickness & In Flames' months before the music biz went into total shutdown. Brian's hospital stay to have his appendix removed may have provided some prescient inspiration, but as ever Sella's lyrics are captivating and relatable because they're personal, rather than making grand statements. Lead-off single 'Camouflage', released quietly last fall, is a culmination of the duo's growth as musicians while harkening back to the rough and ready feel of their early records.
"This went through a few processes of making it, starting with a really intense demoing process, which we've never really done before. The process of creating the songs was basically creating the demos, so that was a long process," Brian explains of the extensive gap between albums. That method of putting a lid on the songs before heading in to hit record results in a collection of tunes with all the fat cut. "When we finally got into a real studio we would just sit and learn the songs again, and jam them live and it would give a new boost of energy to them. Then, would go on to track and complete the song," drummer Mat explains.
Brian adds that producer Mike Sapone was on board with capturing that ramshackle energy that was so endearing at band's outset. "We definitely looked at our catalogue at some of the old songs, and he was very into reaching that vibe again."
Standout track 'Montgomery Forever' is a firecracker of rapid-fire verses, screeching guitars and a belting chorus, and exemplifies The Front Bottoms' gift for self-reference that provides a thread through their discography. Inspired by the demolition of the Montgomery Gardens public housing complex in their native Jersey City, the band went down to catch the moment first-hand. "They did a big explosion, and we went to go see this really early, and it's pretty intense to see such an enormous structure with a lot of history just in a second just disappear."
With album releases so usually accompanied by radio sessions, promo performances and prompt touring, Sella has come to peace with the oddities of throwing a record into the world amid a pandemic. "It kind of feels like all of this was leading up to a certain point, not tension, but a lot of anxiety once you've finished it. And then we went into a lockdown, and you can just be proud of it for the art of it, and let go of all that emotion."
Despite having a gap in their schedule where touring collapsed, Brian hasn't found himself writing any more than usual, preferring to let the new album live and breathe before worrying about its follow up. "It's nice to have a separation of time [between projects], so it doesn't feel like the same time, and then we can make the next group of music feel like a different thing rather than like more of this same thing. It's nice to give a little bit of time to reflect on it a bit and start again," Mat concurs.
"It's so hard to say what the future holds honestly, cuz we bailed on all of our shows. That was the scenario," Sella admits of their plans going forwards. "We're just doing one show at a time, that's kind of our thing. The band is such a part of our lives, and our lives are such a part of the band."
Without in-person performances to occupy their minds, Brian and Mat quickly set about making their mark on the livestream scene, treating fans to songs from across their repertoire interspersed with surreal interludes and adventures. "It's a creative process that goes on between me [Brian] and Mat, that's the release that's been getting us through these weird times, dedicating artistic energy to ideas we really enjoyed doing. That's the best part of it. Me and Mat we're in a band because we get to do creative stuff like that."
Having gradually been able to reconvene with their cadre of backing musicians and creative team to record streams and sessions, Brian feels the worst part of the lockdown has been the sudden cloud of uncertainty cast over any plans, something being felt the world over. "You have this plan, your life is going to go a certain way and then, nope! So you make the best of it, you feel very lucky for the fact that you can even still play music and you will get together and jam... But, you know, this isn't what I was expecting. There's a bit of shock and a bit of anger; I want to be over in the UK rocking with my mates! But you gotta be safe and smart and shit. That's the hardest part, this wasn't what was supposed to happen. But... it's okay."
By the end of August, and with any luck, The Front Bottoms will be one of the first rock bands in the United States playing to live audiences, with a brace of drive-in shows booked in Philadelphia and New Jersey. With events continuing to mutate on a daily basis, Brian is cautious but optimistic. "It's important to have people be able to safely come together, feel that connection to the art. It feels like it could be an extremely positive thing. But obviously, safety is our main concern, and we're going to keep it cool."
"What I would get the vibe of is like, one time somebody said to me that they were with their friends and they went, and they parked in the parking lot and just listened to the whatever album was out at the time. And they just chilled and listened to the album from start to finish. Very cool vibe and cool energy, just as intense as like moshpits and stuff, but in just in a different direction. We're just figuring it out. Obviously, we're going to rock and roll, show up and do our job."
Mat and Brian sound aghast when we tell them about a recent government pilot show in the UK, performed by tour-mate Frank Turner, which came with strict rules for the seated audience. "What do you mean no one was allowed to sing along that's crazy!" Brian exclaims. "That's wild, what the hell's that? That's some dystopian universe bullshit."
Plans for a UK edition of The Front Bottoms' annual 'Champagne Jam' Thanksgiving bash, which has featured Mannequin Pussy, The World is a Beautiful Place and Manchester Orchestra in the past, has understandably and unavoidably been put on ice for 2020, but Mat is optimistic about returning to play his 'dream show' next year.
"We like to follow the rules," Brian says of getting back to full capacity, full energy shows (punk music has come a long way). "We understand the importance of that, you know, so fortunately, I feel so fucking lucky. So lucky that we're getting into play these drive-through shows like, that's historic for me. Nobody in the whole freaking world except Frank Turner and The Front Bottoms get to play a show for people. It's totally amazing."
Taken from the September issue of Upset. The Front Bottoms' album 'In Sickness & In Flames' is out now.
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