Brian Sella, the self-effacing singer of the Front Bottoms, doesn't like to describe himself as a singer/songwriter. Songwriter, yes — he's always working on verse — but it's his qualities as a singer that have him poking fun at himself.
Fans of his New Jersey-bred four piece (of which there are many — the group's latest album, Back on Top, recently peaked at number 32 on the charts) would beg to differ. The raw twang of Sella's voice shows emotion and a sense of humor, both of which come through naturally when New Times catches up with the rising talent on his songwriting process, his voice, and the Front Bottoms' recent Coachella experience.
New Times: When did you fall in love with music?
Brian Sella: When I was 4 years old, my dad had this old jukebox that would play Sting albums. I had to let my fingers get a little bit bigger, and then in eighth grade, I got an acoustic guitar and I learned to play the chords. The guitar then wasn't a means of transportation; it was a vehicle for poetry. It was the lyrics that I was really passionate about. I learned the chords I needed to know — I think they call it three-chord rock 'n' roll.
Is three-chord rock 'n' roll a philosophy you continue with the Front Bottoms?
Totally. I think if there's a message to deliver, the simpler the better. Fortunately, I'm able to play with extremely talented musicians. Tom [Warren], who plays bass, is a classically trained guitar player. Ciaran [O'Donnell] plays keyboards, trumpet, guitar, and cowbell, and Mat [Uychich] is a fantastic drummer with an incredible amount of rhythm. Because of them, this isn't just poetry in front of a rattly acoustic guitar, though there is still room for that, obviously.
You have a distinctive twang to your singing voice — was that something you had to work toward?
It's all natural, baby. People ask if I do vocal warmups. If I did vocal warmups and still sounded the way I sound, I'd be pissed. With my voice and the music, it was more important for people to hear us than for it to be good. In my singing, there's a lot of emotion that I think people can connect with, whether my voice was beautiful like an opera singer or whether my voice sounded like a guy who had never sung before but had a microphone in front of him.
How was playing Coachella?
It was amazing. We were fortunate to play bigger festivals in Europe, so in my head I was like, How much bigger can this be? Everyone kept saying Coachella is the biggest, Coachella is the best, and they were right. We played at 2:30 in the afternoon on Friday, and there were people there! The hanging out was the best part. Once we got the show done, we got to mix and mingle with the celebrities. We saw Guy Fieri, Seal — Kanye West walked by. I was extremely impressed with everyone we saw play. LCD Soundsystem, Sufjan Stevens, Ice Cube, even Guns N' Roses. It was an honor to be included.
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What can the audience expect from your show at Revolution?
There's that thing people talk about when they go to raves where you feel you're not an individual, you're part of a whole. Not that Front Bottoms shows are like raves, but there is that sense that everyone is here together to have a good time. We have stuff like whacky inflatable-arm guys, we've got bubble machines, the whole nine yards to keep it as entertaining as possible. I always say — in fact, they're going to write it on my tombstone — "I'm not here to perform. I'm here to entertain."
The Front Bottoms
With Brick & Mortar and Diet Cig. 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, May 10, at Revolution Live, 100 SW Third Ave., Fort Lauderdale. Tickets cost $17 plus fees via ticketmaster.com.