christian uhl makes his pop-break debut with an interview with the up-and-coming band, who drops their new record today …
Despite the fact that musical duos seem to be the fashionable trend-du-jour, acoustic-guitar-and-drum two-fer The Front Bottoms, consisting of singer-guitarist Brian Sella and drummer Matt Uychich, don’t wear matching candy cane-colored outfits, nor do they sound anything like The Black Keys, No Age, Lightning Bolt or … uhh … “Throne” bearers Kanye and Jay-Z. With that little preconceived guilt-by-association notion cleared up, let’s move on to what this fast-rising suburban Bergen County, N.J.-spawned duo does sound like: Take a dollop of classic first-album Violent Femmes acousti-punk confessional alienation, add tightly wound, woozy rhythms atop a brotherly, buddies-since-homeroom-class musical telepathy of Ween, and you’ve got a strikingly fresh yet strangely familiar accessibility akin to late-’90s/early-’00s Hackensack group Cropduster (who were a ‘full’ band — and a great one at that, in case you were wondering).
When probing Uychich about the nature of their faddish, albeit lean and mean lineup, it clearly seems borne more of circumstance than contrivance. “Me and Brian are just so tight together — personalities and understanding each other. It worked best making music, me and him. We just never really felt we needed a bass player ‘to round out the sound.’ It was just easier. We weren’t going for a two-piece ‘look’ when we started the band — that’s just how it ended up.’ And sometimes, it’s best just to leave things alone.
Like umpteen rock stories of yore, they forged a kindred kinship fused by music, writing it endlessly in bedrooms, playing it anywhere, often basements, and in the process stumbling upon a special chemistry that announces itself loud and clear within seconds upon hearing. The roots of this flower were planted by, Uychich says, “doing whatever we thought was cool to do. Being our style, me with drum beats, I’d think to myself, ‘It would be cool if that band that made that song. I wish they’d play it more like this!’ and put my own spin on it. I think Brian writes the same way. Always just trying to have fun, too, that brings something to it.” Fun works! Especially in the indie era of ironic detachment or the other Emo extreme of mawkish sentimentality, The Front Bottoms strike a fresh and candid balance of observational commentary, sometimes indignant, bordering on TMI creepy (“I have this dream that I’m hitting my dad with a baseball bat … and maybe halfway through it, it has more to do with me killing him than it ever did protecting myself” from “Father” on their self-titled full-length debut), sometimes humorously, if not awkwardly self-revealing (“that summer that I was taking steroids, ‘cuz you like a man with muscles, and I like you,” from the awesomely catchy single “The Beers”). Plus, as Sella says, “It’s hard to be mysterious — it’s just me and Matt. I work at Shop-Rite, Matt works as a landscaper. Chances are when we come to play your show, we’ll have been coming from those two jobs. We don’t try to make it seem like anything else is going on — it’s just me and Matt having fun, and, ‘Will you join us?!’” Some key people in high places already have.
Signed to venerable Hoboken indie label Bar/None Records — which helped launch Jersey legends Yo La Tengo and The Feelies into, if not the commercial stratosphere, but legend-like cult status — not only supplies The Front Bottoms with an instant, and deserved, injection of credibility many bands can only aspire to, it also offers the young tandem a personal tutor in label president and band mentor Glenn Morrow. “Everyone is right, everyone tells you something different,” Stella says. “That having Glenn in our corner is huge. Any time I’m stressed, I’ll call him up and be like, ‘Hey man, what are you doing tonight?’ And we’ll come into Hoboken and we’ll hang out, go to a diner or something and he’ll be totally straight with us. He’ll sit us down and be totally straight-forward about everything, answer any questions, totally honest — how can you ask for anything more?” With many record companies big and small operating as criminal enterprises helmed by slippery snake-oil salesmen shaking hands while picking pockets, the advice dispensed by an industry survivalist such as Morrow, from a label 25 years strong can only serve The Front Bottoms well, both short and long-term, both professionally and artistically. Morrow even goes so far as to school the band on some indie-rock history. Sella reflects on the origin of their Bar/None union: “When Glenn first started coming to our shows, he’d give us CDs of bands he thought we were like, or who compared well to us.” A notable standout being early ’70s supergroup The Modern Lovers.
Sharing with legendary Lovers songwriter Jonathan Richman an uncanny lyrical eye for the rife dichotomy of the devastating and mundane that permeates suburban culture, Sella has attained a unique place in the hearts and minds of the Bottoms’ growing fanbase. Live, where the band is most at home soaking in beer and sweat, fans shout along to every awkward and strangely inspirational refrain, dissecting, celebrating, and bemoaning their ‘mall country’ roots (take a verse from another killer track from a debut packed with them, “there is a map in my room on the wall in my room and I got big big plans, but I can see them slipping through the palms of my sweaty hands”). It just wouldn’t ring as authentic if they were Vampire Weekend-like, privileged Ivy Leaguers instead of the weed-whackin’, shopping-bag-packin’ guys they are.
And that makes all the difference in the world.
Not unlike more contemporary cult-heroes The Hold Steady, watch these next Regular Joes with irregular talent rise before your eyes from the ground floor in a live in-store performance at Vintage Vinyl in Fords, N.J., on Saturday, Sept. 17 from 2:30 to 5:30 p.m.