New Jersey punks tackle life's troubles with self-awareness and wit
Acoustic guitars aren't generally associated with the kind of propulsive, punk rock music played by New Jersey quartet The Front Bottoms. But in the DIY spirit of every true punk band, they make it work.
In fact, according to Brian Sella, the band's guitarist, lead vocalist and songwriter, playing acoustic, rather than electric, was all about making due with what he had.
"I never got an amp," Sella says. He couldn't afford one in 2006 when he started jamming with drummer Mathew Uychich. Plus, it wasn’t practical to play electric guitar in his small house.
At the band’s first show, Sella was delighted to learn that he could amplify his acoustic guitar through the venue's PA. "It just kind of worked out," he says. It may have thrown people off, but he believes it "added something to the sound."
Now that The Front Bottoms are signed to Bar/None Records and touring the country, Sella says he could choose to pick up an electric guitar, but he doesn't really want to. These days, playing acoustic is more of an "artistic decision," he says.
And it's the right decision. Sella's acoustic guitar adds a thickness and raw immediacy to their sound—similar to what you might hear from other acoustic punk acts, like Jonathan Richman, The Violent Femmes or The Mountain Goats.
On "Au Revoir," the opening track off 2013's The Talon of the Hawk, Sella's single note guitar line carries an acoustic punch that works double time—filling much of the same sonic space that an electric guitar and bass would working together. As his guitar's strings rattle and ring, Sella sarcastically chides his muse: "Au revoir, au revoir/I bet you don't even know what that means."
It would seem, Sella is directing this invective at a girl named Chelsea, who he again addresses on the eighth track, "Funny You Should Ask."
"Come on, Chelsea, speak a little French to me," he intones. "Heard you spent two whole semesters drinking wine/while I was stuck in Jersey trying to save some money/I guess I'm just another thing you left behind."
This is par for the course for Sella. The singer says he taps into deeply personal experiences from his life and others. But instead of weaving those stories into total downer tracks, he employs a kind of manic, self-deprecating wit to spin tales of doubt and heartbreak that are just as likely to make you laugh as they are to make you cry.
It's a formula that resonates with fans. Sella says he is accustomed to people approaching him after shows to tell him how his lyrics helped them in some way. At first it was a bit overwhelming to have strangers explain how they understood his life, he says. But he came to realize that although he may be writing about specific events in his life, that his troubles probably aren't that different from what his fans are going through.
"People are listening to the music and really relating to it, which is the whole point. Everybody has gone to a party, everybody has felt like shit, everybody has fallen in love and fallen out of love," Sella says of fans connecting with his lyrics. "I think it's great. It makes me happy."
The Front Bottoms play at 8 p.m. Friday, Jan. 17 at The Crepe Place, 1134 Soquel Ave., Santa Cruz. Tickets are $12. For info, call 429-6994.
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