BY RANDALL COLBURN
“I must be right about to die.”
“I must be right about to die.”
Brian Sella is kidding, but he’s also kinda not. It’s not the first time he’s uttered such a phrase—“Holy fuck, I’m about to die” are some of the first words he shouts on the new Front Bottoms’ record, Going Grey. And they were written just hours after a kayak in which he was coasting tipped over, briefly trapping him underwater as the boat floated off without him. “I went right back to my Airbnb and wrote the song,” he says.
In fact, “You Used to Say (Holy Fuck)” was one of the first Going Grey songs Sella wrote, and its inspiration echoes the origin story of a song off the band’s previous album, 2015’s excellent Back On Top. “Motorcycle,” Sella told the A.V. Club last year, was written after he smashed a motorcycle into the back of his girlfriend’s car and was sent flying through her back windshield. He was okay, but his repeated brushes with death can’t help but indirectly conjure a lyric from lead single “Raining.”
“On the outside I was fine, but on the inside I was all torn up.”
Impermanence is in the air. “It feels like people are just dying like crazy,” he says. “A horrible disease or a mass shooting or a fucking hurricane. You’re constantly scrolling the news and, like, how else am I supposed to feel right now?”
These themes of impermanence appear time and again on Going Grey, a result not just of the nightmares being consistently beamed into our eyes, but also developments in Sella’s own life. For one, the band—primarily composed of Sella and drummer Mathew Uychich—relocated to Asbury Park in their home state of New Jersey. A coastal town, Sella notes, “everybody kinda clears” out after Labor Day, leaving it more or less a “ghost town.”
That duality is mirrored in Sella’s routine. “I felt like I was having two separate lives,” he says of how he felt during the album’s creation. “I go on tour and I get to live this vacation-style life where I’m a rockstar, and then I go home and it’s just like, ‘Oh, the world doesn’t stop. Now I’ve gotta, like, do something else.’” Life is a loop, a constant state of revival, action, and dissolution. Nothing lasts, but it does repeat.
Just listen to the frantic chords that bookend “Vacation Town,” the album’s second single. “The way that song starts and the way it ends, with that reverb, it’s like if you played it on a loop it would be a continuous full circle,” he says. The album itself operates on a similar sense of circuitousness: Soothing ambient tones, crashing waves, and squawking seagulls serve as both prologue and epilogue.
I felt like I was having two separate lives—I go on tour and I get to live this vacation-style life where I’m a rockstar, and then I go home and it’s just like, ‘Oh, the world doesn’t stop. Now I’ve gotta do something else.’
The Front Bottoms
Sella says these ambient spells are both a result of his new surroundings—“Subconsciously, I can always hear seagulls squawking; it’s driving me insane,” he says with a laugh—but also what he describes as the album’s “beachy themes.” And while such a description might sound at odds with the existentialist ideas bandied above, this is still a Front Bottoms album. A certain amount of sunniness is sewn into their DNA. You can feel the warm sand between the toes of songs like “Don’t Fill Up On Chips,” “Trampoline,” and “Peace Sign,” while tracks like “Vacation Town,” “Ocean,” and “Grand Finale”—which mourns the “final firework of summer”—feel especially indebted to the band’s seaside home.
But changes in location bring other changes, and sepia-toned splashes of nostalgia cut routinely cut through Sella’s furious acoustic strums. “I miss the way things used to be,” goes the chorus to “Vacation Town,” while “Bae” finds Sella reflecting on “the crew” he used to roll with and his realization that those friendships maybe weren’t as idyllic as they once seemed. These are the thoughts that skip through one’s mind as you get older, and though Sella is only on the cusp of 30, it’s clear that he’s coping with the blessings and curses that accompany the wisdom of aging.
“I feel like there’s a loss of innocence as you get older,” he says, citing a lyric in album standout “Everyone But You.” “It doesn’t get worse/It doesn’t get better/You just get old, it lasts forever.”
It’s easy to become defeated by such a sentiment. The album’s cover features a naked couple cast in shades of grey, each of them lingering beneath a sky lit up with a rainbow’s worth of colors. The grey consumes us all, it suggests, but that doesn’t mean the kaleidoscopic joys of life are out of reach..
When asked if Going Grey is an acknowledgement of the grey hairs in his future, he laughs. “Oh, they’re here. They are here.”
“But it’s just like, there’s no fighting this, the grey hair,” he continues. “I like it. I try to embrace it.”
Sella knows it’s not grey hairs he needs to worry about. He might, however, want to stay away from motorcycles and kayaks. As we discuss what potential mishap might inspire the next Front Bottoms album, he laughs, “Pray for me.”
Check out the new video for “Peace Sign” below.
Going Grey is out now, and available for perusal and/or purchase here.
Enjoy the Front Bottoms at Riot Fest 2018 by buying tickets here.
I feel like there’s a loss of innocence as you get older.