Killyourstereo recently had the chance to speak with the band’s enthusiastic singer and sole driving force, James ‘Buddy’ Nielsen.
Senses Fail, much-loved veterans of the post-hardcore world, have just unveiled their sixth studio album, ‘Pull The Thorns From Your Heart’. It’s an album that counters the critics of the naughties/early Warped Tour-era bands, that proclaimed they would “Be here today, gone tomorrow”. Well, after 13 years together and after ten years since their debut ‘Let It Enfold You’ made them a house-hold name, the New Jersey quintet are still here, and as their new record proves, they are better than ever. Killyourstereo.com recently had the chance to speak with the band’s enthusiastic singer and driving force, James ‘Buddy’ Nielsen.
Hey Buddy, Alex from Killyourstereo, how are you are doing?
Hey man, I’m good, how are you?
Pretty good thanks. You guys are on Warped Tour right now; this must be the fourth or fifth time on the tour, right?
Don't miss a beat with our FREE daily newsletter
Yeah, it’s actually our sixth, but it’s good. We’re veterans, we know are way around, we’re having a really good time. It’s interesting, people are really digging the new record, we’ve got a good response and I don’t know, shit just feels really good right now.
Ah, that’s awesome to hear man. I’m judging by all the floral shorts and shirts I’ve seen you wearing are because it’s pretty hot out?
Oh it is. You know, it was a hundred and thirteen degrees [Fahrenheit] the other day so it was pretty hot. It was pretty fucked up (laughs).
(Laughs) wow, that’s nuts. With the new album, I’ve consistently listened to you guys for years now, and with the band and yourself growing so much, I feel that this is easily one of the most important records for the band. Would you agree with that sentiment?
Yeah, I do. It’s not going to be the hit like Still Searching and Let It Enfold You, but it is as far as being a real piece of art, and I hate saying that but there’s something different about it.
Would you agree with me in saying that the concept of duality on the record rings true not only in the lyrics, but in the heavier side of the band and the more traditional sounding Senses Fail songs, like there’s almost two different personalities of the band?
I think there’s always been two personalities but this is the time where we’ve split them the most. We’ve always tried to make them work together, but this time we said, “No, let’s do heavy-heavy, and light and spacey. Let’s draw a line and split it. You know post-hardcore is a mix of hardcore and post-rock, that’s what it is to me. I feel like this record is my interpretation on what post-hardcore really is; keeping a level of hardcore to it while retaining the post-rock side.
That’s actually how I describe it too. Are these heavier moments on the record something that you and the band will try to focus on more down the road?
Honestly, I don’t know. I kind of don’t want to think about what would come next as going into this record, I don’t expect anyone to like it. It’s so different and so heavy lyrically and sonically, that maybe our fans wouldn’t like it. I was going to wait and see if anyone even liked it (laughs).
With gauging peoples reactions, when playing the new songs live, can you take a guess as to how the fans are receiving the new songs?
What it seems like is that people are more excited about the band than they have been in a decade. That’s just the feeling I get. We’ve put out a lot of records, and sometimes people aren’t just feeling it, they just aren’t excited. It doesn’t feel like that now, it feels like it used to when we first started out. Feels like this there is this buzz about us, about the record, about our live show, which surprised me.
I was expecting it to be our last record, honestly. I was prepared to put this out and if this isn’t embraced I’m going to stop, as I can’t put anymore of myself into something. If that’s not what makes people successful in music, then I can’t be a part of it. It’s crazy to think that people think it’s one of our top records.
I’m glad to hear that man. It’s cool to think that what you thought would be the last Senses Fail album could just be the first album in this new chapter of the band.
(Laughs) Yeah, definitely man.
This album documents just so much of this current stage of your life and the transition you made to it, and so I’m assuming that writing it must have been a very cathartic and almost… liberating experience?
Oh yeah, one hundred percent. That was really the point for me.
As you’ve done the tell-all podcast, the album, and as you said, you put so much of yourself into this band, are you worried that you go too far sometimes?
I don’t mind putting that much of myself in the music, but I don’t think I’ll be as available to discuss this, just cause there’s only so much of myself I can put out there before I need to take time and space for myself. I manage the band on my own, I am really in charge of everything; booking tours, writing music, acting as a manager. I can’t do certain things as I do have a limit. Like, a couple years ago I would have spread myself too thin and then I would’ve seen more things affected when you push yourself too hard.
I’m happy to hear that you’re taking more time for yourself. Regarding the commentary you released alongside the stream of the album, not a lot of other bands do that save for some small press release statements, so did you feel the need to explain yourself because of how much you and the band have changed and grown?
Oh yeah man, I really felt like this needed some explanation.
Do you think that more bands should try to explain their song meanings and themes more? As it would be more transparent.
Not to be rude, but I don’t think a lot of bands have the depth for those explanations. I have a very unique story, very different approach to life, I have a different experience with life that affords some really dramatic shit for me to pull from. Not everybody’s story requires such a deep explanation. When I was 22 years old I would’ve done a very shitty commentary. I didn’t understand what I was talking about and what I was trying to convey. Now that I’m 31 I have a much more grounded understanding of what I’m trying to get across. I think a lot of it comes worth age, and a lot of bands are much younger, so maybe it’s best they don’t explain their music in an in-depth way. It might not come across as honest or as useful.
We’ve also made a record that’s very different from what we’ve done before, and not a lot of bands take that risk. I think for the bands that I look up to, I would to have those in-depth explanations, to sort of understand someone’s music that little bit more.
With the age aspect, about a year or so ago you did a reflection video with Alternative Press about the first time the band graced their cover. With that video, you spoke about how the band was still so young and almost naïve, so would you re-live it all again, knowing what you know now?
I probably would’ve done it all completely different (laughs). I would have loved to have gotten to the place I am now back then…but then I wouldn’t have gotten to where I am now without being where I was then, you know?
Oh, of course man.
It’s kind of liked a mixed bag of what’s better – suffering through what happened or having never suffered and getting somewhere completely different. It’s a tough question, but I would like to go back and change the way in which I dealt with things
Yeah, it’s a bit of a paradox in a way.
Exactly, you have no idea how anything would have changed or been affected (laughs).
Crazy to think about, I know. As you mentioned earlier, you’re the sole driving force of the band, does that ever create any tension or issues with the other members?
The guys seem to let me do what I think is right for the band, because I think they trust my vision for it as that I’ve been able to keep this alive. They’re willing to step aside and take a back seat and let me have my vision for it. It would make it difficult if every time we tried to do something it would have to be contemplated and discussed over, then it wouldn’t be my vision for the band.
Then again, Chris [Hornbrook, drums] wrote a song, Matt [Smith, guitar] from Strike Anywhere; it’s a band and everyone participates and gets involved. At some point, everyone looks at me for the final say, but everyone is involved with the creative side. With touring and such, they just say, ‘Hey man, you’re in charge, you sort it out’.
Okay cool man. Well with Chris joining the band last year, I’m wondering if you’re a big Poison The Well fan?
Oh, absolutely. I don’t think Senses Fail wouldn’t be a band if Poison The Well didn’t exist. I look at what we’re doing right now as a continuation of what Poison The Well was doing. That was my vision for this record; what would it be like if Poison The Well started up now with all of the modern influences and up-to-date sound? Plus, we have their drummer so I think we could make it happen.
Now that you mention it, I can really see the influence of their music on the more recent Senses Fail records. Finally Buddy, will the beard be going anywhere soon or is it a full-time commitment for you?
Oh, it feels good man. I’m not gonna cut this thing, I mean, I grow a beard and everyone starts to care (laughs).
(Laughs) it’s a very WWE beard I think.
Oh! That’s exactly what I’m going for man, thank you.
All good, man. Thanks for taking the time to speak with me today Buddy, it’s been awesome, and I hope the rest of Warped Tour goes well.
Thanks so much man, you have a good one.
‘Pull The Thorns From Your Heart’ is out June 30th via Pure Noise Records / Sony Music.