It's been a few weeks since Senses Fail released its best album to date, the powerful Renacer, (you can check out my review of it here) and they have just embarked on a headlining tour this spring with the likes of Such Gold, Major League, and Real Friends. I had the opportunity to speak with the band's lead vocalist and leader, Buddy Nielsen, about the inspiration behind the album, the mindset while recording it, and what why it's important to be a veteran band helping out younger bands. You can check out the band's upcoming tour dates and purchase tickets here.
Letís dive in. I gotta say I love the whole idea of the new Senses Fail album. The whole theme of Renacer Ė basically being reborn Ė is prevalent from the lyrics all the way to the art layout with the sun rising, which is signifying the rebirth of the day.
Yeah, we tried to make everything really work together. I think sometimes thereís not a specific goal, but for this there was a specific goal. We wanted everything to tie in together Ė the artwork, the song names, and everything.
I thought it was very bold that you guys switched things up so drastically late in a career whereas some bands just go through the motions and know what their fans like and cater to that. Why did you feel like it was important at this stage of Senses Failís career to go down this road?
Weíve always been a fan of heavy music and Iíve always been a fan some of the heavier aspects of the band, which was always there because Dan and I wanted it. The poppier aspect was because the other members wanted it in there Ė thatís what they enjoyed about music. So, thatís how we sort of got the band Ė there were people really wanted catchy pop-oriented stuff while some of us were interested in doing heavier things. And those people arenít in the band anymore so itís really up to Dan and I. And itís just likeÖwell we can do whatever we want. We can do whatever we want and nobody expects anything from us. Thatís the thing. We have our fans but then we have people who just sort of think that the band is, at this point, old and tired and over. I think if we put out another record like we had been, yeah Iíd agree with them. Yeah, Iíd think itís boring, itís old Ė itís sort of a genre that doesnít hold up well musically, you know. So we wanted to switch it up if only for our sake. We wanted to write music that we like and that we actually felt proud of. I couldnít care what anyone thinks of it as long as Iím happy. I mean, thatís what everyone wants to do with a record but I think we actually did with this. But, even now though there are things, of course, that weíd change and things we would do moving forward. But I want the band to around for another ten years, so I think you canít write the same music over and over and over again and really keep people interested. You just canít. Your fans grow older Ė the people who listen to us when they were 18 are now 28 and itís like, 28 year olds arenít going to relate to the same thing so you kind of want to be able grow with your audience. And I think the bandís that are successful and stick around do that.
Yeah, you just basically described myself and countless others who post on AP.net, so growing with the music, thatís totally true. I know Jeremy (from Bayonet) did some co-writing with you on Renacer?
Yeah, he wrote it all with us. We sort of sat with himÖeveryone in the band, Dan, Zack, and him wrote together and we were home for a majority of the time after Warped Tour and we wrote a lot with Jeremy and wrote the basis of the record. A lot of stuff Zack did was brought to the table but the backbone of most of the record was written with Jeremy Ė with just the three of us Ė myself, Jeremy, and Dan.
Some of the tracks are super heavy but youíre not being heavy just for the sake of being heavy.
Yeah, itís not kind of metalcore stuff thatís heavy to be heavy. I mean we didnít want to come off as that Ė thatís not the point. The point was to have it all work together and itís cool that you recognized that because it is heavy, but itís not comparatively heavy. We just wanted to change from the most basic parts to the most heavy parts and I think thatís what makes it heavy Ė thereís a change in the movement of the song. When youíre playing heavy music, all it is is heavy, heavy, heavy and it doesnít seem that heavy because thereís nothing to compare it to.
Yeah, you really constructed the songs nicely Ė thereís a lot of atmosphere and a lot of space in the songs that lets it breathe and stand out on its own. Like ďFrost FlowerĒ and ďGlassĒ as examples, they have a slower tempo and gradually build up to that crushing moment.
Thanks, yeah, that was the point. I mean, it depends on how people listen to records now. People decide to listen to the whole record theyíll get a feel of what we were going for. If they stick to the beginning and plays over some of the more album center tracks and I think thatís some of the coolest stuff of the record. We specifically wrote songs that were short and we wanted toÖĒFrost FlowerĒ isnít supposed to be this long, drawn-out song, itís meant to get your point A to point B and give you some different kind of vibes and different sound scape while thereís just a bunch of heavy stuff going on but to also have some more spacey melodic stuff.
Going off of that, I know you guys worked with Shaun Lopez on the record. And in a strange way, this also goes along with the theme of change, as you guys worked with Brian McTernan for the last three Senses Fail records. How was it working with Shaun?
It was great. We showed up prepared; we showed up ready to record everything. He made some cool tweaks here and there with some of the songs Ė ďFrost FlowerĒ is a song he sent us. I think it was an old Far song that never got used. Because I was likeÖIím not really a songwriter and our drummers not. And we were kind of separated from the rest of the band so we definitely worked with different people. He sent us a song. I was like, ďdude if you have any songs lying around or whatever that you think are cool, send them.Ē Weíre totally open to trying different things because thatís something weíve never done. Regardless of what people think of it or even what I used to think about it. I canít write full songs, Iím not a guitar player. So we need help and Shaun was like, ďyeah I got this song.Ē It was originally like a five or six-minute song and we trimmed it down. It was basically just instrumental, he wrote the guitar parts for that song and Dan and Jeremy and I and everybody else wrote the melody and the lyrics and the arrangement basically. But all of the guitar parts (on that song) Shaun wrote. But yeah, he lent his hand in that way and other parts he was like ďtry thisĒ and it was cool. But definitely the way guitars were recorded make the record not sound like a typical heavy record. They donít have a lot of gain on them. The idea was to have the bass to be more sludgy and fucked up so that the guitars could be very clean and not gained out because the gained out is what gives it that crunchy, metalcore sort of vibe. And thatís not what we wanted. We wanted it to be open and heavy and to have space in the instruments.
Definitely. Thatís interesting what you said about ďFrost FlowerĒ because when I listen to it I really hear that Far/Deftones guitar vibe and even vocally that opening verse towards the end Ė your scream reminds me of Chino Moreno a ton. Each album your vocals have improved dramatically and I think this album features your best output yet. What have you done to improve your vocals?
Thanks, yeah I really havenít done anything (laughs). I stopped smoking, but I did that after the record. I donít know. The thing isÖthe last two records and every record other than Let It Enfold You, which I wrote my own vocal parts and wrote them to my voice and how I can sing the best and what I can do and feel comfortable doing. And for the last three records itís sort of been a collective of other people in the band and producers chiming in on like, ďhey that should be the part.Ē Itís sort of like, hereís my idea and letís work on it together as a band and people in the band would be like you should sing these or you should sing like that and be like, ďokay cool.Ē And it got to the point where I was singing completely out of my range, to the point where we canít play most of those songs live. I canít sing them and I never could. It didnít work, but thatís what the sound of Senses Fail had become Ė those kind of choruses and those kind of vocals. So this time I said Iím not doing that shit, I canít sing like that. I donít want to sing like that, I donít want it to sound like that. Itís not what Iím going for and itís not into. I wrote it all myself. I mean, as group we get together and we clean things but for the first time in a long time, almost all of the vocals were done originally first by me. It wasnít like, ďletís come up with ideas together.Ē There was that, but it was like ďhereís my idea, letís work off my idea.Ē Letís start in a range thatís comfortable for me - letís start where Iím comfortable and letís not push me to do something just for the sake of this is what you think it should be. Thatís sort of what we didnít do on this record Ė we abandoned the idea of ďthis is what Senses Fail should be.Ē We decided weíre not doing that, weíre gonna do whatever we want. Whatever we think sounds good and feels good and thatís sort of what we did on the record. And thatís why my vocals sound better because Iím singing in the range that sounds better for my voice, whereas I wasnít doing that for probably the last seven years of the band, maybe eight.
I wanted to talk about ďMi Amor.Ē I know we had prior discussions over e-mail over whether this should be the first song you release from the album and whatnot, and Iím glad you released it because itís something bold, something different. Itís cool that a band like Senses Fail is writing a song thatís basically 90% in Spanish and pulling it off. What was the inspiration behind doing that and what kind of reaction have you been getting from people about the song?
When you do anything on a record and you write a couple songs and youíre deep into it, you start hitting a wall of what am I going to do vocally or just in general and what are you going to do that sounds different from the others. Musically, ďMi AmorĒ is not amazingly interesting, thereís not a ton going on. Itís basically just the verse and the chorus and it repeats the entire time. But I went with a different screaming pattern because I think when youíre doing heavier stuff the screaming needs to have a catchy vibe, the pattern of screaming needs to flow really well and it needs to flow in a melodic, sort of hip-hop kind of way. I donít mean that 100% but when you listen to hip-hop thereís no melody. The flow is pleasing and thatís the approach I wanted to take to this record. But I wasnít coming up with any cool patterns for this so I thought why donít I try writing this in Spanish, let me try a line in Spanish and see if that gives me an idea of a different way to go about making the pattern. I started doing it in Spanish and thought it sounded really cool, I thought it sounded pretty aggressive. Then I started do a little bit more and I realized, ďoh I can actually do this.Ē I can make the lyrics sound cool and get my point across but also have it sound heavy, so letís try it. So we did it and originally we thought should we make the chorus in Spanish too or should we an English version? But once we got to the studio and sort of had been living with it for a while, we thought we should leave it how it is. Letís not change it to appeal to anyone. People are gonna want an English version but tough shit. This is the song the song we wrote and this is how we wrote it. Weíre not gonna switch it around, weíre not trying to breakÖ. itís not a single, weíre not going to radio with it. Itís not gonna go anywhere, itís on the record and itís a song Ė this is what we wrote and letís keep it as this.
I think the reaction has been really good, most people think itís really cool. The people that I didnít think would like it are pretty much spot-on Ė the people that comment and you look at their Facebook profile and see like, oh this guy is white, he lives in Indiana, he has a gun, he probably doesnít know any Spanish people, so of course he doesnít like it. My girlfriendís family is from Peru and sheís fluent in Spanish and Iím sort of surrounded by it and they always have been. So to me, the idea of Spanish is not foreign to me and itís becoming even more and more part of this country. So itís just something we wanted to embrace too, we have a lot of Spanish-speaking fans and I wanted to embrace them. I think thatís something musicians and people are going to do moving forward with this country, before we die, our generation, most of this country is going to be Spanish-speaking so I want to embrace it. Letís try something cool and try to embrace it. I want to make people with this record to challenge them to do something in a way that I donít think any Senses Fail record has done. Challenge you to learn something or ask a question about yourself or just think differently about something. And if I can make you think in a positive way, thatís what Iím going for. But if you react in a negative way, Iím also looking for that Ė I want people to be polarized by this record. I want them to either really love it or really hate it. I donít want people to not care; I want people to have an opinion.
Yeah, I played the song for my girlfriend and sheís getting her doctorate in Spanish literature at Penn State and she thought it sounded great too and said the pronunciation and everything was spot-on.
Cool, awesome. Yeah, I was worried, I mean I had my girlfriendís mother look it over, and sheís obviously from Peru, and I wanted to make sure that this is good and it makes sense and she okayíd it. So I felt good putting it out there. I spent six years taking Spanish, so I donít remember all of it but I do remember the pronunciation.
You brought up positivity and all that and thatís one of the things that really stuck out to me on Renacer. You kind of made a 180 on the whole lyrical front, itís a lot more positive but not in a sappy way, but more in a brutal honest, real talk sort of way Ė ďCanineĒ and ďGlassĒ definitely have some tough love in it. But overall, itís a lot more positive, ďtake control of your lifeĒ seize the day kind of stuff.
Absolutely. That was the point Ė the point of the record is I want someone listening to it to feel Ė the idea behind it is a journey. The record is a journey. Itís very ethereal and internal sort of spiritual journey looking into yourself and asking yourself if Iím the best person I can be and what can I do to make me realize it better and make the people around me better. I wanted the listener to get that from it, as if Iím speaking to them, ďhey, this is what Iíve gone through, this is what Iíve learned.Ē Iím in a good place now and I just want to help and urge you in whatever it is. Maybe they are in a good place and itís fun to listen to because youíre like, ďyeah I feel empowered and this is cool and Iím in a good spot!Ē And if youíre not in a good spot, you can listen to the record and maybe gain something from it, going ďhereís a guy who struggled with this Ė with depression and anxiety and this and that. And here he is writing a record thatís positive and urging me to give that up and move forward.Ē And that would be one way I would want people to take lyrically from the record. And also the big thing is love. The idea that love can really change you and save you and also that love is going to be the thing that ultimately needs to be embraced to move forward. Thatís for people day-to-day and people as a community. I think thatís one of the big things from the record.
I definitely pick up that vibe from it. A couple weeks ago I was hanging out with Adam Pfleider and I played him a couple of songs from the record and told him that heíd never be able to guess this band. And he was absolutely floored it was a Senses Fail record Ė in a good way. He told me he didnít think the band had it in them.
I donít know if people did either. Thatís fine. A lot of people think the band is dead and the band isnít worth anything. A lot of people think that itís over. And itís like this record from the name to everything is meant to let people know that weíre not, at all. And in ten years from now, weíre not going to sound like the same band, itís gonna be different. And I think having that freedom and sort of letting goÖyou know weíre older, all of us are married except for me, and we all have day jobs. We donít make music to make it anymore; we donít make music to, you know, pay our bills. We do it because we love it and that takes so much pressure off what you have to do. You put a record out there and hope thatÖyou do it for yourself and you can actually do that, because most bands up and coming think that they have to write a record that appeals to this fan and these kids like this and we need to do this. We donít have that hanging over our heads. That was the freedom with this record and I think moving forward, I donít have to rely on this as the only thing in my life. Itís definitely a huge part of my life and important but I donít have to go, ďman if this fails, Iím fucked.Ē And I think when you get back to making music, the original way, the reasons you did it in the beginning, thatís when youíre actually back to making music again. A lot of bands thatíve been around a long time say that but I think most of those bands end up breaking up. Most of those bands never get to move forward with that freedom. Thereís no pressure! If this record fails, Iím fine. Iíll be proud because I know we made a record that means something to me. Thatís, at the end of the day, why you should be making music. All the records you make and all the people making music specifically just to be popular or to make moneyÖI mean, of course I want money, I need money, but I found other ways to do that and the band supplements that now and itís not this struggle of ďIíd really like to do this but we canít. Weíre not allowed to, or we have to be this for our fans.Ē Itís sort of - here it is, this is what it is and if it fails, it fails and if it doesnít, it doesnít. I really donít have any expectations for this record. Itís justÖit is what it is. Hope that people like it, but if they donít, thatís too bad.
Thatís a great mindset to have, one that many bands donít get the pleasure of having. Now I just want to mention the upcoming tour with Such Gold, Real Friends, and Major League. Theyíre relatively newer, younger bands and as a band like Senses Fail thatís been in the game for over a decade now, do you feel itís part of your responsibility as a veteran band to bring out these younger bands?
I do. I still believe in the scene, I know that sounds cheesy, but I believe in punk rock, hardcore, whatever you want to call it, I still believe in that. And I believe that itís important for younger kids, especially for me, you grow up and you donít need your community as much, youíve made your own family and thatís sort of your community now. But when youíre young and coming up, when you donít have a sense of community itís very daunting to try to figure out what youíre supposed to do or how youíre supposed to fit in. I like the idea of what younger bands do, local bands do, which is building a community on their local level and people going to shows and learning about different things and meeting different people. I still think itís important to support those kinds of bands and I believe in the scene. And as much as people want to say that music sucks now or just older people will say music sucks now, itís not the same Ė itís not the same but still the essence of it is still the same. There are a lot of cool bands, a lot of young bands that are really awesome. I keep up on it because I work for a label and I know a lot of young bands but I also listen to a lot of this music too. I just want for people to look at the band and go, ďoh thatís cool, thatís cool theyíre bringing out a young band,Ē or ďI havenít even heard of these bandsĒ as opposed to doing a tour thatís like, ďoh I can see Senses Fail doing that and touring with this band.Ē Iíd rather be the one introducing people to new bands rather doing something thatís just perceived as already been done. I think weíve been trying to do that for a lot of years. When we did the Bayside tour we brought Balance (and Composure) and Title Fight before a lot of people knew who they were and we took out Man Overboard and Transit and Ghost Inside.
And I just always try to be introducing people to new bands because there are so many bands Ė and this is the thing Ė no one ever gives young bands a shot. There are so many bands now a days and people are like, ďthat bandís young and they havenít done many toursĒ and itís like, well someone has to give them a shot. If the bandís good and you believe in them then take them on tour. I have confidence that Senses Fail fans will come out and see Senses Fail regardless of whoís playing with us. Iíd like to take that and bring out whomever we want. If it makes sense and make sure itís good, letís not tie ourselves to ďwe gotta do this for this reason or our manager said this or our booking agent said this.Ē We donít really do that. I want to introduce people to new bands and give them the shot Ė give them their first shot because a lot of bands, especially booking agents, they wonít give a band the time of day. You know a band like Real Friends, Major League, or even Such Gold, theyíre like, ďehh whatís that band worth? They havenít been on many tours.Ē And itís really hard; itís a pain in the ass. So if I can help and bring out some cool bands that I think are good and maybe people see that and check out the band and give them opportunities, I think thatís really cool.
Major thanks to Buddy for taking the time to speak with us. You can buy Senses Fail's new album, Renacer, here. Make sure to catch the band on its current tour..