Senses Fail | Growing Up, Not Selling Out

"You do it for the music. We don’t expect anything from it. You really get to that point when you’ve hit your peak and you start to come down, which we have."

The Royale, Boston, MA.
Senses Fail released their newest studio album, The Fire, on October 26th. They are currently co-headlining a tour with Bayside and opening acts, Title Fight and Balance and Composure. Buddy Nielsen took some time before their show on October 22nd to talk about the new album, the band’s work ethic and the perils of a co-headlining.
New Jersey has a great rock and roll history. Where do you see your band in that history?
I don’t know. There was a movement of music in the early 2000s. There was a really good local scene then—there still is. There’s a very big NJ punk rock scene, a lot of great bands like Thursday, Saves The Day; I could go on for a long time. There’s a lot of bands that came out of that Long Island/New Jersey/Philadelphia scene, and we kind of fit in from there, that early 2000 punk rock/emo scene. 
Tell me what you think emo is.
I think we play a version of melodic pop-punk, kind of hardcore-esque. 
You established an early Internet presence with your band. How has that helped your exposure, and how has it affected, either for good or bad, the way you release music? 
It benefits [the band’s exposure]. I think,obviously, you’re able to control and have more access to getting information out there easily and quickly. But, I think it takes away from what people expect from the band. I think they think the band owes them something, now that [listeners are] able to actually converse and connect with the band. [People assume] that the band might owe them something more than just [having the attitude that], “we’re a band, we play music.” Like there’s some other connection. But then, as a band, you’re able to connect and give a little bit more information about yourself. I mean, some people think that people in bands aren’t real people, which is stupid. But with the Internet and from using Facebook and Twitter they gather, “Oh, they like the Yankees,” and things like that.
Talk about the new album. Is this a typical Senses Fail sound? 
It is. It fits in the genre of what we’ve done, but it’s got its own vibe. It’s hard to explain. I think that we wrote it with a lot of energy and a lot of passion, so if you like the band and compare it to other records we’ve done, this will be up there with things we’ve done in the past and [even] surpass some of the other things we’ve done.
You’ve said in previous press that the album "is a reaction and a release of a whirlwind of emotions that came from fighting for what we love and dealing with change and growth, both personally and creatively." Can you comment on what this means?
I mean overall, you get older and you’re in this music business, and you start to think about your life and how it corresponds, how so many things happen. When you’re alive, you react to change and death and marriage and kids and so many things you start to deal with, and you bring that into the band. No one has kids, but two of us are married, one just got engaged and we’re not 18 anymore. Once you get out of living in this bubble of a band, you start to appreciate the band in different ways, but then it also makes you look at the band in a different way as well. 
I think people freak out about age and what they think they should accomplish by a certain age, and that makes them do the complete opposite. Some people want one action; some people want a completely different reaction.
The band has played festivals, the Warped Tour, church halls, and this is a small tour, but it seems long. Talk to me about the differences between those performance settings. How does it feel to headline?
It’s five or six weeks, this tour. It’s not that long, really. It’s much more fun [headlining], but much more stressful because you’re dealing with everything going on with the show. You’re not just showing up and playing, you’re dealing with the whole day. It’s your responsibility to bring people to the show, so you really kind of judge yourself on how well the show does, which I have a hard time getting away from.
You’ve had a long career. You started in your teens and now you’re in your late 20s, and you had this great DIY ethic when you began—just get out and play. How do you keep that ethic alive now that you’re more established?
Same thing. I mean we don’t give a fuck. I don’t give a fuck. Being in a band, a punk rock band, hardcore band, whatever you want to call it—because some people have a lot of problems with us calling ourselves that—it’s an attitude. You do it for the music. We don’t expect anything from it. You really get to that point when you’ve hit your peak and you start to come down, which we have. We’ve gotten as big as we’ll ever get, and we were bigger before, you know? And it’s like, that’s when people jump ship. But this is what I love to do, and I’ll figure out a way to make it work. I still want to be in this band. I still want to work, but it’s hard. It’s hard to balance that.
Ultimately, we’ve never done anything for the wrong reasons. We’ve always been independent, and i think that’s something important, and I like to say that a lot, that we’ve always been an independent band, because it’s still the thing that fucking matters. A lot of people don’t give a shit about that now, but I still think it matters. That means something to me, and that’s something I’ll always be proud of.
Almost every punk band you can think of has been on a major label, and we’ve never been on a major label or wanted to. We got signed by one by accident, and we said, “Fuck you, you’re not gong to have any say in our music, none.” Because ultimately, that’s what it’s all about. We don’t want anyone having a say who’s not a producer, you know. We hire the producer because we trust him, and he’s involved, but that’s totally separate. The label making music for a reason, for an audience other than your fans, to gain [financially], or writing radio songs—I’ve always been proud of the fact that we’ve never done that with our music. Whether you like it our not, whether you like us or not, you should respect that we’ve been true to what we are and we’re an independent band.
There will always be teenagers, with their angst, who are drawn to the emo/screamo genre. How do you hold on to that fan base as they move into their 20s, 30s, even beyond?
Some of them are still there. You can’t keep that audience, it’s impossible. You can try your best, but it’s really hard to do. I think there’s a lot of people that have, and that’s why they’ve been successful and can still be successful. But I think for the most part, a lot of people move on. One thing about our band is that we’re something tangible, there’s something in the lyrics or the music that is more than just music. It’s relatable, so it becomes something more than just a point in your life. I look forward to bands who have lyricists that I like to give me something, a change in my life, to point me in a new direction when they have a new record coming out. I think that is one reason why people like our band—that the lyrics are so personal and they deal with things that people don’t write about or don’t know how to write about.
What do you see as your responsibility to your audience?
I don’t think of it as a responsibility, other than that when we say we’re going to play, we show up and we play and we play the best show we can, and that’s it. If we play music for anyone other than ourselves, it’s not going to be good. You’re not going to have fun, either. You’re not going to enjoy it because you’re going to be faking it. I’d quit if I faked it. There are some shows where you’re not as into it as others, but that’s different than being like, “I’m going to play a bunch of songs that I fucking hate, but we’re going to make a bunch of fucking money,” you know, that sucks. That’s doing a job, like working any other mindless job. It’s the same thing, except you’re in a band. It’s another vehicle for it.
Who do you listen to that informs your music or inspires you? What are you reading or writing that informs you?
I’ve really tried not to be inspired by anything outside, because I have been inspired by lots of things outside the music, and I’ve sometimes brought too much of that to the music. So for this one, I tried not to take it from anything else. I wanted to not quote anything. I did quote one band, Turning Point, but other than that I just wanted it to be very much my own voice this time, which it hasn’t always been. I mean, I always quote things, and everybody knows what I’m quoting. I make it obvious, I don’t steal it, but I wanted a lot of the one-liners to specifically be mine.
The other bands on the bill, did you pick them?
Well, Bayside’s a co-headliner, so we’ve known each other for a while. We’ve been around almost the same amount of time, but we’ve never toured together. I think we have the same kind of fans. They have fans that aren’t necessarily into us, which is cool. Maybe they’ll check out the new stuff. The two opening bands we picked together and agreed upon them. They’re good young bands that have that same vibe as both our bands do. They’re from outside Philadelphia.
If you’re doing a good co-headlining tour, people are going to leave [your set]. You’re just going to have to accept that. It hurts, kind of, but it’s good. It’s worth it. You want it to be worth it that you’re co-headlining. You want them to bring their own fans; there’s no way you can share both. We switch off third and fourth on the bill. It’s always worse to headline. You’d rather not headline, you want to play third.

The stress of headlining did not translate to their live set. The band came out fast and furious, ripping through three songs before even addressing the crowd. When Buddy did finally shout out to Boston, he riled up the room by praising the Yankees, which elicited a rousing chant of “Yankees suck!”
“You just all want to be from New York, anyway,” he responded, “but we’re all here together having a good time,” and the band tore into “Bite To Break Skin.” 
The new songs from The Fire are less pop-punk than previous material, but they were well received by the crowd. As the kids dove and the pit swayed, Senses Fail launched into “Can’t Be Saved,” which left a vibe that can only be described as uncompromising in the room. They thanked Bayside and the other bands on the bill, saying it was “good to be on tour with people who get it, who do it for the right reasons, who don’t want to fuck you.” All the right reasons were evident throughout the show that night. | Courtney Rau

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