During Senses Fail’s recent Australian tour, their second as a headliner, vocalist Buddy Nielson chatted with HEAVY’s own Will Oakeshott backstage at Adelaide UniBar about the challenge for bands to remain relevant, the insight of also working at his record label Vagrant Records, and the resistance the band has faced in changing their sound.
“It’s actually really cool to have both perspectives [working for a label that also signed your band],” Nielson says. “I understand a lot about how shit works and how everything amounts to a goal. You don’t really get that just being in a band, from that point of view you tend to think that everything is controllable and it isn’t. Sometimes people don’t like your band and there is nothing you can do about it – you can’t spend more money or do better tours. It can be as simple as a band not being the right one for the time and place in history. That happens more often than success and it’s impossible to explain that to a band. They may think there were so many other variables involved, like production, supporting other bands or if more money was invested but, honestly, there reason is that people just didn’t like it. I mean every relevant band hits a level of success then becomes less successful – there’s no band that maintains a level of success forever. Even if they do, it ebbs and flows.”
Nielson points to The Deftones as an example of a band that has been up, then down, and is now on the way back up.
“The Deftones are a great example – they went through a period where they were not as successful as they originally were. They still are not at that level, but are nowadays putting out music that people really love and are experiencing a resurgence of success. Honestly, they put out two albums that people didn’t like basically, then more recently, they put out two records that are fucking awesome and now they have bought themselves some trust with fans.”
How does this apply to Senses Fail, Nelson’s own band?
“With Senses Fail we have a younger audience and those fans don’t know sometimes that this band has changed. We aren’t pop-punk or whatever anymore; we are aggressive, and I think it suits us a lot more. The next record is going to stay on this wavelength and I think fans will appreciate this transformation more after we tour our next album and want to hear new songs and tracks from Renacer.”
The quintet’s recent album Renacer is a new chapter for Senses Fail. To quite a significant level, the melodies and emotionally–charged pop choruses of previous works are gone, and the group are embracing their hardcore roots. It’s album number five, excluding the From The Depths Of Dreams EP, and band sound more like post-metalcore innovators Poison The Well than another run of the mill emotional punk outfit. In critical terms, Renacer has been ticking all the right boxes, and many claim the new direction is a better home for the New Jersey locals, but on the live front, Nielson has actually discovered that it’s not all glorious undergoing a transformation.
“The reviews have been great, but the shows can be very hit or miss,” he explains. “Sometimes it’s really intense and crazy then other times you can tell that some people don’t even know we put out a new album, let alone a record that is really different. Obviously there’s a demand for us to play older material and because of that the shows don’t go as well because they don’t like us playing new music.”
Nielson remains defiant. This is the new Senses Fail and fans should get used to it. “We are still going to play it [Renacer],” he says, adding, “I think it’s just going to take a couple of records from here to see if people still like Senses Fail or not.”
Does he feel as though he’s abandoning his roots a little?
“I wrote those fan favourite songs so long ago,” Nielson says, “and people will ask me what they mean to me and I say, ‘Well, nothing now. I wrote them when I was 19.’ I know they are searching for meaning, but I just don’t have it and if I did, I really don’t remember now [laughs].”
Photo by Che Chorley