"Somebody getting into the band now has a lot to jump into, and there's even more to come, and that's cool to me."
Senses Fail have just released their new album 'Hell Is in Your Head' via Pure Noise Records.
A spiritual and conceptual successor to their classic album 'Still Searching', it's a record that asks questions about mortality, mental health, acceptance and escape. It's poetic and powerful and brimming with potent moments, intended to hit the heart and soul square on. Two decades into their journey, the band still manages to find new ways to express themselves, but how does it feel to make that journey in a completely different landscape to the past?
That's one of the many questions that Buddy Nielsen had to ask himself within the record's creation, so we sat down to ask him a few more...
How do you feel at this point in your career, and how it compares to the past in terms of making a record?
"These days, you really have to write a record that does something as a whole and on its own. You could take a song off a Pink Floyd record and listen to it on its own, and it would make no sense. But putting it back into the album works because it is there as a whole piece of music. Now you have to make a record that demands to be listened to from front to back, but also, each song could be a single on their own. That's the difference between writing albums now and albums when we started. You didn't have to worry about those things when we started. But when every song could be a single, how do you make a record? It's really hard. I think it just takes a lot more time, and you need to write many more songs to get to that point. That means there is a lot of stuff that doesn't end up getting used, which means you have to become a more prolific songwriter. That's difficult for a lot of musicians right now.
That's especially true when you want to be making a record about a particular thing or set of experiences. When your blood is in the words you are writing, do you have to choose whether it is good or not?
"Absolutely, and I have a lot of songs that just didn't fit the narrative of this record. They are really good songs, though, and I feel like I have a supply chain issue at the moment where I have so much material, but it is backed up. And I need to let this record have its moment and to settle and make sense to people before moving on to B-sides, side projects, and everything in between. It needs the time to breathe."
So, where within all of this did this record start coming to life? Where did the central idea and message of this record start making sense?
"So the last record, the first where I was the main songwriter, was me going back to our roots and me showing what I think a Senses Fail album was. My interpretation of it, going back to the very beginning and using 'Let It Enfold You' as a reference. So this one was from the 'Still Searching' perspective. What if I was to re-interpret what Senses Fail was as a whole in my version and then update it, this is the result of that. 'Still Searching' and taking the post-hardcore genre or whatever, but then uplifting it to a modern version if we had written it now.
"The problem I run into is either going really heavy or upbeat poppy catchy punk stuff. The thing that I think everybody wants is to hear both versions of that on a record. So I found myself pulling back in a lot more atmospheric heaviness and adding depth to these songs. But how do I bring in those other elements people like again, which is when I started to model songs around two different poems by T.S Eliot. That meant that one side could take place in a dreamworld/afterlife, which would let me do some things that felt different, and then the other being more traditional Senses Fail. The former resolves my past and dipping into the story of 'Still Searching', whilst the latter focuses on my current reality. That's how I made it an album rather than just a collection of songs thrown together."
It's also a case of being able to pay tribute to what Senses Fail was then whilst also showing all of the lessons you have learnt along the way and the life that you have now…
"In a lot of ways, the songs back then were reactionary. I honestly didn't think about 'Still Searching' in the same way as I planned and thought about this one. I don't think I could have done it like I do things now back then, either. The thing is now that if I'm writing something and suddenly feel like it isn't worth it, I will move on and try. Back then, it felt more like everybody would fight for what they had written. I don't feel like that now. I'm not going to fight myself. Trying to make a song so that it will definitely make the record, because it has to, is an entirely different process to anything else. The freedom I have now is unlike anything else.
"I was just heavily influenced this time around by wanting just to write great songs. I would listen to just great records, like Bruce Springsteen and Tom Petty and the classics that are so timeless. It's crazy that it sounds so good, but figuring out why it sounds so good and how I can use that. Some of the best songs ever are so simple, but they were still risks being taken, so I tried to take those risks too. I feel like I have become an actual musician over the last four years, even more so over the pandemic. My main goal these days is to be able to double my output, and I think I'm heading towards that. It's all about staying active these days."
When you have put so much of yourself into something, so much of your personal feelings and thoughts, you want to feel like it's worth it. And if you don't, perhaps you're doing it for the wrong reasons…
"You also can't expect success purely based on effort. That's a bummer thing about being a musician sometimes. In other jobs, more effort could equal more reward. With art, that doesn't necessarily matter. It's not equitable and might not ever be. So you have to be creative for yourself more than anything else. You have to be okay with some things working and some things not working. We have had it happen with our own records in terms of them being successful or not. It's all just a process. I like to think of my life as more of a legacy of music, rather than just, 'You've got to check this out'. Senses Fail exists as a cohesive catalogue of stuff in which you can follow who I am and what I have been through. Somebody getting into the band now has a lot to jump into, and there's even more to come, and that's cool to me."
And that legacy goes back two decades, so you've got to seriously consider your purpose in all of this and your reason for wanting to continue. But when that reason is pure, there's no reason to doubt yourself…
"To me, as long as people check Senses Fail out, I'm not too picky about it all. To be here and still be continually making music, I will always try to one-up myself. I don't want to create the same record twice, leading to taking risks and doing something different. So now I am trying to find the happy medium between moving the ball forwards and not abandoning everything that the band is. And I feel like, at this point, I have found that a lot more than in the past."