An Interview With Senses Fail: Attaining Nirvana

James “Buddy” Nielsen is the sole remaining band member of the 2002 New Jersey band, Senses Fail. Currently, Nielsen (lead vocals), Zack Roach (lead guitar, vocals), Matt Smith (rhythm guitar, vocals), Gavin Caswell (bass), and Chris Hornbrook (drums) are keeping this hardcore punk band alive—and doing a pretty excellent job doing so. Just last year, the band released a new album, Pull Thorns From Your Heart, the sixth since their establishment, and are beginning to create some more material during this tour.

And while they’re out supporting Sum 41 this fall, Buddy has added some headlining dates for Senses Fail. As the last standing original member, he has adopted the roles of band manager as well as main songwriter, which certainly keeps him busy during the time leading up to a tour. I was lucky to have had the opportunity to speak with Buddy to talk about the time leading up to tour, recording, and, well, the tour.

How’s the tour prep going?

Good! We have some new guitar players because our regular guitar players just had children, so they’re taking a little break, so we’re good! We’re almost ready to go.

Awesome! So you have new guitarists, are you doing a lot more rehearsals to prep them?

Yeah, we’re doing a little bit more than usual.

Have you worked with them before?

No. I know them but I haven’t actually worked with them before, so it’ll be exciting.

Before you leave for tour, what’s a must-do?

You have to forecast out the budget, see how much everything’s gonna cost. I’m the manager, too, so I get the crew together and prepare everything. There’s a lot of stuff, but it’s not too much. I’ve been doing this for so long that it’s kind of second-hand now. But I order merch… That’s pretty much it.

What do you absolutely need when on the road?

What’s really hard not to have… Uhm, a phone. I used to not have a hone when on tour and it would definitely make it harder. You wouldn’t be able to do anything.

What are some venues that you’re excited about playing?

Hmm. I’m looking forward to New York, New Jersey, of course, Philadelphia, Chicago—I think playing in the North East and California are what I’m most excited about. They’re usually the best shows for us.

Well, you guys are from New Jersey. What’s it like to come back home and play?

It’s great. I love it.

Last summer, you guys released a new album. Will that be a part of the setlist?

No. Well, probably two songs from that record. We have so many other records that we’ll probably do two from each.

Have you started working on a new album yet?

Kind of, actually. We just recorded an acoustic EP, but I’ve been writing for another record already, yeah.

Great! What does the process entail?

Since I write most of the music, I sit down with my guitar, write some music with my guitar, and then I’ll take that to the computer, program some drums around it and then send it to other people and bring it all together and make a song out of it. Then we demo it and then decide if we want to use it for whatever recording process we’re doing.

And did you always do it that way?

No, no—I didn’t used to write the songs. I used to do the lyrics and work on that with everyone. Now, I’m kind of the only songwriter in the band.

I noticed you’re the final original band member. How do you feel about seeing the band constantly change?

I mean, it’s weird because when it started, it was a group. Now it’s just… Me. It’s weird to think about it in terms of history. It is what it is—it can’t be anything different. It sort of worked out that way, that I was the only one who didn’t pursue anything else. It’s kind of kept me going.

Makes sense. When on tour, what’s a typical day like?

It really depends on where we are. Usually, I’ll wake up around 10 and then I’ll see where we’re at, where we’re close to, and then if it’s like a downtown area, I’ll go out and get breakfast. I don’t really have to do anything until load-in, which isn’t until three or four in the afternoon. So I’ll go out and walk around the city—see some places that I usually like to visit, work out… I’ll go to the climbing gym, climb, work out, then head back, which is usually around load-in and sound check. Then hang out. The show will start, play, then eat, and then I’ll go back to the bus.

Senses Fail is a reference to attaining Nirvana. What sparked your interested and gave you the idea?

I had a teacher that introduced me to Buddhism in religion in high school and the ideas clicked with me. The idea of it had really resonated with me since I struggled with anxiety, depression, just growing up with a split household and I grew up understanding that life is difficult. That was one of the first religions and pieces of philosophy that I’d identified with. I could relate to it. I didn’t learn too much about it, but I’d learned different aspects of it because it sparked curiosity.

I noticed that you guys have recorded over a dozen music videos. What’s that process like?

It’s weird because they play the music and you have to lip sync and pretend that you’re actually playing. I don’t like making music videos because it’s awkward and weird and such a strange experience. It entails you standing there for hours on end and pretending to play the song over and over again.

That’s really awkward. How do you get the inspiration to develop these videos? Do you come up with the ideas yourself?

Well, the last one I came up with myself. I just sort of had this idea about a weird clown—I don’t like clowns when they’re doing… I don’t like clowns when they’re doing normal things, so I decided it would be even more messed up if the clown did some f***ed up things. I don’t really know how I came up with it.

The clown idea really freaked me out. So you did well. What are your plans once this tour is over?

I mean, we’ll probably take some time off to write and record the new album.

Do you write while on the road?

Yeah. Oh yeah, I write a lot on the road.


Don’t miss as Senses Fail pull into The Filmore Philadelphia on Oct. 12, Starland Ballroom on Oct. 13, and PlayStation Theater on Oct. 14. Visit their site at