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Senses Fail frontman tackles addictions, struggles with sexuality on new album

  • Author: Chris Bieri
  • Updated: May 31, 2016
  • Published November 11, 2015

James "Buddy" Nielsen appears to be in a good place, both musically and personally.

That's saying something, considering how tumultuous the past couple of years have been for the Senses Fail vocalist and founding member.

Fans of the post-hardcore band are now familiar with Nielsen's struggles with addiction and his own sexuality, trials that unfold in the band's most recent album, "Pull The Thorns From Your Heart."

"I grew up and learned a lot of different things about myself and who I am," he said. "I reflect that within my lyrics."

Last year on the "100 Words Or Less" podcast, Nielsen talked about his longstanding battles with anxiety, alcohol and sex addiction. He also revealed his struggle with his sexuality — he said he doesn't identify as straight, gay or bisexual,but that his sexual identity was "undefinable."

The album sees Nielsen examine past feelings of fear, guilt, self-loathing and the search for his identity.

The title track leads off with Nielsen's screaming self-examination: "I don't want to be afraid of this life anymore/I don't want to be suffocated by the weight/Who was that person I was pretending to be?"

Although there is plenty of vivid self-examination, the overarching theme of the record finds Nielsen on better terms with himself and his decisions.

"It's definitely heavier," he said. "It's a different approach. The lyrics are more positive. It's different from most of our stuff but it's been accepted and people dig it."

The album was hailed critically, both for Nielsen's willingness to tackle his personal issues and musically, for its forceful ebb and flow.

Although the album undeniably references Nielsen's personal struggles, he said he didn't go public just to take the weight off his shoulders.

"I think it was more of a relief to do it to my close circle, family and friends," he said. "Doing it in public doesn't really make things easier or safer. I think it actually does the opposite. I didn't come out publicly because I thought it would help me cope with myself or come to terms with who I am, I did it because I felt the need for more people in this industry and in general to express their sexuality in an open way. I never had any role models or people I looked up to in music who identified, so I thought it was sort of my duty to do so."

Nielsen has made progress with his anxiety and addiction -- he said that at one point he drank every day for nine years.

"I have been sober for almost two years and I have been in a committed relationship for almost four, so the extreme phase of addiction is in so many ways behind me, but I always have to be aware of when cravings arise due to certain conditions," he said. "My anxiety has greatly reduced due to mindfulness meditation and somatic experiencing therapy," the latter being a form of therapy that aims to relieve trauma-related health problems by focusing on perceived body sensations.

His recovery effort with the help of meditation is fitting. He explained the source of the band's name on an early incarnation of their website: "In Hinduism, they believe that being alive is hell, and the only way to reach Nirvana is to ultimately have no attachments to anything. So, people go out and live in the middle of the woods and they don't eat and don't drink. They just meditate because they've reached such a high level where they're not attached to love, relationships or anything. And if you want to reach the highest level of being and see God, you have to have all your senses fail."

He said the response to his opening up has been "overwhelmingly positive," especially from people who have been in similar circumstances.

"The whole reason I came out publicly was to reach these very people," he said.

The band's stop in Alaska serves as a kickoff to a second leg of a tour since the release of the album's July release.

Once they return to the Lower 48, the band will play 26 shows in a month, starting in the Midwest, passing through California, Texas and Florida before ending on the East Coast.

"For the most part, that's always how we do it," Nielsen said. "There are not a lot of days off. Days off cost money. When you're not playing shows, you're just sitting around. We don't like to do that."

Senses Fail has established itself as a stalwart in the punk and hardcore scenes, recording a half-dozen full-length albums and a pair of EPs since forming in New Jersey in 2002.

The digital age has made it easier for hardcore bands, which traditionally have gained fans through an endless series of shows in front of small, enthusiastic audiences, to connect with listeners. But it's also led to an explosion of bands saturating the market.

"On one hand, because there's so many bands, it's harder to cut through," Nielsen said.

The band has continued to evolve its music, sometimes to the dismay of online critics.

"I think you have to adapt and change, but there are people that don't like that," he said. "It's really you have to do what you want to do. You have to do what makes sense for you as a musician. You can't always do what your fanbase wants you to. I think you have to be careful doing things on people's online opinions. Those people are just a small portion of the fanbase. You can't take what people are doing as the word of everyone."

The stop in Alaska will be the first for the band, allowing Nielsen to cross a far-flung state off his list.

"I want to play every state in America," he said. "This is one of them you don't always get. We're super excited to get to do it."

Senses Fail

When: 8 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 14

Where: Williwaw, 601 F St.

Tickets: $25 in advance, $30 at the door

Opening acts: Bad Friday and Old Hounds

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