After nearly a decade in the music industry, BUDDY NIELSEN has seen it all. Having risen through the underground ranks with SENSES FAIL from their debut EP, From The Depths Of Dreams, Nielsen and the band hit the mainstream with 2004’s Let It Enfold You. Now, with two more albums under their belts and another planned (even though the band are currently without a label), SF are preparing to perform at this week’s second annual Harvest Of Hope Festival in St. Augustine, Florida. Never one to pull any punches, Nielsen told us who he’ll be watching at the fest and when we should watch for the next Senses Fail album.

INTERVIEW: James Shotwell
PHOTO: Michelle Salopek

How did you become involved in the Harvest Of Hope Festival?
[Bassist] Jason Black knows the dudes putting it on [from his time in Hot Water Music], and they kind of offered it to us.

Why do you feel the mission of Harvest Of Hope–providing financial, educational and service oriented aid to migrant farm workers all over the country–is especially important?
I think it’s basically like supporting the backbone of the country. If it weren’t for migrant workers working on farms, a lot wouldn’t get done. There’s the complaint that they’re taking [Americans’] jobs, but they’re doing jobs most wouldn’t do and for considerably less pay. To me, they’re providing a necessary and useful help to our country and we should support them.

Have you or Senses Fail worked with this organization or any other nonprofit organizations before?
Every now and then we have. Mainly we’ve done work with cancer foundations and different organizations involved therein, but never like this. Generally, groups and causes will have you shoot a PSA or do a signing at [their booth at] Warped Tour or some other event.

As established artists, do you feel you have an obligation to help raise awareness about causes like this?
When I first started going to shows, it was all about activism. We’re not a political band or anything, but that’s what going to shows used to be about. Today, I feel like a lot of that has been lost. There used to be punks, vegans, Buddhists and more at shows pushing ideas and beliefs. But now it seems that the aspect of live music where people come from all walks of life has almost completely died off in the mainstream. Sure, some hardcore and punk scenes are still thriving as a melting pot, but music as a whole seems to have lost that and it needs to return.

When playing a festival like this where the majority in attendance may not be familiar with your band, how do you go about picking your set list?
I don’t really know. [Laughs.] I think we’ll probably be sticking to a pretty normal set for us. We’re not going into [Harvest Of Hope] assuming our “crowd” will be there. We just want to play and help out and if they like us, that’s a plus. We’ve been much more uncomfortable before, like on our run with Hollywood Undead–that was bad. [Harvest Of Hope] has more of a punk crowd and they can generally find something to take away from our sound.

There’s been debate that while these events raise money, few in attendance take the time to learn about the organizations festivals set out to help. What are your thoughts on this?
The whole idea is to try and rope people in with entertainment. You can’t force people to care about anything these days–not even their kids, let alone joining any of the many aspects of activism. Basically, all you can do is say, “Hey, we’re doing this big show. Come see us.” Then you hope that people take something more than just music away. Also, a lot of people don’t agree with the cause of supporting migrant workers. It’s a battle on a national scale right now and the country is split. We use music to say, “Hey, here’s some entertainment. Come watch.” Hopefully they receive the information and choose to do something with it.

The lineup for this year’s festival is pretty stacked with acts, such as the legendary Billy Bragg. Who are you most excited to see?
I don’t think I’ve ever played a show with so many bands that I like. [Laughs.] I’m really excited [to see] Coalesce. I’ve never gotten to see them perform, and I’m sure it’ll be really cool. [I also want to see] Anvil. I mean, come on! Anvil! It’s pretty legit to say you even have an opportunity to play with them. Also, there’s Dead Prez who are both awesome and cool at the same time. [Laughs.] Outside of the main acts though, [I want to see] bands like Gatorface and other really good, melodic punk bands that there’s really no scene for these days. I’ve always felt like those bands play really good music, but it’s music for people in their late 20s and early 30s. For me, though, I’ve been a fan since I was 13. I think it’s pretty cool to have the opportunity to do something like this. [Harvest Of Hope] is just such an awesome and different experience than playing events like Warped Tour or Bamboozle because of the diverse lineup that give you the ability to play not only with musicians that you may sound similar to, but also those who are completely different in genre or style.

Outside of Harvest Of Hope, your MySpace page was recently updated with a message that reads “Senses Fail is writing a new record.” How far along in the process are you?
I think we’re about 12 songs in. We plan to enter the studio with Brian McTernan in April and are looking for a release in late September or early October.

You’ve been without a label for a short while now. Any word on a future home or would you rather go DIY?
We’re still undecided. It’s really hard to go DIY, but it’s something we’re interested in. You gain so much from working with a record label that bands rarely own up to outside of–and including–money. It takes a lot of knowledge and financing to deal with distribution, packaging, etc., and finding the money to do all that on your own, with no clear answer on when or if you’ll make it all back is not something we can do right now. alt